Whether you’re an audiophile or neophyte, this Corktown music shop has a turntable for you.
For the past three years, Torontonians searching out more interesting alternatives to the audio equipment carried at big-box stores have made their made their way to Corktown, where Planet of Sound (263 Queen St. E.) caters to both those looking for their first turntable and to experienced audiophiles in search of the exotic and high-end.
How it got started: Before dealing in audio equipment, owner Gunnar Van Vliet owned a record store in Ottawa. “We were selling record players too,” he says. “There was such demand for them and it turned out that everyone wanted the rest of the components, too—speakers, amplifiers, and that type of thing. So, we realized that there was more opportunity in the equipment than in the records.”
The plan to expand to Toronto came together rather organically. “I started to go overseas and go to hi-fi shows around the world,” says Van Vliet. “We ended up finding some really exceptional products and we got into distribution as well. It made sense to keep growing, and Toronto is kind of a slightly underserved market, especially for some of the more esoteric stuff.”
Vinyl solution: Even if you’re not ready to invest in a new turntable, which start at $450 at Planet of Sound, Van Vliet and his staff can help you get the most out of your garage-sale find. “We have a turntable clinic on the third Saturday of every month,” says Van Vliet. “You can bring in your old turntable and we’ll go over it, make sure that it works correctly, and set it up properly so you can have a good source. We do it all free of charge and often just send people out with a turntable that works fine.”
Many home stereo systems no longer come equipped with phono inputs, necessitating the use of a preamp. While there are some cheap options available, Van Vliet feels this is not the place to bargain hunt. “The phono preamp is actually the most essential part of the system,” he says. “The signal off of a needle is so low and so fragile that if you don’t amplify it correctly, you get a lot of noise and just bad sound. Going from the $50 to the $100 model is a huge difference. ”
While turntable sales are on the rise (“the vinyl revival is in full swing—every year we see big growth in turntables and people buying records”), CD players are in serious decline. “We still sell a few CD players,” says Van Vliet. “But definitely demand is going down—it’s five or ten per cent [of our sales] at the most. The laptop is kind of on equal footing now with the turntable, in terms of what people are using as their sources. It’s 50/50 I think, at least for our customers.”
Premium reissues: While Planet of Sound is primarily focused on audio equipment, they do also carry a tightly edited collection of records. “Our philosophy is a very minimalist one, so we choose things very carefully,” says Van Vliet. “There’s some amazing reissues nowadays if you’re into jazz—45 RPM, super-heavy, 200-gram vinyl with gorgeous photographs. The quality of those pressings is as good or better than the originals. You might spend $600 to $1,000 on some Blue Note originals that now you can buy as a new pressing for $75. It’s premium to a lot of people but, to the ones who care, it’s an amazing opportunity to get some great music.”
Cradle-to-grave customer service: By maintaining a broad price range, Planet of Sound aims to hold onto their consumer base over the long term. “That’s our hope,” says Van Vliet. “Generally, people who love music continue to love it and they continue to invest in it over time. If you’re a college student buying your first turntable, we want to give them the best value of whatever is out there. If you’re 50 and the kids are gone, so you’ve got a nice room to listen in, well then yeah, we’ve got the $12,000 BBC studio monitors.”