23 May 2011

The Best Classical CD shop in Asia?

In the past this blog has made some pretty disparaging remarks about the CD scene in Singapore, while lavishing copious amounts of praise on the CD scene in Hong Kong.

There’s a hint that it’s getting better in Singapore; my last half dozen visits to HMV in 313 @ Orchard showed definite signs of an improvement; larger stock, better shelf organisation and a faint whiff of interest in the product from the staff.  This is probably in no small measure due to the parlous state of HMV in UK; as with Tower records, it seems that the Asian franchise performs better (at least, it serves its customers better) when it can concentrate on its market rather than some dubious corporate policy.
 
But in Hong Kong it has leapt even further ahead with the opening of Prelude, a CD-emporium-in-a-million.  It’s a poshified Shun Cheong – same stock, same intelligent and helpful staff, but in a glitzy and attractive showroom setting with a real feeling of opulence; the sort of shop in which you really want to linger.  Shun Cheong is still there, crammed into its 8th floor office at Bank Building by Mongkok MTR, and the sense of walking into a treasure trove with seams of unmined gold is as strong as ever.  But what Prelude does is lay it all out ever so attractively and in a brand new shopping mall, at a more respectable part of Nathan Road and with some pretty impressive neighbours; next to it is about the biggest bookshop I have ever seen, but my excitement was short lived when I realised the vast bulk of its stock was Chinese literature – excellent, I’m sure, but a closed book (pardon the pun), so far as I am concerned.
 
The funny thing is, this glitzy shopping mall used to house my tailor (who I think actually owned it) and, after dark, was a renowned vice den, with mainland prostitutes vying for custom and not caring too much how they attracted it.  Drugs, gambling and sex may figure largely in some musicians’ lives, but I prefer them distanced from my CD buying expeditions, so with the Miramar Centre gutted and rebuilt as an up-market mall, things are certainly looking up.

The thing about Prelude, apart, that is, from its vast range of stock from small independent labels (especially orchestra’s own labels) – so don’t expect to find any BMG, Decca, DG, EMI, Philips or even Bis here – it stocks a wonderful range of newly-pressed vinyl.  Now I’m a vinyl addict; I don’t think it sounds better, but it sounds more like a recording and, as a result, it’s easier to appreciate it for what it is rather than for what it is not (I still find loonies out there who think that a CD is equal to or even better than a live concert).  It also has Gramophone magazine in pride of place as you go in the door and the staff can, with a flick of a key, look up recordings of specific works which exist (as opposed to the HMV policy of using limited guides or broader-based catalogues which expired many years ago).  And, of course, when they don’t stock something they will tell you how to get it if they can’t themselves.  True, to get to that rabbit-warren Mecca (Lady Street) where every other shop seems to house a vast range of forgotten CDs, you still have to go up to Mongkok, but with Prelude I think Hong Kong has added a fantastic new dimension to classical CD buying. 
 
I’m pretty sure that neither Japan nor UK can compete now with what Hong Kong has on offer.  How nice if this phenomenon could spread across Asia.  As it is, search in vain for classical CDs in Malaysia, Thailand or Indonesia and don’t expect too much from Singapore.

8 comments:

  1. Chang Tou Liang24 May, 2011 11:53

    If its run by Shun Cheong Records, its a must go! All I hope is that it will survive, given the high rentals and low record sales all around. Such a record shop will not survive in Singapore for those same reasons.

    One of my favourites in the 1990s was CD Corner at Adelphi, run by a Hong Kong gentleman called Joseph Lee. It had the widest range of CDs and good sound systems to sample those CDs. It was one of the first to retail full-price CDs at $21 and was always packed with people on weekends. A pity it had to close in 1996.

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  2. Hi, Dr Marc,

    Just realize you moved from wordpress to blogspot. I was wondering why a long silence. Good to read your regular posts again!

    Regarding physical music media, generally I don't see its future as a mass consumer product. It may retain some niche market, just like the vinyl today. (I only saw one customer in three photos of the Prelude shop). As far as classical music is concerned, the drop wouldn't be as stiff as pop/rock, but certainly not to rise or spread further.

    "Cloud" is the way, for example, BPO launched their digital concert hall years ago, which is quite successful. Naxos also has a streaming library, you can access any where with internet connection, be it serious listening in the room or light listening on the way to concert hall. I really hate moving my 2000 CD collections. And I can't access my collections in China when I'm in Singapore, vice versa. With cloud, no need to worry of lost track where a particular CD is. No need to worry a long time forgotten disk has developed mould dots in the climate here.

    Back in 2008, online download has already overtaken physical CD distribution. The upgraded "Cloud" service would beat the physical CDs like what CD did to vinyl.
    Even in the case of physical CD purchasing, no physical store can compete with online stores for range, search and even price (including shipping to your door).
    The reason I still purchase physical CD/SACD is because, at the moment or in the next five year, it will still be the best in term of quality and price.
    But cloud/streaming service has began to rise in quantity, quality. Booklets would be presented nicely on various pads and their successors. The printing cost for some marvelous classical recording booklet would be heavily reduced and more trees saved.

    Cloud, download, CD, vinyl, all of them can make great music reproduction. But the mass consumers would vote for just one and rest fall into the niche market, for collection, or hobby.

    Dr Vincent

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  3. To be fair, the photos were taken from Prelude's pre-opening publicity and the "customer" is a staff member. My photos, taken last week with my grotty Samsung phone can't be transferred to the computer - they show it full!

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  4. Thanks for clarifying. So the scene in Hong Kong is better, but certainly worse here. Just minutes after I posted the comment yesterday, HMV announced closing of its citylink outlet. It's not clear whether they are shifting it somewhere else or just shut it down. I guess it is the later case. I wonder how long HMV@313 could survive.
    Coincidentally, in today's "my paper", there is an article on the digital music service. It was reported that, for the first time in Singapore, the revenue increase from digital service surpassed the drop in physical sale. Universal music group stated that last year was their most profitable year in the past decade due to revenue from digital service.

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  5. Thanks for clarifying. So the scene in Hong Kong is better, but certainly worse here. Just minutes after I posted the comment yesterday, HMV announced closing of its citylink outlet. It's not clear whether they are shifting it somewhere else or just shut it down. I guess it is the later case. I wonder how long HMV@313 could survive.
    Coincidentally, in today's "my paper", there is an article on the digital music service. It was reported that, for the first time in Singapore, the revenue increase from digital service surpassed the drop in physical sale. Universal music group stated that last year was their most profitable year in the past decade due to revenue from digital service.

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  6. Indeed an amazing post. Nice pics too.
    Keep it up and do keep blogging..

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  7. Thanks for the information - I'd picked up the business card after the Rachmaninov concert on Saturday 10th Septmeber and was wondering what this shop was like. You have kindly answered my question!

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  8. there are no good cd stores in singapore for a very good reason, there are no substantial cd stores other than the CD shop. Gramaphone and HMV are both closed. HMV has a tiny outlet at Marina Square.

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