April 3, 2010

Pre-Owned High End Gears?

I used to love shopping for pre-owned high performance cars. I am cheap, and therefore, not prepared to pay the full entry price(at least not with the way Malaysian government puts huge taxes on car purchases), proven product record, known problems if any, availability of after market tuning options and cost of maintenance are factors that I consider when looking for pre-owned high performance cars. Now that my transportation needs are taken care of by my boss, I have no further reason to go around looking at cars. So what's a man who's gotta have toys to play do?

I started ogling at high performance/high end audio equipment! Well, that's not all actually, but I'd better not say it here, he!, he! I might just get in to trouble for it. Since I love ogling at pre-owned audio gears, I could post about the ones that I know enough about and share my thoughts with you, our dear readers. Despite having access to many hifi gears to play with, I still sometimes go hunting for pre-owned gears for a variety of reasons. Sometimes, the gear that I lusted for is no longer available new, for instance, my Marantz CD7, Pass Aleph 0 mono block, Pass X2.5 pre amp and XOno phono stage. My Linn LP12 can still be bought new, but the latest version would cost me an arm and a leg, probably not offering significantly more performance, than my pre-owned 80's version.

Cables and tweak accessories often make excellent pre-owned purchases, due to their high depreciation rates and known sonic qualities, even if it's not the latest model available today. Otherwise, vintage hifi collectors also scour for pre-owned bargains to park their money, add a little elbow grease to do some restoration work, keep it in tip top and work condition, then wait for the prices of the item to sour, if enough parties become interested.

Hifi equipment, like any other electronic or mechanical devices will be subjected to wear and tear, abuses or sometimes, just plain dumb design or poor build quality. When shopping for pre-owned hifi, care must be taken when surveying an item of desire. The best way is to learn about the product, the company that produces it(there's lots of information at one's finger tip now a days, all one has to do is to google it on the www.), and if possible ask around from owners past and present, about their ownership experience, if you know any.

Product reviews are always helpful by given an impression of a product's sound qualities, and some general, if practical user experiences, but will not reveal the reliability and service ability factor. This is largely due to the nature of product reviews being on short tenancy basis with a brand new or demo unit. It is highly unlikely anything bad(other than sounding bad) will happen to a product during the short review period, unless the product in question is an early production batch with defects, or just plain poorly designed. In the end, a product's time in the market place will prove the reliability and service ability factor. Below are just some pitfalls and caution that one should expect when shopping for used(but not abused) hifi.

Do note that in the case of digital products, parts may only available or kept by the manufacturer for a period of 5 years or so. Caution must therefore be applied, especially if one is shopping for an expensive pre-owned high end CD players! What happens if the transport(the most commonly replaced part) gives up? Would parts still be available by then? Worst case scenario, un salvage able, and ready to be disposed? It's your money, you decide!

Speakers and power amps are particularly prone to abuse, often due to equipment miss match(too small an amp driving too big a speaker or just playing music too loudly, especially with that Telarc Tchaikovsky1812 CD, conducted by Erich Kunzel!) So care must be taken when surveying the object of intended purchase. For amps, if possible, ask permission to open the top panel for inspection if possible(though often not possible, one should just try and ask any way if you're dead serious about the purchase). With the top panel opened, it's often easy to spot signs of previously poorly conducted repairs, if any) As for pre-owned speakers, it's often more difficult to determine signs of abuse. A buzzing tweeter, or and dent on the wooden boxes are always a suspect. Mids and woofers are easier to inspect if you know what to do. One can gently press the woofer cone inwards, towards the center basket where the voice coil is, and gently release the pressure. Look out for rough, or less then smooth pistonic motion as that may be a sign that of a worn, or poorly repaired voice coil. Also note that older, usually vintage speakers cones often have sagging voice coils(due to poorer material quality available then and time/heat factor is usually a voice coils worst enemy) which the same press test will reveal if so. In any case, do ask the owner first, before conducting any voice coil test, as one should remember that the product for sale is not yours yet, not at least, until you have paid for it.

Though there are no moving parts for cables, it's often best to check for minor cuts, if any, along the cable length, as a minor cut can result in an oxidized patch inside the cable core, which will affect it's signal transfer qualities. Also look out poorly soldered plugs and other interface like banana plugs or spades, as this indicates the cable's joints may have been tempered with, for reasons only known to the owner.

For other mechanical based equipment like a tape deck or turntable, do look out for worn belts, motors or switches. In any case, if possible, do try to bring along a learned or experienced audiophile friend whom you can trust for guidance( four eyes and ears are definitely better than two of each, and it's always more fun). One can normally thank a friend by buy him a beer or a cuppa. However, should one is not happy about the item post transaction, whatever the reason, don't blame your friend, after all he's only trying his best to help, to the best of his abilities. Blaming your friend over a hifi deal gone bad is worst friendship mistake one can make. Just remember this, you trusted his opinion enough to ask him in the first place!

With a bit of knowledge and some good company, pre-owned hifi shopping can be fun, not to mention a more economical way to get your heart's and ear's object of desire. Lastly, good luck, and happy shopping!


PuchongWong said...

It's human nature to want the best deal, no one wants to experience a bad hifi deal. Everyone has his/her hifi values, and must strive to learn from the wisest one. Big E, you agree??

Big E said...

Puchong Wong,

Big E is certainly not the wisest one! Now where's that fella called TWO?(The Wise One) gone to??