Buying A Used Audio Interface? Buyer Beware

There’s a lot of audio interfaces out there on the used market. It can be really tempting to consider buying an interface that used to cost a lot of money ($500, $1,500, etc) for a cheap price ($150). Most of them work perfectly fine and are in great condition.

The problem? They either don’t have modern connection types (such as using obsolete FireWire) and / or there’s no drivers for them for current operating systems (macOS or Windows) and / or they’re not compatible with your current DAW.

The seller is selling for a reason

Ever wonder why some people with music studio hardware use old versions of operating systems and DAW’s? It’s likely because a piece of hardware only works with older software, likely their audio interface.

Think about why they’re selling their audio interface. It might seem like a good bargain, a discontinued device that originally cost $1,300 only a few years ago selling for “only” $115 (plus a scammy $43 shipping)… but is it really worth it if you can’t get it working with your operating system or DAW? Or to even gamble that it may or may not work?

Don’t think the seller will be compelled to tell you why they’re selling.

From sucker to seller

Don’t think you can simply return the item to eBay under false advertising or as a broken item. The item still works; just because your current version of macOS / Windows / DAW doesn’t work for it, doesn’t mean it wouldn’t work with older versions. The seller isn’t going to accept a return for an item he / she already knew was obsolete; he / she sold it to get it out of their house / studio, not to accept it as a return and refund your money.

Then what’re you going to do? You know exactly what you’d do; you’d then realist it for sale. But guess what? The person you bought it from likely was trying to sell it for months. You’ll either have to list it for months or heavily reduce the price you originally bought it for or simply throw it in the closet / trash and chalk it up to an expensive lesson learned.

The issue with drivers and kexts

macOS users, don’t think you’re immune. Hardware on macOS many times won’t require drivers (called “kexts”), but because of this “it just works” software philosophy, hardware is much more likely to just stop working (and never be supported again) every new version of macOS.

At least in Windows, sometimes drivers from older versions can still be used. Studio hardware in macOS goes obsolete much quicker because of the reliance on built-in API’s.

Think I’m joking? Now, with macOS High Sierra, versions of most software are not even working. Reason 9.5.1 and older won’t work correctly and may even corrupt save files due to iOS and macOS’s new file system, the APFS (same with other DAW’s).  Although I use macOS on my laptop, this is one of the many reasons I use Windows 10 on the Neocomp (studio hardware walkthrough). Due to software, older audio interface may be buggy and crash often.

Man, even if an older audio interface is still supported, it doesn’t mean it’ll work well. This is more-likely to involve Windows. Many manufacturers don’t bother officially updating their drivers for modern Windows if the old versions still loads. This means drivers that are for “Windows 8”, “Windows XP”, etc but may work in newer Windows, but not well.

Even when a web site states it supports the latest version of Windows or your preferred DAW, it may be buggy, drop packets of data or, worse, crash. This aspect is hard to test before purchase, but isn’t that the point? You don’t want to buy something, only to find out there’s an issue once it’s too late. This is an argument against buying used audio interfaces if you can’t test or return them.

Obsolete connections

Then there’s the issue of just general connectors being obsolete. Even if drivers exist for an interface, the connection should be USB 2 (3 or C) or Thunderbolt (only if it warrants it, such as having tons of inputs / outputs). You don’t want FireWire or other connections that are a sign of an interface’s age (unless they also have USB).

Sure, you can add FireWire to your computer… and some of you may even have FireWire already on your computer. But it’s a sign of obsolescence and should be avoided.

On the verge of being obsolete

Here’s the other big issue for buying used or new; there’s some audio interfaces that are on the cusp of being obsolete. If you plan on buying something that’ll be supported in the next few operating system / DAW updates (in other words, use it for a number of years), buying an audio interface introduced a few years ago but still on the market today may not be supported for as long.

The sooner a model leaves the market, the sooner it’ll stop being supported. That’s the way companies work. When buying new or used, you may get longer device support if it’s not a model that has already existed for a few years (unless a device has an “iconic” status).

Vintage studio hardware is still awesome

I use quite a few pieces of vintage hardware in my studio. While I’m down with using used gear, I recommend buying new audio interfaces. Avoiding the issues of getting older models, current model used audio interfaces are a rip off compared to what they cost new.

Later. – MJ