Linn Sondek LP12 a
There are lots of early adopters in Australia and if you’re not one of them that’s good news indeed. Early adopters buy the latest gear and get the bragging rights that go with them, and all the rest of us get to buy the old stuff they can no longer bear to live with, which frequently isn’t even old, for a lot less than they paid.

The bargains are frequent in home entertainment equipment because it depreciates fast, far faster than it deteriorates. This means that second-hand gear is usually very good buying. It has most often been treated with care, especially when the original owner is older, and it’s almost always operating to original specification.

There are obvious cautions. While you’d be reluctant to buy a second-hand subwoofer from a guy in a backwards baseball cap living in a shared house, you can feel comfortable if the seller is a fastidious type with an extensive collection of classical music. But the safest route, albeit the most expensive, is to buy trade-in gear from good hi fi dealers. Plenty of them have extensive offerings of second-hand equipment and in most cases it has been checked over and comes with a short warranty. That’s usually all it needs – if it’s going to malfunction it will probably do it within the first 30 days.

And it pays to observe a few home truths. The safest buying is amplifiers and speakers and the reason is obvious; very few moving parts. Amplifiers and speakers that are still working perfectly after 20 years are hardly rare, in fact there are some new amps and speakers coming out of Canada that have a 20-year warranty. Yep, you read that correctly.

There’s an exception of course, speakers with foam roll surrounds. The roll surround is the outer ring around the cone that connects it with the chassis of the speaker. It allows the cone to move back and forth within the chassis while also holding it firmly enough to ensure it won’t buckle and tear itself to bits. The great bulk of roll surrounds are made of rubber but there are still plenty of foam ones around and the foam deteriorates over time, especially in hot and humid environments. So remove the grilles and take a look at them; if the roll surround is foam and it’s crumbly or overly hard, showing obvious signs of age, it should be avoided.

Harman Kardon HK990 top off bComponents with a lot of moving parts, like VCRs and cassette decks, can be a bit of a lottery, and it’s not just because of all the moving parts – the drive belts are most often rubber and rubber ages with time as well as use. If you’re looking at something to play an old collection of audio or video cassettes ensure that either the drive belts are new, or newish, or that you can buy replacements. Turntables also use rubber drive belts but replacement belts for these are usually a lot easier to find. Hint: Don’t replace these with rubber bands, using anything but the genuine article ends in tears.

Another thing that deteriorates with time is laser drives. CD and DVD players that are more than 12 years old are risky. You can pick when your laser is starting its long, downward spiral. It will start mistracking, usually on one or two particular discs, either jumping, or sticking on one piece of music or even returning to the beginning of the disc or shutting down completely. Over time it will do this with more and more discs until it becomes unusable. Replacing a laser is usually more expensive than buying a new player of similar specification. If your player is mistracking clean the disc and try again, and then try it in another player.

Brand is important. Well known established brands are always safer buying than new brands. It’s not just about quality, it’s also availability of parts and service. Brand is critical with second-hand televisions because in recent years Australia has been flooded with bargain basement tellies wearing brands that have come and gone. Some of them have been failing after eight months.

Just as with new equipment the most important thing is to look and listen. Use all the controls and listen for unwanted noise as you operate them, especially the tone and volume controls. If static occurs when the knobs are being turned it can be as simple as a build-up of dust inside or as complex as old solder that’s starting to crack on the circuit boards.

Technics SL1200GLDWhile you’re listening take a hard look at the component. The biggest enemy of home entertainment equipment is dust and if there are build-ups anywhere it can indicate a lack of care. Look hard around the speaker terminals and plugs at the back of components that have them, and in the nooks and crannies that a quick dusting will have missed.

If the seller has cats there may be a build-up of cat fur in components that have cooling vents. Cats adore hi fi equipment because it’s warm and when they prop up beside it their loose fur is drawn into the component. It’s the same, only less, with cute, fluffy dogs. The only way to check this is to remove the casing of the component and take a look inside but this should only be attempted if you know what you’re doing and you have the seller’s agreement. Bear in mind that if the equipment is still under manufacturer’s warranty removing the casing will probably void it.

The key to getting a good deal is to be flexible and patient, and you’ll need to dial in a good deal of research and a bit of luck. A friend of mine once put a pair of 20-year-old B&W speakers on an on-line sales site figuring he’d be lucky to get $100. In fact he could have got $1000 for them. He sold them within minutes. Some astute buyer got the bargain of the year.

Published January 2017