Blog A. Where to Buy Classical Records and Tapes
For most serious vinyl collectors, their list of places to buy are closely guarded secrets, especially if they are still active in the hunt. At my stage in my collecting life I have almost all the records that I want to buy, and the ones I want are either very expensive or records I am not likely to find. So I have no problem with sharing.
In the US, I shop mainly at three online stores for new records.
Elusive Disc www.elusivedisc.com based in Anderson IN.
Music Direct www.musicdirect.com, based in Chicago IL.
Acoustic Sounds www.acousticsounds.com based in Salina KS
All three have very large selections of new vinyl. They also have frequent online sales, with electronic coupons for 10 or 15% off regularly, and often 20% off.
I shop at all three. There is a lot of overlap in inventory, but there are some items that can be found in one or two stores, but not all. The prices tend to be the same, although sales are not always the same, and free shipping may have slightly different requirements. Finally, sometimes I find an item or class of items are excluded from sales at one store, while they are included at another store. Elusive Disc tends to have more music items that the other two do not have. Music Direct has more equipment and accessories and is the VPI (turntable) manufacturer’s distributor for parts. Acoustic Sounds is the home of Analogue Productions which produces more reissues and new recordings than just about anyone. So you can often find a new release there before any other place.
I’ll divide this into on-line and bricks and mortar shops.
Online used classical records:
Mikrokosmos www.mikrokosmos.com Peter Furop has run Mikrokosmos for many years. They put out a monthly catalogue which is very extensive, all classical music, almost all used vinyl. In addition to adding new records, they cycle through their inventory, featuring records which have not sold for several months at lowered prices. This cycles again, and there is a last offer section at a lower price for those records that have again not sold after an additional cycle. Peter operates the business out of Canada, but prices are listed in US Dollars. The charge is converted to Canadian dollars for payment. All the record inventory is held in Hungary from where it is packaged and shipped. The catalogue has an audiophile records section at the front and there is a very good search engine if you are looking for a particular label, artist, composer, etc. The record grading is pretty liberal, with the vast majority of records graded A. I normally stay away from any record listed A- or lower, unless there is a specific notation about the condition. A- in my experience is much lower than A. Returns are possible, but you will be paying for shipping back to Hungary.
Acoustic Sounds www.acousticsounds.com – There is a fairly good selection of used records, usually at higher than average prices. You do have to search, and there is no monthly catalogue. Acoustic Sounds is based in Salina, KS.
Susan Gunderson Irvington Music www.irvmusic.com Based outside Portland OR, Irvington issues a very large montly catalogue, focusing on classical music. The prices are fair, sometimes bit on the high side, but they grade fairly and take returns without much fuss. There is an audiophile section and they do mail their monthly list upon request. However it is only available online. What makes their lists most interesting to me is that they often include a good number of prerecorded tapes, mostly commercial 7.5 ips 4 track stereo, with the occasional 2 track stereo and often a shorter list of 15ips 2 track tapes. The latter include dubs of master tape copies, so they will have tapes that are otherwise impossible or very difficult to find. In my experience, they are generally of very good to very fine quality, not quite at the level of Tape Project, Acoustic Sounds or other current issuers of tapes, but their prices are not as high and they offer material otherwise not obtainable from normal commercial channels.
Since most of my collection is focused on British pressings, most of my purchases are with UK based dealers.
Sophia Singer Spiral Classics www.spiralclassics.com Sophia is based in a small town north of London. I visited her in 2014 at her home, where she does her business. I have purchased from Sophia for many years. She issues an online catalogue every few months. It always includes her complete inventory. You can search her entire stock list by catalogue number (not label, just prefix and number with the album contents listed). Her grading is the most detailed of any dealer that I buy from, with listings of minor or major defects and whether they sound or not. Prices tend to be more reasonable than many dealers. I find that returns are quite rare, since her descriptions give a very good sense of the record.
Dave Parsons Classical Vinyl www.classicalvinyl.com Dave Parsons works out of a small office just outside central London. I have bought from him for many years. He specializes in more rare vinyl, with prices commensurate with the rarity of the vinyl. However, he will have a good selection of not as rare records for moderate prices (10GBP and up). He grades quite consistently, with E+ or better quite safe. I will often buy E, which is cheaper and usually has only small defects. Dave is a partner in the Electric Recording Company and you will find those new records on his website. Dave does not issue a catalogue, but his website is easy to navigate. He lists his most recent acquisitions at the front of the list. You can also search or list by catalogue number. I usually visit Dave on my annual visits to London.
Peter Dawson Ambergreen Classics http://www.ambergreen-classical.co.uk/ I have purchased from Peter for many years. Since my collection had become more complete and my want list has shrunk, I don’t purchase as much as before. Peter is based west of London in Bristol. Peter has a large number of records which are around 5GPB, so this is good for bargain hunters. Peter arranges his lists by artists, not by label or catalogue number. In fact, he usually doesn’t list the label, assuming you will be able to determine label from the catalogue number. However, he does include a picture of the cover of every album, so you can usually read or figure out from the design what label he has. Also he lists condition by album/record, which is the reverse of some other dealers. Peter also mistakenly uses Arthur Salvatore’s List of great records, but refers to it as the TAS Superdisc List. So many of his listings which refer to TAS, are actually from Salvatore’s list
Discogs.com I have used Discogs a few times to buy records. This is not one dealer, but a website where collectors can share information and individuals and dealers can sell records. Often you can find records on your want list, but the seller is very likely to be unknown to you, which will make their grading standards and relative pricing a bit of a pig in a poke.
Ebay I have also purchased on ebay occasionally. I usually do not like the bidding system, rather I would know what I am going to pay. Ebay does allow for a “buy it now” option, but not all sellers use it. Again, similar concerns as Discogs about grading standards, although there is feedback for both sellers and buyers.
Bricks and Mortar Stores
Living in the SF Bay area means that I have three of the largest used record stores near to me. They are Rasputin’s on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley a few blocks south of the UC Berkeley main campus entrance, and two Amoeba Records, one a block down the street from Rasputin’s on Telegraph and the Amoeba Records in San Francisco on Haight Street (yes that Haight Street as in the Haight or Haight-Ashbury) The store is very near the corner of Haight and Stanyan, next to Golden Gate Park.
Rasputin’s has a reasonably large classical area and an additional classical CD area. The prices are very reasonable to cheap, but the selection is generally not too interesting to the serious collector. I haven’t been in the store in a year or so. The classical records are in the cavernous basement. There is a separate bargain bin area where all records are $1 or less in quantity. However, the vast majority of records are pop.
Both Amoeba stores are monsterously large. However, the classical departments of both are a small fraction of the size they used to be, when each store had a separate large room just for classical. Prices are generally very good, though not as bargain basement as Rasputins. The classical bins in Berkeley and San Francisco are both in the back of the store. Classical CD’s are also in the same area. There are also nearby bookcases which hold box sets. Bargain records are located in bins under the main bins. Looking through them is physically taxing, since you have to bend down and get your head underneath the main bins to flip through the records.
The Analog Room (Brian Hartsell) 1385 Bascom Avenue, Campbell, CA is located near San Jose, at the southern end of the SF Bay Area. Owned by Brian Hartsell, who is one of the most knowledgeable and strongly opinionated vinyl expert (in a friendly way), the store has a very large collection of well curated used and new vinyl. Prices are not cheap, but fair. Brian knows what records are worth, so there are no hidden treasures at bargain prices. But there are many treasures, including a good collection of classical records, as well as jazz, rock and other genres. Brian also sells hi fi equipment, including a range of turntables and cartridges. If you read the reviews on Yelp, please note that Brian has stopped smoking cigars!!
Los Angeles also has an Amoeba’s. It is even larger than the Berkeley or SF stores, located in Hollywood on Sunset Blvd, near Vine. There is a parking lot in the building that you have to enter on the side street. The classical area is in back of the store and is larger than SF or Berkeley. The last couple times I was there, I saw few exotic items, but more for the beginning or intermediate collector.
Orpheus Classics, 362 Commonwealth Ave. Boston is a small, densely packed classical record shop near Mass Ave. The shop is at the basement level. I have found some real treasures there. I have not been in Boston in a decade, but the website looks active and prices range from reasonable to high for some non-classical, which I assume are collectibles.
Classical Music Exchange (38 Nottinghill Gate near the tube station) is the only bricks and mortar store that I regularly visit in London these days. It is a fraction of the size it was a decade ago, when it occupied an entire store including an upper area and almost full basement of bargain records. They have moved a couple of stores down and now occupy the basement of a larger Music Exchange store. The basic premise of the store is that they start with prices on the average to high side and mark down the prices on a regular basis until the record is sold. For people who regularly visit the store, this reverse or dutch auction, allows bargain hunters to wait until they get the price they want, with the danger that it might be bought before it reaches their price. For visitors (like me, who visits annually a couple of times during my 3-4 week stay in London each year) it means that I buy at the price marked if I want the record, but often can get records for as low as 50p (the lowest price a record reaches) or 1 GBP, even if the record started at 10GBP. I have bought from Classical Music Exchange for close to 20 years. Every record is graded, with Ex as the highest grade, and Vg+ is a very fine grade. I sometimes fine records marked F/G in quite good condition, though I always visually check all records. You can ask to see their box, sometimes more than one, of rarer, pricier records, which sometimes contain treasurers for serious collectors. Stock is always changing and when I visit two or three weeks apart during a stay, there are often 100 or more new (used) records in the recent arrivals bins. There is an audiophile section near the new arrivals bins.
There are two more London record shops that specialize in classical vinyl where I used to visit regularly, but do not do so after disappointing visits a few years ago. I will be making a point to visit both of them on my next visit to London in the late Spring (2017). They are Harold Moores (2 Great Marlborough Street at the northern edge of Soho) and Gramex (owned by Roger Hewland) at 104 Lower Marsh Road (behind the Waterloo Train Station). The last visits I had a few years ago saw both shops a shadow of their former selves, with relatively small numbers of LP’s in not great condition (and quite high prices at Harold Moores) with both of them dominated by CD’s. I’ve looked at both websites and will be revising this blog depending on what I find.
In the 30 years that I have been serious collecting vinyl, particularly the last 20 when I started making very regular visits to London, there has been a steep decline in the number of record shops that carry any significant number of classical records, and almost all that still exist have shrunken the areas that carry classical vinyl. This has been accompanied by a large increase in the number of new releases, particularly remasterings and repressings of vinyl. Although the internet has increased, there have been a decrease in the number of online stores that carry quality used classical records. Consolidators like ebay and Discogs have made searching easier, but one is then more often trusting an unknown dealer or seller who may or may not have conservative grading standards, good return policies, good packaging, etc.
I welcome comments and feedback from readers about the experiences they have had with purchasing new and particularly used classical vinyl.