Specialist Music Shops

Rumours of the death of the record shop have been greatly exaggerated. While big, identikit retailers have been shedding stores, the cream of the independents have been going from strength to strength, buoyed up by expertise, rare and unusual stock and hard-won respect from discerning but loyal customer bases. The best record shopping in Central London is undoubtedly in Soho, so this list features a narrower range of locations than usual and slightly longer walking times – but, as you’ll quickly discover, pounding Soho’s pavements in search of the best new and vintage music is anything but a chore.

Sounds of the Universe

The Soul Jazz label is a perennial favourite with music fans of a globe-trotting, archive-mining bent – its breakthrough series was with a set of compilations from the pioneering Jamaican label Studio One, packaged with vintage photos and deep-dive liner notes. It continues in that tradition today, unearthing forgotten gems and exploring niche genres from Chicago house to Dubstep. As you’re probably guessed by now, Sounds of the Universe is essentially the Soul Jazz record shop. It occupies a busy corner spot in Soho, and will keep keen crate-diggers happy for hours on end.

  • Address: 7 Broadwick Street, W1F 0DA
  • Walking time: 17 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, designed by key London Underground architect Charles Holden
    • William IV Street, created in 1831 and named after the then king. His reign saw considerable change in the layout of Covent Garden
    • Leicester Square, created when the Earl of Leicester bought and built on the land in the 17th Century

Schott Music

Walk past Schott without prior warning and you could be forgiven for doing a double-take. Here, in the middle of modern, media-friendly Soho – with the offices of Sony and Framestore just a few doors away on either side – is a shop window packed with sheet music. The store is an outpost of German music publishing business Schott, but it has solid London credentials, first opening here in 1835 and moving to its Soho home in 1908. Alongside the sheet music you’ll find books, CDs, DVDs and three practice rooms with baby grand pianos from Steinway. Serious musos will be in heaven, and for the rest of its, it’s still a fascinating store to browse.

  • Address: 48 Great Marlborough Street, W1F 7BB
  • Walking time: 20 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, William IV Street and Leicester Square (see above)

BM Soho

Beats, beats and more beats. Those are the three priorities of this highly respected store on D’Arblay Street, which racks more sub-genres of dance and electronic music than you can shake a tone arm at. How respected is it? Well, its series of live in-store sessions has featured legends like Kerri Chandler and Derrick Carter – and that’s pretty impressive from a shop whose two floors are scarcely bigger than the average living room. You’ll also find a range of DJ equipment, clothing and magazines, but it’s the wax that is the main event. Casual visitors will probably find it all a bit much, but for true believers it’s an essential stop.

  • Address: 25 D’Arblay St, London W1F 8EJ
  • Walking time: 20 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, William IV Street and Leicester Square (see above)

Reckless

This long-running shop doesn’t specialise in a particular genre. In fact, you could find almost anything here. Instead it’s all about second-hand vinyl – stacks and stacks of the stuff, sifted through by a team of expert buyers. If your idea of record shop heaven involves the smell and feel of worn album sleeves, an hour or so of hypnotic finger-walking through crates and a final “Did-I-just-see-that?” moment of discovery, you’ll be right at home. Less patient shoppers can head straight for the reissue pressings, which offer a range of classic and cult albums on heavy-duty plastic.

  • Address: 30 Berwick Street, W1F 8RH
  • Walking time: 17 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, William IV Street and Leicester Square (see above)

Phonica

Like BM Soho, Phonica’s area of expertise is electronic music, but it’s a more accessible and design-conscious option – and it’s slightly more eclectic to boot, with a smattering of rockabilly and exotica among the beats. A comfy bubble chair dominates the front window, and there’s a table of recommended buys on – gasp! – CD. Follow them on Twitter for a constant stream of interesting, left-field new arrivals, exclusive streaming mixes and news from the shop’s associated record label. Artwork, books, headphones and all sorts of other goodies are on sale too.

  • Address: 51 Poland Street, W1F 7LZ
  • Walking time: 19 minutes
  • Look out for:
    • Zimbabwe House, William IV Street and Leicester Square (see above)
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