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Record Store Review: Turntable Lab

January 7, 2013

Yesterday I bought a new turntable.  Wait, that wasn’t quite right.

YESTERDAY I BOUGHT A NEW TURNTABLE!!  Yeah!!! Woo hoo!!!! Happy birthday to me!!!!!

Maybe you don’t care about that.[1]  But before I get to a review of the wonderful Turntable Lab in the East Village (just around the corner from two of my favorite NYC shops, Kim’s Video & Music and A-1 Records) I have to explain a little bit about why this was my first visit there, whereas I’ve been to both Kim’s and A-1 several times.

In seeking out places to buy vinyl, I’ve done some searching on Yelp, scoured other online locations, and resorted to a bit of word of mouth.  Based on convenience of location and hours, combined with a description from those various sources, I muddled around New York City and Brooklyn (and the Jersey Shore … we’ll get there one day) through a trial and error system that yielded some gems, and some duds.[2]  Unfortunately for someone in my position (that is, a record buyer), any description of Turntable Lab will tell you something similar to this first sentence from NYMag: “[this] skinny, gear-packed store provides a one-stop source for aspiring and professional D.J.s, supplying basic equipment, high-tech add-ons, and accessories.”  Moreover, there isn’t a single mention of vinyl for sale until halfway down the write-up, where you learn that “Spinners and collectors can appreciate the small, eclectic vinyl collection of boutique labels like Stones Throw Records and DFA, as well as genre-based sections fit to carry any party, including baile-funk, Baltimore club music, and Miami booty bass.”  In case you’re not a regular reader of 2bitMonkey (here’s hoping I have any!) I should mention that I’m not too keen on “Miami booty bass.”  So despite going to Kim’s on 1st Ave and East 7th, and A-1 on East 6th and Ave A, I never felt the least bit inclined to walk down East 7th  from 1st to A and even peek inside.  Until yesterday, when it was time to buy a new turntable.

Again I did a little online research, including at the Turntable Lab website, but while I learned my fair share about what to look for in a player and narrowed my choices down a bit, I could not bring myself to make a decision.  I’d previously owned the Crosley Spinnerette, and while it offered a lot in the way of convenience (including baked in speakers and maximum portability), I found it lacking in terms of quality construction and wasn’t keen on buying another Crosley.[3]  I was leaning towards the Music Hall USB-1, but wasn’t sure.  I didn’t want to buy it online only to find out that it didn’t suit me because I didn’t have the right speakers, or the right wiring, or who knows what else I needed to get spinning.  On the bright side, I now knew what a built-in pre-amp was and that it was good to have one.[4]  But I needed the help of a professional, and off to the Lab I went.

I walked into the store, which is in fact skinny and gear-packed.  Serious DJ equipment is everywhere you look; you can tell this place takes its vinyl seriously.  But to my surprise, each side of the aisle was also filled with records, new and used.  There were at least two, possibly three salespeople ready to help me, and one asked what he could help with from the moment I walked in.  The atmosphere was casual – the clean modern store and easy techno beat playing in the background was warmer than you’d imagine – and the person helping me (Joel) was not at all intimidating.  I know this all sounds a little funny, but an East Village hipster store that caters to DJs and is manned by people who look cooler than you’ll ever be can make for a very uncomfortable shopping experience.  Turntable Lab has all of the elements that could potentially scare someone away, but in reality is inviting and filled with a friendly staff eager to help.  Joel walked me through the process of choosing a record player that was right for me (the Audio-Technica: AT-LP60 Automatic Turntable + Pre-Amp), saving me a fair bit of money in the process.  He spent the time to answer all of my questions and offered to review the specs of my speaker system online (which was purchased elsewhere) to confirm that it was compatible with the proposed turntable.  I could not have designed a better shopping experience.

With the money saved, I was able to peruse the records arranged along the walls of the store.  On the right hand side there were a few small racks of used records, mostly dance, electronic and hip hop and a very small smattering of rock.  On that same side of the small store is new funk, soul, jazz, and hip hop as well as new and used 45s, so you can get a sense of just how limited the used selection is.  Nevertheless, I found the selection varied and unique, and bought a few used records that I’m sure I would not have found elsewhere, including 12” singles from Beck and Big Audio Dynamite II and 7” singles from Phoenix and The Naked & Famous.[5]  On the other side of the aisle is new dance, disco, house, techno, dubstep and (thankfully for me) “indie.” Again, the selection was small but unique; a fan of pure indie dance/pop – the stuff put out by labels like DFA – would have been in heaven.  New albums abounded from the likes of Cut Copy, Holy Ghost, LCD Soundsystem, M83, Memory Tapes and the XX.  Even the “old” new albums (i.e. the newly reissued) fit in nicely, consisting of artists like the Cure, Radiohead, NEU! and Portishead.  I wound up purchasing Arcade Fire’s limited edition Record Store Day exclusive 12” Sprawl II / Ready to Start remix album, which I missed out on RSD and hadn’t seen anywhere else since until yesterday.

Bottom line:   Turntable lab is DJ heaven.  But even if you’re just a listener looking to purchase a new turntable or speaker system, the friendly staff and wide selection make it the place to go in NYC.  Best vinyl selection if you’re into DJ music, but well worth a quick stop-in if you’re in neighborhood at Kim’s or A-1.  Note that if you’re looking for hard rock, classic rock, metal, etc. you’ve come to the wrong place.


Quick stats:

  • Sells used, new, or both: Both
  • Genres: Dance, Hip Hop, Dubstep, House, Techno, Funk, “Indie”
  • Non-vinyl for sale: Turntables and lots related equipment, a few dance/techno CDs, T-shirts … most importantly everything a DJ could ever need
  • Selection: 9 out of 10
  • Price: 8 out of 10
  • Atmosphere: 9 out of 10
  • Ease of browsing/shopping: 9 out of 10
  • Used vinyl condition: 8 out of 10
  • Yelp rating: 4.5 stars

[1] In which case, maybe I don’t care about you.  So there.

[2] It was the mess of my year of trial and error and lack of any reliable online record-store guide that led me to do these reviews.  If you enjoy them, thank my weary feet.

[3] My Spinnerette broke twice in 12 months.  In Crosley’s defense, their customer service / repair team was very accommodating on the first fail and I just gave up this more recent time.  I suspect they would have fixed it again for me; I was just ready for a new machine.

[4] All you need to know is that in order to connect to modern speaker systems your stereo needs a pre-amp.  Having a built-in one is a good thing.  It means you don’t need to buy an external one.  Now you know as much as me.

[5] In the used section, singles appear to be their specialty.

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