I often get asked what to consider when buying used Pro Audio kit from ebay.... well.... I have been asked.... at least once.... I think. So I thought I would write this brief guide in order to assist people as they venture into the frankly terrifyingly large and varied world of Pro Audio.
A few points to ponder:
- The price of used and ex-hire audio kit has crashed recently and you can pick up some serious bargains if you shop around. If your working on a budget as you lost your entire life savings playing poker in a dive bar in deepest Minnesota with George Clooney and a small rubber seahorse called Chad, don’t be afraid of buying used and ex-hire kit as you'll get a lot more for your money. Many large sound companies have considerable quantities of kit, sitting on shelves not doing anything and are often happy to deal on older used kit. Check out companies like SSE Audio, LMC Audio and Stage Electrics, all of whom have considerable stocks of kit available for sale ex-hire. Don't be afraid to negotiate with them in regards to price as often they are looking to turn over stock and may accept surprisingly low offers.
- Don’t be deterred by older equipment. For instance, companies like D&B Audiotechnik have produced loudspeakers since the 1980s and many of their older designs (see C-series for an example) are still cracking products which give modern loudspeakers a run for their money. You can pick up some old C690s for the equivalent of three magic beans and a shiny new donkey now a days, yet to my ear their still some of the best sounding 'speaker-on-stick' tops you can buy.
- Avoid cheap Chinese disco speakers like the plague. If the speakers you’re buying are bright red, have blue LEDs on the front or have silver grills (Funktion One excluded), flee as fast as your Segway will carry you. If the ad title says anything like 'SKYSPEK SUPER AWESOME DISCOTASTIC SPEAKER 1000000W MEGA BASS RUMBLE BOOM BOX WITH LED LIGHT SHOW LASER CAT REPELLENT' I can guarantee you that they are not super awesome and will definitely not provide the mega bass you seek. When you turn up to provide sound for The Who at Wembley Stadium you will be laughed at and told to take your rubbish bit of rat fur covered audible hatred back to China. Please, the last thing this world needs another 'sound engineer/ DJ' who has some crappy fleabay speakers massacring peoples ears. If they sound like a million fire engines chasing a million ambulances through a war zone, put them down and step away. If you do intend to buy speakers like this, I would suggest you use the money for something more useful, how about stamp collecting? Or maybe Mongoose wrangling?
- If you buy a cheap Shure or Sennheiser microphone product from eBay, it is likely fake. Yes there are a few well-meaning legit sellers out there, however the vast majority of 'Cheap SM58!!!!!' listings will be counterfeit so don’t be surprised when your cheap new mic arrives and sounds like someone hitting a bit of wet cardboard with a furious otter. The best way to ensure that your mic is a genuine Shure/ Sennheiser mic is to buy it from a legit pro audio company. Or maybe try your local music shop who will have them, albeit at a ridiculously jumped up price. (You could always sell your liver or children. The music shop might even have a trade in program! As a child I was traded by my parents for an SM58, it really puts life in perspective when a mediocre vocal microphone is worth more than you.)
- Don’t cheap out on cable. Buy proper cables with Neutrik connectors and flexible black cable (see VanDamme, Kelsey, Sommer, Evolution etc). You will not regret it in the long run. It is not unusual for a decent quality mic cable to last five or ten years use, but you’ll be lucky to get a month out of a bargain basement no name brand cable. Most people who buy cheap mic cables are found dead soon after, hung by their own cables, having become so depressed and disillusioned at the prospect of trying to coil the buggers in some sort of neat manner.
- Do you really need to buy a PA? Let’s look at this logically, if you’re only going to use your new Discotek PA once for your sister's dog's 21st birthday party, then its going to sit up in the loft for the next six years alongside the piles of old newspapers and unwanted Christmas gifts (why do they always give me socks.... I have enough socks Auntie Morag, how many times do I have to tell you!), then I would argue it’s not worth you buying a PA. The more economic option would be to talk to your local hire company (I feel like I’m repeating myself here.) They will be able to sort you out with some decent kit along with all the necessary infrastructure and you don’t need to worry about transport, maintenance, storage or the initial outlay of buying a PA. Even if you intend to use your system a few times a year it may still be more economical to hire.
- Clearly if your reading this (not that anyone ever will, after all, I’m sure everyones too busy eating brownies and watching the People’s Republic of Congo’s Next Top Model) you are interested in buying audio or lighting kit off eBay. eBay is a fantastic resource however it is not the be all and end all (especially in the pro audio and technical production industry). Forums like Speakerplans and Blue Room and sales sites like Gear-Source Europe are all excellent places to look when buying equipment. Don’t just settle for the cheapest ‘Buy It Now’ set of speakers or mixing console for your band or club, shop around and spend a bit of time on the aforementioned forums to get advice as to what kit would best suit your application. Ask your local venues and hire companies what their using and they might be able to help.
- The world of technical production is a scary place for the uninformed or inexperienced (and even scarier for the informed and experienced), so before you press ‘buy it now’, make sure you know what your getting and how it will perform, else you will be as disappointed as a disappointed thing that just received a massive unexpected gas bill.