If you’ve been following or casually glancing at this column for a while, you know I’m super DIY-happy when it comes to audio. I know it’s not everyone’s first instinct to make it yourself, especially when it comes to complicated and little-understood stuff like audio circuits and speaker design.
But it’s not like I’m actually obsessed with making things. Generally, it’s hard work, and once it sounds good, the motivation to spend an equal amount of time making it look good is sometimes (usually) lacking.
Despite that, I’ve made amplifiers, lots of cables, speakers of many kinds, subwoofers, stands and racks all by myself in the garage. Why did I go through all this effort? Because DIY is cheap, and I’m poor.
Yes, the audiophile game can seem like a rich man’s hobby when the press is dominated by uber expensive equipment. And that’s a shame really, but it’s true. Open any Stereophile magazine and I’d bet the mean dollar value across all products mentioned is above $1,000 — maybe even as high as $5,000.
Car guys don’t bat an eye at the price of a Ferrari. High-end audio should be pretty much the same way, but it just feels different in the U.S. because our culture is more tilted to accept wild spending on transportation than it is on audio equipment.
Those prices hurt the brain. DIY is a solution if you’re not afraid of a table saw, but there’s another way to access fantastic circuitry and high-performance speakers, and that is to buy used.
There’s a difference between buying a used toothbrush and buying a used vintage receiver. I can’t think of anyone who would want a used toothbrush, for obvious reasons.
But a used piece of audio equipment is not to be scoffed at. Audio is an old science, so good sound has been available for a long time. I’ve written a bit in these pages about modern corporate audio companies skimping wildly on parts and circuit components. It hasn’t always been like that. Back in the day, a lot of equipment was designed with longevity and quality (and even resale) in mind.
One example is my beloved Pioneer SX-737 receiver I got off Craigslist. When I opened the chassis up to install a new power jack so I could use my fancy power cables with it, I saw really good components, really clean layout and positively pristine electrical connections. It made me feel pretty great about spending only $20 on it.
However, buying used audio equipment is not without pitfalls and quagmires. I happen to be an expert on this topic. My day job involves testing used high-end audio equipment for an internet business based out of the Front Range, so I’ve really seen it all when it comes to used gear.
In the next few weeks, I’ll be discussing specific things to watch out for when buying used audio equipment — and certain things to look for to nail that Craigslist purchase of a lifetime. Next week, we’ll start with speakers, since they have the most tendency for breakdown and decay. Stay tuned.