Here at The Music Room, we have hi-fi equipment of varying values and fragility coming and going every day. We have seen everything - from boxes packed so well they could survive an explosion, to stuff dropped into a box with nothing more than peanuts and a prayer.
There are some pretty common mistakes that we see in shipping expensive and fragile items. We often receive at least one or two items that have been damaged by improper packing every week. I’m going to try to offer some tips to ensure your gear arrives in the same condition that it left, and clear up some of the common misconceptions about shipping at the same time.
One of the first things to think about when dropping your high value item into a box, is that to each person that touches the box, between it leaving your hands and arriving at our warehouse, it is just a box. It does not matter how many "Fragile" stickers that are placed on it, or notes saying to be extremely careful. The drivers and handlers do not read that stuff, and the machines doing the sorting at the depots definitely do not read that stuff.
If you are old enough to remember the old American Tourister luggage commercials featuring the gorilla, it’s a good idea to assume that is how all packages are handled. It is highly likely that your box will be dropped off the back of a truck, thrown across a room, turned over onto every side and crushed beneath dozens of other boxes. If you're not confident that your package can survive that kind of abuse, it is probably not going to make it here, damage-free.
Another misconception we deal with on an almost daily basis, is the idea that shipping damage is covered by the carrier. This is almost never the case, even when the package is insured.
When a box is lost, stolen or destroyed because of something specific that happened while it was in the possession of the carrier, then it will be covered. When we receive a box of crumpled paper and broken glass that used to be a beautiful piece of McIntosh gear, that damage is not covered because it was not packaged properly.
Far too often, we have to call customers to tell them that their gear was damaged in shipping. The response is always “Isn’t it covered by Fedex, UPS or USPS?” The answer is almost always "no." It's a bad idea to haphazardly throw an expensive amp in a box with some peanuts and figure that, if it gets destroyed in shipping, payment will come either way.
The keys to a good packing job are having adequate padding, and securing the item completely. Wether you have original factory packaging or not, if the item can move or rattle around, it is going to get damaged.
We use a combination of 2” dense insulation foam, 1” styrofoam, heavy 50 lb. craft paper, large and small bubble wrap and folded cardboard. If we don’t have the original box, we use a custom-foam injection machine. We also wrap every item in a plastic bag or stretch-wrap, to protect it from the packing materials. Most of these things should be available locally, and will make packing your gear much easier. Packing blankets can work well for larger items, but do not use packing peanuts or the inflatable plastic bags that come in Amazon boxes. Bubble wrap and paper work well for smaller and lighter items, but should be avoided with large and heavy items (anything over 10 lbs).
A good place to start with unboxed items, is with at least 3” of dense padding on all sides of the item and then a tight-fitting box. You will also want to be sure that none of the accessories that may be included can damage the item by rattling around in the box.
Items that still have their factory packaging are obviously safer, but care should still be taken. Check the box and the manual to see if there are unboxing instructions if you are unsure. You can also look on the manufacturer's website, or search Youtube for help. Quite often, there are multiple videos on how to unbox and box difficult to ship items.
Lastly, you can always ask us for help. We have probably shipped whatever you’re wanting to send us before. We are happy to point you towards a local shipping store that can pack your gear for you, we can give you tips for packing it yourself, or we can even use our own foam injection machine to create a custom box for you.
We want your gear to arrive here safe and sound just as much as you do. Our technicians Dan, Ben and Duncan can all attest to the disappointment of opening a potentially gorgeous piece of audio gear, only to find it has been severely damaged in shipping. We could easily have a blog post that shows nothing but horror pictures, and call it the shipping wall of shame (Our camera has a folder full of photos that would bring a tear to any audiophile’s eye).
Shipping heavy and/or fragile items isn’t always common sense, and expert advice is important. Let us help you with your shipment and ensure that you get the most value out of your used gear.
- Andy Conant, The Music Room Shipping Manager