Home Theater on a budget

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  • 09-26-2007, 08:39 AM
    Well feedback is key. Read the negative feedback, especially, if they have any. With speakers, fortunately, there are not a lot of things that can go wrong because they don't really have any moving parts (unlike buying a turntable). So with speakers, the pictures are key. If there's a single blurry picture or they are not well taken, that's a cause for concern. Ask the seller to send you more pictures - most good sellers won't mind. Also, and this seems rather silly, but most sellers won't necessarily say that a speaker is actually working well, so make sure they do. Stay away from "as is" and "all-sales-final" and "no returns" kind of language - good sellers will usually allow returns and on 2-3 year old speakers that should be the case.

    Also ask if there are any marks, punctures, tears in the drivers. Sometimes a small puncture won't necessarily affect sound, but you have to ask yourself if you want to buy from someone who sticks a pencil in his speakers (or who has kids/pets/friends who do). The value of higher-end speakers is also a matter of how well the cabinets were maintained, but these seldom have an affect on the sound, so if you can live a few scratches in the finish, you could save some money. Avoid serious damage like cracks along the whole side, severely dented corners, or broken binding posts.

    That said, a speaker has a life span of 20-30 years or more so it should look almost new - if someone has had the time in 2-3 years to seriously damage a speaker, ask them to carefully explain what happened. I've had bookshelves knocked off of stands and seen some serious damage to towers. Pets, kids, and smoking are not good to speakers either so look for some that have been kept clear of those - most sellers will say so.

    Regarding appearance, I purchased a pair of Dynaudio bookshelf speakers that the owner had tried to refinish with disastrous results. The cabinets were ruined but the drivers and the electronics were perfect. I was worried because I wondered why someone would try to refinish such speakers in the first place, and the owner just said that there had been some "water damage" (this is almost always bad). But I gambled and lucked out - when I got them they were ugly but sounded just as good as they should. I bought them for under $200 and had them refinished professionally in piano-gloss balck. They sounded fine after the "upgrade" and I ended up with a pair of speakers no one else had - they sold for quite a bit more. But my point for telling you this is that if you can live with unattractive speakers you could have a very good sounding system.

    Also check Police auctions. It's a stereotype, but criminals do like to buy extravagant things. I heard of a Bugatti here in LA that sold for next to nothing because someone had died in it and it smelled bad - for about 12 grand that was fixed. I also heard of a pair of speakers that where valued at $30K (they never told me the brand) but that had a bullet hole right through one of them - the manufacturer replaced the damaged driver and repaired the cabinet for free. When people spend that kind of money on speakers, that's usually what manufacturers will do (funny thing is those speakers mysteriously disappeared after that). Anyhow, it's not easy to get into the Police/Government auction network, but once you're in, there's never a dull moment.

    Also check local estate sales. You need to subscribe to get on their mailing lists and the dealer auctions (when the good stuff is sold) are usually on Wednesdays or Thursdays, before the less nice stuff is prepared for the weekend shoppers. My father used to deal in antiques before I really got enough into this hobby to know what to bid, but I saw some very nice gear every once in a while. One time I arrived too late for bidding on a collection of over 3000 LPs (mostly 50s and 60s jazz and classical), they went for less than $200 and they were in pristine condition with many titles out of print. Needless to say that was a very sad day.

    Anyhow, there are many less-traveled options for finding gear, especially in large metro areas. The funny thing about the really high-end stuff is that if people don't recognize the brands or they can't read the docs that are in a foreign language, and you know what to look for, you can find some amazing deals. The vast majority of mass-produced electronic gear is absolutely worthless, so sometimes the good stuff piled in the same heap and could be worth a small fortune. You just need to know what to look for. There seems to be a trend away from big wooden tower speakers these days so you could really luck out.

    I'm still hoping for that pair of Avantgarde Unos that someone will have left sitting in some antique warehouse between the Victrolas, LOL.
  • 10-05-2007, 06:05 AM
    GTucker
    Shaw,
    My cousin just reminded me of a place that opened up just as I was leaving Chicago. Saturday Audio on West Belmont. They regularly deal in used gear and consignment gear and pretty much only weekend hours if I John was being accurate. Definitely worth checking out.
    GTucker