When is used used up?

Is there a rule of thumb that says the savings of buying used equpment is offset by the age of said equipment? Surely, aging negatively effects circuits -- welds weaken, capacitors lose capacity, transistors tire, wiring oxidizes, etc. My first amp in 2000 was a Mcintosh 250 in A- cosmetic condition. When I replaced it five years later with an HK PA2400 (used), my system took on new life (more than the increase in wattage).
Seems like when a component is old, it's old, be it sacred cow or not.
Tough call! So much depends on the parts themselves, if it was in continous use, and the environment.
As for the environment, no one wants a used car from the 'rust belt' states unless you are stuck there yourself. (and then if you could know, getting one that had an indoor, heated garage!!) As for audio components, high humidity is very bad. Stuff in storage in humid (salty) clims fair the worst. Stuff in storage in hot clims where the temps get over 120F are gonna cook too.
Its all location, and usage. I would MUCH rather have an item that is ten years old that was in use full time, than one that was used for two years and in storage for the last eight!
It takes about 20 years for a good cap to need replacement. (though that figure is highly variable, especially for far longer in use than 20 years before dying) Relays are another 20 year item. Switches and other contacts depend on usage.. no use, they go bad.
Some of the problems can easily be overcome. Oxidation on circuit boards can be cleaned. Transistors really do not artificially age except in salty humid clims. Copper tarnishes, but if in a well controlled environment and in use will stay nice really nearly forever.
So.. IMO it is a really tough call to make a rule about WHEN is too old. And just as hard to 'read' the ads to know what really went on in the items history.
A 25 year old cheap tape deck from FL, in storage for 15 years is gonna be crap. A thirty year old tube amp may be perfect. A pair of 50 year old speakers with the crossovers restored and the surrounds redone, as good as new.
All I can say Elizabeth, is you really seem to be in the know. Hats off to you! I learn something new here almost every day.
Liz, good thoughts on environmental factors. I did not include the question molecular decay of components and connections which is a factor of the quality of construction also. So, I guess we have -- where used, how much use, and what is it.
How's that analogy work for us humans?? Same/same I guess. I personally know I have been out in the sun,way long.
Players with motors can wear out, like turntables and CD players. Plus, CD players have lasers that, like light bulbs, eventually burn out and need replacement. Electrolytic caps in amplifiers can dry out, though modern ones are much better than in days of old. The key to these is if they have been kept in use so as retain their form; amps which have been stored a long time without use are more prone to cap problems than are those that have seen regular use so I always check on this point. Resistors can drift off value, zener diodes can crap out. Speakers are a mixed bunch; I've heard 40 year old speakers that sound fine, their cones and surrounds are still intact. I have also experienced a complete dust bowl blow out when a ten year old speaker was fired up that was working fine a day ago. Perhaps cables are more dependable components simply because they have the fewer "moving parts."
Rant: old crap listed "AS NEW". One problem with buying used is knowledge. If you do not know when a product was manufactured, you are blind.
Finding out, or knowing is very important when shopping used electronics. When I see an ad for a product, and i know it is 25 years old, I just have to laugh at the seller making comments like.. hardly used, or, like new. The best, most recent ad that makes me barf was for an Aiwa cassette deck. The model in question was made around 1982/1984. So this item up for sale is over 25 years old. If it was sitting around, it is junk, if it was used all that time, it is worn out! no way are parts available, and no way is any of the rubber stuff, belts gonna work more than a few days.
So this item is really just junk.
Or any product.. It seems finding out how old the item is can be difficult, and often the seller just makes stuff up. I bought a Furman, the seller said it was only about 18 months old. Inside it has a manufacture date, FIVE and a half years old. It is just human nature to bend the truth. but when the bending is ten years.. twenty years.
Way too many items are things like this. Ten years old and eight owners.. found it in a rummage sale, it came from a hurricane, got washed off, dried out and hey! it works.
So the quality of the seller is just as important as the item, if you want to get a fair deal, and not a mistake. I try to buy from folks who post, besides just buy and sell. That is why AudiogoN is so much better that eBay. You can get a glimpse of the seller.. sometimes. At least heree on the goN'.
If it was sitting around, it is junk, if it was used all that time, it is worn out!
Elizabeth (Threads | Answers)
I'm just curious for your opinion on a Yamaha cassette deck I've had since I purchased it new in mid 1980s (I'd have to do some research to get the exact year).

It was hardly used in the past ten years, but it did work perfectly. It has been boxed up for the past five years.

Would you say this unit is junk?

If so, would you explain why you have this opinion?

TVAD-- I defer to the responses of Elizabeth and Stevecham.
TVAD-- I defer to the responses of Elizabeth and Stevecham.
Garn509 (Answers)
No deferral necessary. I was asking Elizabeth.
OK, Tvad, no question it is old, and may become junk with a few hours use. (since NO parts will be available to fix even simple items like a belt or pulley) It has rubber belts in it that drive the mechanism from the motor/motors. Do you think those belts are going to just not age? IF they are made out of a synthetic (it would have to be a $$$ Nakamichi), maybe they won't break right off. but do you think it is fair to list it "as new" and NOT reveal that it is in fact AT LEAST 15 years old?
And that NO specialty parts are going to be available?
That is the problem.
If you DID say this machine has sat for 15 years with little use etc, then I guess a buyer can make a fair decision as to whether they are going to take the chance. It is when a seller does not reveal the 15 year age, just "looks great" that it becomes a shady deal.
Personally I would NEVER buy a 15 year old mechanical device EXCEPT a turntable and that only if it did not have an idler wheel design.. (only because the motor does just one thing..and the plain bearing in a turntable is pretty indestructable.)
Something like a cassette player, a video recorder, An open reel machine, a CD player.. hah... I would surely pass. I want stuff that works.. not a new project.
And, finally (deep breath here) IMO any cassette deck is junk because it it a dead format. It belongs out there with eight-track machines, Beta video machines, laserdisc players, 78 rpm turntables.. this is, of course, just my opinion. Some folks lives may revolve around restoring and using eight-track machines...
I've thrown away my cassette players, and tapes, thrown away my Beta machine and tapes, thrown away the VHS machine and tapes, thrown away the LD players and laserdiscs.
Thrown away generally means gave away to a Goodwill. Where folks can buy junk and have a seven day return on all electronics (since they pay maybe $5 to $20 bucks.. it ain't a big risk.)
I hope this clarification answers your query about your cassette deck?
Thank you, Elizabeth.
The one last chunk of 'old junk' or treasure: cartridges.
How old ARE some of these "It has been sitting in my drawer and I decided to sell it"
I saw a Dynavector Ruby 23 for sale as such an ad. Wanting $450. for 25 YEAR OLD CARTRIDGE.
Just by coincidence, last year a fellow employee gave me a Rega P3 with a Magnepan Unitrac arm with a Dynavector Ruby 23. He had it for over 25 years, and used on occasion it all that time. (He was fastidious, and kept it very clean using an ultrasonic Denon device)
Now I do have to say it still sounds good. but how old is old for a cartridge?
Actually my only complaint is not revealing the actual age in the ad.
If someone wants a 25 year old cart for $150. more than it cost new...
I mean I have no complaints with mine.. I got it for free AND knew exactly how old it was and how much it was used and how it was cared for. (I have the original receipt)
Concerning purely electronic components (as opposed to electromechanical ones), my experience has been that, as Elizabeth said, it's a tough call. And it is very unpredictable, even when environment and usage history are taken into account.

During the 1990's I owned examples of a lot of the better vintage amps, preamps, and tuners from the 1950's and 60's. Some of them worked spectacularly well, some of them just didn't sound right, some of them had minor problems that I easily fixed, and some of them had problems that I either could not fix or chose not to fix, so as not to ruin originality.

Capacitors seem to be a major variable, as a function of the particular brand and year of manufacture as well as the usage history. I am not aware, though, of any comprehensive summary of which were the good ones, which were the bad ones, etc.

I've had very good luck with a number of FM tuners of the 1950's and 60's, even though a tuner figures to be more critical than an amp or preamp due to misalignment that can occur over time due to drift in component values. In my main system I presently use an all-original 1954 REL Precedent tuner, which works spectacularly well in terms of both sound quality and station-getting ability (except for some days when an intermittent problem appears, that I haven't been able to resolve).

I also collect antique radios. I have an elaborate two-chassis E. H. Scott console from 1932, which I believe is completely original including even the tubes (including a pair of push-pull 45's in the output stage :)). It also works spectacularly well in terms of both sound quality (AM only, of course) and station-getting ability. However, on a higher-end E. H. Scott model from 1940 that I also have I had to replace approximately 50 capacitors, some of which went up in puffs of smoke.

Both the good-performing 1932 model and the problematic 1940 model, btw, spent all of their years in the same geographical area, here in Connecticut.

And I am aware of several instances in recent years, involving high-end professional video equipment and also computer equipment, in which bad runs of capacitors resulted in a rash of failures after just a few years.

So it is a tough and unpredictable call. But my experience suggests that in the better scenarios older electronics can continue to perform well for far longer than might be expected.

-- Al
When you can no longer get parts for it, do not buy it.
"Thrown away generally means gave away to a Goodwill""

hehehheheh.. Hate to break your heart, but the GW tosses most of that stuff too. Trust me, they have one down the street, and I have seen tons of used stuff tossed in the dumpster.
Al - Do you remember to increase line voltage slowly over few days? Voltage re-builds up isolating layer of aluminum oxide in electrolytic caps, that tends to get thinner without voltage lowering breakdown voltage.
Hi Kijanki,

Thanks for mentioning those things, but yes in my case I have absolutely always done that. During the 1990's I invested in an earlier version of this variable ac power supply.

It provides a variac-type function that allows me to bring up the voltage slowly, while providing an ac current meter as well as a voltmeter.

My standard practice is to bring up the voltage over a period of about 8 hours, rather than several days, and that seems to have worked well for me generally.

The 50 capacitors that I mentioned I had to replace on one of the Scott's, btw, were all coupling caps, not electrolytics. I have, of course, had to replace electrolytics in other pieces of vintage equipment.

Best regards,
-- Al
When its FRIED!!
I have owned many old mac amps, and when I acquire them, I send them to Mac for general servicing. I have NEVER had them do anymore than replace a burned out lamp. Ever! And I am talking about amps and preamps that were 15 to 30plus years old. Each one met spec. The same is true when I bought my harman kardon Citation 17 preamp and 16A amplifier. I sent them to hk on Long Island and they sent them back with a data sheet. They far exceeded factory specifications. It erks me a little when someone says 'oh I replaced the caps in this or that and now the unit sounds awesome' (caps are so easy to change and this seems to be the rage today) Capacitors do NOT DEGRADE over time, they FAIL. Which means if your amp is playing, your caps are fine.

So, I think that if a unit was manufactured using quality parts, you should be ok, at least that has been my experience.
"Capacitors do NOT DEGRADE over time, they FAIL."

- I don't know where you got this from, but even capacitor manufacturers admit that electrolytic capacitors dry out (and rate them). At room temperature they will last for 30-50 years but temperature accelerates process greatly (each 10degC cuts life by 50%). ESR of capacitor increases over time and, in presence of big currents, causes internal self heating (just few degrees) and so forth.

Power supply capacitor is in series with a speaker (circuit closes thru power supply) and any increase in ESR will show as worse bass control (lower DF) and loss of dynamics. We get slowly used to "new sound" but difference after replacement can be huge.

There are electrolytic caps that are better quality, lower ESR, lower inductance (like slit foil caps) and higher temperature ratings but they are expensive. Better (high end)manufacturers most likely use better parts.
"Power supply capacitor is in series with a speaker (circuit closes thru power supply) and any increase in ESR will show as worse bass control (lower DF) and loss of dynamics."

I would love to read the white paper on this.. if you have one please let me know. Yes, caps can dry out and when they do the short or fail. Until the point of failure, it is my understanding that they are performing/suppling necessary and proper capacitance and therefore should have no adverse effect on the circuit.

Norman - Not likely to find White Papers on basic stuff like that.

Amp's output current flows from power supply capacitor thru it's Equivalent Series Resistance (ESR) and Equivalent Series Inductance (ESL) then thru output transistors and speaker to come back to power supply capacitor.

Amplifier attempts to regulate/mantain required voltage level but power supply cap's ESL will make it less than perfect at higher frequencies while it's ESR if high enough will cause high voltage drops and eventually amp will run short of voltage.

ESR of capacitor is constantly increasing because of drying effect up to point that after long time self heating (big current x ESR) will cause thermal runaway effect (ESR increases with temperature) and capacitor might even explode. To prevent catastrophic explosion all larger electrolytic caps have built-in fuse (rubber plug).

Quality of sound depends on quality of power supply caps (ESL, ESR, leakage etc). Best caps have extremely low ESR and ESL. Sometimes people bypass electrolytic caps with much lower inductance film caps (to speed-up response) but this creates parallel resonance circuit with ESL (and therefore ringing).
Kijanki is correct - the operating parameters of electrolytic caps are constantly degrading primarily from heat. While the actual capacitance figure in microfarads may remain fairly stable, ESR, dielectric absorption and leakage current are constantly degrading from use. Unfortunately, without something like a Sencore capacitance analyzer, these parameters are difficult to check. Electrolytic caps with any type of case deformation (bulges, etc), or white residue around the rubber gasket at the base is overdue for replacement.
Depends on the gear.
I have a 1961 Bell tubed integrated amplifier with the original RCA 6v6 and Telefunken tubes.

I have owned it for almost 5 years, and don't play it much, but I've never had a problem.
As far as how many owners and how much use it has had I am not aware of, only that all the insides are stock, and no mods.

Everytime I take it out and insert it into my main system, it works,perhaps I am just lucky and it's on borrowed time.

The strange thing is, this unit isn't too far off the mark from some of my more expensive gear and certainly not tubey sounding or rolled off and distorted like some of the 1970's solid state receivers I have heard.

That being said,I just don't understand how gear from the 1970's that was mid fi, mediocre, seems to have taken on cult status and is referred to as Vintage and demands big bucks.

To me it's just old, it wasn't great then, how could time have improved it?
So to me if it works, you like it, got it for peanuts, then congrats, but when it needs fixin, it's useful time is up.
When repair costs exceed market value?
When repair costs exceed nostalgia value?
When you decide to replace?