How to buy used gear? [Archive] - Audio & Video Forums


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02-18-2011, 09:01 AM
So I know a lot of folks here are always recommending the used gear route - I want to write an article helping folks in making smart used gear purchases - but I need ya'lls help.

What do you look for when buying used gear? Is it different for speakers and amplifiers, cables and turnables?

Do the standard rules of buyer be ware apply in the audio industry or if you get a bum piece off craigslist ... what to do?

How about buying a used tube amp? Is that like picking up someone else's problems?

02-18-2011, 12:29 PM

I would estimate 95% of my audio gear was bought used and in these economic times it is something more people should consider.

I am sure the more technical people here can give some tips from that perspective. I can only speak to my personal experience.

1. There is no substitute for testing the gear out. Someone looking at used gear should try and put together a "demo pack" which will allow them to test a variety of gear in a variety of situations depending on the gear being purchased. I have a power converter that I can use in my car to plug in gear if I can't (or do not fell comfortable testing gear at the seller's home) test it at the seller's home. Small speakers like Realistic Minimus 7's are easy to carry around to test receivers. Connection cables and speaker wires are also a must to test a variety of gear. If needed take along a small receiver with a phono and aux connection to test turntables or CD players. Most thrift stores will let you test gear if you ask first. Arranging gear and moving stuff around without asking permission will usually get you in a spot of trouble.

2. Have an idea of what you are looking for before you buy. It is very easy with used gear to be more in love with the price than the gear itself which is both a good and bad thing. You should use the internet and other resources to determine the type of gear you want especially in the area of "vintage" gear (for my purposes I will define vintage as anything before 1980). Many people who start collecting vintage gear equate anything old with everything good. That simply is not the case, as cheap stuff was made then just as it is now. By using the internet and other resources you can develop an idea of what was good then and is considered even good today. However, the flip side of that is that while you can get a good idea fairly quickly of what is considered desirable the price of a lot of used gear allows you to gamble without paying too much on piece that appeals to you. I paid $20 for a Sansui AU-505 and another $20 for a Nikko NR-819 without really knowing their reputation until researching them. As it turns out very good pieces and worth my investment several times over but had it gone the other way I would only have been out a total of $40.
3. Tying in with the first two comments is the third; know your limits. While you were testing the gear you may have found issues with the gear ranging from a scratchy volume control to speakers which need re-foaming to replacing capicitors. Based on you testing of the gear and research of the gear try to determine what the possible issue might be. If you have an idea of the problem then you need to take a realistic approach to what you can do to fix it. If you have the right equipment and the matching skills and knowledge to fix the problem good for you. If you don't then you probably just bought yourself a doorstop that will sit somewhere collecting dust.

4. Educate yourself. The more you know about the gear you are buying the better off you will be. Web sites like Audio Review, Audiokarma and Audioholics provide great platforms for learning about equipment and issues related to the equipment such as the availability of parts and where to repair it should that be needed. They can also be a great source for obtaining equipment from fellow enthusiasts at a reasonable price and with knowledge of its condition. Almost as important as the knowledge you can gleam from sites like these are the friendships with other members that you will develop over time that will keep you interested in the hobby for years to come.

Long reply but just thought I'd contribute a few thoughts and my two cents.........

02-18-2011, 12:45 PM
Great post kiddo!! Greenies for you!

Just a few thoiughts to add:

-- Decent power amps are usually fairly indestructable...never had a problem buying one online, including some fairly expensive McIntosh gear; be aware of the buyer's history or reputation.
--Speakers, though delicate, often have extreme longevity...make sure any shipping arrangements account for this.
-- To echo thekid, educate yourself especially concerning playback or processing often a "good deal" turns out to be obsolete...check codecs and connections before you pull the trigger. I would be hard pressed to by a used cdp online.

Great stuff Adam...

02-18-2011, 04:21 PM
I'd like to add that if the item has any dings, scratches, mars, or anything else like that, I won't even consider... Why?... Because if the previous owner(s) were careless enough with the equipment to let that happen, then that is probably an indication of other problems as well... It's just my niggly thing, I guess, but it bears out true for me over time...

02-18-2011, 08:15 PM
My tips for Craigs List, garage/estate sales and thrift stores.

1. Good advice from T.Kid on pricing and knowing the value. Along the same line: If the deal is not ripe, don't rush it. Another one will come along. Its a buyers market out there when it comes to used gear.

2. Understand the difference between Ebay and Craigslist. There are virtually no deals left on Ebay. Between sniper bots that outbid you buy a penny at the last second and having to compete with and entire nation of buyers, the good stuff on Ebay goes for top dollar now. Craigslist is were the real deals live. I just got a tape deck that retailed for $800 in 87 for $20 off CL. Plus I got to meet a really nice guy and see all his cool equipment. (Don't read that last sentence with your filthy minds.)

3. Don't buy cassette decks, reel to reels, or turntables off of Ebay. Just. Don't. Do. It.

4. Don't take advantage of sellers. If some little old lady having a garage sale has something really good priced at $1 because she doesn't know what she has, let her know. That dude on Pawn Stars does it. It's just kosher. Besides that last thing you want is a haunted McIntosh because you couldn't man up.
I found a whole box of minty fresh Lookout! and Epitaph punk vinyl at a garage sale marked 25cents each. I knew they would price at $10 to 20 retail each at the used store and fetch the seller $5 each if she knew where the used store was. Told the seller. Took the box for $40 (instead of about $6) and everyone was happy.

02-19-2011, 01:57 PM
One important thing to remember in buying used/vintage is that caps have a life span of around 25 to 30 years and most speakers will need refoaming in 20 years.

02-19-2011, 02:44 PM
Any more advice on bad caps? How to tell if there going/gone? Insight on replacement?

02-19-2011, 10:23 PM
You guys have given out some fantastic advice.

Thanks so much!

Anyone else want to add to this?

02-20-2011, 06:14 AM
For me, used gear is the way to go because I have very little opportunity to audition any audio systems. Here in our bustling city of 1.2 million we have one boutique audio shop that I know of. I buy gear with the idea that I might sell it. I almost never am willing to pay a higher-than-average price because I don’t want to lose money when I sell. If I were sure I’d keep a particular item, I’d be willing to consider higher prices. In fact, my integrated amp probably cost me more than what I thought its market value was at the time, but it was still sealed in the manufacturer’s box after having been sent in to be serviced and re-tubed. I felt almost positive it was going to be a keeper because I had enjoyed one of their more-recent integrateds at the audio shop. The sound is quite similar, so in the end it was the right call.

When I’m shopping for used gear, I give pretty high importance to cosmetics. Functional problems can be repaired and it’s solved. Dings and scratches don’t get repaired. They just stay right there. So when shopping online I usually look for indications that they know and appreciate this stuff…that they’re not the type to ding things up. Sometimes the communication is almost like making a new friend.

The main thing, though, is to learn as much as I can about the item’s sound quality as I can. I read and read and read. I listen to what little I can as much as I can. With my turntable, was I interested in features? No. Reliability? Not really. Did I judge by how heavy it is? Nope. I liked the new model I’d heard and I decided I could get a used one higher up the ladder from the same manufacturer for less. Done deal. I might have my last turntable. With speakers, I decided I like the so-called British sound. I found I could get some beautifully built floorstanders on Audiogon for less than the same manufacturer’s new bookshelf models. Done on that one for a long time, too. But if I hadn’t liked them, I think I could have sold them for as much as I paid. That’s always the key for me, except perhaps with digital.

With digital, time and technology move on. I’m content to lose money on CD players and DACs if I keep them any length of time. But to some extent the method still applies, if you flip it fast enough. When I bought my DAC it was a demo that was very near average used prices at the time. I was willing to pay a little more for the demo to make sure it was clean and under warranty, but it too seemed like a keeper going in. I’d read about its supposedly analog-ish smoothness and I just took a chance without hearing one. I consider myself to have been lucky on all the items I bought without auditioning, but it did take flipping a few flops to get here.

Jack in Wilmington
02-20-2011, 07:21 AM
Good insight Noob. I know buying used is a big risk for some people. I'm always checking Audiogon for a great deal. Right now Ive had my eye on some ProAc's and been going back a forth between Agon and ProAc's web site to check out the specs on some discontinued models like the Response 2.5 and the Studio 150.

Also a great way to pick up a previously out of reach piece of gear is to wait until a new version of something comes out and they want to move out the old model. My dealer has the DAC that I've been looking at ( PS Audio DL III ) for $300 under list, now I don't know if a new model is coming out, but I'll gladly take the lower price.

But Noob's right that you have to be happy with the cosmetic condition of what you're getting. You have to wonder when they say "It's got a few dings, but it doesn't effect the sound"

02-20-2011, 10:25 AM
What do you look for when buying used gear?
It depends upon the price. I've purchased a number of components for under $300 where I'm not too picky so long as the item works. For more expensive gear, product quality and longevity is important since I keep most stuff long term. I choose items that are still supported by the manufacturer. I had no reservation buying Audio Research, Manley and Sound Lab gear used.

Is it different for speakers and amplifiers, cables and turnables?
My criteria remains pretty much the same although for turntables and tonearms, I want to be sure that the seller has the original packaging.

Do the standard rules of buyer be ware apply in the audio industry or if you get a bum piece off craigslist ... what to do?
Perhaps I've just been lucky. One time I bought a CD changer off Ebay whose power switch just wouldn't stay on from day one. I took off the lid and honestly tried to repair the mechanism myself. I contacted the seller and he took it back.

How about buying a used tube amp? Is that like picking up someone else's problems?
Just assume that the tubes will require replacing unless the seller can substantiate otherwise. I'm not sure where I get your notion of automatically having a problem so long as you buy an established high quality brand.

High end gear, like cars depreciates pretty quickly at first and there are always guys out there who turn over components at a ridiculous rate. Witness all the stuff on Agon where the seller says it is under six months old. There are great savings to be found.


02-20-2011, 05:44 PM
If you want to restore old tube gear make friends with an old TV repairman who worked in the 50's and 60's. Some of these guys are as good or better than young tube technicians. Other good resources for tube techs are seniors who were ham radio operators back in the day. Not only can they work on tube gear but they usually keep a treasure trove of tubes.

02-23-2011, 06:10 PM
Before commiting to buy:

1. Original packing material?

2. Original packing box?

3. Price on the used gear depend on what you want out of it. I would pay $2000 for a cosmetically challenged but 100% functional BAT VK10SE SUPERPAK in a heartbeat, but I would stay away from a cantilever-less cartriges. Unless they are selling it for $10 and you want to use it towards a significant discount as a trade in.

4. Talk to the seller. Find out if the seller knows anything about audio and the gear, and talk to them about how they are going to pack. They will always say, "I'll pack them well..." so ask them in details. Separate box for tubes&preamp? Platter&TT?

5. Who's paying shipping? If the seller is paying, chances are they are going to skimp, unless the seller is like one of my good local audio friends Mikefan from Audiogon. You should offer to pay extra for packing and material if the transactional value is high. I've received a preamp in a flimsly box with less than half full of packing material.

6. Double boxing means shi*t if there are not added packing material between boxes. Like I said above, pay additional for packing material. What's another $20 for a $1000+ gear?

7. Pictures. If you are paranoid type, request them to include a specific hand written comment next to the unit and send a picture of it. I've always thought this is a good idea if a picture looked fishy, but I never cared to request. Hi-rez pics will always tell a better story.
under "by Location" type in your first 2 digits of your zip code.
eBay has a similar option as well. If you can audition it and pick it up yourself, why even reconsider?


02-24-2011, 10:45 AM
I review the wording of the ad. Proper English and spelling makes me feel better about the deal. Broken English and fragments raise flags.

When questioning the item, i usually ask about packaging and always include a note when sending the payment to please ensure it is packaged with care.

If the ad doesn't state why the item is being sold, then i ask. You would be amazed at the answers and some will provide clues.

02-24-2011, 02:33 PM
A bulging or swollen cap is a sure sign it's going bad. A scratchy channel is usually a dirty pot but a silent channel is usually a deal breaker unless the amp is collectable.

A speaker with a rotted foam surround is an easy fix and it usually means you can negotiate the seller down to a few bucks as most people will think the speaker is shot. I once picked up some beautiful big Advents for $10 as I pointed out the rotten surrounds to the seller. Often you'll find a speaker with surrounds that have totally rotted away and they will look terrible but in truth that only makes it easier to refoam. Now of course you must know which speakers are worth refoaming and which ones aren't.

02-25-2011, 05:22 AM
While I agree with much of what's been writtien here (tried to give some green love but I need to spread it around more Kid), my experience has been slightly different.

I still get used gear off of ebay. I allows me to see multiples of the same item and a history of those sold. If it's current enough an item you can find what the list is etc... You might have to add shipping but usually no sales tax. The best thing about the Bay is you get to see the seller's history and what folks have said after dealing with them over the years. I find this to be invaluable in making used purchases. There might not be any more "killer diller" bargains on the bay but you can still get great value there and the protection provided by them and PayPal doesn't hurt either.

I've had mixed results on Craigslist. I've seen some great stuff there but sometimes I find it's gone quicker than on ebay. Also, you have to make time and arrange meetings and transfers and cash on the barrell head. And what do you do with that awkard situation where you arrange to buy something and find that its not as advertised or what you want. You don't have a pissed off seller on the net, instead you now have a pissed off seller in your face. The biggest piece of electronc gear I've bought off the bay a Carver power amp and receiver turned out to be an expensive bust as the receiver never worked right a day I had it. It's sitting on the porch now rusting. My biggest problem with Craigslist in my neck of the woods is the stuff for sale here is crap. Yorx, Soundesign and other absolute rubbage from the 70's just gets reposted and reposted and resposted. I'm NOT a Craiglist fan.

I've had good results with Audiogon. I find the Bluebook feature to be pretty handy and you're dealing with savvy folks on the whole who do NOT want to be saddled with a bad reputation. I like it personally. But you will pay top dollar, but then again if you can't afford don't make yourself miserable by looking at it all day.


02-25-2011, 07:43 AM
So I know a lot of folks here are always recommending the used gear route - I want to write an article helping folks in making smart used gear purchases - but I need ya'lls help.

OK, here's my limited experience.

What do you look for when buying used gear?

Something interesting, mostly working, and cheap. Does it make a reasonable sound. Scratchy volumes and pots pass because they're fixable. No sound stays on the shelf, unless it's a Y. CR-2020 or P. SX-1980 for $5. But, that's never happened.

Sometimes I'm fulfilling a specific need such as a garage system or a CD changer. Othertimes, it's oportunity knocks such as a puney-little Realistic SA-10 for a buck- just for fun.

Is it different for speakers and amplifiers, cables and turnables?

Speakers: Gotta be wood veneer. Surround rot OK. Good condition cloth or rubber surround are a plus. But I'm being very selective because I'm antipating the Speaker-Overrun-Condition sucking up all the house space.
Amps: I test them before buying. So far for me, they gotta work or I'm not interested.
Cables must be New-In-Box. Cables are not on my hit list at Thrift/GW/CL/ebay.
TT: It helps if it makes a sound. But I bought one for spare parts- it came without counter weight and belt.

Do the standard rules of buyer be ware apply in the audio industry or if you get a bum piece off craigslist ... what to do?

Most of what I buy is so cheap, I just take the hit. If it works well, I sometimes contact the seller and thank them for their service to mantain the goodwill.

How about buying a used tube amp? Is that like picking up someone else's problems?
Sorry, I can't help you here.

02-25-2011, 01:50 PM
I learned way too much about human nature in police work to ever trust a stranger over
the net/phone.
LET SOMEONE ELSE play around with bad pots, caps, and stuff that never shows up.
I LIKE PLAYING MUSIC, and the thrill of getting a new toy.
And I dont like my system looking like a Goodwill blew up.
To each his own.:1:

02-26-2011, 01:30 AM
A great resource for used gear not mentioned here before is the annual Junior Women's League Clean Sweep Sale. Most larger cities have these in Feb or March. I haven't missed one in the last 12 years and have scored some great finds.