Irrational Markets

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I've been a photography kick lately. For those who are anti-photography, I apologize, but the more I compare and contrast the art and hobby of photography with audio, the more similarities I discover.

As someone who has bought and sold photo and audio equipment for more than forty years I've noticed that some audio gear holds its value much better than some photo gear. A vintage Krell, Audio Research, or Accuphase power amp holds its value well, rarely dropping below $.30 on the dollar even for the oldest stuff. But most vintage Nikon, Canon, or Pentax camera film camera bodies can be had for pennies on the dollar for gear only a couple of years old.

Most vintage digital audio gear, even from what were industry leaders in the '90's, has faired almost as dismally at retaining resale value as old mechanical film camera bodies...but there are exceptions.

Sometimes, the reason why gear retains or loses value is not so much a function of its own current usefulness as the directions taken and progress made by the current state of the art. Obviously, first, second, and even third generation CD players and DACs with their steep digital "brick wall" filters don't compete sonically with current, even entry-level, options. By and large their value on the used market reflects this. But sometimes the market is less than logical. Most ten and fifteen-year-old CD players that were frightfully expensive when new, are in my opinion, still priced far higher than they should be. That price-premium is usually a result of two things - the high original price and the manufacturer's reputation.

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With most digital photography gear when a camera body superseded by a newer model its price drops, sometimes precipitously. And once a camera body is several generations old it's almost as inexpensive as an old chemical-photography mechanical body. An example of this would be a Nikon D200, which was over $1200 when new in 2006, now can be had for around $200 (the $1800 bodies listed on Amazon are ridiculous.) A D200 still works, delivers a 10 MP picture and can make photographs, which under good conditions, (it doesn't do low light, high ISO well) generates results that are on a par with much newer models. Compare that with a Leica Digilux 2, which came out in 2004, does only 5 MP that still goes for more than $400 on EBAY! I briefly owned a Digilux 2 (I returned it after two days) and it was not a very good camera. Even in 2006 it was slow, with primitive ergonomics and underwhelming image quality. So what's the deal?

It's all a matter of reputation.

I love old Accuphase gear. I own a C-200 preamp and P-300 power amplifier that are wonderful classic components - still fully functional, repairable, sonically competitive with far newer models, and usually priced fairly in the marketplace. I can't say the same for early Accuphase CD players. In my humble opinion the prices asked for late 80's and early 90's Accuphase digital gear is far higher than it should be based on performance alone. But that is where reputation and those high list prices come along to upset a logical market...

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The fact of the matter is that certain products from particular manufacturers hold their value better than others not because they are better, but because the buyers and the marketplace for those particular products are less than rational. Products from companies like Leica and Accuphase have developed passionate cult followings who buy used examples because their well-deserved reputation for quality. Sometimes the reputation is deserved, such as with Leitz optics or Accuphase symmetrical amplification circuits. But not all Leitz or Accuphase gear deserves the prices it commands - examples are the Leica Digilux 2 or Accuphase DP-80

Where I'm going with this is that if you decide to buy used or vintage audio or photo gear, you need to be aware that sometimes stuff isn't rationally priced because the buyers and sellers who deal in that gear aren't rational. Leica camera gear and Accuphase digital gear are only two examples of what I consider irrationally priced used products. There are others. I'm sure my readers can produce quite a list. And while I would never try to dissuade anyone from buying used Leica or Accuphase gear, you need to go in with your eyes (and pocketbook) open, because you are wading into irrationally priced waters that even the most savvy buyer can do little about...

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