Rummaging through thrift stores and garage sales in hopes of striking gold is a favorite pastime of mine. My journey began years ago while looking for a pair of speakers at the local Goodwill.
I found a pair that looked cool and was about to buy them. A friendly stranger approached me and pointed out that the old KLH 17s next to my pick would sound 10x better.
I took his advice, paid the $15 and took them home. He was right; these sounded great. After replacing the grill cloth with $5 of new fabric, I ended up selling the speakers on Craigslist to a very happy buyer for $100. Not bad for my first flip.
I was immediately hooked and have been enjoying and profiting from vintage audio gear ever since. Sound good (no pun intended)? Here’s a brief guide on how to do it:
What to Look For
Receivers, speakers, CD players, turntables, and accessories (such as high-quality cables, which can be worth hundreds).
It’s tough to determine what is valuable vs. what is not. Over time, you’ll learn what to target. Your smartphone is your best friend when it comes to determining value. When you see an intriguing item, look up the brand and model number.
See if there are any reviews or a history of sale prices. Anything with owners manuals, packaging, original accessories, etc. commands a premium.
Some brands to seek out:
- Boston Acoustics
- Definitive Technology
- Harman Kardon
- Bose (if you must)
A few rare, high-end brands:
- Bang & Olufsen
- Bowers & Wilkins
Sometimes you’ll stumble upon hidden gems outside your target brands that are a must buy. A couple examples:
- I saw a 15″ subwoofer, like new and in original packaging at a thrift store. They hadn’t put a price tag on it yet. I asked “How much?” and the thrift store employee responded, “How about $30?”. Deal. Ended up selling it on eBay for $300.
- I was purchasing a receiver from someone on Craigslist and he offered to throw in a set of speakers for an extra $100. I hadn’t heard of this brand before (Titan) and a Google search turned up nothing. But these things produced sonic bliss and looked so cool with their shiny silver drivers. The seller explained that he bought them at a local audio shop which went out of business years ago. These ended up being my favorite speakers. Here’s a huge perk of flipping – you get to sample everything and keep the best stuff for yourself.
Where to Find Equipment
Thrift stores are a great source and have regularly replenished inventory. If you are in a large metro area, there are probably at least five solid thrift stores to visit regularly.
Thrift Store Tips:
- 50% off days and other sales = huge boost to your bottom line.
- Most items are low quality or in poor condition. You need to find the diamonds in the rough.
- Try stores in nicer neighborhoods.
- Talk to employees and find out when new merchandise is received. Be nice and there’s a decent chance they will allow you to check out the goods before the general public.
Here is where you’ll find high-end audio gear that rarely shows up in thrift stores. Most sellers know what these items are worth. Some don’t. Some know but just want to get rid of them.
My recommendation for buying on CL is to be one of the first repliers and set up a phone call or in-person meeting ASAP. Test the goods and make an offer. You can almost always haggle on price, especially for a package deal. Always ask if anything else is for sale.
The Holy Grail of Vintage Receivers
I found the so-called Holy Grail of Vintage Receivers on CL – the Pioneer SX-1980. It was listed in a garage sale post. I saw the post one morning and headed over immediately. Everything checked out – this was a beauty.
I dealt with the original owner, who had a receipt, the owners manual and a couple fun ad flyers from back in the day. Pretty cool to purchase a piece of history that destroys many of the products made 40 years later!
Whether or not you find the Holy Grail, do your research, negotiate, be persistent and CL will treat you well.
Look for sales that specifically list home theater equipment. If there are no specific items listed, garage sales are a crapshoot. Usually, you’ll sift through clothes and household goods. Every now and then you’ll find something good.
Where to Sell Equipment
Craigslist, garage sales, social media sites and eBay (only recommended if you can’t sell locally).
What to Avoid
“White Van Speakers”
Watch out for these! They have names that sound similar to popular brands, such as “Paradyme” or “Bach & Odin”. They look cool and have impressive packaging and specs, but these are terrible quality products.
The term comes from a common scam where someone in a van (at a mall or Home Depot for instance) asks if you’re interested in speakers. The scammer will show you a fake magazine or website that shows a retail price of thousands of dollars.
They will tell some story about how they ended up with an extra product that they can’t take back to the warehouse, so you’ll get a crazy deal at $200 / $400 / insert sucker price here. The thing is, they aren’t worth $50. I’ve heard the pitch before and it is intriguing but way too shady. An old friend of mine actually fell for this scam.
He came home one day and was so excited to tell me about the deal he just found. I explained to him what happened and he still argued that he got a great deal. Sigh… No wonder this scam is alive and well.
Brands that generally aren’t as desirable (not always – do your research!):
Anything from Walmart, e.g. Vizio, Phillips, Samsung
Test everything! Dropping your hard earned cash on broken equipment is incredibly frustrating. Case in point: I once bought a receiver on eBay that was described as “like new”. It was a 5.1 (surround sound) receiver. It sure did look like new.
I happened to test the left front channel, center channel, and both rear channels. All checked out. I then left positive feedback for the seller. A couple days later, I tested the right front channel and there was no sound. Spent hours messing with it to be sure it wasn’t some sort of user error or fluke.
I even took the receiver apart to look for any obvious issues – there were none. I then asked for my money back. The buyer wasn’t having it. I reached out to eBay. Since I left positive feedback, eBay refused to refund the purchase price and I was out $200 and saddled with a worthless receiver. Lesson learned.
If you can’t test speakers, give them a solid visual inspection. Take the grills off. Check the surrounds (the rubber/foam around the outside of the drivers, a.k.a. the big round part) for wear and tap the drivers gently with your finger. If a driver gets stuck or doesn’t glide back in to place smoothly, it might be in need of repair.
Verify that the tweeters (usually a tiny dome-shaped part) aren’t dented. Only buy a damaged speaker if it is very popular and there is a market for replacement parts. Broken receivers, cd players, and turntables probably aren’t worth your time and money.
Sometimes your items will sell easily. Other times, it may take a few months. Be sure you have some storage space available and be extra nice to your significant other, who probably won’t appreciate your new inventory.
Now get out there and find some treasure! Then share your success story.
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