Is It Time To Upgrade Your Audio?

Bryn De Kocks | November 4, 2022 5:05 am

How often do you typically upgrade your speaker setups? For most people, the answer is far less than they upgrade their mobile phone or even cars in some cases. So how often should you upgrade your speakers, and what are the advantages of staying up to date with the newest products? We’ll discuss the benefits (and potential drawbacks) of upgrading your audio equipment and help you better understand when it may be the smart move.

To make this guide easier for you, we’ve separated this discussion into five main categories of speakers. Each speaker type has different types of engineering progression, and some speakers remain viable for longer than others.

Is It Time To Upgrade Your Audio? 1

Home Audio

Home audio setups can last for decades, and even today, we still see customers using speakers from almost half a century ago, some without any complaints. But that doesn’t mean home audio should never be replaced or upgraded. In fact, home audio equipment is an area where we’d recommend refreshing your setup every so often, in accordance with your means – to provide you with the best home audio experience.

Home audio speakers, while fairly similar in their basic design to the speakers from decades gone by, have been afforded a number of quality-of-life adjustments in recent years that brings a lot of additional value to the newer models.

In recent years we saw Bluetooth become a near-standard feature on a lot of speaker systems and even built into bookshelf speakers. More recently, we’ve begun to see wifi connectivity added to home audio products and, in some cases, even to Bluetooth speakers.

Sometimes you won’t need to upgrade your speakers to achieve additional connectivity; in most cases, your source component or amplifier will bring this feature across, though there are soundbars and other home audio that are actively powered, which may come with their own wireless features.

Then there is the matter of space. A lot of newer speaker technologies have become focused on a clean, small speaker design that more easily integrates into your home. Soundbars, for instance, can be a necessity for those working with limited space. So whether you’re moving into a smaller apartment or just want to free up some extra room, you can do so quite easily with modern speakers.

Another big reason for upgrading your home audio is to help save on space. While the efficiency progress of speakers and audio equipment has not been quite as intense as something like computer chips, there have been developments over the years to improve the efficiency, especially of amplifiers. You can now find amplifiers that not only offer a lot of new connectivity options but also consume less power to do it.

In addition to connectivity and features, be aware that older home speakers can deteriorate over time, especially if exposed to direct sunlight or extreme heat. Be sure to check your speaker cones every few years to ensure they are still in good shape.

Is It Time To Upgrade Your Audio? 2

Bluetooth Speakers

When it comes to Bluetooth speakers, there are so many different shapes, sizes, and types that it almost becomes a challenge to define them. Here we will be referring to Bluetooth speakers that tend to be somewhat portable and not large home speakers that happen to offer Bluetooth capabilities.

We think upgrading your Bluetooth speakers regularly is a great option, as new Bluetooth speaker generations will often have excellent improvements in battery life and in Bluetooth. Every few years, we will see a new version of Bluetooth released, and subsequently, we then see new speakers hitting the market with the latest and greatest Bluetooth codecs.

To some, it may not seem like a big upgrade, but new Bluetooth versions can extend your wireless range and improve the overall listening experience. Better compression from the codec means that data is able to be more efficiently transferred between the source device (such as your phone) and the speaker; this efficacy can also lead to better battery life. We recommend upgrading your Bluetooth speakers for the sake of new Bluetooth versions if it’s within your budget; it really can add a lot to your listening experience, especially if you tend to move further away from your speaker than your current Bluetooth allows.

A common practice with Bluetooth speakers, especially for fans of flagship Bluetooth speakers, is to upgrade when the newest flagship model hits the stores. At the same time, second-hand buyers are often waiting for the same thing so they can scoop up the previous model at a discount. This is good news for the sellers, as there is an increase in demand. By selling your previous model, you could fund an upgrade with a fairly low investment out of pocket.

Don’t just assume that the newest model is going to be worth upgrading to, though. A good example is the release of the JBL Flip 5 which saw minimal improvements over the Flip 4, and it actually made sense to stick with the older model (this changed with the release of the Flip 6 which provided sufficient reason to upgrade from the Flip 5).

Loudness is also a consideration, as we’ve seen higher and higher decibel Bluetooth speaker options become available at the same kinds of prices. Because Bluetooth speakers are often pushed toward the end of their volume range, we recommend futureproofing yourself by getting a loud Bluetooth speaker that puts out more than you need. You can always play a speaker at low volume when it’s not needed, but you can never go louder than the speaker allows.

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For many audiophiles, the time to get a new pair of headphones is as soon as something new and exciting drops that pique their interest. For the regular consumer, however, that won’t be the case. In fact, headphones can often last for years without needing replacement, though they do not have the same type of longevity as traditional home audio most of the time.

I’m a big fan of upgrading headphones regularly, I personally go through several sets each year, and some may get sold, some may get held onto, but headphones are a bit like dating for many. Sure, you could skip the dating and go straight for a reliable pair of Sennheiser. But how do you know what you like when you haven’t experienced what else is out there?

A common misconception is that a good pair of headphones is an objective product. Headphones are one of the more individualistic pieces of audio equipment, and while we all have the things we like and dislike about a particular sound signature – they never do quite make as much of an influence as in the headphone market.

Headphones are built and tuned quite differently from each other, and the sound signature they provide varies in turn. While critical listeners may argue against any signature that isn’t flat, for others, a flat signature is completely boring and lifeless. Some people (myself included) prefer a V-shaped signature that emphasizes bass and treble, leading to a brighter and what is often referred to as a “fun sound signature.”

By upgrading your headphones now and again, you get to experience different materials, different tuning, and what is ultimately a different listening experience. Only by doing this will you find the types of headphones that work best for you. And granted, this approach is perhaps aimed more towards the enthusiastic, hobbyist side of headphones, but there are other reasons to consider upgrading your headphones every now and again.

Headphones go through a lot more wear and tear than most other speakers. For instance, you’re not constantly handling a center-channel speaker, but you will often spend hours each day wearing your headphones or headset. Over time this can lead to a degradation of the padding, and even though it’s a gradual shift that you may not notice, the comfort of your headphones can actually decrease a bit over time.

Additionally, cables are often the weak point of headphones and are the first thing to break. Consider investing in a pair of headphones that have a detachable auxiliary cable that can easily be replaced should something happen to it. The last thing you want is to accidentally get a cable caught in your chair wheel and have to replace your whole headset cause the cable isn’t removable.

In the end, only you will be able to justify the upgrades you make. You shouldn’t need to replace speakers too regularly. But we recommend doing so where you are able to, as upgrades will typically bring you new functionality, and better efficiency, which results in lower power consumption, and new audio experiences by trying different speakers or headphones to find which ones sound the best to your ear.

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Author: Bryn De Kocks

Bryn has worked in the field for several years, writing in-depth speaker reviews for various audio publications. His work has historically focused on headphones and Bluetooth speakers, while incorporating his understanding of the Bluetooth speaker market to help educate potential buyers.

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