Tape recorder value guide

I get a lot of enquiries about valuations.. what IS a vintage tape recorder worth?

Well, there's no easy answer to that question. Firstly, there are many types of tape recorders. The most basic grouping would be domestic, semi-professional and professional. Each of these groups could then be divided into smaller groups, for instance mono or stereo, common or rare, valve or solid-state, tape deck only or complete with amplifiers & speakers, portable or non-portable etc. Then of course there are variables such as condition, aesthetic design, reputation and other extenuating circumstances. (For example a humble domestic mono 1961 Grundig in fair to good condition might only be worth $25 but if it once belonged to John Lennon it may be worth 100 times that amount!).

OK, here's my attempt to apply a tangible value on certain types of tape recorders.

For these purposes let's create a 'condition' scale from 1 to 4 where:

is a wreck, missing parts and definitely NOT working
2 is complete but not working WELL
3 is complete and working WELL
4 is as new, working PERFECTLY in all functions

This category covers the common, garden variety of recorder that was cheap, utilitarian and the one most people would have used to record their family get-togethers, music for background etc. These typically had one motor, a combined record/playback heads, built in amplifier and small speaker(s). the more common brands were Sony, Grundig, Webcor, Elizabethan, Wollensak, National/Panasonic, Telefunken, Revere, Voice of Music, Concord, Philips, etc.

These types of recorders are not particularly sought after (especially the mono ones), nor are they valuable unless rare and/or exotic, in excellent condition and stereo. Valves (tubes) are more desirable than transistors. Condition is everything and the inclusion of original accessories such as microphone(s), owner's manual etc are also important. Here's a very rough price guide, keeping in mind the variables we mentioned above:
1 $5 - $10
2 $10 - $40
3 $40 - $80
4 $80 - $150
(prices in $US and for stereo examples)

This category covers a wide range of recorders and its definition is wide open for discussion. Here's my definition for what it's worth..

Semi-professional recorders were often made by domestic recorder manufacturers in an attempt to capture the upper end of the market not met by their domestic products. They had better specifications than their domestic counterparts, often with three motors and separate record/playback heads and a more professional finish. Some manufacturers such as Brenell, Ferrograph and Revox only made semi-professional level machines - other companies like Akai and Tandberg predominantly made recorders of a higher than average quality somewhere in between the domestic and semi-professional range.

Here's a very rough price guide, keeping in mind the variables:
1 $5 - $20
2 $20 - $50
3 $50 - $150
4 $150 - $300
(prices in $US and for stereo examples)

Examples from sold items on eBay, March 2006

Four completely different 1960s stereo Tandberg 64 (all-valve) models ranged from $45 for a complete but partially working unit to $145 for a very good condition fully working. A 1968 solid state mono Tandberg 15 in great condition sold for $35.

An Ampex model 600 (mono - all valve, mid 1950's) in clean & complete condition but not working fetched $290. This model, however, is considered to be a classic. Other Ampexes, in better working condition, not quite so old but still valve AND stereo, ranged from $75 - $200.

These machines are difficult to put a value on. The desirability seems to go hand in hand with usability, which of course means stereo! Mono machines are next to useless apart from their aesthetic appeal as a 'showpiece'. Most people wanting professional machines want to use them in a retro-style studio environment. Stereo Revoxes, especially valve models, can fetch up to $800 if in top condition with little or no wear on the heads. Fully operation stereo studio mastering machines can fetch more. Specialised portable recorders like Nagras can be worth up to $3000, depending on age and condition.

Here's a very rough price guide, keeping in mind the variables:
1 $50 - $150
2 $150 - $400
3 $500 - $800
4 $800 - $???
(prices in $US and for stereo examples)

If you really want to know what your machines are worth I suggest you check eBay regularly and make sure you look at the 'completed' items to see what a particular make and model sold for (or didn't sell for!)

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