Cash for Trash

Technical folks, and TV techies in particular, have become accustomed to finding that their beloved, state-of-the-art equipment has become, on any given day, completely and utterly worthless.

It's a classic hardware problem. Just like the apocryphal new car which loses 99 percent of its value as it leaves the showroom, television and sound production equipment is notorious for its overnight auto-depreciation. Car owners plunge into deep denial when told that their "babies"-hand-waxed and awash in Armor All-are worth more in the scrap yard than on the road. And it's not substantially different for the owner of a vintage Ikegami camera or aging U-Matic player.

Of course, there's no sense in trying to sell old equipment when the values fall through the floor... might as well just keep it. Need a part for my old one-inch machine? No problem; I kept its twin when it died. How about a PC power supply or keyboard? I've probably got a dozen. And if 500 MB hard drives ever makes a big comeback, well, we've got it covered.

In my own case, this techie-retentive syndrome is compounded by a congenital defect, inherited from my maternal grandfather. Old Hugh was an inveterate collector of nothing in particular, and nothing was too old, too useless or too broken to be warehoused in the old garage behind his house. For a kid, a walk through his garage was like a trip to the toy store; boxes of skeleton keys, cast-off barroom signs, a vase or souvenir ashtray given to him by a customer whose house he'd wallpapered-man, if I had it all now, I'd be an Ebay millionaire.

Hey, wait... are you thinking what I'm thinking? Maybe if we sell our old audio and video junk, we'll be rich! Or at least have a little extra cash for beer and pork rinds. I've got boxes and boxes of stuff I've saved and salvaged; I've got one shelf just for old muffin fans. But who in their right minds would take some of this trash off our hands?

Well, funny you should ask.


A couple of years ago, we finally bit the bullet around here and completely reworked our little audio suite. We abandoned our obsolete Studer Dyaxis workstation in favor of Steinberg's amazing Nuendo package, and put in a tiny-but-powerful digital mixer to feed the system. We also rearranged the layout, bought a Middle Atlantic studio console and sponge-painted the walls.

That left us to dispose of a huge pile of Formica cabinetry and our old analog audio console. The Automated Processes, Inc. (API) mixer had actually been cobbled together from the assorted remains of two old mix desks I'd been able to buy for $200 each; I'd mixed and matched EQ modules, compressor/limiters and faders to make a fairly functional system. By now, though, capacitors that dated back, in some cases, to 1973 had begun to dry out and fail, and various other ailments had surfaced. AES and SPDIF signals were now at the center of our universe, and the analog board had become, in essence, one big monitor selector. Time to lay the old beast to rest.

Somewhere deep in the recesses of the brain, I suspected that there were still some aficionados out there who prized this old analog flotsam and jetsam. In fact, there's been a significant number of studios designing and building analog front-ends for their studios. I remembered how well-regarded this equipment had become in its heyday... after all, an API console was the heart and soul of the mythical Record Plant Black Truck remote unit. And I was right.


Turns out that there's a substantial market in old API components. An hour of Web searches turned up a dozen people selling used API microphone preamps, equalizers and compressor/limiters, and the prices were astonishing. With the right pedigree, a single EQ module might fetch in excess of $1,000. Bingo.

As I tentatively e-mailed some of the players, I noticed a trend; several were only interested in cherry-picking, in grabbing those few high-ticket tidbits they could turn around in a flash. Not that this was unreasonable, mind you; I'd gladly have taken a little cash and tossed the rest in the dumpster. I could sell to one of these folks, or I could venture onto Ebay myself, dribbling out one or two units at a time, and hoping I got my price. It sounded like a great retirement project, but I'm not that patient.

And then I heard from Dan Alexander. One of my e-mail "ticklers" had reached a truly unique individual, one whose specialty had become the acquisition and resale of vintage analog audio equipment-AKG and Neumann mics, Neve and API consoles and Pultec filter sets. Once the owner of a major San Francisco studio, Dan has worked with what he loves-vintage audio gear-since 1977, actively buying and selling through his Web site ( Dan is arguably at the center of the vintage analog universe, and the fates had brought me to him.


Dan's response came by phone. His laid-back California style was strained by an obvious urgency, exhorting me to get back into the dumpster to retrieve the console frame I'd discarded as worthless. I complied. I carefully catalogued it all, right down to the spare lamps and extender boards. We soon agreed on a price for the whole lot, plus a few other golden oldies we had lying around. I've since learned that my old API 1604 will soon debut as the star performer in an audio remote truck.

In theory, I might have made more if I'd been willing to sell off key pieces one-by-one over time, but I can't imagine having been successful at it, and I could never have afforded the time. More important than convenience, though, was the notion that every part I'd kept and salvaged-filler plates and trim screws and cue amps-was going to be passed on to folks who would treasure them, make them work, and use them. That's not just a sappy, sentimental response; it's the techie's code of honor, the same infuriating ethic which prevents us from throwing out a perfectly good muffin fan.

Walter Schoenknecht can be reached via e-mail at