Is electronics repair dead?

Of course, I know the answer is “yes,” and I’m just late to the party.

I had a stereo from the mid-80s that, around 6 years ago, stopped working. I’ve been carrying it around since then, waiting to get it fixed, not quite willing to throw it away because a) it’s a pretty high-end unit, and was quite expensive when purchased, and b) it’s from my child hood, and I am a severe victim of nostalgia.

Anyway, I took it into a shop with a $40 fee just to look at it (which would be applied to any repairs done).

They called and said, “sorry, not fixable.”

Ok, so now I’m out $40, but I got rid of that doorstop, anyway.

I hop on ebay and craigslist, to kind of scout out the costs for a used stereo, as I’ve dug my record player and tape deck out of the closet and want to get a sound system up and running again.

Anyway, the stereo I spent $40 to throw out goes for around 3x that amount on ebay. Ok, no problem.

I find something decent in the price-range I want to spend ($40-80), and, low-and-behold, it is, shall we say, less than fully operational upon arrival.

So, I could take it in for $40, and either be told the whole thing is garbage and I’m out another $40 (plus the cost of the thing), or they’ll fix it, which I imagine will be more than the $40.

Aaanyway, the issue here is that I could probably get something brand new that fits my needs (though not my aesthetic, and not as simply) for $150. How can a budget minded person justify a $40 evaluation-fee for repairs?

I guess I need to overcome my desire to make do with old, less-featured, but still useful goods, and resign myself to buying something newer, more capable, with a longer life span, and cheaper to boot.

And, as an IMHO, I’ve always found it bizarre when the economical thing to do is throw things away and buy replacements, rather than fix what you’ve got. I understand (mostly) why many things are that way, I just don’t like the feeling of throwing something away when there is potential usefulness in it.

You need to find a ham radio person in your area. They will have the test equipment and knowledge to do a repair.
Another idea is to call a local school that teaches electronics… My vocational electronics class would do repairs for troubleshooting practice.

There are many factors at play here.

  1. It takes a lot of time to diagnose a complex failure, even if you did have the equipment necessary, like high-frequency oscilloscopes and the like.

  2. Surface mount component replacement can be tricky for larger pin-count chips. Specialized equipment is required and the chances of damaging the printed wiring board or neighbouring components is definitely likely.

  3. Component obsolescence. Even if you could narrow down the fault to a specific component, finding a drop-in replacement years later might be impossible.

Decades ago even electronics manufacturers used to employ people specifically hired to debug faulty boards in manufacturing, and they fixed pretty much everything.

Nowadays a lesser-skilled tech will try to find an obvious fault and if not, the board will be scrapped from inventory.

Your best bet would be to find a specialist enthusiast forum.

Most of the high end makes have them, from Sansui, through Marantz, Bang & Olufsen etc. There is almost always a former specific technician there, and often you will get help to find some person who enjoys repairing this sort of stuff, just for their personal amusement

I no longer have the equipment for this sort of repair, but there are plenty like me who can make educated guesses at your problems.

The economics of it are that to achieve the knowledge and skill levels, and then charge an economic rate for the repair is not possible, since you would need to charge well over $50 an hour, and, it has to be said, many of toadys technicians are simply not up to the job of repairs down to component levels - most seem to be involved with software, and beyond that they are screwed - whereas folks such as myself would see that as only being partway skilled for this work.

Manufacturers would far rather sell you another item, but unless it is part of the micro-processor driven technology, you may well find that high end equipment of any age is still high end - you often trade cheap modern for old and quality.

a ham radio person or other electronics hobbyist might be able to help. a technical or vocational schools might have a student that might attempt a repair on their own or as part of a class.

for some repairs a service manual might be needed, likely only to be found at a business that repaired that brand. repairs without a service manual could add many hours to a repair or make the repair impossible. time involved and chance of success will vary with the experience of the person.

to use old stuff takes space. you wait until components you want become available at a price you want. you improvise and combine things; one old stereo system might have a good set of speakers, another have a good amplifier but a broken radio tuner (you would need an external tuner to have radio).

Audio Karma is a good place to start, pretty helpful bunch of folks.

Considering I just paid $50.00 out of my pocket to see my doctor, and that was the fee WITHOUT any insurance, it does seem $40.00 is high to look at it. After all you’re paying for the person’s knowledge and if I can be in Chicago and pay $50.00 to see a physician, he has a lot more experience than a electronics repair man.

Again that’s not the co-payment that’s the fee he charges for walk ins

I would say that most low end electronics are NOT repairable (at least in a cost-effective manner). The reasons?
-spare parts cost a bundle (I paid $25.00 for a volume switch on my mother’s 25 year old Magnavox TV set)
-labor is expensive

  • cheap (thin) circuit boards (particularly surface mount ones) may warp or have the contacts spring off, when resoldered. This turns a minor repair into a costly major repair.
    Plus, all the old time Radio/TV repar guys are dying off-there is simply not enogh business to keep a shop open these days.
    So throw it out and buy a new one (much cheaper).

A friend of mine summed it up perfectly when he said that “electronic equipment these days is built by robots and repaired by human beings”. That said the thing most likely is failed in your old piece of equipment are capacitors. If you can wield a soldering iron, you can find capacitors that have leaked, or are bulging and replace those. I’ve rescued a lot of equipment like that, but only when buying a replacement would cost more than worth.

There used to be wholesale parts dealers even in small towns for tubes, transistors, capacitors etc. They are all long closed over 15 years ago.

Internet is really the only source for parts anymore. I know a guy that was repairing vintage radios from the 40’s & 50’s. They are worth fixing because they are collectable.

We have a few tv shops around here still. They sell & install HD tv’s and home theaters. They may still make some tv repairs but not a lot.

I had a similar experience recently when I blew up my circa 1979 home stereo amplifier for the last time. Seeing and smelling that smoke about broke my heart. This time I couldn’t find anyone who could get the parts.

Used equipment of this vintage is surprisingly expensive and the stuff is so heavy (metal, not plastic) that the shipping charges tend toward the spendy.

I worked for Circuit City for ten years as a repair tech and finally got out in 1999 just as the moon was blasted out of Earth’s orbit… no wait. I got out in 1999 when it became obvious that things were going modular (replace circuit packs and boards, don’t repair them) and the shop went all ten years without adjusting its piecework-pay-scale to acknowledge the fact that electronics was getting more compact and harder to troubleshoot. So in the last 11 years I can only imagine that things have gotten seriously worse.

Vendors still supply parts which makes me happy that I can still repair my own stuff when it breaks, but I’m not surprised that service centers have called it quits on most consumer grade brown goods.

I had a similar experience with a 1975 vintage KLH stereo recever/turntable. I loved it, because it sounded great.
Then one day, it crapped out…and smoke issued from it. I opened it up and fond an otput transistor fried/shorted. The transistors were made by GE (long obsolete).
I was able to get a replacement, and it worked for another three years. Then another one went,and I just gave up.

This ends up being out of the budget, but I prefer the look and quality of the 70’s/early 80’s stereos. There are a couple very reputable service gurus who will rebuild your gear of that era; replacing caps, diodes, cleaning corrosive glue etc.

I have a Pioneer SX-1250, and a Sansui TU-717/AU-717 that are beautiful and outperform anything new. (although they lack surround capabilities and other newer features)

The guys I use can be found on ebay, here, and here.

They’re not real cheap, but many of the units of that era were expensive then, and were the top-of-the-line audio of their day.

Once restored, they are beautiful and perform like new.

Just curious, what exact stereo is the OP trying to fix?

It’s both less and more possible than you’d expect.

I just completed a restoration on a 1980 Williams Defender Cabinet. The Caps were still available, the Power supply could be replaced. If I needed them, all the boards and CRT were replaceable.

As it is, I needed a new power supply and three DRAM chips (4k, $0.50 a piece) to get it back up and running again.

So…can you make a living doing it? Probably not. Can an enthusiast with a lot of time on his hands effect repairs on Electronics? Most Certainly.

I’ve repaired Roombas, Car Stereo Amps, and others.

A repair shop is run far differently than a doctor’s office. I used to work as a small engine mechanic repairing chainsaws, lawn mowers and weed trimmers. We charged someone $30 to diagnose the problem and applied that to the repair bill. Am I as educated as a doctor? Of course not. However, we have one problem that most doctor’s offices do not have. Namely, people abandon equipment. A lot of people will bring something in and simply refuse to pick it up once it’s been diagnosed and they find out it’s not cost effective to repair it. Why spend $60 repairing a four year old push mower when you can get a new one for $300? So we ended up with a lot of equipment that was just lying around because nobody came to pick it up. Equipment we have to safely dispose of in accordance with local, state and federal law which ends up costing us money.

One group of repair techs still knows circuit level service and can troubleshoot transistor circuits - the techs at your local instrument shop. Probably not cheap, but they are the only folks around who regularly service discrete circuits.

It’s sad. We don’t even fix tools at my work any more. We just pull the board we know is failing and replace it.

To analogize; that’s like saying: “Oh, the light bulb burned out in my refrigerator. Time to get a new fridge!”

Call up a local music instrument shop and ask for their amp tech. If he can’t fix it, he will know who can.