Active and wireless loudspeakers may be the future of the category, but the desire for old has never been stronger in audio. Vinyl, audio cassettes and reel-to-reel have all made a comeback and there is a new movement afoot for high-end loudspeakers that look like your daddy’s speakers from the 1970s. Nostalgia may be driving the trend for some, but the loudspeaker brands at the tip of the spear are betting heavily that consumers will pay for these high-performance speakers that date back to the mid-1960s.
JBL, Klipsch, and Wharfedale have been manufacturing award-winning loudspeakers for almost 73 years. All three companies entered the loudspeaker business in 1946 run by three visionaries who had spent the previous decades working on loudspeaker drivers. And all three loudspeaker manufacturers have survived generational changes in listening habits, format wars, advancements in amplification technology, the home theater revolution, and the shift to active and wireless loudspeakers.
Today, all three companies still make new-age versions of their beloved classic loudspeakers. Below you’ll find that each loudspeaker has an old-school aesthetic but sound nothing like their predecessors; these are modern-sounding loudspeakers with advanced driver technology and certainly require quality amplifiers and sources. Shag carpeting is optional.
Wharfedale Linton Heritage
Wharfedale introduced the original Linton in 1965; the loudspeaker utilized three drive units and developed a strong following with its smooth midrange, punchy low end, and sense of scale. The model disappeared from their line-up in the 70s, but was recently reintroduced as the stand-mounted Linton Heritage. Wharfedale has also designed a custom stand for the Linton Heritage that puts the tweeter around 36-inch from the floor and includes room for records as well.
The three-way loudspeakers are larger than most bookshelf loudspeakers and the stands a logical accessory to maximize their performance. The modern Linton features an 8-inch Kevlar cone woofer, 5-inch Kevlar cone midrange driver, and 1-inch soft dome tweeter. Listeners may decide to ditch the woven grille covers, but they also give the Linton that old-school look that makes them stand out.
Wharfedale designed the Linton with two rear ports which require giving these loudspeakers some distance from the wall behind them; the 8-inch woofer can deliver the goods playing Led Zeppelin with only 20 watts so don’t confuse old with polite. The Linton Heritage offer all of the midrange resolution and natural sound of the original, but with a lot more detail, speed and transparency. They deliver scale and image rather well considering their boxy looking cabinet. If your budget can stretch to $1,500 which includes the stands, the Linton should be on your short list.
JBL L100 Classic
JBL introduced the original L-100 Century in 1970 and they soon became one of the best-selling loudspeakers of all-time. Priced at $250 each, the L-100 Century were derived from JBL’s 4310 studio monitors and the home version were fussy beasts that needed space and a lot of power. The L-100 Century were detailed and dynamic sounding loudspeakers that worked well with classic rock but were not the last word in refinement. Their trademark orange, blue, or black foam grille covers are still coveted by collectors today.
JBL re-introduced the L-100 Classic in 2018 and after the sticker shock wore off, audiophiles discovered that decades of driver innovation at JBL were something to appreciate in the new design. The L-100 Classic utilizes JBL’s pure-pulp cone five-inch midrange drivers, 12-inch bass driver, and 1-inch Titanium dome tweeter in a stand-mounted loudspeaker that delivers all of the accuracies of the world’s best studio monitors, but with a lot more finesse and a warmer tone than the original.
The L-100 Classic still require a lot of space and a powerful amplifier, but they fill a large room with ease and are one of the most dynamic sounding loudspeakers available for the price. If you crave an intense listening experience, these JBL’s are well worth an audition.
Klipsch Forte III
Paul Klipsch developed the legendary Klipschorn with the premise of recreating the sound of live music in the home, and the Klipsch “sound” has remained true for over 70 years. While the physical size of the Klipschorn doesn’t make them practical for most rooms, the Heritage Forte III loudspeakers are practical; the updated version are much easier to use in most listening spaces.
The Forte was introduced in 1985, but there is considerable daylight between the original and the latest version, though it still looks like something your father had in his living room in the 1970s. The Forte III are large, heavy, and unlikely to impress initially with their dated look — but all that changes the moment you drive the super-efficient Forte III with 10-15 watts of tube power and put some distance between the loudspeaker and your listening position.
Music pours out of the Forte III’s drivers and smacks you in the face; in a good way that becomes more natural sounding once you get over the shock. Unlike other Klipsch models which can sound bright and forward sounding, the Forte III sound more restrained without sacrificing the tone, dynamics, and sense of realism that they deliver. All genres of music work with the Forte III and with warmer sounding amplifiers and sources, they make a lot of really super expensive audiophile loudspeakers sound rather lifeless.