Why Is Vintage (And Modern) Audio Equipment So Expensive?


If you’re a huge fan of music or a professional in the audio industry, you may very well have found yourself drawn to vintage audio equipment— only to find how incredibly high the prices are.

What is vintage audio equipment so expensive? Vintage audio equipment is expensive partly because of rarity (a lot of vintage gear has been discontinued) and partly due to the inherent quality and design required for its longevity. A vintage piece of gear must be of the highest quality to perform at the highest level decades after manufacture.

Some of you may be having second thoughts about investing in older audio equipment and may decide to settle for something modern because of the price. Though modern equipment is much better in many instances, a vintage piece at the right price could be an invaluable part of your collection. In this article, we’ll dive into the details as to why older audio equipment is so costly.


The 2 Main Reasons Why Vintage Audio Equipment Is So Expensive

Let’s break down the two main points in a bit more detail.

The first reason why some vintage gear is so expensive is because of sheer performance. Note the keyword “some” in that sentence.

It’s arguable that equipment from the past was built to last, whereas modern manufacturing is geared toward getting consumers to buy again and again (which causes manufacturers to design products to eventually fail). This is certainly the case with low-end products. However, with high-end audio equipment, longevity is practically always strived for.

High-end audio equipment today and from the vintage years is expensive because of its superior performance. Lower quality vintage equipment sells for low prices on the used market (if the gear hasn’t been relegated to the past entirely).

Expensive vintage audio equipment was top-of-the-line when it was new and has maintained that performance into the modern-day, making it as valuable, if not more, as it was when it was first built.

Another question to ponder is this: If modern technology has improved design and manufacturing, why is vintage gear often more expensive? Shouldn’t new technology outperform old technology and, therefore, drive down its price?

Well, while audio technology has certainly kept up with the digital age, there is still a huge market for “old” technology. Much new gear aims to replicate the “vintage sound” and does a fantastic job doing so. However, for some, the authenticity of vintage gear is all too alluring.

For example, transistors have replaced tubes in practically every electronic device category since they were invented in the late 1940s. However, the distinct “tube sound” of tube audio equipment is still cherished across the audio industry. Vacuum tubes are still found in audio equipment (and microwave ovens).

This brings us to our next point about the rarity of vintage gear, vintage components and “vintage” sonic character.

The law of supply and demand would state that as a product becomes less available, the price of said product (if needed and/or wanted by the people) would go up.

As discussed, a lot of vintage gear has been discontinued. Many specific electronic components that were part of original designs have also been discontinued, making cloning/replicating difficult (and an art form in and of itself).

Of the models in existence, some will eventually become unusable or unable to perform as they once had. Others will be held onto by professionals who use them to make a living or collectors who may not use them. For the highly sought-after items that do end up on the used market, there will be buyers who will pay top dollar.

So to recap, vintage gear is expensive because:

  1. It performs incredibly well and sounds amazing
  2. It’s rare and highly sought-after

Examples Of Vintage Audio Equipment With Asking Prices

So now we know why vintage audio equipment can be so expensive. How expensive can it get? Let’s consider a few examples of vintage equipment, notably in the following categories:

Note that since these devices are no longer in production, the price will show some fluctuation over time. Also, I’ll avoid linking to marketplaces so to avoid broken hyperlinks in the future. I encourage you to look for yourself and try to find the best prices (and best item condition) possible!

It’s also worth noting that these are only examples and are by no means the average price or maximum price of each category. Prices are also affected by the condition of the unit and location of sale. I’ve sourced information from Reverb, Vintage King, Sonic Circus and eBay. With that, let’s get into it:

Vintage Microphones

Vintage tube microphones are highly sought-after for their warm character and “vintage” performance. Many of the top vintage microphones have reached legendary status among audiophiles and industry professionals, and so they are also seen as symbols of professionalism in high-end recording studios.

The Neumann U 47 (1950s) has a recent price history between $7,000 at the low end and $20,000 USD at the high end.

The AKG C 12 (1950s) has a recent price history between $11,000 at the low end and $17,000 USD at the high end.

The RCA 77-DX (1950s) has a recent price history between $1,100 at the low end and $2,500 USD at the high end.

The Neumann U 47 is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals
Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones)
Neumann is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 11 Best Studio Monitor Brands You Should Know And Use

The AKG C 12 is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
Top 11 Best Microphones For Recording Vocals
Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones)
AKG is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Headphone Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You Should Know And Use

The RCA 77-DX is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
50 Best Microphones Of All Time (With Alternate Versions & Clones)
Top 12 Best Vintage Microphones (And Their Best Clones)

Vintage Amplifiers

Vintage amplifiers are also sought-after for their sonic performance and reliability. Vintage amplifiers in the consumer market will often be serviceable with simpler designs and replaceable components. Professional-grade amplifiers (like those mentioned below) may be more difficult to service if needed as some high-end original components have been discontinued.

The Marantz Model 2 (1950s) has recently been priced at $15,000 USD.

The McIntosh MC275 Original (1960s) has a recent price history between and $5,000 and $12,500 USD.

The Pioneer M-22 Class A (1970s) has recently been prices at $2,200 USD.

Marantz is one of My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best AV Receiver Brands In The World.

McIntosh is one of My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Power Amplifier Brands In The World.

Pioneer is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best AV Receiver Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Subwoofer Brands (Car, PA, Home & Studio)

Vintage Receivers

Receivers are practically all consumer-grade devices, offering amplification and radio transmission in a single unit. However, the best of the best receivers can cost a notable amount of money. This is true of modern receivers and also of vintage receivers. Consider the examples below.

The Sansui QR-6500 (1970s) has recently been recently listed at $2,500 USD.

The Fisher 800-C (1960s) has recently been recently listed at $2,500 USD.

The Yamaha CR-1000 (1970s) has recently been priced at $1,400 USD.

Yamaha is a brand featured in many My New Microphone articles including:
Top 13 Best Acoustic Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best AV Receiver Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands
Top 11 Best Mixing Board/Console Brands For Home Studios
Top 11 Best PA Loudspeaker Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 11 Best Studio Monitor Brands You Should Know And Use
Top 11 Best Subwoofer Brands (Car, PA, Home & Studio)
Top 11 Best Synthesizer Brands In The World

Vintage Guitar Amplifiers

As a guitarist, I know firsthand how solid-state amps just don’t perform like tube amps. The non-linear response of tube amps allows for beautifully natural changes in tone as levels are increased. Though there are certainly plenty of modern tube amplifier options, some vintage guitar amplifiers stand out amongst the rest and demand a higher price tag for their superb sound.

The Hiwatt DR201 200-watt (1970s) has recently been priced at $7,000 USD.

The Fender Vintage Vibroverb 40-watt (1960s) has recently been price at $5,800 USD.

The Marshall Super PA JMP Plexi 100-watt (1960s) has recently been price at $4,800 USD.

Fender is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Bass Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Bass Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Electric Guitar Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use
Top 11 Best Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World

Marshall is one of My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World.

Vintage Audio Processors

In the early days of electrical recording, most processing was done in a recording console. As studios began expanding, external processors started to show up in the market, offering superb effects/processes with flexible routing capabilities. Though there are plenty of audio effects, let’s focus our attention on vintage compressors, equalizers and general audio effects.

Microphone Preamplifiers

Many of the best microphone preamps are included within vintage consoles. However, as studio technology advanced, more about more standalone preamplifiers were manufactured to keep up with the modular trend and the need for different tools in the studio.

A pair of EMI REDD 47 (1980s) has recently been priced at $55,000 USD.

A pair of Telefunken TAB V76m (1960s) has recently been priced at $19,500 USD.

A pair of Neve 1058 (1960s) has recently been priced at $20,000. USD.

Neve is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World

Compressors

Many vintage compressors have reached legendary status. Many of them offer historic feats of design and engineering. There are several types of compression circuits, and many of the high-priced vintage compressors on the market were the first units to offer their respective types.

The Teletronix LA-2a Original (1950s) has recently been priced at $11,000 USD.

The UREI 1176 (1970s) has recently been priced at $5,700 USD.

The Gates STA-Level Tube Compressor (1950s) has recently been priced at $4,000 USD and $4,600 USD.

Equalizers

Vintage equalizers are quite a bit simpler than the modern digital fully parametric EQs we have today. They are cherished for their simplicity, overall performance, and sound.

The Pultec EQP-1 and MEQ-5 pair (1950s) has recently been priced at $18,500 USD.

The Neve 2064 (1960s) has recently been priced at $3,000 USD.

The API 550B (1960s) has recently been priced at $1,000 USD.

Pultec is one of My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World.

API is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Studio Recording/Mixing Console Brands
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment

Effects

Vintage effects units are often cherished for their nostalgia and sonic characteristics that are difficult to recreate. While many older effects units have been forgotten and replaced by superior modern designs, a select few have solidified their name in the lore of audio production.

The Lexicon 224 (1970s) has recently been priced at $5,000 USD.

The Eventide SP2016 (1980s) has recently been priced at $3,800 USD.

The Roland RE-201 Space Echo (1970s) has a recent price history between $1,700 USD and $2,200 USD.

Eventide is one of My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.

Roland is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best MIDI Controller Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Synthesizer Brands In The World

Vintage Mixing Consoles

Though mixing consoles are certainly being built for modern-day engineers, they have certainly fallen in popularity among mid-level and amateur audio enthusiasts. The digital age makes it possible to achieve incredible results from a laptop. The size and price of consoles are simply too great for most people in today’s world.

However, for those who want vintage consoles, there is a market. Many of these consoles are still serviceable, and some offer incredible history (like the EMI TG12345 of Abbey Road Studios). The size, functionality and price of vintage consoles (and modern consoles) vary greatly from unit to unit.

At the high-end, the custom-made EMI TG12345 MK IV (1970s) mixing console sold at auction in 2017 for a whopping $1,807,500 USD.

The Neve 8038 (1970s) has recently been priced at $260,000 USD.

The Studer 189 (1970s) has recently been priced at $22000 USD.

Most sellers of such vintage consoles do not have a direct asking price. Negotiation of these high ticket items is commonplace.

Studer is one of My New Microphone’s Top 10 Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands.


Why Do Some People Prefer Vintage Audio Equipment?

It is believed that the vintage version of these brands excel that of today’s equipment because they have the following qualities:

  • Reliability
  • Build quality
  • Sound quality
  • Serviceability

All of these brands are great for anyone looking to execute the perfect sound and performance with their music.


Modern Alternatives To Vintage Gear

We’ve discussed why [some] vintage gear is so highly sought-after, what makes it so expensive and some examples of price points. The laws of supply and demand play a big role in driving these prices. However, supply and demand have also brought forth an entirely new market of vintage clones and, more recently, digital plugin emulations.

So if you can’t find or afford the original models, you may be able to find soundalikes. If you’re willing to settle for something besides the original, then recreations/clones/soundalikes are a fantastic choice. Many are spot on in matching the sonic character and performance of the original, and many even offer additional functionality.

As discussed, these soundalikes can be designed as hardware or software. Let’s revisit the categories and examples from the section Examples Of Vintage Audio Equipment With Asking Prices.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Microphones

The market of vintage microphone clones has some impressive models.

Modern versions (clones or approximates) of the Neumann U 47 include:

Modern versions (clones or approximates) of the AKG C 12 include:

The RCA 77-DX has no clones.

Bock Audio and Warm Audio are featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Microphone Brands You’ve Likely Never Heard Of.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Amplifiers

Vintage amplifiers generally won’t have modern “clones,” though manufacturing of some vintage models has been carried on to the modern day.

The McIntosh MC275 (link to check the price at McIntosh) is an example of an amplifier that has been in production for many decades, adapting to modern needs as necessary.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Receivers

Being on the consumer market, there aren’t many, if any, recreations of vintage amplifiers since there aren’t really any “legendary status” receivers. Though technology has evolved from these vintage designs and is in many ways based on the original designs, we won’t find modern clones of high-end vintage receivers such as the aforementioned Sansui QR-650, Fisher 800-C and Yamaha CR-1000.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Guitar Amplifiers

Like vintage amplifiers, vintage guitar amps aren’t generally cloned, though certain design aspects are certainly carried forward. Some models have had great success with continued manufacturing. Some others have been modelled into guitar amplifier simulation software.

For example, the Fender Vintage Vibroverb has been modelled in following gear:

AmpliTube and Bias Amp are featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar Amp Simulator Plugins For Your DAW.

IK Multimedia is one of My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Virtual/Software Instrument Plugin Brands.

Strymon is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Audio Processors

The broad category of “audio processors” is teeming with modern recreations, descendants and models of vintage gear. From direct copies to software versions to “inspired-by” type products, you’ll pretty much be able to find well-known vintage effects units/processors in modern packages (whether hardware or software). Let’s get into the aforementioned vintage gear to see whether there are modern versions.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Microphone Preamplifiers

Modern hardware versions/recreations of the EMI REDD 47 include:

Modern plugin versions/recreations of the Telefunken TAB V76m include:

Chandler Limited is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World

Universal Audio|UAD is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World

Arturia is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best MIDI Controller Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Synthesizer Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Virtual/Software Instrument Plugin Brands

Modern Versions Of Vintage Compressors

Modern versions/recreations of the Teletronix LA-2a include:

Modern versions/recreations of the UREI 1176 include:

Modern versions/recreations of the Gates STA-Level Tube Compressor include:

Waves Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.

Avid is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Interface Brands In The World
Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
Top 10 Best Live Sound Mixing Board/Console Brands

Native Instruments is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best MIDI Controller Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Virtual/Software Instrument Plugin Brands

Softube is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best DAW Control Surface Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World

Black Lion Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 13 Best Microphone Preamplifier Brands In The World.

Lindell Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment.

Slate Digital is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.

PSP Audioware is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Plugin (VST/AU/AAX) Brands In The World.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Equalizers

Modern versions/recreations of the Pultec EQP-1 and MEQ-5 include:

Modern versions/recreations of the API 550B include:

Manley Laboratories is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World
Top 11 Best Audio Equalizer Brands In The World

A Designs is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Brands For 500 Series Modules/Equipment.

Tube-Tech is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Audio Compressor Brands In The World.

Modern Versions Of Vintage Effects Units

Modern versions/recreations of the Lexicon 224 include:

Modern versions/recreations of the Eventide SP2016 include:

Modern versions/recreations of the Roland RE-201 Space Echo include:

Chase Bliss Audio is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Boutique Guitar/Bass Pedal Brands To Know & Use.

Boss is featured in the following My New Microphone articles:
Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use
Top 11 Best Guitar Amplifier Brands In The World

Modern Versions Of Vintage Consoles

Most vintage consoles and, indeed, most modern recording consoles are custom-made or had limited production runs. Modern functionality, notably the need for compatibility with digital audio workstations and audio plugins, is practically a must-have with new consoles.

With so many components required to build a console, recreating vintage consoles with exact specifications can be difficult. However, with custom builds, it’s certainly possible.

That being said, channel strip emulations from legendary consoles are quite popular on the plugin market. Modelling the real-world vintage consoles and programming software to recreate the original performance has become a viable business model for plugin manufacturers and an affordable way for engineers to get their favourite strips without forking out tens or hundreds of thousands (or even millions) of dollars.

Modern gear inspired by the EMI TG12345 includes:

Modern gear inspired by the Neve 8068 includes:


Vintage Or Modern Audio? You Decide

Now that you have all of the answers you’re looking for, it is time for you to decide which audio equipment will be right for you. Use the knowledge that you gained from this article and let that determine if you’ll stick with the vintage audio, opt for a modern recreation, or move on to something newer in design.

Arthur

Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or composing music for media. Check out his Pond5 and AudioJungle accounts.

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