Top-shelf used gear is the smokin' bargain of the audiophile world. If you don't mind buying something that's been handled by someone else, there are terrific deals to be had.
You need to know exactly what you want, how much you're willing to pay, and have the money ready. Then it's just a matter of persuing the used sites diligently for the item you seek. Patience is a virtue, but the willingness and ability to pull the trigger quickly can reap top-flight gear for 40 to 60 cents on the dollar.
One of the advantages of buying used is that, generally, the depreciation is absorbed by the original owner. This allows you to keep the gear for a while and still get (most of) your money back when it comes time to upgrade.
It's been working for me for many years, and I see no reason to change...
YES. You get what you pay for (hopefully). When you buy used someone else has already payed half the cost. I have been an audio dealer off and on for 40 years and there is one thing I can tell you, no matter HOW good a piece of equipment is , there is always somebody selling it at a big loss. Also, budget companies come and go, good companies tend to endure. I remember selling a couple of Lux C35 preamps 25 years ago for 3 or 4 hundred dollars. I see one advertised now for $1500. Speakers, amps, turntables , etc., keep their value over the long haul. CD equipment is a little different, but most of my playback units are from the 90s and they sound very good. Speakers are an outrageous bargain used. I just bought a great pair for about 25% of their current retail cost. Remember that parts quality is critical to sound, even the best products seldom use the best available parts, the budget lines often use poor quality ones. This as not to say that there are not good low cost units, but even there if you are willing to drop back one or two generations you will save half the cost.
Gear takes a while to break in, so a lot of times you buy something from someone, especially if they trade out of it within 1 yr, that is just starting to sound it's best. Someone who may know more please corret me, but as far as speakers go, there's really not that much that has changed in about 30 yrs. Refinements to be sure, but not a paradigm shift type change. I have heard plenty of Quad 57's and Klipschorns, run off of cleaned up but original configuations that sound every bit as good as anything new.
I think the best tube amp I have ever heard was an old McInstosh, maybe it was the tubes in it, but man did that thing sing through the 60's era Klipschorns. In fact the dude had an AR ES turntable (tricked out with newer parts though, and a great arm, I think it was an SME) but it was an older Mac preamp, all original. Wow, it rocked. I distinctly remember him playing an original pressing of Who's Next. Great stuff.
I think used gear always. The only thing I have ever bought new was my current preamp and sub (reciever doesn't count since you are paying for latest technology and I only use it for HT). Cables, speakers, amps, power conditioner (when you can), disk player, DAC all used. Particulary the power amps. How much have the really changed? Class D amps are different, but high end tube and SS amps are basically the same as the were 20 years ago. For an example listen to the Parasound 2200 vs the Parasound Halo a21: is the Halo better? Yes, but not that much, and not 2300 better if you bought it new. Well, that's my opinion.
I would rather buy used McIntosh, Magnepan, Cary, Parasound, Linn, Musical Fidelity than new Consonance.
Stick with a top seller one that got raves when it came out and is still manufactured as is - practically unchanged for more than 5 years and yet still gets raves. I mean one model unchanged not one that has version B, C, D E or F with different designs each season. Beware anything that changes in less than a year, as it is obvioulsy like the latest clothing - it has changed by spring! A manufacturer that makes more models than Imelda Marcus has shoes is telling you something....they are a fashion accessary first and foremost - their product is driven by aesthetics and made for those we absolutely have to have the latest fashion! Of course DSP's do change with the newer formats - so that is inevitable and not necessarily a bad sign (so a big exception here)
You'll often find the stuff which lasts is regarded highly for its good value just as much as it is for sound quality (it has broad market appeal and not just the novelty market where rare stratospherically priced items are prized). At the end of the day, if a manufacturer gets it right with a product then ask yourself why would they change? Those that keep changing are trying to revive a flagging relationship with their customers....meaning the novelty of their original product has simply worn thin.
Another trick is to look for the product that made the manufacturer an audiophile well known name - some companies get started on a great product ....it does not mean that everything they make will be as good. Perhaps they priced something too low to begin with and it is a huge success - a "giant killer" - this does not guarentee that subsequent products will be as good or as great in value.
Example of giant killers are AKG240 headphones, which came out in the late 70's. Some speakers have achieved this too (largely unchanged in 30+ years) Some power amps also, On the source front there has been too much development recently to look as far back as 30 years but I would say there are some DAC's with 5 years under their belt that are largely unchanged and that is an encouraging sign, especially if they are still popular...
You really can't go too far wrong buying classic vintage gear from the most well respected brands at deep discounts.
As the others mention above, you can usually resell these components for as much as you paid for them.
Even if the "giant killers" are as good as the reviews suggest, you will instantly take a 30-80% hit on those if you decide to sell them.
One idea of course is that you could try to find a 30-80% discount on slightly used "giant killers" but those markets are usually not as liquid.
Over the years of owning both new and used equipment, buying online, buying from dealers, buying at "clearance" prices....if I ever worried that I overpaid or bought too impulsively, it would be for my Audio Research SP-11 or Mark Levinson 23.5.
Yet without a doubt, of all the equipment I have in my collection, those would be the two components that I could a) sell the most easily and b) for little to no loss relative to what I paid for them.
You do need to buy intelligently, however, and like the market for used high end cars, I would focus on pedigree, reliability, condition, documented history and classic "high end" status, before I would worry about the lowest possible price, or be seduced by dubious claims of superior performance from exotic, garage built designs.
To give you a simple automotive analogy, a well maintained and well documented Porsche 911 will always hold its value far better than a Lotus Esprit.
It should also be said that some of the giant killers are so cheap, that you could also experiment with them for fun and if all else fails, use them for a computer based or bedroom system as a backup. For the price of a Behringer A500 for example, you really can't go wrong either.
Generally, however, if you have any real committment to being a true and educated "audiophile" I would say absolutely go with used classic high end, in the same way that any self respecting wine expert first understands a good Bordeaux, before trying to bargain hunt in California, Chile or Argentina.
In any case, the important thing is to have fun and best wishes.
With the exception of the pre/pro all the equipment in my system is high-end used stuff. I couldn't be happier with their performance AND the amount of money saved by passing over the new "giant-killer" products. Earlier during the infant stages of my audiophile career I purchased "off the shelf" at well-known big box stores and paid top dollar thinking that I was buying the best. Little did I know at the time that it wouldn't take long before the equipment failed or quickly became "old news" as the latest version was unveiled. Buying and selling high-end, proven brand products on Audiogon has been a rewarding experience for me. I have never been disappointed in the item purchased. Further, I have met some genuinely honest folks in the process.
It would be my recommendation that you follow the advice and comments of those that have commented earlier.
I came across this thread....Classic is great if it's been well cared for. I have some Accuphase gear that I bought new and one preamp that I purchased here on gon. All of it has been gone through by my cracker jack tech and it sounds stunning. Look for Accuphase,Audio Research,and maybe McIntosh. The Mac might be a problem to recap though. Some gear has really gone up in price....so look for the sleepers. I would only do this if you have a tech that is good and uses quality parts....most balk and use crap parts as some think a capacitor is a capacitor....which is old school thinking.
Giant Killers: Many are like a good "B" film. Fun for a moment, but difficult to take seriously. It's no secret to the marketing department that we all love a good deal, whether it is or not.
China and Europe: Without saying the items sound good or not or whether they are built well or not; find out whether the manufacturer has a solid North American service center.
Exactly What You Want: Any good saleperson will be able to tell you exactly what you want. Whether it is accurate is another matter entirely. It is reasonable not to know exactly what you want. Life is for learning. Hence, I find it to be almost impossible to ascertain how an audio product will sound in my house without installing it in my house. I live in a large urban area and I don't know a single retailer who is willing to bring over 100 lbs of gear to demonstrate it in my home. Since most gear does not live up to its hype and I'd send most of it back to the store, it is not in the best interest of retailers to demo it at my home. Buying reputable gear on the used market from folks with good feedback at least gives you the opportunity to test drive gear in your home and minimize your losses.
Reputable gear: A lot of reputable gear is flawed. I'd rather learn the reviewer blew smoke up my bum at the used price than at the new price.
Wonderful gear: I've bought some used gear that really impressed me that I would not have given a go at the retail price.
Buying New: Another advantage to buying used, and a lot of manufacturers don't get this, is that it gives you the opportunity to buy new with confidence - and be satisfied - once you know exactly what you want. Experience also provides you with shopping leverege to get new stuff at proper prices.
My free advice, and you know what free advice is worth, is to try and hear a lot of gear. Go to CES or Rocky Mountain if you can. You will hear suppliers say that the rooms are bad and they probably are, but I've not heard anything that sounded bad at CES sound good somewhere else. I've heard stuff at CES that I liked that I never otherwise would have considered and I've heard "Giant Killers" that are "B" films. Vegas is pretty fun too.
IMHO retailers are fine for folks who value convenience over value or really being immersed in this hobby. Nothing wrong with that at all. The fact that you are here and asking about Giant Killers, to me, rules out buying new from retailers for now. (Factory direct with a generous right to return policy the possible exception.) IMHO of course. Jeff