Technology lets music shoppers listen up in stores Retailers hope CD sampling is a hit

January 28, 1993|By San Francisco Chronicle

Headphones looped over her purple beret, a woman bops to the rockabilly beat of guitarist Nick Lowe. Across the aisle, someone enjoys a private audience with bluesman John Lee Hooker.

Throughout the aisles and around a horseshoe-shaped bar at Hear, a new Berkeley, Calif., compact disc store, customers decked out in headphones are sampling an eclectic selection of 7,000 recordings.

CD players set up beneath the counter allow customers to preview albums. Push a button and hear an album. (In the Baltimore area, An Die Music in Towson offers music sampling.)

Music listening stores, commonplace in Europe, are showing up in America. Again. Baby boomers may remember the old wooden listening booths from the early '60s; their parents may remember them from the '20s and '30s.

Now a new wave of music technology will soon bring CD previewing equipment to the retail giants. Music executives hope the in-store sampling will help revive customer interest in an industry that suffered a slump in the mid- and late 1980s.

The experience of shopping for music has lost some of its charm with the introduction of the small "jewel-box" CD packaging, which lacks eye-catching graphics.

Previewing CDs, said Jim Donio of the National Association of Recording Merchandisers in New Jersey, "is a new toy for consumers to play with. It will become exciting again to go to record stores."

Paul Verna, associate marketing editor at Billboard magazine, said, "The perception among consumers" is that CDs are too expensive.

"When you go to a record store, chances are you will be spending more money than you'd like, and you are going to want a chance to listen to an album first," Mr. Verna said.

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