Like an increasing number of people these days, Sweet Spot Audio & Records owner Nigel Harrison believes that vinyl is the superior format for listening to music. “It’s more tactile; you can touch it, you can feel it, you can read it, you’re more engaged with it, you’re interconnected with it, you have to be attentive to it, and there is just more presence with it,” Harrison explains. “And personally, I do think it sounds better.”
“I think you’ve got to have the ability, the space, the room, the time; you’ve got to be willing to park yourself,” Harrison adds. “You can be in your car listening to digital, you can be anywhere, you can be at the park; it’s hard to take vinyl anywhere but at your house. But if you want to do serious listening where you’re really focused on that experience, kind of like going to a concert, you need to listen to vinyl.”
Nigel opened Sweet Spot back in 2010 with wife Cathy after retiring; the current location in Webster has been open for seven months, and is bigger, nicer and more inviting than the store’s two previous locations. It works better for what the business wants to do, according to Nigel.
Sweet Spot sells mostly pre-owned vinyl; Harrison explains that new vinyl is so expensive that as an independent store owner, he can’t make much money on it because the profit margin is so low at the moment. Other stores in Houston sell new vinyl, Harrison adds, and he thinks it is important that all of the local record stores be different anyway.
Harrison is a big fan of vintage vinyl, and the store currently carries everything from classical, jazz and R&B to punk, classic rock, metal and more. “I do change it up based on what shows up at the store,” Harrison explains. “I’ll carry anything and sell anything, but it’s just what shows up in the store.”
The vinyl at Sweet Spot is priced to sell and Harrison encourages his customers, who he says range in age from 15 to 75, to browse and dig through the records in the hope that they will try and experiment with new music and walk out with more than they expected to.
Occasionally Harrison locates rare and collectable records that he tries not to price too high so people can have and enjoy them; Sweet Spot currently has a set of rare Led Zeppelin cassette tapes up for sale.
Speaking of cassette tapes, the store also has a section of them for sale along with the vinyl. Customers started asking about them, so Harrison started buying them; he says he sells a fair number of them daily, since they are currently making a small comeback among music fans. Local bands are selling their own cassettes at concerts again as well, you may have noticed.
Sweet Spot is unique among record stores in Houston in that it does not sell any CDs but does sell audio equipment; Sweet Spot sells new products from Plinius, Naim and Cambridge Audio, along with Jolida audio tube amplifiers, Wharfedale speakers, Orbit turntables and more. Personally, I am not a giant audiophile and am not very knowledgeable about any of these brands, but Harrison demonstrated several of these products in the store for me and they were impressive, as is Harrison’s command of them.
Equally impressive is Sweet Spot’s selection of pre-owned audio equipment, including used turntables and some stuff you don’t see every day, like an old Sears 8-track car stereo that has never been used; reel-to-reel players; and cassette decks, among other items. “When I opened up the store, I didn’t have pre-owned audio equipment,” Harrison explains. “I got into it when I realized that the younger people couldn’t afford to buy the new equipment.”
Sweet Audio is the kind of place where you can hang out for a bit, take a seat and talk with fellow customers and Harrison about records and music; it’s not the type of place where you just run in, make your purchases and leave. Harrison is very enthusiastic about vinyl records, and was like the proverbial kid in a candy store as he looked through and shared the store’s recent purchases with me when I visited; the man is a true lover of music.
You can bring in your own records and sell them for cash or trade at Sweet Audio, of course.
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“I’m always surprised at the different stuff I get in the store,” Harrison says. “It’s really amazing. You think the vinyl would run out, you think that everybody would have gotten rid of it, thrown it away or something else, but they didn’t. They kept it, I kept it, and I had like 4,000 records before I opened the store. There was something to it; it was an attachment of you. Everybody’s perception of themselves was kind of their vinyl. There was more to it than just being a download.”
Sweet Spot Audio & Records
16960 Highway 3 North
Tuesday to Friday 1 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Saturday 1 p.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Sunday and Monday