This is the second part of a series of posts that will explore the various places that sell Hifi products throughout the Chicago area. Music Direct is an online retailer and is not a retail storefront.
On an industrial corner of Chicago’s west side, a faded sign and a non descript door are the only visible landmarks housing one of the largest online retailers of audiophile equipment and records. From the exterior, there is not even so much as a hint of the musical treasures that lie beyond the brick and metal entryway. Music Direct started out 23 years ago as a direct mail order company, but like many others, has had to adjust to the changing digital age. Leading the way with their website, Music Direct has managed to survive in a time when many (including big box retailers) are struggling just to keep their numbers in the black. Amidst the brick-and-mortar turmoil, Music Direct has found their niche and dug in deep.
While the Music Direct warehouse is not a place where you can sample all the gear they sell, you may be able to pick up a record or two, should you be so inclined. The back area housed more records than I have ever seen in one place in my life, a virtual candy land of vinyl. They also have a large selection of SACDs for the digital oriented.
Josh and the sales team there are passionate about music, vinyl and selling quality equipment. As we talked, I could hear a crystal clear horn floating out from the reference system that graced the center of the large warehouse/call center. Not only a source for over-achieving background music for the staff, Josh informed me that they use it as a reference system when comparing new equipment that comes in. In an effort to sell only top performing gear (at any given price point) Music Direct turns away equipment that isn’t up to snuff. As a result of this thorough auditioning process, Josh claims that the percentage of rejected equipment to items they sell can be as high as 90%.
Music Direct attributes much of the success to its knowledgeable staff. In order to stay up to date, the staff can take new products home to test on their own systems, not a bad perk in my book. No doubt that in the coming days as Amazonian purchases slowly swallow all that is left of our brick and mortar stores, building lasting sales relationships will be paramount. From my experience, Music Direct excels at customer service, and is even good for a deal or two.
As I start to pack up my things to head off, Josh’s conversation slowly leads back to memories of a day long gone by, where every town had a record shop, and people still got together to listen to albums on a turntable. It was undoubtedly a different age, void of the hustle and bustle of playlists, iTunes singles and isolating white earbuds. He speaks with pride of the resurgence of vinyl, the growth of DACs and the artistry of the album. Times continue to change along with the shifting digital landscape, but people are still listening and searching. And between the introduction of the iPod and the popularity of Beats headphones, the numbers are growing. Shuffled in between the moving plates you may find that online retailers like Music Direct become one of the few ways left to buy and educate yourself, like a modern-day omnipresent record shop.