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Bob Kelly: How to buy secondhand gear

Bob Kelly exclusively gives PSNLive 2014 his top tips for buying secondhand audio gear.

Bob Kelly writes…

The secondhand/used equipment market is constantly evolving as manufacturers introduce new systems to the market. These systems can be quite expensive, and it is sometimes difficult for small- to medium-sized rental companies to raise the necessary finance for new purchases, so considering an alternative to buying new is sometimes a necessity.

These days, most manufacturers are acutely aware of the importance for supporting the secondhand sales market, as it helps them to grow their user base at all levels – plus, it’s important to know where used packaged systems end up after being re-sold so they can offer support and training to new users.

Here are a few good tips to take into consideration when buying used audio equipment.

Loud and clear
Like buying used cars, you need to check the mileage, age and condition of the systems you are considering. There are several ways you can this.

Firstly, locate a reputable live sound broker who is selling the type of system you are interested in and request all the information and details, along with photos, of the systems for sale. If you have any doubts or are not sure about the overall condition of the system after reviewing the photos, arrange a visit to the supplier via the broker, who in most cases will be happy to welcome you to their warehouse for a full inspection and a test drive!

It is also a good idea to ask the supplier to open a few loudspeaker boxes so you can double-check that the components are of the correct factory specification and condition is as described. You can also check the serial numbers with manufacturers to confirm the age of the systems for sale.

Another good word of advice is to consider purchasing loudspeaker protective covers and flightcases, which add to the overall cost of the system but will help used equipment buyers to protect their investment – which, in turn, will increase the system’s resale value when resold.

Dealing with desks
When buying used digital consoles, confirm with the supplier that the system’s software is upgraded to the current factory spec and is fully operational. In the case of Avid and Digidesign, you will have to open a new iLok account and have the supplier transfer the registration to your new account at the time of purchase.

Another good tip when buying used consoles is to ensure the supplier packs the PSUs safely and, if possible, in touring flightcases to avoid any damage during shipping. It’s best that these are wrapped and strapped to pallets and kept off the wheels. European freight forwarders are not good at handling audio items on wheels, and the same goes for amp racks – better safe than sorry!

Brand consideration
When choosing a secondhand loudspeaker or mixing console brand, it is very important to consider the possible resale value and ensure that it will offer future sellers a good return on their investment. All brands vary according to the market demand, but some brands are more in demand than others – so take a good look at the market and check which brands make it to the rider lists that land on sound rental companies’ desks before committing to purchasing a used sound system or mixing console.

Warranties on used kit
Normally, when purchasing used equipment, there is only a short period to check over the system received and inform the seller if it has any faults. If this is the case, the seller will want to be reassured that the fault in question is not the responsibility of the transport company handling the shipment. It is vital for the seller – or, in most cases, the buyer – to arrange for insurance cover before dispatch of the goods.

These days, some manufacturers over warranty periods of up to five years. These warranties are normally transferrable to secondhand equipment purchasers, but this might involve shipping the faulty goods back to the country where they were originally sold, repaired under warranty and then shipped back again. This is not the case with all manufacturers, however, so it’s a good idea to check this before committing to a used equipment purchase.

Live sound brokers
Over the last five years, there has been an emergence of live sound brokers operating in most countries throughout Europe and afar, most dealing with sound, lights, staging, etc.

My advice to anyone looking to invest in secondhand audio equipment is to find a specialist who has a professional reputation and track record for providing a 100 per cent backup service. When enquiring about used equipment with a broker, ask for some references and the contact names of some sound rental companies to which they have successfully sold used equipment in the past. Don’t send any advance payments unless you are absolutely sure you can trust the people you are dealing with and know where the equipment supplier is located.

Trust is the keyword! Dealing through live sound brokers can be a very worthwhile experience – if you just follow these few simple steps.

Bob Kelly (pictured) runs Bob Kelly Worldwide Livesound Brokers and has been operating in the field for 13 years. Prior to this, he was an international market development specialist and introduced several brands to the marketplace, including Martin Audio, d&b audiotechnik, L-Acoustics and EAW. Before that, he was an “old road hog”, having worked in the ‘60s and ‘70s for audio companies like the Festival Group and Activated Air Audio services in Philadelphia (Traffic, J. Geils Band), Heil Sound (Humble Pie), Dawson Sound (Steely Dan), FM Productions and Northwest Sound (CSNY, George Harrison) and The Rolling Stones in ‘75. “Back in 1970, I was also the original tractor/trailer driver for a new start-up company in Philadelphia called Ego Trips who provided the first artic on tours with ELP and Pink Floyd,” he adds.