EEVblog Tears into the White Van Speaker Scam

[Dave Jones] shows us just how bad audio equipment can get with his white van speaker scam teardown (YouTube link). Hackaday Prize judge [Dave] has some great educational videos on his EEVblog YouTube channel, but we can’t get enough of his rants – especially when he’s ranting about cheap electronics. Check out his world’s “cheapest” camcorder teardown for a classic example

This week [Dave] is tearing down some white van speaker scam A/V equipment. The White Van Speaker Scam (WVSS) is an international hustle which has been around for decades. A pair of guys in a white van stop you in a parking lot, gas station, or other public area. They tell you they’ve got some brand new A/V equipment in the back of their van that they’ll give you for a “great deal”. The speakers are always in fancy packaging, and have a name that sounds like it could be some sort of high-end audiophile brand worth thousands.

Needless to say anyone who buys this equipment finds they’ve been duped and are now the proud owner of some equipment which only sounds good when hitting the bottom of a dumpster. Coincidentally, a dumpster is exactly where [Dave] found his WVSS equipment.

The case of his “Marc Vincent” surround sound system turned out to be nothing more than thin chipboard hot glued together. The electronics were of such shoddy quality that few words describe them – though [Dave] is always ready to improvise. From the ultra cheap subwoofer driver to the 1990’s era vacuum fluorescent display, everything was built down to the lowest cost while still looking nice from the outside. Even the ground wire was just tack soldered to the frame. We especially liked the three vacuum tubes that weren’t even soldered in. The leads were bent over to hold them onto a PCB, while a blue LED lit the tube from below.

Click past the break to see what [Dave] found inside his “3D Optics” projector.

The “3D Optics HD-8500” video projector turned out to be somewhat better quality. Still junky, but not bad enough put [Dave] in a screwdriver stabbing mood. The projector was a low-end 800×600 LCD model with cheap optics. The electronics were halfway decent though. It appears this is more a case of a low cost projector being massively oversold.

Have you seen the white van scammers? Ever hacked on home electronics this shoddy? Let us know down in the comments!

 

91 thoughts on “EEVblog Tears into the White Van Speaker Scam

  1. Those scammers should make props! I mean, you really can’t tell the difference between a video and a picture of the legitimate thing!

    I wonder how many people buy these things and never know they bought crappy equipment, or just assume high-end AV equipment is the same as low end equipment.

        1. Absolutely right. For playing a guitar where you want to get distortion, the type of amp is just as important as the type of guitar. For plugging in some RCA leads in your home theater, the modern silicon amplifiers are king.

        2. Guitars are a different matter because you actually want distortion, therefore tubes are surely one of the best choices in that context. But for all other uses, what you save by not using a tube amp will pay for a 20 times more powerful class D amp that you won’t be able to push into clipping.

  2. The standard scam is that they say “The store accidentally put an extra pair of speakers in our van, you can have them for $$$…”. Often by rolling down the window at a traffic light.

    Larceny in the heart.

    Hackers ought to read the (1936!) “The professional thief”.

    1. I think that this is inevitable given the skeezy nature marketing such equipment in the first place, even by legitimate manufacturers, who are often just nameplates for Chinese factories anyway. Audio/visual equipment is so oversold on (often bogus/chimerical/magical) technical specifications, fads and marketing that the market has tooled up and created products with just those specifications and nothing more behind them.

      Monster Cable is a classic example of such a corporatized scam here in the US (if you’ve never read the “Blue Jeans Cable Letters”, I suggest you do so: http://www.bluejeanscable.com/legal/mcp/ ), so the “marc/Marc Vincent” version of this, where you have companies creating the appearance of functionality without any real substance behind it, is inevitable.

      ____________
      As an aside: Oddly, I have gotten any number of legitimate extras of perfectly good equipment shipped to me over the years that are the result of mistakes in order-handling, including a very nice backpacking stove, a set of portable welding tanks and an enormous (and very expensive) deck skylight/hatch for a boat when all I’d ordered was a $30 fan. Unfortunately I don’t have a white van, so I had to rely on Ebay.

      1. Yeah. The last time I saw tubes glow blue was when I had a 4 tube RF amplifier and was running 400 watts of RTTY. I had neglected the difference between the 400 watts of CW (which implies a far lower duty cycle than 100%) and 400 watts of FSK. The tubes were cherry-red before they failed.

    1. did anyone notice that the traces on the PCB supporting the tubes look like they were designed to power the filaments?…. that would be way more convincing than unnatural blue leds…..don’t tubes tend to glow blue when they get tired and need replacement…I could be wrong….

      1. That’s only true for working tubes. This soviet-made tubes from early 50’s are clearly dead. You can buy this shit really cheap, but you should expect to get 1 of 10 working tubes tops and after half a century of storage they require some special treatment to make them meet their original specs. And of course the tubes they used are low power tubes (double triodes most likely) used in preamps. When people see a “tube-based” don’t they suspect that those 4 tiny pieces of glass are clearly not enough to give any decent power to the speaker of that size?

  3. Definitely a popular scam around my area. Had people approach me more than once. I have to admit I always wondered exactly what they were selling after one guy offered to show me the goods so I could “know they were genuine”. Now I know.

  4. I did not know this scam had a name. Many years ago, I had some guys in a white van claim they had some speakers or something “leftover” from a “job” that they wanted to sell for cash- obviously I kept on driving.

    I assumed they were selling stolen equipment.

    1. Decades ago, when I had a subscription to “Stereo Review”, they told a story about cops checking out a guy selling stereo equipment out of the trunk of his car in the parking lot of a bar. The equipment he sold had cut wires attached to it, so it looked like it had been cut out by a thief in a hurry. It turned out he was a licensed dealer with a street vendor permit. His customers assumed that the equipment was stolen and therefore thought they were getting “a great deal”. And as a dealer he didn’t have to worry about Warranty Repairs…

  5. I was given a 5.1 channel home theater that’s remarkably similar to this Marc Vincent one. They had blown a channel in it, and I could have it if I could fix it. Was quite simple to repair. Dave isn’t kidding about the thin traces, the TDA2030 or whatever chipamp took out quite a few traces with it.That said, the system once fixed, was completely suitable as a garage speaker. It might not have the same fidelity as higher end equipment, but if you keep the volume down (IE make sure the power supply isn’t sagging, the chip amps have decent sound) it’s listenable. I also only use 2 channels, which probably helps the ailing power supply stage. Anyways it’s junk, but if it’s free it’s worth keeping.

    1. After seeing the construction of the toroidal transformer, I would though it out anyway as it’s a safety and fire hazard. It may be ok if you redo all the main voltage side and include a transformer with an internal thermal fuse.

  6. Wow, I didn’t know this was so common. Some twenty years ago, I was approached in a parking lot by some guys in a white van. It was pretty much as you described, speakers left over from something-or-other. I think they said they were Bose, but upon inspecting the actual speakers, I knew they weren’t. I actually needed a pair of speakers at the time, so I made a lowball offer; about the same as I’d pay to get no-name parts from MCM, plus materials from Home Depot, and build a similar item myself. To my surprise, they accepted it. The speakers were actually quite good. They’ve performed admirably with everything I’ve thrown at them, and are still in my living room to this day. Probably not a typical experience though, and I wouldn’t consider a similar purchase these days.

    1. Same here, I lowballed the guys, turned out to be a 6.3 Kirsch system that WAS NOT FAKE, I surmised that they simply got the five finger discount before I got it. The three 12″ midbass I have in my bedroom now is almost too much to handle.

      1. you are both deluding yourself, there is NO DEAL to be made here, those people are SCAMMERS, there is no loss leader, no promotions, no good days, you CANT end up on top

        you both overpaid for junk and are exhibiting symptoms of cognitive dissonance, ‘I wouldnt pay for fake’, ‘was worth it for the parts alone’, ‘not as bad as you think’, ‘i lowballed the conmen and conned them at their own game’

        1. I don’t think Chris C. was claiming that he conned the conman. He just said he offered/paid what he thought was a fair price for no-name speakers and was pleased with them.

        2. Not necessarily – as YourIEEEmom said it was probably stolen. If it was legitimate and stolen and you bought it for cheap from a white unmarked van, then you did buy legitimate goods (ethics aside). You’re opening yourself up to the risk that you’re found in possession of stolen property, but I’m not convinced that is much of a risk.

          1. @Garbz:

            Completely unrelated, Kirsch-Audio from Germany is not the “Kirsch” sold on eBay or at shopping mall parking lots out of white vans. One can get away with $4,000 price tags, the other is made in China and badged with names that sound like legitimate companies (Paradyme is not Paradigm, Kirsch is not Klipsch, nor is it Kirsch Audio). They are legitimate in that they are likely not stolen goods, just incredibly crappy speakers and electronics inside a pretty box.

  7. ” From the ultra cheap subwoofer driver to the 1990’s era vacuum fluorescent display”

    Is there something wrong with using vacuum fluorescent displays? I think that the VFD was the nicest part in all that piece of junk.

        1. Clicked on image link, was not entirely disappointed…

          …but did I hear Rick Astley faintly whispering in the background? ;)

          Well played, sir, well played. Also, I have a Cyrix 6×86 sitting around somewhere. I don’t use it, I just like to look at it and chuckle quietly to myself.

          1. I don’t really get the Rick Astley reference, can you explain?

            I also have a couple of Cyrix CPUs around, including some 6×86, I also found them to be among the best looking CPUs.

          2. As in the Rickroll — unexpected trickiness, but not really trolling per se, as it’s entirely too humorous and not necessarily intended to be as nasty as proper trolling is. At least, I’ve never heard of Rickrolling being used in a malicious way…

            Similar to what you did with your photo of the *ahem* quad core x86 setup there. Technically correct, but in a very unexpected way that makes me chuckle to myself.

          3. @starhawk

            I see. That was not my intent, I had just finished the thing some 20 minutes before posting and thought it was appropriate.
            There is no related article over there if you think I wanted to point people to that address, it was just a photo, I was just too lazy to upload it to some free image sharing site.
            Anyway, deleted the picture and reported my comment :)

          4. …and here I thought it was funny and different, just unexpected in a clever way.

            Does it work? If so, write an article and see if HaD will post it. If nothing else, please link to it.

            I love retro tech like that!

          5. If the heater works? It does, pretty well actually. It can be underclocked/overclocked via buttons. There is also a “turbo” button. The CPUs can also be turned totally off and having just the MCU (ARM core..) and the display on. There is also a timer function, There is no temperature control because I thought it was more cool to heat the coffee at 75MHz instead of XX degrees Celsius.
            There is an obsolete, half-written unpublished article, the last entry was in June I think.
            Considering that I designed the top PCB about one year ago, and I just recently had some free time finish it and write the code, I think it would take some 6 months to complete that article :)

            If you love retro tech like this, you can build your own :) I’ll publish all that’s needed, schematic, pcb layout, source code.

          6. So that’s what it is… very cool :D

            I was thinking it was a little miniature quad-core P1 computer… silly me. Well done, in either case!

            As for building retro tech, I’m getting my fill from an XT box that I’m making a Lo-Tech ISA CF adapter (this one –> http://www.lo-tech.co.uk/wiki/Lo-tech_ISA_CompactFlash_Adapter_revision_2) for… the original HDD is toast. It’s a Seagate ST-238R (MFM RLL, stepper drive… if I’m reading the date code right, I turned two literally a couple weeks after that drive was made!), and the magnetics inside have decayed to the point that the geometry is no longer readable by the ISA controller card. (It could be a ROM chip, but there are hardly any googleable part numbers on that dang thing, so I’ll never know…) I snagged a long-ignored Archer “Experimenter’s Plug-In Card” (ISA-8 perf-card, really) from my local Radio Shack about a year ago (yay for the franchise-owned store in my little town…) and I’m building it on that. I’m poor as dirt, so I can’t buy the custom PCB from Lo-Tech… I could barely get the parts from Mouser. (I had a little help from a very nice friend of mine…)

            Shout-out to Mike, who runs that Radio Shack, and to Ryan, my nice friend from college who helped me on the financial end of things.

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  8. Did anyone else notice that the warning message over the projector lamp has a typo? It is visible at 29:39ish. It appears to say “… unplug the machine and wait for one hout”

    hout?

  9. That other piece flapping around loose in the projector is probably an IR filter to keep the LCD from getting fried.

    Some air ductwork construction and thermal sensor + speed control could cut the fan noise. The main thing to keep cool is the LCD.

    If someone gave me such a projector, I’d be experimenting with replacing the overhead projector bulb with a high power LED. Think of it as a projector experiment kit if you get it free or dirt cheap. Find a real 1080p LCD the right size…

  10. I actually had a WVSS experience sometime back! I don’t think it’s a speaker specifically; I think it was either a car or home audio equipment, but I could be wrong. To be honest, I was too gobsmacked to listen to the guy; I couldn’t believe people still do that. Like someone else above I just assumed it was stolen rather than cheap.

  11. I ran into this scam at work. The guy actually pulled up to the shop and stopped us while we were outside of the door talking. He was trying to hawk top end ‘BOSE’ amps and speaker packages. Cut his price in half in the first minute or so of talking.. Of course, wouldn’t let us open the packages to look at any of the gear unless we paid for it first..

    Suffice it to say, I kept my money, and, after seeing this video, probably prevented my house from burning down.
    z

  12. I had a similar experience with a guy in a white van. He had been on a business trip to Denmark, and was just about to drive back to Holland. He just happened to have some knives that he would sell at a ‘special price for you my friend’.
    No thanks!

  13. This is just not fair, Dave always goes after the labels and which country the device is from.
    I opened one of these B*se acoustimass things the other day: much trickier to open, same inside.
    Chipboard, no damping, hot glue, chipamp, thin traces, cheap connectors (one had given up). No ridiculous valves and I don’t remember the grounding though.
    I bet all 5.1 surruound system are built this way.
    Come on, do a teardown of one of these Logitech things as a comparison.
    And then stab the woofer.

      1. I’ve heard Bose described in a lot of ways. But never “cheap” or “good”.
        Small, yes, stylish, definitely. Good for a studio apartment to impress others, but definitely not something I want in my living room / home theatre.

        To be fair though their quiet comfort headsets are quiet and comfortable, but don’t sound anywhere as good as other products half their price.

    1. Are electronics made anywhere else than China and its neighbors, in significant numbers? Help me overcome my ignorance. I’m sure there are some made-in-aus and made-in-usa and made-in-eur names, help me? Motorola perhaps, but they’re probably farming most of it to the orient? I don’t buy that Dave is picking on anything based on nation.

      1. Wanky audiophile gear is often not made in China, mind you it’s also not often mass produced either. Certain parts like the case may be machined there, and circuit boards may be manfuactured. But for the most part many of them actually to look hand assembled.

  14. my boss and another idiot where I worked fell for this!

    handed of AUS$400 each, for a pair of “Warfdayle” speakers!

    They couldn’t figure out why I found it so funny!

  15. I still use one of these el’cheapo projectors (got it on ebay for dirt cheap)
    It has an hardware resolution of 800×600 but since I use it only for computer controlled blinkenlights on partys, thats fairly okay…
    And since its light bulbs will check in for just 30€ it is no pain to let it shine for a whole weekend (where a official bulb for an genuine brand projector will cost you an arm and a leg)

    From germany, I only know this white van frauds with stolen genuine devices which sometimes even are defective in some kind…

  16. I encountered a slightly different version of this two decades ago in the Renton, WA area. And when I told people about it, no one wanted to admit that such a thing existed, and they got taken. Even when I showed them the price of their low end stuff as it was in the JC Whitney catalog.

    Same usual MO, but in my experience, you got what you paid for. Blingy moderately crappy stuff for exactly the same price you’d pay mail order, except without the hassle – so it was actually a benefit since they practically delivered. Wasn’t a bad deal when I needed a cheap flashy looking EQ amp with lotsa level LEDS and maybe 5 watts RMS for a robot project

    Cops got called on them a couple times by actual honest folk but everything checked out. (Which is how I learned about them as they were getting the shakedown in a parking lot I would leave work from at 2am) Eventually they started selling the same stuff at “electronics expos” at the Tacoma Dome and got themselves a storefront. Last I saw they were carrying slightly better stuff (Fisher, and other stuff you’d find at Rent To Own places back in the day) and were doing all right.

    Way I see it, this was a perfect example of “you can’t scam the honest”. Anyone believeing they’re getting stolen goods for cheap deserves worse than they get. And a retailer that can sell an “experience” to wannabe folk that surpasses the sale itself, makes money. I bet they coulda sued Apple for Prior Art for that business model :)

  17. Yeah…I am 50-ish and one of these “vans” pulled up to me. The whole thing ended with me punching one of the guys. The other one just sat there and watched his buddy take a beating. I do not like to say no to someone 3 times only to be insulted for telling them to f-off. I say punch them in the face. They will quickly find other work. BTW I own polk monitor 70’s. I am the wrong guy to try and rip off.

        1. Dude, you’re in the 50s, and by your own admission you can’t even handle even the simplest of conflicts without getting into a physical altercation. This is behavior more befitting a preschooler than a grown man.

          That owning Polk -whatevers- somehow makes you “the wrong guy to rip off” is just icing on the cake of your very amusing existence.

          1. I’m in my 50’s as well, sometimes you simply have to belt idiots to shut them up or make them go away.

            There is no shame in walking away from a fight, just as there is no shame in coming out on top after you have given the other party every opportunity to back off.

            It’s called “the real world”

          2. Hey I’m with you….All I know is this. Once the mouthy little 20 something called the cops (hint: the loser always calls the cops…almost never the winner.) I and the cops had a great laugh…You see I didn’t fall off a freaking turnip truck just before the white van came along. I told him no 3 times. After the third time he started to smart off. It isn’t actually enough to legally justify a fight, but the cops seemed to think it was. It’s actually quite a funny story which I regale my friends with.

            Ultimately, I’m thinking this guy probably decided to try different work.

  18. The WWSS came to me back in 2002, during a trip to Melbourne Florida. I was getting gas on New Haven Blvd when a white van pulled up. Two eager kids tried to sell me a couple large tweeter horns from a dead PA.

    I just assumed this was a Florida thing.

  19. I haven’t had a White Van Experience since the early 90s, I never bought anything, but at the time it wasn’t any different quality than going to the local swap meet to buy “Rockgate Fosworth” speakers and amps. I loved the names the Chinese would come up with that sounded just legit enough. I’ll buy a name brand amp to get a few new features, but I go to Monoprice for the speakers because they sound good enough for my purposes.

  20. Used to see the same scam a lot, but with different merchandise. Suitcases, shop equipment, jewelry, etc. They’d drop hints to make you think it was stolen. High pressure sales tactics, start with a very high price and drop it way down to get whatever they could. Always cheaply made junk.

  21. Never experienced this myself (for av gear or otherwise) but in general I would never buy anything from someone who came up to me randomly and tried to sell me stuff. In fact I would probably report them to the relavent authorities (e.g. the police “report a crime” hotline)

  22. My co-worker W. got speaker scammed back in 1993. White van pulled up in the company carpark and the driver asked him for directions. Before he knew it, W. bought two huge “professional” speakers for a lot of money. He still swears by them to this day and maintains he wasn’t really scammed. They sound like crap though…

  23. The old speaker scam funny when you buy them your happy thinking you got one over on that guy 3000 for 500 or less but when you find out that guy got one over on you your mad ????

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