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Vintage Audio Equipment: Finding Legendary Gear on the Cheap

Why Buy Vintage?

I have written lots of articles with a general theme of "buy vintage". I won't rehash why I believe buying vintage is the best way to build a stereo or home theater (HT), but here's a short list:

  1. A few pieces from each model year will eventually prove to be the cream-of-the-crop of their era. Often these pieces aren't the top-of-the-line when they're launched, but become known as true diamonds in the rough after 10-20 years of service. You can't buy icons like this new: only after the test of time can you tell which ones they are. There are thousands of legendary icons like this on sale in the secondary market every day.
  2. You can often get vintage pieces - including the most famous and highest-regarded ones, for 20-40% of their retail price or - at a yard sale - even less. Vintage items often sound better than current products with the same retail price, despite years of inflation.
  3. Electronics, properly cared for, last nearly forever. What few repairs are needed are easy to perform, and relatively inexpensive to have fixed at a local repair shop.

Below is a real-life example of the money you can save - and then re-capture later - when you buy vintage: my own home theater, on which I saved 65% off the new price...around $7,700.  No Kidding.

My Vintage Home Theater: Did it Cost $1,600 or $9,000?

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click to enlarge

Cost: A Major reason to Select Vintage Gear

My own home theater is under constant improvement.  Not only would this be impossible with an all-in-one system like the Bose 3-2-1, but I am able to pounce on great vintage deals as I see them, one piece at a time.  I am proud to say I have never spent more than $400 for any single piece of gear.  Take a look at the chart below to see what kind of deals are possible when you select vintage:

HT Price Comparison Chart

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click image to enlarge

Price Comparison: A Real-Life Example.

Click the image of the spreadsheet on the right, and you'll see some impressive, real numbers behind my own home theater setup.  You may be amazed by how little I paid for my HT, which has a retail value of over $11,000.  Notice how I split the price list into two sections: The pink section shows all the Vintage gear in my system.  The blue section shows all the non-vintage gear: items like my Blu-Ray player and TV, which are new technologies, with no vintage versions available. 

Notice how the vintage gear is worth slightly more on the secondary market than I paid.  I am a good hunter :)

But also notice how the value of my vintage pieces doesn't fall over time any longer: the price has settled down to the market price, and some vintage pieces will actually climb in value.  I expect this to be true for my CSW Subwoofers and Adcom amplifiers.

My HT Savings and Resale Value Calculator

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click image to enlarge

My HT: real savings and resale value

Click on the savings and resale value calculator image on the right, and you'll see a spreadsheet summarizing the price comparison table above. Notice that I spent around $4,100 for my whole system - but $1,300 of that was for a laptop computer, $400 was for the TV, etc...

For the actual vintage audio portion of my HT, I spent only $1,600. The non-vintage portion was a whopping $2,520!

But whereas I can re-sell the vintage gear for around $3,200, for a gain of around $1,500, I will lose money on the TV, laptop, and hard drives. Take away the computer and hard drives from the cost calculation, and I spend around $2,000 for the TV and audio setup, which would have cost me around $9,000 new. My savings off of the retail price was around 65%, or around $7,700

If these numbers don't wake you up, nothing will!! :)

So...how do you find this stuff, and how do you find out which old stereo equipment is "legendary" and which is "junk"? Read on...

You don't need to be an expert to find iconic, legendary vintage Hi-Fi

It's true: You don't need to be an expert to find iconic, legendary vintage Hi-Fi. Salespeople in stores are happy to reinforce the notion that stereo and HT is devilishly complicated - something they can help protect you from. The truth is, you can find out which 10 to 50-year-old pieces are certified legends using a simple methodology I used myself when I was learning the market:

1. Go to eBay and Craigslist and search for the words "vintage" and "audiophile" alongside the words "speakers", "Amplifier", "Pre-amp", and "receiver". Also search for brand names like Rotel, Adcom, Krell, McIntosh, Linn, Polk, Paradigm, Vandersteen, Dynaco, Klipsch, Parasound, AR, Boston Acoustics, Martin Logan, Acoustech, Carver, Bose (only buy the "legends of Bose": the 901 or 301).  Get a sense for models, prices, and brands.  Eventually, you may buy from these marketplaces, so it's good to get to know them well. 

2. When you find a piece for sale that catches your eye, copy and paste the make and model into Google, and look for reviews by both magazines and user communities.  Try to find the MSRP and current market price for the product, as well as reviews.

3. Educate yourself about stereos and home theaters.

4. Buy often, sell often, always improve what you own, and use the gear a lot :)

Why true gems are at least 20 years old

As a buyer of used gear, I treat products made after 1990-1995 as generally suspect, for a number of reasons: In the late 1980s, many brands reacted aggressively to the saturated hi-fi market, and their quality suffered greatly.  But more importantly, it takes 20 years for true low-cost gems to emerge from the fray. Some classic examples of these types of brands and products are:

a. Advent "The Loudspeaker" (1970-1980). MSRP $125. Current mkt $ (refurbished): $170

b. Dynaco ST-70 Tube Amplifier (1960-Present) MSRP (1960): $75. MSRP (2009): 550. current market price (refurbished): $450

c. Eico Amps

d. Thorens TD-145 turntable

How can you tell if a given piece of gear is truly a "vintage icon":

Once you find a piece of gear by doing the searches mentioned above, you need to find what other people in the hi-fi world think about it.

To do this, search for the name and model number of your product. You can find good info on sites like www.audioreview.com, the Polk audio forums, Klipsch forums, and AVS forums.

Once you've read up on your gear, found the market price (in the USED market, of course), and located a good specimen, it's time to buy! Don't pay more than 40% of original retail for any piece.

Putting it all together

Adding your new vintage piece to your setup is just like adding any new piece of gear.  Nothing has changed in the last 40 years on that front :)

If you need help, search your question online, browse my other Hi-Fi University articles, or visit my website and drop me a line.  I would be happy to help.

Good Hunting!!!



AlexDrinkH2O from Southern New England, USA on March 20, 2013:

Excellent Hub! I too have "populated" my system with vintage gear, some of which I bought on the used market. I managed to buy a used Oracle Delphi II turntable complete with tonearm and cartridge for $600 (the turntable alone went for $1250 new) and a Threshold S/300 Stasis amp for $1500 ($3900 new) - they sound great! If you check out my profile you'll see I wrote a couple of Hubs on hi-fi. Voted up and shared.

Dianne on August 12, 2012:

We have numerous pieces of 1970-80's stereo equipment we need to sell. Can you suggest a buyer in the Niagara Peninsula area, Ontario, Canada that would buy all the equipment outright?

christysaltz from Kathleen on June 14, 2012:

I have a console stereo I am trying to find a pricing on and have hit a brick wall. If you have any other suggestions please let me know.

Tanglewood. Santa Claus, Indiana 475579, Stock # FH609P, FCC Model # 91175, No 00616, 120 watts... This is what is on the sticker on the back. THANKS IN ADVANCE!

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