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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5 Replies to “Flipping Vintage Audio Equipment For Fun and Profit”
A couple thoughts regarding your brand guide:
Marantz, Denon – have made some good equipment in their time, mostly in the 70’s and early 80’s. Thereafter they went mass market and lost track of quality.
Onkyo – I have experience with a few Onkyo components and have typically been underwhelmed. I would avoid Onkyo in general.
Bose – good resale value, but if you’re buying for yourself, move on. Bose is a testament to effective marketing, but not good sound.
Bang & Olufsen – good name, good design, mediocre sound. Another brand that is more pretense than good sound.
Yamaha – On the whole Yamaha produce excellent gear, priced one category or so below what they’re worth. Yamaha amps typically compare favorably to those costing three or four times as much.
Technics – Another overachiever in some niches. Their higher end turntables are among the best ever made regardless of price. Their receivers are very good and some of their older equalizers are excellent. Tape decks and cd players… meh.
Panasonic – generally similar equipment in the Chevy/GMC sense as Technics. Both are divisions of Matsushita Corp (sp?) and a lot of good Technics equipment has been sold with Panasonic badges. If you’re buying for yourself, there are good bargains to be had here.
A note on speakers:
Most vintage (70’s 80’s 90’s) mass market speakers are not worth the pulp wood they’re made of. Sony, Pioneer, Technics, Sanyo, etc etc should all be avoided.
Never buy speakers that have wires permanently attached
A few rules of thumb for quick judgements for speaker quality:
Knock on the cabinet. If they sound ‘hollow’ or thin walled, move on Listen for deep echoey thuds. If they sound solid, with a higher pitched ‘knock’ rather than a thud that’s a good sign.
Look at the magnet on the back of the woofer. If the magnet is small, it’s no good. If the magnet is larger in diameter than the mating flange of the woofer’s frame, that’s a good sign.
If you are able to look at the crossover, that’ll also give a clue as to overall quality. If there’s nothing more than one or two capacitors, move on. These are high pass filters that protect the mids and tweeters from lower frequency signals, but do little to improve sound. If the crossover network has more coils and capacitors than speakers, then it’s probably a good bet. There’s a lot of excellent information on crossover design available that will allow you to read the crossover and tell just how good a speaker is, including the order level, crossover points etc.
There are a number of excellent speaker manufacturers that don’t get the love they deserve. KLH is a poster child for this. They have produced (and still do!) some really outstanding loudspeakers, yet are shunned by many audiophiles. Caution: they also made some dodgy surround sound speakers that are generally good for what they are, but not great when compared to real speakers. (ie fine for watching Ironman, no good for critical listening when the wife and kids are away.)
Of course the most valuable resource when spot-judging unknown audio gear is a fully charged smart phone. Just about every piece of stereo gear ever made has been mentioned on sites like Audiokarma and two minutes of reading relevant posts can tell you a lot about the gear you’re considering.
What a response, thanks!
Some of my vintage favorites : Luxman R 1070, Scott 200b & 385 R , Marantz 2500 Fisher 500c, McIntosh 1900, and Carver. Believe it or not, the Scott 325 R is the receiver I most enjoy. In spite of it’s appearance being 10+, It was completely gone through by one of Scott’s factory techs. Scott’s original facility was located in my home town, Woburn, Mass.
As for Pioneer and or Sansui, any criticism of these particular companies, is not worth consideration. Of the two, Pioneer is my favorite, a personal opinion. My buds that arrived home from Vietnam Nam, had one or the other under an arm. It’s very difficult to beat an audio product manufactured in Japan.
My favorites have little to do with the brand name, and everything to do with the sound quality produced, and the inner workings of the audio component. The weight of the audio components are generally a sign of quality. As for vintage, I have not owned an audio component later than 75’.
As for sound, my first pair of speakers were JBL Lancer 99’s. To this day, the Lancer 99 is my favorite, based on sound quality. I recently purchased a pair of McIntosh speakers, that I verry much enjoy listening to. When they arrived, I began stripping the finish, months later, ten coats of tongue oil had been applied. The speaker components had previously been refurbished.
Many of the JBL line of vintage speakers appeal to my ears, but they are also wonderfully crafted. Their LE 14 woofer is absolutely superb.
There are many other vintage speaker companies, that built quality into their lines. Companies such as Klipsch
Thanks Rob for not devulging all the info on the good components. To everyone else, learn the way we did and stop fishing for easy info on what is quality and what is not. Do your homework like we did.. I won’t give you an easy “kill” by fishing for subliminal quality names. Read on and earn it.
Have to disagree on Yamaha, really not sure why it’s on the list of brands to avoid (Rob C. gave a good description of the brand).
Kenwood is one brand that no one has mentioned, and that made some great pieces (turntables and integrated amps mostly).
I had some good finds at Goodwill, got Nakamichi cassette player for $15, sold for $140 (it was one of the cheaper models), PSB speakers, paid $5 for pair, sold for $80, and some other stuff, mostly with great profit. But, that was few years ago. Today, very hard to find deals like those. I think that people at Goodwill figured the game out, and they are checking internet for pricing before they put items in the store.
Only “cheap” pieces are the damaged ones, that you would have to repair in order to sell with decent profit.
Craigslist, some good stuff on there too, but it starts to feel like an auction, good quality stuff is gone within few hours. Also, a lot of overpriced pieces, I guess people are hearing all the talk about vintage gear and then they are asking for stupid amounts, for stuff that wasn’t good gear when it was brand new.
And to finish, one must check everything. 40 years (or more) is a long time, so there are more leaking caps in these amps than good ones, rotted belts on turntables,etc. If you can get the parts and know (or know someone who can do the work for cheap), some of these may be great deals, but still, be careful.