If you buy records, DJ equipment, HiFi equipment, or turntable accessories online, you have probably spent some time on the Platinum lab website. After more than 20 years, the online retailer has a global customer base who love their product selection and value their expertise and customer service. As a customer, I’ve always been drawn to their music section which features records that you don’t often see for sale on sites like Music Direct or Acoustic Sounds.
Peter Hahn of Turntable Lab explains how the business got started and offers some thoughts on the future of vinyl.
How did you get started and why?
I was a DJ in college (NYU, 90s) and had to buy mixers, Stanton pens, and spare parts on Canal Street. Arriving armed with a price search and entering into an intense haggling, I still ended up paying the MSRP.
After a while, I was the go-to assistant for other DJs who wanted to buy gear there. I thought there had to be a better way to buy gear, so two of my college friends and I launched turntablelab.com in my university apartment. We were one of the first online DJ stores and experienced the first turntable boom (eg Invisibl Skratch Piklz, X-ecutioners, DMC Battles).
What were the biggest challenges initially and how did you overcome them?
We started the business at the age of 21. Learning everything from scratch while being bootstrap was basically our MO. Our first big order, which we celebrated, was fraudulent. We miscalculated the price margins for the first two weeks. We had to break through the well-established network of pro audio, then HiFi. Our biggest challenge, however, has been riding the huge fluctuations in the market over the past two decades.
We’re definitely having a great time for vinyl right now, but we’ve seen dark days like CD supremacy, the introduction of Serato, the opening of a bi-coastal store at the onset of the financial crisis, etc. times without macro skills were extremely stressful and frightening.
Who is your typical customer?
Judging by the type of records (emo-pop to esoteric) we sell and the price range of our turntables ($ 99 – $ 2,500), It’s everywhere. However, we have an idea of the typical “Labhead” that guides us. A Labhead has been following us for over 10 years; DJed at one point (or still does); and collects several kinds of records. I know a bunch of people who fit that profile who have been shopping with us for almost 20 years.
How has Turntable Lab handled the pandemic and what changes have you had to make to both navigate all Brooklyn rules and meet demand?
All of these challenges that I mentioned before have prepared us for the pandemic. I have the impression that in difficult professional situations, it is inaction that will kill you. We have taken definitive measures such as the early closure of the storefront; create and enforce a safe workplace and improve our execution to meet demand. Since the start of the pandemic, we have doubled our storage space and doubled our shipping service. Fortunately, we are located in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, a business district. They have been excellent in terms of the balance between safety and productivity.
What are some of your favorite products and why?
Here are the items I am most happy to offer to customers:
Technical SL-1200MK7 ($ 999.99)
One of the happiest days of my life was having my first pair of Technics (SL-1200MK2). I remember staying up all night playing with the motor and eyeing the S-shaped tone arm. I still have this pair and have never needed repairs. We started the business by selling 1200s, so when they launched the MK7 it was like going back and forth. While I miss some of the visual cues from the original, the MK7 is a worthy successor.
Pro-Ject: Debut Carbon Evo ($ 599)
I’m pretty sure Pro-Ject was our first HiFi account. We started with the Debut III in the early 2000s. As a dealer you want consistency between models. Many manufacturers will either kill a popular line or introduce new versions without much change. However, with the Debut Series, the progression is very noticeable. The one-piece carbon fiber tonearm was a game-changer by going against the OEM trend. With the Evo, I appreciate how they upgraded components they didn’t necessarily have to upgrade like the feet, motor, and chainring. When someone I know personally asks for a recommendation, this is usually the first model I recommend.
Concept Clearaudio ($ 1,800)
I was a Technics 1200 guy and thought that would never change. There was a big confusion in a delivery of Clearaudio turntables, and Garth (our Clearaudio distributor) ended up offering me a Concept. It was my first high end turntable and I was just amazed at how it would take static and stained records and play them like new. The way he kept track of records opened my eyes.
Ortofon 2M Blue ($ 239)
I have a background in design and enjoy selling modular products to our customers. For me, the 2M series was one of the first cartridge models that really pushed the idea of modular design. And at this price, I also like how there is a noticeable upgrade in sound when you go from red to blue.
What do you use in your own home system?
I have a Technics SL-1200MK2, built-in NAD, Amphion speakers, and Line Phono stand. I am using a REVO Supersystem to listen to internet radio. Teenage Engineering OB-4 for portable listening.
Does it surprise you that vinyl has not only returned, but is back to being the # 1 physical format?
No. I have been a hyper-consumer for most of my life. This is part of the reason why I came to live in New York. Over the past 5 years, I have started to notice that there is less to buy for collectors like me. Bookstores were closing, toy quality was going upside down, clothing / sneaker prices were going down. Most vinyl has gained in quality over the past 5 years while remaining relatively affordable. There are more pressing plants that do a better job.
Labels put a lot of effort into the packaging. The record stores present the product better. Instagram is a great tool for discovery. Discogs creates a fun and efficient market. The disc magazines used add the x factor. Even the colored vinyl, which was too soft / quiet before 2010, is now very listenable.
Why do you prefer to listen to records?
30% = Listen to the entire album. 40% = album cover, linear notes, credits, label. 20% record purchases. 5% timestamp / memory. 5% ASMR.
What’s the most rewarding part of the job for you?
Some things. Now that I have stopped collecting, I like to live vicariously through super fans and collectors. For example, I found the group TV Girl to do an exclusive broadcast of their self-produced album ‘French release‘, which was in high demand by fans. It was so cool to work directly with the artist and then see the reaction from all of our customers on Instagram when they received the record.
Seeing how our team came together during this pandemic has been inspiring. There was a lot of uncertainty at the start of the pandemic, and our warehouse team immediately took action.
Finally, running the business with one of my best friends has been particularly rewarding. After a whole week of working together, we will meet another weekend with our children.