Seasoned ears only

I've got too much time on my hands. Like many audiophiles, I'm always trying to achieve that symbiotic system nirvana; the sound you remember from one place or another that you just can't seem to achieve again. I was thinking that several companies have introduced truly remarkable speakers in the last 30 years, but many of us are obsessed with the "newest thing."

Think of such speakers as the ugly but brilliant Yamaha NS-1000 monitors, the many Quad electrostatics, the AR-9, the original Von Schweikert VR-4. Some truly amazing speakers that you can find at a fraction of their original cost today.

How do those of you with the more seasoned ears think a pair of, for example, Von Schweikert VR-4 would match up with most of today's under $10,000 speakers? Sometimes I think the Quads, VR-4 and NS-1000 knocked my socks off at the time more than most speakers introduced today. Do you think we are being seduced into buying the "newest thing" because of our audio bug vulnerability, or are today's speakers really any better??
There are times when you hear something that is so strong that it stops you in your tracks and all you do is listen.

When a speaker or set up does that for you, whether it is vintage or new, it is worth checking it out and seeking to find out why and how.

The sound seduces me every time not the sizzle of the latest and greatest advertising barrage.
I still own, and listen almost daily, to a pair of Dahlquist DQM9's. I bought them new from a dealer I now work for, back in 1985. I wasn't even a year out of high school. I remember like yesterday, listening to Heart's "Dog and Butterfly" album on an Oracle TT he was using, when I went in to demo them.

I own many pairs of speakers now, (worth many times more) but, they are still in my main room. (along with others) More times than not, they bring me the greatest joy of everything else I own, or have owned. Maybe it's the fond memories, maybe they are that good, who's to say. It's the one piece of stereo equipment that I know I will take to the grave. Seems foolish, but nothing will replace them for me.
I have a pair of Spica TC50s, which were the first pair of speakers I ever bought. After listening to everything I could in 1985, I stumbled upon these and instantly knew they were special. Even today, they are in some ways better than anything else I have owned. I can say this because I still have them set up in my bedroom system. They have their limitations for sure, but I haven't been able to find anything that does everything better than they do. Ascendo Systems might, but I have not heard them in the sme system, and at $23,000 / pair, probably won't any time soon.
Interesting Question... I've owned some very good speakers over the years. I think my favorites were my Acoustat Monitor III's with custom-built tube servo-charge amplifiers. For sure they were not the most detailed or extended speakers available, but they were among the most harmonically coherent and musical. They reproduced male and female vocals like no other. I still miss them at times.

I have some newer speakers from NSR, the Sonata D3, and a pair of VMPS RM2 ribbon hybrid speakers. I like both of them but I don't know if either had the same kind of midrange magic as those Acoustats.

Curiously, I have a pair of Magnepan SMGa Series II speakers in a small room powered by a QuickSilver GLA tube amp and they give me a taste of the same kind of musical midrange magic.

There are a lot of super expensive speakers out there with crossovers and internal wiring that costs thousands of dollars by itself. Many of them have superb detailing, focus, and soundstaging qualities. But I don't think any of them are much better than some of the old classics at achieving midrange magic.

Anyway, my latest idea is to put a tube OTL amp on some Magnepans in my small room and see how that goes.
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Elizabeth is right about nostalgia. The Double Advents and Kenwood amp and pre that got me evicted from my first apartment in Santa Cruz over thirty years ago are now part of the best garage stereo in Capitola. Good thing I'm the landlord now!
I think when you spend a large amount of money and time in putting up a modern audiophile system you end up listening differently. You're more likely to listen to how the system performs than listen to the music. It's not as clear cut, night and day as my words describe, but a matter of degrees on a continuum. Your expectations of vintage equipment can allow you to relax more and just enjoy the music.
Elizabeth FTW. All we are is memory.

I swear the most musical moment of my experience of recorded music I got from orange plastic sports headphones plugged into a sony walkman, tucked into the handlebar bag of my road bike, spinning a cassette I recorded from Bowie's new Scary Monsters album, Robert Fripp soaring between my ears about Teenage Wildlife.

I get close to that, sometimes, with all this new gear I'm messing with.
I dunno, Quad and VR4 in the same sentence ...... There was nothing Iconic about the VR4 IMO , Quads .. Yes !

I think the experience you report is fairly typical and fairly understandable, when you think about it. The first time a speaker blows us away (for whatever reason), it's probably a quantum leap over the dreck we were used to listening to. Then, as you stay in the hobby, you get used to listening to better and better gear and the new things you hear are more incremental than monumental improvements, more evolutionary than revolutionary to your ears.

That being said, a speaker like the Vandy 7, properly set up and with good source and amplification, still still make these jaded ears take notice.

And, no, I am not affiliated with Vandersteen, though I do own some of their speakers (though unfortunately not the 7s!).
Weseixas, Albert's VR-4 not an icon?? Where you been man? What else could you buy in 1999 for under 5K that could cover 20khz down to a true rock-solid and FLAT 20hz? No listener fatigue, all hand-made in San Francisco; the only knock on those things is their size and heft, at 150 lbs. each. No Quad ESLs, for sure, but IMHO difinately an icon. The Yammies too; what awesome mids and highs, if a bit bright. Thanks for your thoughts. I think nostalgia is the very daunting problem...
I agree completely on the Yammies. I've got two pair, and still feel they are better than almost everything else I've compared them to over the widest spectrum of music over many years.

Here I am, about to buy a pair of Sonus Faber Guaneri Homages this weekend to replace my B&W 805s that I use as small remotes to match my Yammy mains, and wondering why I'm preparing to spend the money.

Must be the looks of the Guaneris, I suppose.

If the Yammies looked like that, they would probably have dominated the speaker market Microsoft-style for a generation.

I only once heard original Quad ESL's, in a shop. That was the first time I was blown away by speakers after buying my first Yammies many years ago. They completely changed my idea of what audio was "supposed to" sound like. It was as if all of my life I had been inside a room, looking at paintings on the walls, thinking they were windows looking out into the real world. Then one day someone put a photo on the wall, shocking me with detail seen for the first time ever, changing my perception of everything, but the photo was in black-and-white.

Too bad there is no way to fit those ESLs in my odd-shaped ancient house. I'd love to have those in one room and my Yammies in another.
Loved those double stacks of Advents. We used to set those up at friends house over by KSCO.
Now, I'm not really sure that you have the best garage set up in Capitola.
My current speakers are around 20 years old. I've heard many current models, some of them in my own home on my own equipment, and don't feel the need to change.
I feel a good design is still a good design. If well executed, I don't see a reason why it won't sound good today. The only thing that might spoil the party are ageing parts, especially on electrostatic speakers.
Speakers have gotten better, but progress is gradual -- so gradual that the best speakers of 20 or 30 years ago can still satisfy. After all, they were great to listen to then. And there are great bargains to be had, if you're prepared to deal with problems of aging and parts availability. The safest approach may be to buy something that was made within the last 10 years or so -- not likely to have problems, parts are probably available, technology hasn't improved all that much, but you can get a good bargain by buying something off the "have to have the latest" crowd. On the other hand, if you're willing to put in some elbow grease, I'll hazard that you can come pretty damn close to a pair of Magicos or anything else for not much more than pocket change.
Progress is also not even across an entire industry. The best speakers of 25 years ago will still be better than mediocre speakers of today, often regardless of cost. OTOH, mediocre speakers of years ago will only seem worse with time.
Most Loudspeaker do perform better today still the best of vintage can be very satisfying performers. I collect vintage and some of the transducers are very well designed. Mostly compression drivers from the past are equal to or better than many modern designs. Some coaxial and woofers but most of the rest cabinets crossovers tweeters etc are not equal to modern designs.
My ears are well seasoned,and the rest of me is too!

Seriously here's my take on some of the speakers you are considering.

I have owned stacked Quad 57's, the 63,Acoustat3 medallian,Martin Logan Sequel 2, 2 pairs of CLS 11z,Tannoy Ardens, Merlin MMex,Meadowlark Heron i, Mirage m3si,original VR4(my friend still has his)orignal 15 ohm Rogers LS3/5a, Mission 770(still have a pair)and Ref 3A Grand Veena-maybe some others I've forgotten.

When I owned the VR4 I used the Blue Circle mono block BC2 amps and the sound was very good.My friend uses mono block Lumley tube amps on his VR4, and he's kept them since they came out.
His speakers in his system sound better now since he acquired a more powerful(Lumley 100 watters) than what he was using before(also tube amps, 2 Grant lumleys biamped using el34 not kt 88 as in the monos).

So to get the best out of the VR4, don't cheap out of the power is my best advice.Give them the juice and if it's clean and powerful you should be happy for the long run.

I have heard of some folks who used to run a couple of Bryston 4B on the VR4 at high volume levels and they said this was heaven.To each his own I suppose.

Compared to the above speakers which I have owned and if my sonic memory can be trusted,I would say that the original VR4 still is a good speaker.Perhaps not as precise as some of the stats , but certainly a lot more robust.

Spred them wide apart, if I remember correctly and damp the two sections with a slab of some inert material and spikes.I ran Cardas Hex 5c single run and Cardas Hex 5c one metre jumpers when I had the 4's.
My friend uses Cardas biwired golden ref.whic h sounds better than the Kimber 4tc he was using, so try some good wires on the 4's.

Have fun.
had VR4 for about 2 year, and I'tell you, those where the only speakers, that when people came to my house for audition, they look like they have seen a ghost, in total disbelief, at one point whent to audition a pair of proac 3.8, just listened the first track, and walked away, my set up was day and night, my system with the VR4, sounded much better, remember when listened the first notes from a track I'was very famyliar with, I' just smile and whent back home a happy guy,
eventually the VR4 where replaced by, Merlins VSM mme, lost half the Bass, and had to spend a tone of money on cables {cardas GR} to make them sound right,
still miss the VR4s, nothing in the $8000 range, cant' compete, they are ugly, bulky, but, Boy, do they make music,
if you have the room, dont' waist your money on anything else, they sound the best, with tube gear,
my new spekers cost three times more than the VR4, and to this day I' believe I' made a step backwards:

I still own Spendor BC1---which was the best speaker I could afford many, many moons ago after determining there was no way Quad ESL's were going to fit in my space.

Sure, I have heard meaningfully better speakers since, but never for anything but an astronomical price difference.

i still own a pair of Acoustat Monitor 3's, the tube amps have been replaced with a 121 interface, like used in the newer Model 3's. they are quite large and I do not run them all of the time but when I am in the mood I haul them in and set them up. I run them with a Threshold S500 amplifier along with an Audible Illusions 3A preamp.  just put on Joni Mitchell's song Court and Spark.  Just magical on vocals.

@willieva, Roger Modjeski of Music Reference has developed a mod for the 121 Interface (he studied it, and found faults he could eliminate), as well a direct-drive tube amp for ESL’s. Modjeski designed and built the direct-drive tube amp used in the legendary Beveridge ESL.

As a former owner of Quads and VR4 Gen 2 speakers I totally get where you are coming from.

In the 90s I had Quad 63s stacked on the famous Gradient dipole subwoofers designed specially for the Quads.  It still is probably the most seamless match of stat and subwoofer I’ve ever encountered.  It produced such a huge, midrange - centered wall of transparent sound.  Ot never failed to wow me and guests.

When I began to find the palpabily and body lacking in the electrostatic sound (I continue to find this the case with every stat I’ve heard) I searched long and hard for a dynamic speaker to replace the Quad/Gradients.   It was only upon encountering the Von Schweikert VR 4s that I found something comparable.  And when the Gen 2 version came out the form factor was better and the sound further refined so I bought a pair.

The strengths of the VR speakers were they sounded like a dynamic version of the Quads/Gradients - transparent, boxless, big and rich in the midrange, startlingly 3 dimensional imaging and soundstaging, but with the punch and body of a dynamic speaker.

I definielty had many guests looking like they had seen a ghost when those were played properly set up.  Friends used to refer to them as if I had some sort of magic speaker :)

Its hard to know for sure how much is nostalgia or those early blown-away moments when you begin this hobby.  But I have long had the sense that it has been tough to equal the Quad/Gradients or VRs in the sheer spectacle they conjured.
The VRs were particularly dramatic given they were rated down to 20Hz and I believe measured fairly close to that.  They could do live concert recordings like Earth Wind and Fire with a massive sense of scale!

I’ve owned many speakers and auditioned many others in my home and I think it wasn’t until I got the Thiel 3.7s that those systems were finally trounced.   The Thiels did scale similar to the VRs, imaging as well - better even in terms of focus/density - even better tonal bass, but with more accuracy, transparency/detail and a more realistic tone.

Stlll, I’d love to travel back in time to my listening sofa just to experience my old Quad and VR systems again!