Try to only buy in your area so you can demo & avoid defective units. This also negates shipping damage which is more prevalent than one would think.
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Be cautious when buying used speakers. Speakers are difficult to ship because of their size and weight. Make sure you verify that the seller has adequately packaged the speakers so the shipping company can not destroy them. Sometimes this may mean that additional material needs to be added to the original shipping material that may have come with the speakers from the factory.
Turntables are also extremely difficult to ship without damage. If you buy a TT, verify that the seller has all of the original shipping material and verify that they know how to repackage the unit as it was from the factory.
Personally, I would not buy a CD or DVD player that is more than a couple of years old. The transports are mechanical and do fail frequently on aging units.
BTW, the advice from Porziob is sound. I'm going today to audition a CD player at a local AgoN'rs home.
I would add:
Use sellers who have some 'threads' and 'answers' on various subjects in addition to sales feedback.
They are far more likely to be 'audiophiles' selling stuff they used, rather than stuff someone found at a rummage sale, or a friend of a friend owned.
TTs ARE hard to ship without damage... same for large speakers and over 75 lb chunks of amplifier. For these things you need to be extra cautious. Double boxing in 2" or better dense foam is the trick.
Old Cd players CAN be a good deal, if you stick to top end major brand players. Pioneer Elite, Sony ES ... old hi-end major brand players are built like a tank, and I can say from experience, they can last for 70,000 playing hrs or more! (Sony ES 89, ditto CD9ES)
Dead brands are a chancey thing (Counterpoint) They can be a great item, but repair is difficult unless (like Counterpoint) they have a special aftermarket repair/upgrade center.
Phono cartridges are the hardest thing to buy used. They can be a wonderful deal, or a ripoff. All depends on the seller.
Cables can also be a great deal... But I would avoid the higher priced ones from non-retail dealers... Only because the chance for a fake is too great.
Cheaper ones that have a distinct design like Nordost Blue Heaven or Red Dawn.. Or KimberKable PBJ are fine. Or Kimber with the wood block on the cordset. (they are not easily faked.) Ditto high priced power cords.
And for cords and connectors ALWAYS buy with the original box!
(Obviously this advice is for a beginner! These expensive connectors and cords can be bought and sold safely, but you better know what your doing to buy them!!!)
Buy only stuff that has the original box, and manual. This stuff is far more likely to be from a first buyer with a bigger home. (places to store the boxes.) Stuff without boxes is way more likely to be second hand store, passed down through several hands stuff (Again this is for a newbi buyer. I would use my judgement on this if I was buying something...
Avoid buying from the Hurricane states coastal areas. Avoid out of country (just for problems if any extra problems arise!)
I agree with the comments regarding avoiding phono cartidges and equipment from defunct companies ( I have a Sonics Frontier Line 2 which has a bad i/c - my local guy is stumped, now I need to search out a healer).
Other than that I feel pretty good making a deal if the sellers feedback AND the feedback from the people leaving feedback checks out. Extra points for "good communication", "good packing", and "product as advertised".
Also ask the seller to pack very well. as I sold cdp here and was damaged in shipping from Baton Rouge to California, via UPS. The buyer had to send it back and I put in a $500 claim to UPS, 4 months ago. It may take another 2 to 3 months, as Katrina and Rita has placed overloads on claim dept of UPS. Thats 6 months of waiting. Hopefully you do not have to go through that if you pack well. Do not use pop corn, go to Lowes and buy some styrofoam, and BOUBLE BOX EVERYTHING.....
Disagree with Liz about original box and manual being of importance. However through emails you will get an idea of the seller's sincerity on the condition /age/use of the unit.
btw my cdp was on the second floor with 8 feet of flood water on the first floor. The unit was in the house for 1 week, but windows were open, so no humidity buildup issues. Agree with Liz, be careful on buying from the southern US area.