Entry/Mid range Bookshelf speakers over the last 15 years


Established Member
I am just wondering if anyone can describe the change, IF ANY, with regards to actual noticeable improvements in sound in entry level book shelf speakers.

I want to keep this aimed at sub £350/pr speakers, so not the top end or mid range levels but the average consumer level.

Has there been a dramatic change in sound quality or has it been more to do with style?


Distinguished Member
The foundation for speakers design was laid out in the 1930's, and, within limits has not changed much since then. However, a big transition in the refinement and exactness of speakers designs came about in 1961 when two Australian Engineers named Thiele and Small published a paper that exactly modeled and provided formulas for precise and predictable combining of audio drivers with cabinets. Unfortunately that paper got little attention until it was republished in 1971. That became the foundation for modern speaker design.

Wikipedia - Thiele/Small Speaker Design Parameters

The next advancement came in cone material. In the beginning, speaker, especially woofer and midrange, cones were made of some type of paper, and many still are. But we have many other cone materials now, and even many composite materials - poly, aluminum, kevlar, poly coated paper, various 'sandwich' combinations. One of the reasons for the stunning clarity of the Focal brand speakers, is their composite sandwich cone construction.

The goal it to come up with a cone material that is both ridged and light. One would assume aluminum would be good choice, ultra light, ultra strong, and certainly ridged. But aluminum will have a tendency to have a nasty break up region on the high end, and this complicates crossover design, and the drivers use in a 2-way system.

These quirks of various materials can partly be over come by the manufacturer also custom making driver specifically for their given application. Cone shape, mass, rigidity, impedance, and many other parameters can be controlled if you know what you need.

Since Theile/Small and the invention of many exotic cone materials, designers and engineers have been refining the processes for driver and speakers design. That subtle and slow refinement of the processes are about the only improvements in common speakers in the last few decades.

However, the greatest refinement typically occur in the more expensive speakers. Then as refinement of the manufacturing process and the shear volume of scale driver the price down, these highly refined design aspects and drivers make their way into lower models.

Each particular type of driver and driver material has its own characteristics, part of speakers design in know what characteristics are suitable for you task, and how to best blend them into the job at hand.

There haven't been any big breakthroughs lately, that I am aware of, more so it has been a steady creep of refinement making its way down to lower cost speakers.

Can we ask WHY you are asking?

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Established Member
Thanks Steve,

Started off with a discussion around marketing and sales hype over sunday lunch:rotfl:

Then went in to engineering advances, then ended up on this.

Assuming the high end A/V is where the cutting edge tech is, I chose entry level as over a 15 year period, what was high tech in the 90s is probably entry level now or maybe obsolete. But as you said there might not have been many significant changes in bookshelf.

However, more advances and refining in satellite speakers, but I don't want to go there. Not until they go from sounding good for a small speaker to sounding like a bookshelf (that will probably be the next leap in design).


Distinguished Member
The advent of AV surround sound system has greatly influenced modern speaker design. Back in Stereo's heyday, common home speakers were large systems with 12" and 15" woofers. Ten inches was consider small but workable, and an 8 inch speaker was for someone who was not serious about music. Anything smaller than that was considered a toy speaker.

Today, 8" woofers are considered large, and you find very few speakers that have them. That is all down to AV. People with home cinema systems, don't want fat bulky speakers. They want them tall and thin.

Plus, the introduction of the subwoofer has made it easier for even mid-sized speaker makers to fudge on the low end a bit. Back in the day, a speaker, large or small, absolutely had to be rated below 40hz. Today, many floorstanders are rated above 40hz. That is inherent in using small bass driver. But then what do they really care, if they assume you are using the speaker with a Subwoofer?

So, while there hasn't be an advancement, that is, a single event that shifted the game forward significantly. There has been a slow steady but very real advancement in the refinement of driver design, and its integration into cabinets and with highly tuned crossover networks.

So, yes, today's bookshelf speakers are very impressive for what they are and what they cost. But at the same time, many of the old 10" and 12" vintage speakers are still very much in demand because they do what they do oh so very well.

Also, keep in mind that £150 15 years ago is not the same as £150 today.

£150 in 1990 is the equivalent to £243 in 2009 money.

I have a £150 turntable bought in the mid-70's, that in today's money is worth about £825. (It depends on which inflation calculator you use, some say only £591.)

So, yes, in a broad and general sense, today's speakers are an improvement, but there hasn't been a recent engineering event that produce a huge leap forward. Instead, it has been slow steady but real progress.

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