Buying 2nd hand “vintage” Hi-Fi on eBay – buyer beware

Caveat emptor indeed… I recently bought a new pair of active/powered speakers for use in my home office but was disappointed with the sound compared to an old Sony mini Hi-Fi that I have in another room. The SONY DHC-MD373 is a mini Tuner/CD/MD unit with optical & line in (and Tape in/out for the optional TX373 cassette deck) spec’d at something like 25W RMS output into 2-way bass-reflex “bookshelf” size speakers. I bought my original unit some time in 1999/2000 and it has been in use ever since, and it still sounds great! Presbycusis notwithstanding 😉

I started monitoring eBay for 2nd hand units, initially to give to my teenage son who has recently got into records, thinking that although the MD373 has no dedicated phono input an outboard preamp could make use of one of the line or tape inputs.

eBay had a few for sale, mostly “for parts or not working” with issues with the volume control rotary encoder or just “fails to power on” – faulty units with/without speakers selling for £10-£30. Some of the mint cosmetic condition units with the (optional) tape deck, speakers and remote control were advertised for £100 or more.

Eventually I bought a unit for £41, fully working but no remote control (no biggy as I have one already from my original system). It arrived, I unpacked it (wiped it down with anti-bacterial/anti-septic wipes!) and took it apart to check for signs of wear or problems. It all checked out OK and with the help of the official Sony service manual I was able to put it into “service mode” and read the error logs and check total play/record times (total record time for the MD is significant as it uses a high-power/high-temperature laser mode to record with only a finite lifetime) – all looked good.

We installed it in my son’s bedroom, with an old hand-me-down JVC belt driven turntable and battery powered outboard preamp into the Sony’s “TAPE” input so now he can listen to his “vinyl” when the mood takes him. For £41 the sound is impressively detailed with a solid bass.

I began thinking that maybe I should look for another MD373 unit to replace the active/powered speakers in my home-office. I’d been watching a few eBay auctions and received an offer from a seller who’d advertised a fully working system (with remote) for £60 but just reduced it to £50. I accepted.

The third system arrived & the excitement of un-boxing another of these Sony units soon faded when I turned it on and tried to operate it… pressing the front panel buttons was something of a lottery as to what would actually happen – pressing “next track” on the CD sometimes switched to the tuner, pressing “CD eject” sometimes started the MD playing… this thing was really ill. I’d found out with my old Technics tape deck that push buttons in old kit like this can tarnish/oxidise with age and a quick look at the schematic in the service manual showed exactly the same mechanism as Technics had used: a series resistor chain grounded at various points by the different buttons to signal to the control processor the intended function. I noticed that all functions worked fine with the remote control so it was definitely the front panel buttons that were at fault. I tried a test record from CD to MD which was a challenge to set up with the buttons but it eventually worked in the end. Trying to eject the MD though was a struggle, the disc started to come out of the slot but was sucked back in as the mechanism and the grinding noise clearly indicated there was something not right. Service mode showed a whole host of historic faults, the usual read errors but also servo/alignment errors too, and a lot more play/record hours than the other 2 units so this little system appeared to have had something of a hard life.

I contacted the seller who had not indicated any problems in the listing and immediately knew I was going to have a nightmare… He tried to explain the malfunctions away with bizarre claims like “that’s what happens when the CD tray is empty” or “maybe the rubber in the buttons has been squashed in transit” and then “that’s what you should expect for a 20yr old system, just use a bluetooth adapter with it and forget about CD & MD”. Hilariously he also sent me a message saying “I’m sure a squirt of WD40 will fix everything”. Muppet.

Rotary encoder ready for some TLC and troublesome push-buttons. No WD40 was used.

The volume control rotary encoder was also showing signs of malfunction, randomly jumping up & down with only the slightest touch. I asked the seller if he would consider a partial refund as the unit was clearly not “fully operational” (as required by eBay for items in the “used” category). He offered me £10, and also acknowledged that he knew before he shipped it that “it doesn’t read all CDs and does not work like a new unit”. Knowing that I’d seen other faulty units sell for £30 on eBay I told him I thought a £20 partial refund would be fair, half expecting him to offer £15 (which I would have accepted). He sent me £20 instantly with some ranting message about how I was being unreasonable expecting 20yr old Hi-Fi to work perfectly. I left him positive feedback as I thought he’d been fair and done the right thing but I mentioned the partial refund and “undisclosed faults” in the feedback. Whoops.


Then the abuse started. He made it quite clear that he didn’t like my “undisclosed faults” comment even though the feedback was positive. I would get a couple of messages a day sending me links to YouTube vids of how to fix a rotary encoder, or more suggestions of what he thought the problem was (“definitely not electrical fault!” was a common theme) all the while banging on about how I was some sort of scam artist for expecting an old Hi-Fi to work “like new” and how I’d selected him purposely to “attack”. I tried to reason with him, pointing out eBay policy for listing used items but that made him worse, the threats then started that if I didn’t send him £10 of the partial refund back he would report me to eBay as an “abusive buyer” and leave negative feedback. Oh the LOLs. I told him to go ahead. It was obvious we both had very different expectations and interpretations of eBay rules. I ignored him for a few days but he was relentless. Turns out he did try and open a ticket with eBay but they’d told him he’d sent the refund directly via PayPal, not through the eBay system so there was nothing they could do.

I felt sorry for the guy, so I did send him £5 as I would have accepted £15 in the first place. I made it clear his acceptance of the £5 was conditional on FINAL SETTLEMENT of the whole transaction. Haven’t heard from him since. I filed a complaint with eBay for his abusive & threatening behaviour and put the whole thing down to experience. Rotary encoder fixed and push buttons behaving a little better after some heavy mechanical input 😀

Turns out the troublesome seller had used his work email for PayPal, which took me to his LinkedIn page and he’s a “Software Consultant” which might explain his monumental muppetry & lack of electronics hardware knowledge 😀

Sony HCD-MD373 chilling with its service manual

Published by zedstarr

Chilled out human being, doing techy stuff.

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