Best record stores in Austin
Whether you’re looking for an old Willie Nelson LP or a new Leon Bridges, Waterloo has you covered. It’s the city’s largest and most prominently located music store, and the most well-stocked in terms of new releases from both indie and major label artists, as well as deluxe reissues (save your pennies for that William Onyeabor box set!). Stay current on homegrown artists by consulting the Texas best-seller charts, and keep an eye on their event calendar—many will swing through for in-store performances. Records nerds with an eye for more than just vinyl should wander towards the extensive music-centric book and film sections, and for the analog-challenged, there’s also a robust selection of CDs.
If there’s one shop in Austin that fits the Championship Vinyl stereotype from High Fidelity, it’s End of an Ear. Serving South Austin since 2005 (and now in a larger location on Clawson Road), the shop’s shelves are rich in niche, rare and overlooked records that are dangerous to the pocketbooks of collectors, but the bins hold enough treasures to satisfy budget shoppers as well. Deep crates of psych, reggae, jazz, world and carefully curated rock are where the shop flexes its encyclopedic knowledge, while close ties to an array of local scenes (punk, electronic, indie rock) mean that small pressings of Austin artists receive prime placement at the counter. Keep an eye on their Instagram for the occasional photo of visiting music royalty like Four Tet and Slowdive.
45 RPM diggers flock to Breakaway for high dollar singles ranging from doo-wop to classic country, but the breezy neighborhood vibe of the shop is inviting enough not to scare away listeners with less archaeological listening habits. The owners have built a loyal following thanks partly to their role DJing long-time parties like the Second Sunday Sock Hop and Cold Lampin’, and their expertise shows in the hip-hop and classic R&B sections, as well as an employee picks racks where genre-pushing electronic LPs and Colombian cumbia compilations sit together in harmony.
Preaching a fidelity-first philosophy to listening, the Sound Gallery houses a museum-like collection of vintage amplifiers, speakers and turntables that look as good as they sound, but if you don’t have a few grand to drop on a hi-fi, it’s still worth a visit thanks to the finely curated record shelves. Owner Marc Campbell is compulsively helpful and happy to guide customers through the deep selection of canonical albums, ranging from reggae to metal to crates honoring recently fallen heroes like Prince and Bowie. There’s no official listening station, but if the staffers are feeling friendly they’ll let you give the records a spin on a turntable whose needle costs more than most home sound systems. Bonus points for an espresso bar in the back that serves Four Barrel Coffee.
Best browsed with a large Originator smoothie in hand, Exploded Records inhabits a side room in the long-time Duval St institution JuiceLand. It began as an offshoot of the monthly left-field hip hop party Exploded Drawing, with party organizer Soundfounder holding court over the shop’s racks of beat-centric vinyl. Expect exhaustive discographies from labels like Stones Throw, Warp and Brainfeeder, as well plenty of soulful sample material. Don’t forget to check out the latest releases from the extended Exploded Drawing crew, which includes some of the city’s most up-and-coming producers.
One by one the great record stores of Guadalupe St have all shuttered, but Antone’s somehow managed to outlive the likes of Sound Exchange, Alien and Tower to serve as a reminder to the college crowd that there’s more to the world of music than Spotify. Founded by legendary Austin icon Clifford Antone, the shop naturally trades in blues, Americana and vintage Texas music, but the relic status of the store also makes it the sleeper spot to dig for genres that regular customers might overlook. So, come for the Stevie Ray Vaughan, stay for the ’90s house records.
Piranha is too far of a trek from downtown Austin for most shoppers, but it should be a destination for any DJ looking to pad their collection of ’90s hip-hop. There’s hefty used rock and soul sections, as well as the requisite new releases, but the real draws are the crates along the floor packed with Old Dirty Bastard and EPMD 12 inches. On the way out, be sure to honor Houston legend DJ Screw by scoring a CD from their impressive bootleg catalog.
Metal heads look no further than Encore Records. Just a stone’s throw from IH-35, the lofty sign can be seen from the highway and serves as a beacon for listeners interested in thrash, doom, and all other forms of heavier than hell rock music. Expect reverence for local heroes like the Sword, respect for elders like Slayer and a sharp ear for nightmarish up-and-coming bands like New Orleans’s Abysmal Lord.