Sites and Sounds

A collector's guide to shopping for music in cyberspace

Anyone who admits to an obsession for music knows by now that there are too few stores in South Florida to effectively feed a collector's habit. With the limited selection found at major retail outlets like Spec's, Circuit City, Best Buy, and the prohibitively expensive Virgin Megastore, only a smattering of independent outlets in Miami-Dade and Broward counties (All Books and Records in Fort Lauderdale, Blue Note in North Miami) provide real opportunity for exploring new sounds.

Slim pickings? We're talking pure anorexia.

Trolling for tunes, fortunately, is just a mouse-click away for anyone determined to find real variety at bargain prices. But since hundreds of sites offer music for sale on the World Wide Web, you have to know where to look before you start to surf. Online stores usually sell products at lower prices than most retail outlets and with no sales tax. But sometimes it's difficult to get customer service -- which is usually handled via e-mail -- and you often don't get the option of returning something you don't like. Another drawback is that you have to pay shipping and handling, although some sites also offer free shipping.

Used (ahem ... preowned) CD vendors abound, with Half.com (a subsidiary of eBay.com) among the best of the bunch. The "half" tag is somewhat misleading, though -- used prices can range from a scant 75 cents (the minimum amount Half allows its sellers to price their products) to amounts that sometimes approach the standard retail price of $15 or more. Amazon.com also offers the best of two worlds -- new music at a reasonable cost (between $10 and $15) and used offerings at even more substantial savings.

While not as well known as Half.com, Djangos.com also offers a combination of new and used product. According to the site, an outgrowth of the Chicago-based Djangos record store chain, its network of associated sellers includes over 300 retailers offering around one million titles. What's more, it boasts a deep inventory; its catalog lists obscure titles from artists you won't find elsewhere, from the Silver Apples to the Spacemen 3, although ultrarare items like No Wave icon Liquid Liquid's classic self-titled EP are rarely in stock.

Without question, Alldirect.com has the best deals on new, stock CDs by hit-making artists like the Dave Matthews Band and Pink. Album prices run as low as $10 or $11, with older inventory sometimes dipping down to the $8 mark. But the selection is somewhat limited; it often takes several weeks before new releases are posted on the site.

While most sites have some overseas titles, the best online shop for import CDs is www.modlang.com. This Internet offshoot of Mod Lang, a Berkeley, California retailer, offers an impressive array of both import and independent albums, EPs, singles, books, and magazines, covering everything from rock to retro, folk to electronica, classic to contemporary. But its Website listings aren't always up to date; sign up for its weekly newsletter in order to find out what's in stock.

Looking for that impossible-to-find BlewEP by Nirvana, or the Strawberry Alarm Clock's ridiculously rare soundtrack for Beyond the Valley of the Dolls? Have your friends suggested you ought to consider getting a life, but you've decided to ignore their advice and persevere? True to their slogan -- "If you can't find it here, fuhgeddaboudit!" -- Gemm.com features listings from dozens of mom-and-pop vendors around the world hawking a variety of items that frequently can't be found anywhere else, with prices veering from reasonable to widely out of reach. True to its title, Vintagerecords.com, the Web address for Miami's Yesterday and Today Records, has an outstanding array of vintage vinyl, from the Chocolate Watch Band's Inner Mystiqueto Aguaturbia's Volume Two. The online offshoots of two New England retailers -- Nuggetsrecords.com and Discdiggers.com -- are also worth exploring for collectibles. The former claims an inventory of "tens of thousands of rare and out-of-print" records and CDs, like a $36 copy of Eric Clapton's classic Crossroadsbox set, while its competitor bills itself as New England's largest music record retailer, boasting vinyl, singles, press kits, and posters among its catalog.

From prog rock to power pop, altcountry to avant-garde, there's an online outlet that caters to nearly every niche. Milesofmusic.com provides an impressive array of roots rockers and contemporary country on both indie and import labels, generally at competitive prices. Notlame.com taps into power pop via its own Not Lame label as well as a wide variety of associated companies that revel in retro. For more eclectic sounds there's Waysidemusic.com, which touts itself as a source for new jazz, experimental sounds, and other unexpected audio encounters. Likewise, audiophiles will appreciate Acousticsounds.com, home to 180-gram vinyl pressings, Super Audio CD issues, and other unique audio items, as well as Redtrumpet.com, which includes Japanese imports.

Happy hunting!

 
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