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Here's a hassle-free way to buy used audio gear

Audio Classics tests and repairs vintage audio before they sell it, complete with a money-back guarantee!

An Audio Classics display case Audio Classics

Buying used audio gear from the original owner or a store usually carries a high degree of risk. Working electronics may turn out to have faulty components, speakers might have busted drivers, and a turntable's bearings may be worn out. Buying used audio can be a huge hassle, but the team at Audio Classics stands behind the gear they sell. Their technicians thoroughly check out each component, clean it, and do repairs as necessary to bring the product up to, or as close as possible to its original performance specifications. Audio Classics has been based in Vestal, N.Y., since 1997.

The store's owner, Steve Rowell, claims he has more test gear than most factory authorized service centers. What's more, Audio Classics has a two-part grading system for the used gear it sells. For example, an Adcom GFA-555 power amp might have a B2 rating, the letter designates physical condition and how the product looks. An A is mint condition, B indicates light scratches, etc. The number grade indicates how well the unit performed on bench tests. A 1 rating means the product meets or exceeds factory specifications; 2 means it meets spec; but might have a noisy input selector or other issues; 3 still meets spec, but some functions might not work. Many used products are sold with an Audio Classics one-year parts and labor warranty; after the warranty expires Audio Classics services products they sell.

Great, but what if once you hear it at home the sound doesn't live up to expectations? Audio Classics sells most used products with an 11-day money-back guarantee. What if you can't decide which of two amps (or speakers) to buy? Get both, compare them at home, and return one for a refund. You can also trade up -- with full credit to the same type of product -- speaker for speaker, amp for amp, etc., within 30 days of purchase.

An Audio Classics listening room Audio Classics

Audio Classics offers a vast assortment of products including amplifiers, CD players, speakers, subwoofers, turntables, etc., with an emphasis on high-end, US made gear. As for vintage stereo receivers from the 1970s and 1980s, Audio Classics owner Steve Rowell expressed his concerns, "Most receivers aren't built to the same standards as high-end gear, and there's a lot that can go wrong." They weren't designed to last 30 or 40 years, but bona-fide high-end gear is.

I spotted a number of very affordable amps on the site that sell for just a few hundred dollars, but for around $1,000 you could get a McIntosh MA 6100 stereo-integrated amplifier from the mid 1970s that still sounds great. If you want to try a tube amp, Steve Rowell recommends a McIntosh MA230 integrated that would run $1,500 or so. Most Audio Classics customers buy one piece at a time, but some buy complete audio systems. Classic speakers from Acoustic Research, JBL, Klipsch, Tannoy and many more are available as well.

Audio Classics also sells new gear, but only to walk-in customers in the store, they don't ship new gear. As for the used products, most of it is double-boxed to protect the gear; Audio Classics ships world-wide, and they can convert many US products for use with 220 volt AC. Audio Classics also buys high quality used gear, contact Audio Classics and send them a list of what you have to sell, and they will get back to you. Check out the virtual tour of the store to see the magnitude of the inventory.

If you bought used high-end gear from Audio Classics or anyone else, share your experiences in the Comments section below.