The value of high-quality used gear in the marketplace has become a powerful sales generator for many pro audio retailers/resellers. Not only do engineers shop for used gear to flesh out their own unique, digital/analog hybrid recording systems, they often upgrade their rigs by turning gear into cash, buying anything between the latest software to the classic tube condenser they have always wanted.
Here, I ask three prominent pro audio retailers/resellers that accept pro audio gear trade-ins about their business in used gear. Their responses are intriguing; most powerful is how crucial trades are for many journeyman engineers in acquiring that next piece of kit to both serve and attract clients. While their business models are substantially different from one another, Reverb.com, Vintage King and Pro Audio Design each take a unique spin on buying and selling used products.
Chrissy Hansen of Reverb.com
Reverb.com reports they will facilitate $280M in transactions in 2016, and current monthly website visits are 7 million. Its founder, David Kalt, founded an online brokerage company OptionsXpress in 2000 and owns the Chicago Music Exchange, a Lincoln Avenue music store full of beautiful, high end instruments. Interestingly, OptionsXpress went public in 2005 and was purchased by Charles Schwab in 2011 for $1 billion. “David’s drive for creating market liquidity and pricing transparency combined with his passion for music and vintage guitars are the key ingredients in Reverb’s foundation,” offers Chrissy Hansen, Director of Marketing for Reverb.com.
“80 percent of the money spent on Reverb goes toward the purchase of used gear,” continues Hansen. “Interestingly, while buyers often shop for used as a means of deal hunting, the average Reverb order value for used gear is 110 percent higher than the average order value for new items. This may indicate that musicians are willing to spend more on a unique piece of used gear than on a brand new item.”
“Trades have been a beloved practice in musician circles for years. Before online marketplaces existed it was difficult to find a buyer for your particular item, you might exchange it with someone in a similar predicament, regardless of the actual value of either instrument. This method often left at least one party dissatisfied. Reverb makes it possible to connect buyers who are willing to pay fair value with sellers who then earn more to put toward their next gear purchase.”
“Reverb is creating market liquidity for used musical instruments which allows everyone, including power users, to move away from trades and toward the straight-forward ‘sell-to-buy’ method. Right now you can find listings on Reverb for full professional recording consoles ranging from $20k to $65k. It can be tough to find the right buyers for this equipment. However, a global marketplace greatly expands this audience.”
“[For us], the pro audio market is very large and spans from consumer knick-knacks and software to huge analog or hybrid consoles with instant recall and DAW control. This makes it hard to pin down one trend. The meat of [our] market seems to be in the mid-level—say, a musician who started out recording demos at home on very cheap gear several years ago who is now better at recording and wants to buy a selection pro-level outboard gear and microphones that they won’t grow out of.”
“The console and tape machine market are currently buyers’ markets. You can get classic, large-format analog hardware for pennies-on-the-dollar compared to what it sold for new, and people buying this stuff today are well aware of that fact. You’d think that people would hesitate to buy a 500-pound tape machine on the Internet, but it happens pretty regularly. A good Otari or MCI multitrack [analog recorder] that’s priced correctly doesn’t last long on Reverb.”
“The market for used 500 Series gear definitely has parallels with the effects pedal market. Someone might buy a 500 module for a particular flavor or color, and then six months later decide they want another flavor instead. They’ll flip that first module and get into something else. The pedal community has been doing this for decades and we’re just now seeing it with smaller pro audio gear like the 500 Series stuff.”
“At surface level, Reverb is the marketplace for musicians to buy and sell gear. But now that we’re in our third year we’ve really hit our stride producing content that encourages musicians to try new things, to buy gear they wouldn’t have previously considered, and to cross categories in unexpected ways. This educational component combined with market liquidity and a low 3.5 percent selling fee suddenly makes experimentation a surprisingly low-risk activity. You can try out a new piece of gear for a few months and then simply sell it on Reverb to buy something different. It’s really a game-changer for musicians.”
Mike Nehra of Vintage King Audio
Vintage King Co-Owner Mike Nehra and his team have quite a knack for finding and servicing vintage microphones and premium outboard gear of all types, not to mention stalwart mixing desks and a whole lot more. Nehra is quick to emphasize his company’s dedication to service, with comprehensive warranties on much of its refurbished gear. Like Reverb.com, Vintage King also sells vintage gear 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
“We sell an enormous amount of used gear still in production —current, but used—as well as vintage outboard, mics, consoles, etc.,” Nehra explains. “We have about 15 full-time technicians, who deal solely with servicing this area of our business, which allows us to offer our buyers’ confidence with our Vintage King used gear warranty. Each specializes in various areas; tube/solid state outboard and mics, console restoration, on-site studio installation/patch bay and cabling, building DAWs, module racking, etc. It's an incredibly detailed and difficult aspect of our business, but also a key component of its heart and soul. It brings customer loyalty and credibility to the Vintage King brand.”
“We do a great deal of trade business with our pro users, up and coming enthusiasts as well as semi-professionals. We do our best to treat each with the same level of attention to detail and quality, regardless of where they are within the business. We all started somewhere, right? Some are more fortunate than others to make a living in the professional realm.”
“While Vintage King as a whole sells a vast amount of digital hardware/software, the majority of our customers use a combination of analog and digital to create the sounds they work to achieve. No doubt, we have excellent sounding and powerful software. However, I wouldn't say we see a trend in customers trading used/vintage gear towards software. Analog gear is a large component of pro audio sales, with 500 Series very much making its stake within and vintage outboard, mic and console sales at an all time high.”
“The recall of software is handy, especially for these needing quick recall, but there's nothing like the sound and feel of real deal hardware. In our conversations, we often hear users complain they get burnt out sitting in front of a monitor screen and mouse making music. They want the tactile feel of a real console and outboard with real knobs, buttons, faders and meters to interact with. They want to work with high-quality classic or new mics. Many combine some sort of hybrid using analog outboard, summing or recording console in combination with the power of a DAW/software.”
“A large amount of larger music studios have closed, but the shift has simply moved towards a higher quantity of users with smaller, yet powerful systems, whether at home or in a smaller commercial environment. Those who can afford a console often work with a hybrid console/DAW controller and analog outboard combination. We provide solutions for many using newer analog consoles in the $20- 100k range, a good amount in the $100-200k range, as Vintage King restored vintage Neve/API/Helios/Trident/EMI consoles as their centerpiece. Then we have our hardcore analog purists who've created a resurgence using small new or vintage tube and solid state consoles with an 8-track or 16-track tape machine and not a digital piece within their four walls! This is where Vintage King’s unique blend of expertise in the very oldest to the very newest recording technologies sets us apart from the rest of the industry. There’s no other company with the breath of experience, resources and talent to help our clients put the best of it all together.”
“It can be surprising the amount of time customers can change their mind, trading gear throughout the year. We're here for them when in need. On the other hand, we have clients who stick by tried and true trusty classic pieces for a decade or longer. Thus, they get to know the specific nuances of each piece and take advantage of their particular strength within a specific aspect of recording.”
“I'd say we often see people trade in gear for a variety of reasons; they become bored with the piece, it may no longer fit their workflow and production style, it might be an aging digital piece and they trade in for the latest technology, they may have purchased the wrong sounding or inferior quality piece with poor advice from a competitor's salesman. It's all over the map and Vintage King is here to help and guide customers wanting to trade, helping them find gear for an improved workflow or achieve the tone they're ultimately hearing within their head.”
Dave Malekpour of Pro Audio Design
Now in business for over two decades, Dave Malekpour’s Pro Audio Design has his customers covered with both new and used/vintage studio gear, specializing in main monitor systems from the likes of George Augspurger, new consoles from AMS-Neve, and much more.
“We have a steady flow of both buyers and sellers who come to us to simplify the process of selling and buying gear,” shares Malekpour. “As there are many great new products that are either re-issues or even plug-in versions of some classics, we find there are clients who wish to sell the highly valuable vintage items and get some new gear. We have always helped clients to convert gear that’s not in use for equipment that better suits needs of the studio or producer. Finding good used or vintage gear is always interesting to us; trading in gear is easier then putting it on eBay or finding a buyer on your own.”
“As the move toward working in the box has progressed more and more, clients are looking to sell consoles, outboard gear and specialty vintage gear, often to get more new gear or plugins, or to simply put some cash in the bank. I recently took in a pair of vintage Pultecs toward a [Universal Audio] UAD-2 system with plug-ins including Pultec plugs. Some vintage gear has reached its highest [point] and is now even coming down as so many new, reissue or plug-ins come out make these once rare items less important to many producers’ work flows. We don’t see too many clients looking to sell their vintage or rare mics as much as outboard and consoles.”
“The desire to get great sounds—and deep-pocketed collectors—drives the prices of vintage gear. The Holy Grail items like Neve 1073s and Urei LA-2As, Neumann U47s, and so on are still in higher demand than the market will supply, driving those prices up. But that also means when you sell you can get more for those items; for some sellers, this means they can get more gear for their items for sale.”
“While the drive toward in the box mixing continues to grow, finding a vintage console can be a major quest for the studio owner bent on installing something unique. We have also seen a strong interest in new console technology that [offers] a classic sound, like AMS-Neve’s Genesys for working with a DAW.”
“Having bought and sold gear since late 80’s, I am always amazed at how much some people will pay for vintage items like the Fairchild 670, selling for up to $50k or an original Telefunken ELAM 251 for $25k or more. While these pieces are amazing sounding when in good repair, they are sometimes the most important item to a buyer. If you want those sounds, sometimes there really is [nothing else] to get even close to that sound. And just when I think the price of an original Neve 1073 has reached the top, they sell for even more! When I compare the vintage [products] to the reissues, I often find it amazing how the vintage can be two to five times the cost of the reissue, but the sound is very close, if not the same, as originals.”
“I am currently working on a studio liquidation which includes a large collection of vintage gear, mics, and tape machines. When appraising the value, I was amazed to see how high some of the prices on these rare items have become.”
Vintage King Audio
Pro Audio Design
Strother Bullins is Technology Editor for NewBay Media's AV/Pro Audio Group.firstname.lastname@example.org