The Joy of Vintage Tech

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.

Published by

Bob O'Donnell

Bob O’Donnell is the president and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology consulting and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech.

9 thoughts on “The Joy of Vintage Tech”

  1. One of my favorite stories, is one I read on the Usenet, about 12-14 years back.
    This guy walks into a secondhand store in Canada, and notices a “Organ with broken speakers for sale”, for CAN$30.
    He walked out with a fully functioning Minimoog Model E.

  2. I was working at a music store when those DX-1s, 7s, and 9s came out. What a revolution those were. Now many keyboardists long for classic Moog, too. Even something as simple as a tube amp, I remember when “Pre-CBS” Fender amps and guitars were the only ones worth considering. Now those CBS models are highly sought after. Something about the uniqueness of yesterday’s tech in the modern day sameness just makes it all the more interesting. Never mind the whole analog vs. digital craze in audio.

    I wonder if crt monitors and TVs will make a comeback? Criminies, I hope not.


  3. My Atari 400 and 800 collection is one of my guilty pleasures. I love firing up the daisy-chained floppy drive and playing the original Castle Wolfenstein.

  4. Probably off topic, but one thing that I’ve noticed is that my nostalgia for old Macs and cameras was directly influenced by innovation (or lack of) in the newer products.

    My nostalgia for old Macs was strong up until MacOS X became usable (Panther to Tiger). Once I felt that the new OS was lightyears ahead in every single way, my nostalgia faded away.

    Same for cameras. Before digital became truly mainstream, I often fiddled with my small collection of old cameras and sometimes create funny lenses. Even though I had a good auto-focus SLR, I often used my old manual focus SLR because it was more fun. After I got good digital SLR though, I’ve never done that. Digital photography is so much more convenient than film that nostalgia simply can’t win.

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