The impact of EBay

One of the features that I remember from the early days of my journey through life with Hifi was a column written by Ken Kessler (if I recall correctly) probably in Hifi News which described what people would have regarded as obsolete kit. At the time it was something of a curiosity. In the 1980s, I was introduced to valve amplifiers and idler drives from the 1960s by such writing.  ( I later owned a Garrard 401 – to my shame I never took the time to fettle it properly).

The 1980s was obsessed with technology as the future, saw the introduction of CD – remember perfect sound forever? in Hifi circles and elsewhere personal computers and (very big) mobile phones. 

The ultimate heresy was that these older systems could produce better sound than their modern equivalents. In fairness, at the top end valve amplifiers never went away, especially in America and no self respecting Linn Sondek LP12 owner believed that a CD player could ever match their LP12, or at least not until Linn introduced the CD12 for around £12000 in 1999. However, CD players were a passing phase for Linn, and the LP12 turntable is still in production albeit benefitting from nearly 50 years of evolution. In 2020, in the US, the value of vinyl sales exceeded CDs for the first time in over 30 years.

These days, it is an acceptable view to hold that every Quad Electrostatic since the original launched by Peter Walker is inferior to it. There is a big market in producing modern editions of classic Hifi items like the Leak amplifier, the Wharfedale Denton and Linton speakers, many of which are slightly misleading as they bear little resemblance under the skin to their illustrious predecessors. This has not stopped them being commercially successful. In fairness, some  producers strive hard to accurately reproduce the originals, particularly of speakers such as the BBC Ls3/5a and compete to provide the closest approach to the original sound (Sorry, Quad!).

However, for many people, the most significant change has been the growth of Ebay as the principal marketplace for second hand items. This opens up undreamed of opportunities for the ordinary enthusiast. Most of the components mentioned by reviewers are beyond the means of ordinary folk, but from time-to-time, there will be mention in hallowed terms of the Yamaha NS1000 and its professional variant, the NS1000M as reference loudspeakers in magazine reviews. In 1976, a pair would have cost you around £600, or about £3200 in today’s money. Nowadays, presumably because they were plentiful in their home country when new, you can buy a second-hand pair on EBay for around £250 including shipping from Japan to the UK, but I can’t guarantee what HMRC will charge you in import duties. Assuming that HMRC are not too greedy, the chances you will be able to sell them on at a later date for what they cost you.

I haven’t tried this, but I did buy a pair of Naim Credo’s on EBay (price when new around £1300) to create a complete Naim system. They did what they well very well, but after about 18 months, their weaknesses meant that I wanted to change them. I bought them for £350. I sold them for £320. Cost of ownership £30 for 18 months plus EBay fees. I also dabbled with a NAP100 power amplifier and a Naim Unitiserve in a similar fashion.

This allows a hobbyist to experience classic or second hand equipment with comparatively lower risks. The price of the more desirable items ( I always dreamed of owning a Marantz Class A PM4SE, even though I never even heard one, blame Mr Kessler again) has been inflated but so has the resale value so if your experiment doesn’t work out, you can sell it on at a small loss, or sometimes a small gain.

In terms of a Hifi enthusiast, this passes for relatively low risk behaviour.

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