With vinyl making a resurgence, to the extent that British supermarkets now stock LPs alongside the fruit and veg, a surge of specialist retailers dedicated to everything analogue is appearing. Trevor Butler has been to the Swedish capital to find out more about one and to meet its proprietor.
Just a few minutes away from Stockholm’s bustling centre, a leafy courtyard provides the tranquil setting for Vinylbutiken. With two locations on the same street, Bengt Söderberg began his analogue enterprise down the road in 1999 and concentrated on stocking a widerange of top quality LPs for the discerning audiophile. Today at the same premises he has thousands of titles in stock across many genres, and operates a burgeoning mail-order business, mainly to Sweden (because carriage out of the Scandinavian country is prohibitively expensive) but occassionally further afield when he has a rare title which coustomers in Germany and Italy can’t find at home.
This shop still provides the commercial centre and today also stocks the odd turntable, arm, cartridge and many accessories along the walls, and a stockroom bursting with LPs. Three years ago though Bengt expanded and is now able to offer his many customers an enormous choice of turntables, catering for all tastes and price ranges, not to mention a plethora of amplfiers, mostly valve, as well as three loudspeaker lines. These come from England and Italy in the form of Harbeth monitors, the extrememly beautiful Diapason range as well as Sonus Faber. (I also noticed a pair of Swissonor in the corner alongside this brand’s VSOP valve amp.)
Two well appointed listening rooms are regularly booked, demonstrations are by appointment to ensure there is sufficient time for everyone to listen in comfort. Revealing owner Bengt’s commitment to cabling (and power cables in particular), one room is totally cabled using Nordost, the other with IsoTek throughout.
G-Lab Block amp from Poland
When I visit the Italian speakers to the fore, with one room set-up with Sonus Faber Guarneri in third-generation evolution form, while the other boasts brand new Karis IIs from Diapason. ”They were unpacked this morning”, Bengt tells me, ”and have been running in all day on a CD loop.” In fact it’s the only time you’ll find this commited analogue man resorting to CD, for burn-in. In what seems an Italian-British collaboration, the Fabers are connected to a Palmer turntable, a mix of Pathos and LFD amplification, Herron Audio phono stage and Brinkmann Bardo turntable (below).
Bengt is a big fan of Tom Fletcher turntables, so it is not surprising to see so many of his creations among the twenty-plus models in the showroom, under both the Fletcher Audio and Nottingham Analogue brands. As for other favourites, Bengt is coy not wanting to upset any those he represents, but I get a sneaky feeling that he’s rather pleased to be able to sell both Pathos and LFD electronics, although he’s clearly highly delighted with the sound and build quality of all his equipment. He’s the sort of man who wouldn’t dream of stocking a line just to make a quick buck. Brand loyalty as well as loyalty to his customers, some of whom have become good friends over the years, is in this entrepreneur’s veins.
Running both the hardware and software sides of Vinylbutiken (Swedish for vinyl store) he admits to concentrating more on the equipment-side in recent times: hardly surprising since the LP business has been up and running long enough to become established. So, what’s most in demand I wonder. That’s an easy one: “It’s turntables, without a doubt”, I’m told. “Cartridges, phono stages and tonearms as well, but turntables is number one.”
The bell rings and a customer has come for his appointment. He’s been working with Bengt to evaluate a range of record pucks and determine which helps to produce the best sound. It has taken many hours of listening; I’m told that the results are still not conclusive, but some are coming out on top. The pair sit and chat as I snap away, including a shot of their precious pucks.
Everywhere I look there is equipment, analogue of course and in the main valve electronics. To one side I see a Brinkmann Bardo, to the other an Oracle and below it a Bergmann. Behind me there are Polish tube amps sporting bright, shiny fronts. “They are rather interesting”, Bengt says. “Just 5.5W a channel, with an inbuilt MM phono stage, but a model from G-Lab Design Fidelity that is well worth listening to.” I am sure everything in this audio haven is worth listening to, it would not be here otherwise. The man’s commitment to quality audio reproduction is evident. Next door, the range is just as impressive: there’s an Avid Ingenium, another UK creation from Analogue Works with Origin Live tonearm and SME arms aplenty, the British flag is clearly waved high in this shop.
After lengthy listening and delicious refreshments, it is time to leave this oasis and make my way back to the hubbub that is central Stockholm. But, for anyone visiting Sweden, a call to Vinylbutiken is a must. And, as the guide book would say, a visit is worth the detour.