View Full Version : About vintage audio in Hong Kong - another long post


Arkay
04-27-2006, 04:49 PM
Yesterday I posted for the first time here. I was afraid I might be flamed for writing a ridiculously long post, but instead am humbled and gratified :ntwrthy: that a whole bunch of people "welcomed" me. [I suppose I should have expected as much, from this particular board.] So first, off, thanks for making a hesitant newbie feel welcome.

Secondly, please forgive me if this turns into another long post. :boring: There were a number of questions and issues raised in some of your replies to my post, that I think deserve a more detailed explanation. Instead of replying to each one individually, I thought I'd try to respond by posting some comments and observations about hunting vintage audio here. It is quite different from the States, and perhaps someone may find it interesting.

[Disclaimer: Everything here is just my personal observation and opinion, so it may not all be accurate, but I've lived here for over twenty years and speak the local language fluently, etc... so I'm probably not too far off. Also, "HK" here refers to "Hong Kong", not "Harman Kardon"!]

To start with, there are places most of you find stuff in the States, that are just not an option here:

Thrift shops: Not a source. :thumbsdn:
There are thrift shops here, primarily the ones run by the Salvation Army. They are not a source worth bothering with. Except for televisions, the only vintage audio I see there is BPC. I think the sole exception to that was one single bottom-end Technics receiver I saw there once, and it was not cheap. I don't know, but I suspect that maybe someone pulls out all the good stuff before it ever gets close to the shop floor. Maybe they have an arrangement with a dealer to screen through the stuff?

Garage sales: Not a source. :thumbsdn:
There are no garage sales here. More than 95 percent of the population here lives in high-rise apartments without front yards or lawns (kind of hard to plant a lawn 16 stories up!), and car-parking spaces here cost as much to rent as a modest apartment costs in most US cities, so it just isn't feasible.

Flea Markets: Not really... :thumbsdn:
There are no real flea markets here, in part because there is no room for them; Hong Kong is crowded and built up (like Mannattan Island). There used to be a lot of "hawkers" who would sell things from carts (like the hot dog vendors in NYC), but they have been largely made illegal and hounded out of business by the government, under the excuse of fire-safety.

Popularity of audio:
Audio is a popular hobby/pursuit in Hong Kong. I think this is partly because it is one of the few things people can enjoy within the confines of an apartment. Outdoor activities require space, which means commuting pretty far out of the core city areas. Only well-connected millionaires can afford to join the golf club, for example; otherwise, to play golf affordably you have to commute across the border into China. With the weather hot and humid for much of the year, people prefer to stay indoors. Beyond this, people work long, hard hours here, and audio/hi-fi is something they can enjoy and use to relax with at home. From what I've seen, nearly all homes in Hong Kong have a large TV and HT or stereo system taking up a chunk of space in the living room.

A lot of systems are mid-fi to high-end, too. There are a lot of very wealthy people here who can afford them; Citibank says that on Hong Kong Island (where I live) one in every seventeen people is a US$ millionaire, in terms of liquid assets (i.e., not including home equity). For them it is sometiimes a matter of "face" to buy the latest high-quality stuff that they can show off with or brag to their friends about. Of course, MOST people do not buy really high-end stuff, but enough people do so that there is a good supply of it here.

The high-high end - a true story:
The most extreme example of this I encountered in the early eighties: a local billionaire (yep, in US dollars, in the Forbes list) had given a "blank check" to a dealer to get him the best audio system on the planet, whatever that happened to be. As it turned out, it happened to include a set of Infinity IRS V columns. Infinity sent out one of their factory technicians to work with the dealer to ensure everything was set up properly, and I was fortunate enough to be present when they had it all set up for testing and burn-in before delivery. (Actually, I think the dealer just wanted to enjoy it, first...).

I don't remember details of the source (I think the amps were Sun Audio or Sunfire - I didn't recognize the name at the time, but seem to recall it had something to do with "sun" -?). Whatever it was, the sound that came out of those speakers was "to die for". I have NEVER heard anything remotely like it before nor since, not even at live concerts. I stood there, absolutely awestruck by the sound quality, for what felt like 15 minutes... but was actually over five hours. Unfortunately, I will probably never be lucky enough to ever hear that quality of sound again, and it spoiled my enjoyment of everything else audio for a few years afterwards, but at least I heard it once, and have something to aim towards. Hearing that system with those speakers is probably the main reason I have seven vintage Infinity speakers today, and am such a fan of vintage Infinity. I keep hoping his old system will turn up in one of the places I hunt for vintage audio, but so far no luck.... sigh....

Variety of international brands:
Hong Kong, unlike the US, is not a large enough market for very many things to be made specially for here (although I've read that some Japanese companies like Denon have made some units specifically for the HK market). Because of HK's history as a British Colony and a center of international trade , people who are into audio here are often aware of and willng to buy brands from various countries. Expatriates posted here sometimes have brought their systems with them from overseas, and bought new systems while living here, leaving their old ones behind. HK students studying overseas might bring systems back, too, and (mostly) dealers import stuff from all over. Thus, there is a real variety of stuff here; I see units both from and made for Asian, American and European markets here regularly.

Voltage here is 220v, but nearly every electrical shop will carry transformers, adapters and inverters. Anyone buying secondhand stuff just sort of gets used to checking voltages here, and while most things I see are set to 220V, there are some that are 110V, and even some made for 100 Volts (made for the Japanese domestic market). I actually have a telephone-radio-thing on the desk beside me that is 110 volts, run off a transformer. Usually you can get a somewhat cheaper price if you buy 110V stuff, as most people naturally don't want to bother with a transformer.

Also, some of the Japanese stuff actually has better transformers in the 200V stuff than in the 110V. Not sure why, but they sometimes built to a higher standard for export to Europe, than for export to the US. so that may affect the price for certain brands/units.

On the topic of "international", the vast majority of TVs and VCRs sold here in the past 15 years were multi-system. My Hitachi VCR, for example, plays 36 different formats, including the usual PAL, NTSC and SECAM, and my TV will show all of them. I bought them both around 1990. This is not unusual here, at all. Hong Kong's free-to-air TV broadcasters were among the first in the world to broadcast in NICAM (allows you to choose different sound tracks/languages), so nearly all TVs have that function, too.

Where you CAN find vintage audio stuff here (but where I seldom do):
1. There are some "junk shops" and "antique shops" here, just as in the States. Some of these will have vintage audio stuff, sometimes even very good pieces. However, their prices tend to be on the high side, but not always. If you want to spend the time, you might find something in them.

2. Various secondhand audio shops and record shops:
There are some shops that specialize in either used LPs (and usually also CDs) which may carry some turntables, etc... as well, but they are often not the cheapest. There are a couple of high-end consigment shops where you can see literally stacks of top-end units from the likes of Krell, Mark Levinson, Moon, Pass Labs, etc... Needless to say, I like to go there sometimes just to drool on the carpet and dream.... There are also a very few smaller shops that specialize in tube audio, where you can buy almost any tube still available anywhere... but at a price, of course. Several mainland companies and a couple of Hong Kong companies manufacture new tube-based stuff, too, at varying quality levels. There are showrooms for some of those, too.

3. There are audio repair shops, usually small places opened by a single repairman, who sometimes have trade-in units and the like. There won't be much to pick from at their places, and most of the stuff they will have will be waiting repair rather than for sale, so I usually don't bother with them, but sometimes if you tell them what you are looking for, they will know who has one that they might sell.

4. The "Junk/audio street": There is one street here, Apliu Street in Sham Shui Po district, which is locally famous for selling junk and electronic stuff. Both sides of the street are lined with market stalls, like a sort of organized flea market (which is what it used to be, before the government stepped in and overrregulated it in the name of fire safety.) There are shops along both sides of the street behind those stalls. Some of those shops specialize in used and vintage audio, and you can find nice things there are often semi-reasonable prices, but still no great "steals". These people really know their stuff, and if somethiing good comes in, they will know how to price it.

5. Exhibitions (Not vintage): A couple times a year there are big international Electronics exhibitions here. Because some business relationships, I get sent free buyer's passes for these. Often near closing time on the last day, companies that don't want to ship all their display samples back will "dump" them for cheap prices, or even give them for free. I got a big roll of coax cable (good for running between a building-top antenna and my tuner!) for free at the last one, and a beautiful set of HT speakers done in elmwood burl and black piano lacquer for about $200 at the one before. [I will sell those soon, for a profit. My trash-found vintage Infinities sound MUCH better! :huge: ]

Where I go to do my REAL shopping:
There are also some shops, if you can call them that, elsewhere (I won't say where here, but if any of you visit HK, I'll be very happy to take you there and show you) where the real bargains are to be found. These are the "used audio wholesale dealers". I love these places! They accumulate stacks and stacks of units from all over Hong Kong, and pile them up like goods in a warehouse. Hundreds of units are piled up in most of them, turning over regularly, and there are perhaps a dozen or so such places, so any day I want to I can go look at literally thousands of used audio units. These places don't advertise, some of them don't even have proper signs over the doors, and they are not in nice neighborhoods, but they have the goods.

Traders from less-developed economies (mostly African) come and buy from them, shipping stuff out of this city the container-load, month in and month out, so you can imagine the quantities there are to browse and choose from.

These places operate on a simple principle: if they pay a buck for something and you will pay them a little more than a buck for it, it's yours. They do not test their units, and there are no guarantees at all. Condition can range from 9.9 out of ten, to a near-hopeless "parts unit". The people buying these expect to have their repair people fix them at lower labor costs back in their home countries, and the prices are set to reflect that and the costs of shipping. In other words, while you won't get a Marantz 9 for five bucks there, you won't pay anything close to eBay or even retail shop prices, either.

They can be a bit gruff with strangers, and I doubt if any tourists ever set foot through their doors, but if you approach them right and they know you are a sincere potential buyer (not just a "Lookie-Lou"), they will sell to you in single units, for about the same prices they sell to the guys who buy enough to stuff shipping containers. If they will sell to you at all, then one piece or a hundred, the price per piece is the same.

Most of their volume is in BPC and lower-end stuff, because that is what is mostly available, but at any given time each one of these places may have from a few to a few dozen silver-fronted 1970s oldies, and other "treasures" amidst the more mundane stuff. Each seems to "specialize" to some extent; some sell mostly TVs, others (my favorites) mostly vintage audio, but there is occasional "blurring" of those distinctions, so I sometimes look in on the TV places, too.

Even the guys with those vintage shops along the "junk street" source some of their stuff from these wholesale guys, too. Nearly everyone in the business knows nearly everyone else, and if they stumble on something they know another person specializes in (and they like that person), they may flip it over to them. I've got a lot of my stuff from these wholesalers, and have seen a few really nice things there. The best things disappear quickly, though, so if you see something really good there, you need to get it quickly. The next day it will probably have disappeared into the hands of an overseas buyer or a local retailer.

Where do they get all this stuff?
When I first started discovering these wholesale places, I just couldn't believe the quantities of stuff they had. Where could they find it all? I asked a few of them, and they basically said it came from all over Hong Kong, but they did NOT import any from other countries themselves; couldn't be bothered to.

Interestingly, it was one of the Aftican traders who pointed out to me that Hong Kong people are always buying new things and throwing out their old things. There is some truth to this. On average, a typical Hong Kong person will get a new mobile phone 2 to 3 times per year, just to have "the latest model" to play with and show off ("face"). To some extent, this mentality carries over to audio: as everyone upgrades to bigger flat-panel TV and HT system, they junk their old stereo systems. Each of these dealers has their own "feeder network" of trash collectors, repair people, etc... who bring them whatever they find or get in trade-in, from all over the city. That is how they get the quantities of goods that they do.

Imagine if most of the curbside finds and thrift-shop donations and nearly every piiece of unwanted trade-in stock in your city. as well as almost every unit in all the yard sales and flea markets were instead put into just a handful of wholesale used-audio places, where you could pick through them without having to run all over town to ferret them out ... that is pretty much what I have here in Hong Kong, and why I have been able to build up a colllection of so many units in such a short time, at low prices... while passing up on many more things than the relative few that I've bought.

But there is one other source, that at least as much fun, and in some ways even better...

The BEST place to get BARGAINS in HK:
Now I won't be too specific about this here, because it is unofficial and semi-illegal, but there is a place where, at certain times, many of those "feeders" I just mentioned will drive up in their vans and trucks, or bring by puiblic transport on their luggage-carts, etc... the stuff they have found, their excess stock, or whatever they have to sell. It amounts to an "underground flea market".

I say underground, because technically it violates the laws on street-hawking and is illegal. However, it is semi-tolerated by the police, and takes place pretty much seven days a week (weekends are the best), but for just a short period each day. The last time I went there (which was today, hehe) the police drove up in a big truck with lights flashing, and announced over a booming PA system that all sellers had to stop within five minutes or they would be arrested! The police don't shut it down and don't arrest without warnings like that, but they do control or limit it somewhat. The funny thing is, as I was walking away a few minutes later, about a block away, the driver of a truck shouted, "Hey, friend!" and waved me over. He pulled over and opened the door of his truck, to show me what he had inside. Another buyer came by and started shopping, too... like I say, the police control it SOMEWHAT...

While there are certain practices and conventions that are followed by people there, that market is still sort of "wild west" in feel. It is in one of the poorest, roughest, most gangster-laden parts of the city, usually after dark, and I guarantee it will never appear in a tourist brochure, but if you know what you are doing culturally and can speak the local language, it can actually be a fun place to visit and buy at, because you never know what you will find. Also, if you get to know the regular people there, they will sometimes tip you off to things or offer you things that they find. A few people I've met there have started calling me when they have something "interesting", to see if I want to buy it, before they even bring it to the market. I suppose this is how those wholesale dealers build up their "feeder networks", too.

Relatively few people out of the general public would go to that market, even if they knew about it (some know, most don't). It is absolutely a "buyer beware" environment, because some repair people and dealers will try to flog off the units they can't repair because of a lack of unobtanium, etc... but there are also some very good things and some real bargains there from time to time. Since nearly everyone buying there is in some way a dealer, most of them wholesale dealers, and many of the sellers got their stuff from the trash for free or as trade-in units, the prices are usually rock-bottom/wholesale. This is where I have got the cheapest stuff. It is more or less the same stuff that the wholesale places have, but in smaller quantities and usually cheaper.

There is another market near there where people buy and sell mobile phones, but I suspect that some of those might have been pick-pocketed/stolen (don't know, but just guess this), so I wouldn't buy there. I'm pretty sure very little if any of the old audio stuff is stolen.

To illustrate what one can find there, within the past week I have seen both Martin-Logan and KEF speakers there, and today I got an Infinity RS-5000 speaker there for less than twenty bucks, well below the usual market price of just the Emit tweeter. [Alas, only one, not a pair, but it might make a good center speaker for an all-vintage-infinity HT system, huh?]

Today I also got a strangely-named unit I'll post a pic of separately within a day or two, and passed on a neat all-in-one (tuner, cassette and turntable) Pioneer unit when an elderly man showed an interest. I saw it first and had first right of refusal on it; the seller knew me and wanted to sell it to me, but this old man wasn't a dealer, obviously wanted the unit for his own use, and seemed rather poor, so I backed off and let him get it, for US$12.50, the same price I was planning to pay for it. I felt good about letting him have it, though.... maybe a little good "Karma" there. :yes:

Conclusion:
OK, that's enough about Hong Kong. This post is w-a-y too l-o-n-g already. I'll probably get charged or banned for writing so much (gulp!). At least, for all you curious people, now you know how I have been able to obtain so many units here so quickly and affordably: I buy from the wholesalers, and from the "underground" market.

An open invitation:
For anyone from this board (like "pdba") who might actually make it all the way it to Hong Kong from overseas [Heck, for anyone who actually made it to the end of this post!], I'd love to have company on one of my expeditions to these hunting grounds, and won't even charge for translation services! Schedules permitting, we could literally spend the whole of a day or two doing nothing but looking at used/vintage audio stuff here.. there is that much of it, if you know where (and when) to look.

Lastly, for anyone whose questions about HK still remain unanswered after all this, I apologize... just ask, if I left anything un-answered.

the-real-mandak
04-27-2006, 05:09 PM
Great info. thx

And a welcome from me to.

russkish
04-27-2006, 05:15 PM
This looks like an encyclopedia.

tentoze
04-27-2006, 05:33 PM
Interesting to get perspective from a different culture. Thanks.

salred
04-27-2006, 05:47 PM
http://www.cathayusa.com/sitedefault.asp

Steve A.

gamalot
04-27-2006, 06:02 PM
Very interesting and I was about to ask until you answered,
If alot of people are constantly upgradeing to keep up with the latest gear, what happens to what they had.
Apparently it ends up in some of your Off Broadway haunts.

We have such an area here in a particular ethnic section where you might find some very nice gear however you might also find it was stolen from a friend a week or two ago. I avoid this section but know others who do find nice units.

On a completely different note, I do not think I could possibly enjoy living or even visiting HK because of the crowded conditions and lack of open space for pursueing all the other great things I enjoy. I see alot of Japaneese people come to where I live and be totally frustrated with the wide open easy living that they know nothing about.

Thanks for the great post and info and welcome to the AK family.

Gary

cubdog
04-27-2006, 07:01 PM
Great information and thanks for the post.

cubdog

TWantiques
04-27-2006, 07:54 PM
Not too long of a post at all. Very interesting.

Your description of some of those situations almost give a sense of danger. I'm guessing it's not however.

Thanks.

Terry

seadzz
04-27-2006, 08:15 PM
I'm sure you are aware of this group of audio lovers:

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/hktubeaudio/

They have info on shopping under the "Photos" section...covers both the new territories as well as HK Island. As you well know fakes abound and pricing can reach the moon on some desirable high end gear.

sdz

soundboy
04-27-2006, 08:23 PM
5. Exhibitions (Not vintage): A couple times a year there are big international Electronics exhibitions here. Because some business relationships, I get sent free buyer's passes for these.

Here are some photos from the 2005 show (http://www.stevehoffman.tv/forums/showthread.php?t=58193) I posted over at stevehoffman.tv (56K users beware!)

Kind of give you an idea of the fanatical nature of audiophiles in HK. Remember, this is a city with about 7 million people....yet probably have more audiophile magazines published than in the US. The city also release a disproportionally high number of SACDs.

Lefty
04-27-2006, 08:38 PM
Thanks for sharing, it's like getting a free trip to a exotic place and with a vintage hi-fi flavor :thmbsp:

There was a lot of concern here from some about what HK would come to be once the British control ended, but it seems that China control has not been the total disaster that some had predicted :scratch2:

Please post as long and often as you would like, I enjoy finding out that vintage hi-fi has an international flavor, as I don't consider our local Canadian members to be very 'international' :D

Besides their beer sucks :yes:

Lefty

sandawa
04-27-2006, 09:23 PM
Thanks for all the info Arkay. I thought I already knew a lot about HK's vintage hifi market but you proved me wrong. I've been a regular HK visitor, once worked there resulting in acquiring some of the gear listed below. In my experience, however, one has to be patient in hunting for those bargains. Say, as frequent as twice weekly visits to those sources could yield good results.

absolon
04-28-2006, 12:39 AM
Great read, really captured the flavour of the few visits I've had there. If I ever get back, I'll take you up on your offer.

theophile
04-28-2006, 12:42 AM
I much prefer to read posts like this rather than the ones which seem to be prevalent at the moment.

"I want you to tell me what I should buy" :thumbsdn:

Answer: BPC. :D

Avocado Dream
04-28-2006, 01:03 AM
Fascinating - great post!

Arkay
04-28-2006, 01:57 AM
Thanks for all the nice comments.

Seadzz, yes, I'm aware of the tube audio group, since finding their website while back. They have a great picture of a shop interior there, but unfortunately some of the locations in their map of the shops in Sham Shui Po are not correct. I don't know if it's because the map is wrong, or because the shops moved(?).

Soundboy, great pics of the 2005 show. Brings back memories. Unfortunately, most of that stuff is way out of my budget, but it is fun to look and listen. The next time there's a show like that, I'll try to take pics and post them here, too.

onepixel
04-28-2006, 03:19 AM
Arkay...very cool. Thanks for the write up.

Whose up for a trip to the Orient?! I was checking out some sites in Japan too...yeah, time to go shopping!

pbda
04-28-2006, 04:49 PM
OK, Arkay, you asked for it...I'll be in Hong Kong the week of May 22 (probably on Wednesday and Thursday). Would be delighted to explore the used audio market, or just have a drink and chat. If interested, please PM me.

retrokeeper
04-28-2006, 05:34 PM
VERY,VERY interesting read,thanks for the overseas audio lesson!! :music: Rob

soundboy
04-28-2006, 07:53 PM
pbda,

Would love to hear about your experience there.

jcmjrt
05-01-2006, 12:03 AM
It was fun and interesting to read your post. I was in Hong Kong several times but the last time was many years ago when the British were still there. Hong Kong was a 7 day/week 24 hr/day vibrant place! I enjoyed visiting Aberdeen Village (shrinking on every visit), drinking English Beer at a British Pub, the streets which were one kind of market during the day and another at night, and discovered Dim Sum at a marvelous breakfast place. The Star Ferry was always fun crossing that busy harbor. It was difficult keeping track of all of the contacts on the radar coming in to port. Everybody has a boat - big and small - and not everyone had the correct running lights. I have many great memories of Hong Kong - the best of which is that I became engaged there. If you get a chance, I'd love to see some pics.

Fast4ward
03-31-2014, 07:58 AM
Hi Arkay,
It's been 8 years since you posted, but if any of these markets still exist and if you're still living in Hong Kong, I'd love to take a look. I've been living in HK for a little over 2 years now, and I don't really want to admit how poor the stereo system in my apartment is...