The Vinyl Anachronist
by Marc Phillips
Part 3: Shop 'Til You Drop (March 1998)
Stereophile is one of the many champions of the analog cause- it's usually a haven for tweakers, people who coat the outside edges of their CD's with green paint or Armor-All, people who argue whether or not eyeglasses hamper their listening pleasure, people who hang their interconnect and speaker cables from gold-plated eyehooks in the wall because if the wires touch the ground, it "dirties" up the sound. Even though I knew that some people would scoff at my suggestion as too New-Agey, I thought my letter would put a random idea or three in the heads of those guys in Santa Fe. But in both the print magazine and the Internet site, my letter was referred to as "Tweaks For Freaks." It seems that no matter the battlefront, I just can't win.
Actually, several people have e-mailed me to let me know that they agree with the postulate that "records still rule." In fact, several on-line publications, such as Primyl Vinyl Exchange and Audiophile International, have reminded me of not only their existence, but of their committment to the cause. So it appears that The Vinyl Anachronist, much to his chagrin, is not a pariah, but merely a foot soldier in the analog movement. So much for the delusions of grandeur.
So instead of being greeted with the question, "Are you insane?", the most common query I've encountered is "Where can you still buy vinyl?" Sure, it's true that you can't find records at Best Buy or The Wherehouse or Waxie Maxie's or Blockbuster Music. And it's also true that you can drive yourself crazy wandering through these musty used record stores, looking for hidden treasures, but finding only badly scratched copies of the soundtrack to Beaches. But in the last month I've purchased copies of Fleetwood Mac's Rumours, Pink Floyd's Ummagumma Jimi Hendrix' Axis: Bold As Love, Liz Phair's Whip-Smart, Paul McCartney's Flaming Pie, the new Foo Fighters album, not to mention some real finds from Ellington, Satie, and Bill Evans. And you know what? Every one was a sealed, spankin' new, pristine LP. I even found a new sealed copy of The Colour Field's Virgins and Philistines, and I couldn't even find a CD of it ten years ago, when it came out!
How do I do it? VOLUME VOLUME VOLUME! No, just kidding. The answer to your vinyl-starved needs is MAIL ORDER.
Most of the better audio publications out there are chock full of ads from mail order companies who deal in new, used, and hard-to-find vinyl. Fi, Listener, The Absolute Sound, and The Tracking Angle are the best resources. I'd mention the grandaddy of them all, Stereophile, but I'm still pissed off about the "freak" comment. I've used many of these companies personally, and I have yet to be disappointed by the service or selection of any of them. In fact, a day on the phone with these guys, an unused Visa card in my sweaty little hand, is like Christmas and my birthday all rolled up into one.
Let's deal with the biggest one first, the pioneer in this field, Acoustic Sounds (800-716-3553). Chad Kassem, the proprieter, was washing dishes in Kansas a dozen years ago. He was a record collector, like most of us, but when CDs kicked in, he found there was a market for used and rare LPs, and he just started buying two and three of everything as they were beginning to phase it all out at the local Tower Records. I still remember his little two- line classified ads in the back of some of the audio magazines. Call for a list, it said, followed by a phone number, and that was about it.
Today Chad's operation is huge. Never mind that the classified ads have turned into two, four, eight full color pages in all the audio magazines. Chad is a legend in the industry. His catalog is several hundred pages long. He can get it for you! He even has his own recording label now, which specializes in jazz and classical reissues...and they sound spectacular! Acoustic Sounds may be the only music resource you ever need. Visit Chad at www.acousticsounds.com.
Of course, The Vinyl Anachronist is fickle. That's why I often shop from the catalog of The Elusive Disc (800-782-3472). These guys aren't quite stocked as well as Acoustic Sounds--sometimes I call them with a list of ten titles and only walk away with four or five--but these guys care. The service is the most personal I've experienced. They know your tastes based on your previous orders. They make recommendations. They asked you how you liked that album you bought last time. The owner often gets on the phone himself when he sees it's me that's ordering. I like these guys a lot. And they sell turntable and turntable accessories!!! That should be reason enough for you to give these guys a call. You can visit them also at www.elusivedisc.com.
I also have been dealing with Music Direct a lot lately (800-449-8333), mostly because they carry Black Diamond Racing Cones, which are nifty little carbon fiber cones you place under your stereo components making everything sound much better. I find their selection and service to reside comfortably in between Acoustic Sounds and The Elusive Disc. Highly recommended.
I know what you're saying. You're not a homebody. You like to get out of the house and go hunting for the Great Vinyl Motherlode with your feet rather than your typing finger. I can dig it. Because if you pull out your Yellow Pages and look under Music Retail, chances are you'll find a great record shop that still sells tons of LPs. I've been all over the country the last dozen years or so, and I've always been able to find quality vinyl merchants. Plastic Fantastic in suburban Philadelphia, Orpheus in Washington DC, Record Mart in Los Angeles...the list goes on and on. In fact, one audio magazine I know (whose name I won't mention for well-documented reasons) had a series a couple of years back where they would send one of their writers to a major American city just to go shopping for vinyl. And they'd usually come up a least a dozen worthwhile stores. Geez, I think the New York article alone had to be stretched out over three issues.
I mean, when was the last time you saw a mint copy of the infamous "Butcher Baby" cover of the Beatles' Today and Tomorrow underneath glass behind the cash register? I saw one last week.
And I'm not even talking about the garage sales, the frequent auctions, or even the fact that Tower has re-introduced a vinyl section in many of their stores! I found a vinyl copy of Beck's Jack-Ass EP there last week!
So the answer to your question about where to buy vinyl is "Everywhere!"
One last tidbit. Even though Stereophile dissed me supremely this month, they did offer an interesting piece of news: Creek, the Scottish manufacturer of affordable high-end audio equipment (I owned their CD-60 CD player and it was superb, even for digital) is introducing their first turntable. Made in the Czech Republic, the MMF-2 appears to be a high quality unit which closely resembles my beloved Rega Planar 3. Advanced word is that it sounds great, and the price, including phono cartridge, will be....drumroll please...$299! That may be steep for some, but remember my digital/analog conversion rule: it will take a $600 CD player to beat the sound of this great new product!
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