Do our systems age?

March 6, 2023
 by Paul McGowan

As humans, we all know what it feels like to get older and experience wear and tear over time. We may find ourselves slowing down, experiencing aches and pains, and needing more rest than we did in our youth.

Is it any different for our stereo systems? Does metal, silicon, glass, rubber, and all that goes into building a high end audio system get worse over time?

Just like the human body, electronic devices have components that can degrade over time. Speakers are, of course, the most obvious. Surrounds, capacitors, and all those moving parts age. In fact, all mechanical mechanisms fade over time.

But electronics?

We’re all familiar with the degradation of capacitors, but consider that modern silicon-based systems grow “old” similarly to how our brains get stuck and slow.

Remember back to your shiny new computer or iPad. Blazing fast for quite some time. Then, with updates and plugins and use, we get slower processing speeds, longer load times, and increased lag when running programs or applications.

Just like humans may struggle to keep up with the demands of physical activity as they age, electronics often mimic us as they try to keep up with the demands of modern software and technology.

It might seem strange to anthropomorphize the machines and technology we interface with but, as they become more and more complex, they become more and more “human” in all matters.

Including getting older.

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28 comments on “Do our systems age?”

  1. Even though I witnessed virtually no wear & tear on the butyl-rubber surrounds
    on the 12″ drivers & 12″ ABRs in my 38 years old Celestion -‘Ditton 66’ floor-
    standers, it would be inconceivable that home-audio components do not
    wear-out eventually…not including wiring, inductors or resistors.
    The greater the quality of the parts used, the longer the ‘life’
    of the components…logic 101 😉

  2. I can’t believe Paul is repeating the old canard about iPads (or other Apple computers) slowing down over time; they don’t in general.

    They may become a bit slower as they run new operating systems that do more, but it’s not due to plugins nor due to age itself.

      1. Paul that is true because of all the apps and programs that have been added. If you fully and truly factory reset to original OS performance would be fully restored to as new, with battery not as good as new

      2. The slowing of electronics is not due to ‘use’ per se. True, a device can get slower if updates to the operating system (including the software libraries it comprises) or firmware introduce ‘software bloat’ that wasn’t there when the device shipped, but those slowdowns are not due to use. Also true, the performance of a device might degrade if it’s loaded up with apps and data, but no more so than if those apps and data had been present on the device when it was unboxed. A key point for this forum is that a manufacturer of a specialized device – such as a DAC – has some control over the functional longevity of its product. Products can be future-proofed to an extent: decisions such as how much memory and data storage to build into a product are an explicit part of the product planning process and are made after considering tradeoffs including parts costs and product life expectancy. Similarly, the manufacturer can exercise some control over the size of the software/firmware updates it deploys for products in the field.

  3. As BillK says the comparison with a shiny new computer or iPad getting slower isn’t valid. The only reason that they get slower is all the updates that change/add functionality. If you were not to update it would stay just as fast until a component failed, so that’s not aging.

    Ignoring moving parts, speakers that Paul covered, electronic systems like computers or amps don’t age like humans do, in terms of slowing down. CPU clock rates stay the same, unlike internal combustion cars that often can’t go as fast or accelerate as quickly as they age.

    I certainly agree that components age, with capacitors often being mentioned by Paul…
    … but do Amps/DACs lose their power/quality overtime ?

    My question is do I leave my $8,000 high-end ‘ish’ mono block AV Amp, with really good AKM DACS that Paul likes, powered up all the time or let the amps go cold in standby?
    I can leave the amp on with its display off and in eco mode, never used when playing as it drops the voltages – this burns 32watts
    If not in eco mode – this burns 80watts

    I’m not, yet, that bothered by the annual cost but which on mode is better …
    … will it significantly reduce its life – as now retired I’d like it last a very long time 🙁
    … does leaving it powered up, rather than up/down (to standby at 0.1watts) every day, improve sound or even extend its life?

  4. It’s unavoidable that as time passes our systems age but do they mature? We’ve all heard about ‘burn in’ but is there a point when a system is fully burned in and it’s all downhill from there? I’ve read that speakers can improve with age but no real idea why. Is it because with use they loosen up, in which case should we all be buying preowned speakers. Perhaps over time we just get familiar and comfortable with them. Unless of course we don’t, and then it’s time to set out on the joyous upgrade trail….again.

  5. Resistors, capacitors and tubes gradually experience a decline in their initial spec values, but our ears probably adjust to much of the change. The excitement comes from upgrading components and hearing a whole new piece of gear. For example, when I replaced the OEM coupling capacitors in my BAT VK-6 tube amp with Duelund CAST-PIO-Cu capacitors (the “best in the world”) the difference was WOW!

  6. Thank you BillK
    Slow downs I’ve experienced are trying to run modern programs apps on older machines. Slower access times – and maybe batteries loosing their punch so the processor is slowed – less memory less-sophistication in the realm of time. I got a new iPad to speed up the PSA site – it didn’t make a difference. 😉

    I still have audio electronics from the 60’s- new tubes, yes – updated caps – yes Does the music sound slower? No. So yes some things wear out, but the speed of light doesn’t change with age. An old crt tv doesn’t become slower with age, just the person watching it.

    If like a human, electronics slow down with age then the last audio system anyone should buy is when they are in their 40’s. Add 60 years and it won’t be appreciably different when someone is 100. They’ll both have slowed down together.

    Want controversial?…. And ideas that may match reality?…
    Embrace the golden years but leave audio judgment to the younger golden ears….. they haven’t worn out or slowed down.
    High end audio for the most part is wasted on those who wanna reclaim their youth.
    Anyone over 65 should have no amp that weighs over 13 lbs and no other component that weighs more than 50lbs.

    😉

    1. That’s what I used to say about Corvette Stingrays when I was a young man. Fortunately, I survived long enough to get into high end audio. 😎

  7. If you don’t service your car, it will break down. Thankfully in the UK we are required every year to get an approved engineer to test and certify to the government that our car is safe and roadworthy. There is no such requirement for audio.

    Good design can make products last longer. That can include designing them so that they can be serviced and brought back to “as new” condition for a modest price, like quad amplifiers, or making them modular, so that dead parts can easily be replaced or upgraded if they become technologically redundant.

    For my part, my all-in-one system was originally built in 2010, had hardware upgrades in 2013, 2016 and 2017 and numerous software updates. The total cost of the updates over 13 years amount to 40% of the retail price of unit as it is now. That represents tremendous efficiency and value, not least because the 2023 product is a lot better than the 2010 original, but is only as good as the manufacturer continuing to provide support.

    My son’s integrated amplifier was built in 1984 and was last serviced by the original manufacturer “as new” with some component upgrades in 2017 at a cost of $150.

    So I think it’s more on the manufacturer to make products that can last a lifetime, whereas some manufacturers would prefer you replace them long before they even start to deteriorate.

  8. Although it sounds so, I’m sure you don’t suggest that HW (except certain well known components which can cause failures) ages and that that’s why e.g. PC’s or Tablets get slower over time.

    I’m sure I don’t have to write this, but…the reason why PC’s, phones and tablets get slower certainly is solely the higher demand of the evolving operating systems and SW. A Windows 95 PC certainly is as fast with WIN 95 as it initially was…it’s just slower with WIN 11.

    Strange post today 😉

  9. The wear out mechanisms of non living mechanical and electrical items is well understood and in NO way is related to the aging phenomenon that all living things must endure.

    For reasons that psychologist may understand we humans tend to behave as if these non living things have human attributes. When I was serious about cycling many years ago I use to think that I and the bike became one. I would actually talk to the bike. This is, of course, utter nonsense and I realized that, but I still did it.

    1. Ha!

      My missus calls her Colnago “La principessa”, my Pinarello doesn’t have a name. But “he” doesn’t ride with bad weather or during “thorn season”. The old reliable Trek has the kevlar tires to deal with that. And doesn’t mind getting dirty.

      But when weather is really bad, it goes on the Wahoo, losing (not loosing) it’s rear wheel to get on the power machine. You’d be surprised how quiet they are these days.

      Tony, get back to it!

  10. I think we could get more detailed about what exactly degrades. Like WHAT in the electronics happens? Or could this be diagnosed as Electrile Dysfunction? Somehow that really resonates.

      1. Here’s a totally true story: I have worked for Siemens, the global electrical company, since 1990. I now work in the automation group, but back in the 90s I was in the electrical distribution division – that makes everything from utility power equipment, panel boards, switchboards, load centers, circuit breakers, etc. Our ad agency proposed an ad that pictured an empty electric chair with the line: “There’s one person who won’t be impressed by the reliability of Siemens electrical distribution products.” Although I would agree it would have been a very effective ad, for probably good reasons we decided not to run it.

    1. And I agree, it would be fascinating to have someone do an analysis on exactly what degrades…or possibly improves…and exactly how it happens. Why should this be a mysterious rather than a well-understood process?

  11. Golly, have I totally missed someone pointing out that it’s not so much that the older systems get slower, it’s that the newer systems ARE faster. I just upgraded from a 7 year-old iMac to a new Mac MINI. They both run complex applications, and yes, the iMac was starting to not be able to run some newer stuff, but the new one, no matter how complex or simple, old or new the software, makes the old one feel like my 2002 Ford Ranger compared to a new BMW.

  12. One thing for sure, my Philips CD880 player, which sings/performs even more beautifully today than when new 35 years ago, has aged Much Better than I have!!! 😉

    1. My 25 year old Wadia 830 CD Player, after a drive overhaul and an electrolytic capacitor replacement sounds more magical than ever. We may be a minority of two.

      1. Stimpy2 make that a minority of three. My now very old Mark Levinson 31 is still my very favorite transport. And my equally old Wadia, though sometimes temperamental, is still a great source.
        I have three Proceed amps that date back to I think the 80s that have the best midrange I have heard. Manufacturers claim improvements but my old Micro Seiki sx8000 is still a peak performer.

  13. I used to tap my 1990s preamp on the front to get it to turn on & rap the right side of my 80s amp to get the channels equal.   New PSA S300 amp & SGCD preamp helped save my sanity.

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