3655 N. Oracle Road 3370 E. Speedway Blvd.
READERS' PICK: Even with the mass amounts of buying and brain power major record-store chains possess, they still can't beat Zia. The prices, selection and layout at the scrappy Phoenix-Tucson chain definitely prove worthy of our readers' top honors. With equal parts new and used CDs, as well as tapes and limited vinyl, the stores pack in a breadth of affordable music that ranges seamlessly from mainstream to no-stream. You're certain to find Blink 182 or Insane Clown Posse just as easily as the latest from Jets to Brazil or Belle and Sebastian. The bare-bones display and clear signage allow for quick and extensive browsing, and expansive specialty sections such as "Heritage" and "Compilations" ensure you'll leave with new food for your hi-fi. As a high-volume, general-interest record store, Zia defies the standard retail rallying cry of "Sell, sell, sell!" by giving the customer the feeling that music, not units of product, is their bottom line.
READERS' POLL RUNNER-UP: Hear's Music, 2508 N. Campbell Ave. Hear's Music just keeps on getting better -- all in the confines of its shoe box of a storefront. From Celtic to Klezmer, African lullabies to Scottish jazz, chant to salsa, Cajun to classical, native roots to opera, Hawaiian slack-key guitar to blues evangelism, Hear's has your sound. An intimate, full-service music store, this place packs a heavyweight punch into a tiny space. (Their recent e-mail e-zine reports they're getting ready to triple in size.) It's difficult to believe they've managed to do so much in this pint-sized store for the past eight years. Part of the formula: They don't mess up the walls with advertisements or posters or hey-look-at-how-cool-we-are kitsch; it's all CDs, floor to ceiling, every square inch used neatly and efficiently. Hear's carries one of the widest selections of music, outside of pop and alternative, although some of that is there too. The jazz, blues, folk and world music sections are extensive. If there's something you don't see, the knowledgeable staff will know at what moment it went out the door and exactly when the next shipment with your selection will be arriving. Hear's will open any CD in the store for you to have a listen, with a half dozen sets of headphones and CD players in a cool blue listening area. Looking for new music? They recently added a third listening station, each one of these featuring 15 or more samplings of CDs, in a head-spinning variety of genres. Recently we sampled the Chicago blues of Muddy Waters, Native American flute of Carlos Nakai, a tribute album to Gram Parsons, bluegrass of Tim O'Brien, the psychedelic-surf sound of Fountains of Wayne, and the Cuban-African blend of the Buena Vista Social Club. The staff is a veritable encyclopedia of music knowledge, apparently put on the planet to keep track for us. The Hear's staff is an eclectic bunch, and their current, individual favorites are on display behind the counter.
MORE MANIA: CD City, 3226 E. Speedway Blvd., filled an empty spot in our lives when it swept into the vacuum created by the loss of the Pink Motel. Sure, they have all the newest releases. They can special order anything. They're friendly and helpful and understand that you can like Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, the Buena Vista Social Club and the Offspring. But the City's real sights are in the constant influx of used CDs. The owner buys up boxes of CDs from warehouses and stores across the country, and this bounty of undiscovered gems lands right on Speedway across from the Loft Theater. Look at this: a Kinks CD that we didn't even know was in print, and it's one-third the price of a special order. If musical bargain hunting is your passion, make CD City your paramour.