Published On: September 12, 2011

The Risk of Buying Audiophile Gear Used

Published On: September 12, 2011

The Risk of Buying Audiophile Gear Used

Online bargains and used gear can seem like a great idea. But there is something more than price margins you pay for by going to a physical retailer. You pay for safety, because there are dangers not often thought of from online purchases.

Used_Gear_Aragon_4004_MKII_amp.jpgValue is everything in today's market. HomeTheaterReview.com's managing editor, Andrew Robinson, is quoted saying "$2,000 is the new $20,000" in audiophilia and while the expensive goodies that we discuss still have a special appeal, the lure of getting them at a low-low price is always tempting. Very tempting.

Everyone in the audiophile market knows the power of buying used but there are serious risks that should be discussed. To start, not all used gear is created equal nor are their sellers and/or the transactions to buy them. Audiogon.com is loaded with great sellers and great buys and some argue eBay.com is even better because of its global reach and huge inventory. There is no dispute that both players have changed the game for audiophiles in meaningful ways. The question is: are we really better off as enthusiast customers?

Additional Resources
• Read more original content in our Feature News Stories section.
• See similar stories in our Industry Trade News section.
• Explore reviews of AV Receivers, Source Components, and Amplifiers.

Case in point comes from a friend of mine who just moved back to his native Manhattan after three years of living in sinful San Francisco working in the alternative energy business. I helped him with his new system, which I made stereotypically speaker-heavy in its design, thus not leaving a lot of room for a power amp. After pretty significant discussions, what we settled on was for him to buy one of my favorite amps of all time - the Dan D'Agostino designed Aragon 4004 MKII. He quickly found a few on eBay and pounced on what looked like the nicest unit for about $800 which included shipping to him in New York. The transaction went down nicely; however his very high end (new) speakers hadn't arrived yet, thus he wasn't able to test the amp. While the amp worked once it arrived - one channel was lower in output than the other. Positive feedback had been given and returns became quickly out of the question, as it was unclear if he did the damage in the two weeks that he owned the amp. With a little online research, a repair was underway with a firm in Long Island who knows the 4004 MKII well. But that starts with $100 in shipping and hundreds more to make the amp right. What was a penny-pinching move on our part to eek the most performance from his system for the least amount of money started to look like a bad move. A really bad move.

In retrospect, used gear of this vintage was a bad way to go via eBay versus what could have been bought new online or from a specialty retailer. A trusty old amp like this could potentially be audiophile gold in the right transaction but that transaction should have been through a dealer who backs the gear they sell. It was a mistake to give positive feedback so early but without the system in place it was impossible to prove that it wasn't my friend who blew up the amp (he didn't, but you get the point) during the few weeks between when the amp was bought and the speakers arrived. A good dealer would have offered to have expedited the repair or taken the amp back as a return. A good dealer could have offered a loaner amp so that my friend could make sound with his system in the meantime that his amp was being repaired. There is a lot that a good dealer could have done to have been worth, say, the 10 to 15 percent more in price. Looking at the deal in retrospect, considering time spent and lost enjoyment from the system, there's a value not to mention the cost of real money and I argue that the $100 extra it might have cost to buy the amp from a specialty dealer would have been well worth it, as $100 was spent on shipping alone to get to and from the repair shop.

For your next purchase, be it new or used - ask the retailer what they can do for you to compete with online or used transactions. It's a fair question that they need to have an answer for. If a pair of $30,000 speakers are being sold for $18,000 because of a fire sale and the speakers have a transferable warranty - then the risk is worth the potential reward. In a smaller deal - it could be well worth your effort to buy local as the support, service and care that you get can actually save you money in the long run. Your dealer needs to be a conscientious one and most today are, especially if you give them a chance. Online resellers like Outlaw Audio, Orb Audio, Aperion Audio and a few others are very reliable, but specialty dealers have creative ways to help save you time, grief and money if you will give them a shot.

Additional Resources
• Read more original content in our Feature News Stories section.
• See similar stories in our Industry Trade News section.
• Explore reviews of AV Receivers, Source Components, and Amplifiers.

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