The Joy of Vintage Tech

on July 22, 2014

Our general obsession with all the latest technology and gadgets is a relatively natural phenomena that reflects our interest in keeping up with what’s new. Unfortunately, it also tends to imply older technology isn’t very good, with value considered to be roughly inversely proportional to the age of the device.

While in some cases that sentiment is justified, there are instances where it just isn’t true. Technology-based products have been around long enough now that I think you can make the argument for some true technology gems from the past—vintage tech that was not only cutting edge for its time, but still offers value today.

From early HP and TI calculators, to early game consoles, like the Atari 2600, there are numerous examples of digital antiques many people still find compelling, useful and/or entertaining even today (in some cases, almost 40 years later!)

For musicians, there’s an impressive number of early electronic music products that still have value and still see active use even today. In fact, there’s been a growing movement and interest in trying to find or recreate music technology products from the past 25+ or even 35+ years, because people are “rediscovering” the unique benefits of these older products.

I’m fortunate enough to own a Yamaha G10 MIDI guitar from the late 1980s and, after a long period of storage in the closet, I have started rediscovering the unique capabilities of this oddly shaped but very flexible musical instrument. Yamaha originally designed the G10 to be paired up with one of two rack-mount synthesizers from the same era: the TX802 and the TX81Z, both of which feature variations on the FM synthesis technology first made famous by Yamaha’s DX7. I had never purchased one of those potential companion devices, so I decided to fully experience in the G10 in all its original glory, I would need to pick up one of them.

I started my digital antiquing expedition, as many do, on the world’s largest flea market: eBay. Happily, I found numerous TX81Zs available for sale, in various ranges of quality at fairly wide range of prices (some of them approaching ½ of the unit’s original retail price!) [pullquote]Clearly, there are tech products that have past the test of time and have essentially become “classics.” Of course, this begs the question, which of today’s tech products will be viewed as truly valuable devices 25+ years from now?”[/pullquote]

During my research phase, I also discovered a number of active software programs that still support the TX81Z, as well as numerous companies who still sell original patches, or sounds, for the device.

The whole experience made me realize there’s a wealth of vintage tech products out there being actively used, bought and sold on a very regular basis. While some are undoubtedly looking at these older devices more from a collector’s perspective, there are also quite a few who still find these 25+ year old digital antiques to be eminently practical, even today.

Clearly, these kinds of products have past the test of time and have essentially become “classics.” Of course, this begs the question, which of today’s tech products will be viewed as truly valuable devices 25+ years from now?

Regardless of your answers to that question (and I’m sure there’s a wide range of opinions on that one), and while there’s no denying the incredible capability of today’s latest and greatest tech devices, every now and then it’s good to take a look back and evaluate where we’ve been to help us understood where we’re likely to go.