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Q. Is it wise to buy a second-hand microphone?

By Hugh Robjohns

Higher-end mics like the Neumann TLM103 may cost more than budget models, but they'll last longer and can be fully repaired in the future.Higher-end mics like the Neumann TLM103 may cost more than budget models, but they'll last longer and can be fully repaired in the future.With so many brand-new budget-priced microphones out there these days, I'm wondering if it might be better to get a high-quality mic second-hand instead. I don't think I'd trust second-hand monitors, but does the same apply to mics? For the £150 or £200 I'd spend on a new mic, I could get a far better model second-hand.

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Technical Editor Hugh Robjohns replies: I would certainly support the idea of buying second-hand pro audio gear, but I would be very wary of buying gear in the price range you're talking about second-hand. My reasoning is as follows. Firstly, users of high-end professional equipment generally know what they are doing and so their equipment tends (with the inevitable exceptions) to have been reasonably well maintained. It's not always the case, but you can usually tell in an instant by looking at a piece of equipment whether or not it has been well looked-after, and if it looks OK it usually is.

Secondly, bona fide pro gear can be serviced and repaired. All the reputable speaker manufacturers will happily supply replacement drivers, and all the reputable mic manufacturers will be able to repair and recondition their microphones. So even if the gear has had a hard life, it will remain perfectly serviceable. You can still get spares for 30-year-old Studer tape machines, for example.

Conversely, budget audio equipment is made as cheaply as possible, and while you can get remarkable quality for your money, most of it is not cost-effective to service — in other words, it is disposable. The current glut of Chinese-made mics offer exceptional value, but you certainly won't be able to get them repaired in the factory after 20 years like you can a Neumann, AKG or Sennheiser. Likewise, getting spare parts for a Fostex multitrack tape recorder is a lot harder than for an old Studer or Otari.

So, if the second-hand budget gear in question is in good condition and very cheap, then it may be worth the risk, but go into it with your eyes open — it may well prove impossible or prohibitively expensive to have this kind of gear repaired should it fail a week after you bought it. On the other hand, a second-hand truly professional product should remain serviceable for decades. I bought four Sennheiser MKH20 mics second-hand a few years ago, and one turned out to be faulty, but it was serviced by Sennheiser and came back like new, and, even adding in the cost of the service, it was still a very good deal compared to the cost of the mics brand-new.

Published September 2003