When Amazon hit the internet in 1995, nothing would ever be the same in retail again. Within the past decades, online retail has only grown.
When it comes to music equipment, Amazon isn’t the only online store. They might be good, but they’re not the best. Sweetwater and zZounds have been exclusively selling music gear much longer, and still thrive today.
Sweetwater is a household name. zZounds might not be – but it’s still recommended by many.
But which is better? If you spend thousands, you want to make sure your seller is reliable.
Turns out, I researched both extensively! Here’s what I found out.
Table of Contents
- My Conclusion
- How I’m Evaluating
- Comparing Sweetwater and zZounds
Before diving in, I’ll give it to you straight: I think Sweetwater is the best, due to customer service. As I’ll explain, they truly go out of their way to hire knowledgeable, helpful employees.
But that’s not everything!
zZounds is incredible too, due to their pricing. Both have what you’re looking for, know how to help, and will deliver to your front step.
In many ways, both have unique perks. Customer service will always be a priority for high-price items. Yet if you need something within budget, you really can’t go wrong with zZounds.
How I’m Evaluating
First, I will give details about each store. Then I’ll compare them. You can refer back to specific details about each, and get advice at the end!
Sweetwater’s origin story is the stuff of legends! Okay, that’s excessive – but it’s still interesting. Their founder, Chuck Surack, started the company in 1979 in the back of his Volkswagen van (you know, those classic hippie vans!)
First things first: you need a good website. You can have great merchandise and employees, but if your site sucks, no one’s going to buy from you.
Thankfully, Sweetwater’s site is fast, easy to navigate, and organized. Their homepage advertises daily deals, but they’re not obnoxious.
Their banner lets you switch easily between categories and pages. Plus, they have a whole page with daily giveaways! You still have to pay (waah) … but everything is significantly marked down (yaay!)
You’ll find substantial information for each product on its sales page. Some companies make their pitches glaringly pushy, but Sweetwater does not. Their videos, specs, and advice are genuinely informative and helpful.
It’s clear they know what they’re doing. For example, I like browsing their keyboards. Multiple products have demo videos with two guys named Daniel Fisher and Jacob DuPre.
At first, I didn’t expect much from promo videos. But it became clear that these guys know what they’re talking about and enjoy their jobs. Plus, they’re everywhere!
You don’t expect to remember the names of random guys demoing equipment. It just goes to show how informative and smooth their website is.
Lastly, Sweetwater makes their contact information easily accessible. Their phone number is on the top of each page. I decided to test it out.
I called the number to ask about a Moog Matriarch synthesizer, and I had a live person talking with me in minutes! Now I just need the money …
Sweetwater has an extensive inventory, so they probably have what you’re looking for. Although they only have one warehouse in the entire country, it’s a whopping 480,000 square feet!
Out of curiosity, I tried to find some extremely niche products on their site. They sell lots of Eurorack modules, a few Irish bodhrans, and lots of world music sample packages!
Pretty interesting! Alas, they don’t have bagpipes, sitars, or concertinas. But that’s splitting hairs, and I’m an obnoxious nerd. You’d only find those from specialty dealers. For most of your needs, you’ll be fine 🙂
This one’s interesting. Like I mentioned, Sweetwater’s only building is in Fort Wayne, Indiana. And I literally mean “building.” It has everything; their warehouse, only walk-in store, and headquarters.
Plus, it has a café, diner, guitar workshop, recording studio, game room, and salon. I guess when you’re in the middle of the Midwest, you go all out!
Anyway, what does this mean for shipping? It’s what you’d expect: they ship within 1-2 days, and it can take just over a week to arrive in far-off California. Not bad. Plus, they have free shipping!
Both Sweetwater and zZounds have great deals. Sweetwater puts them front and center on their homepage. Additionally, their used gear pages and giveaways are always fun to browse.
They also provide a credit card, allowing for 48-month payment plans without interest and 5% cash-back. You can also make 3- and 6-month payment plans, but they include a one-time $10 or $15 fee, respectively.
Lastly, buyers have a 30-day window to return products for free. They also include a 2-year warranty with every product, so that can help if you encounter problems.
Sweetwater is renowned for their stellar customer service. I can honestly say that between all my friends, peers, product reviews, forums, and workplaces, I have never heard a complaint about Sweetwater’s employees.
They accomplish this by treating employees well and picking them selectively. Most employees are professional musicians themselves, and every customer is paired with an individual retailer for every future purchase.
This means that with time, the person you get advice from and buy from is someone who knows you personally. This goes a long way in all aspects of the buying process.
All to say, Sweetwater values returning customers and understands how to genuinely help them!
Onto zZounds! Interestingly, zZounds is the “original” online music retailer. They were the first gear company that wanted to sell online from the get-go.
What I appreciate about both Sweetwater and zZounds is their desire to open up the music industry to everyday people. Like Steve Reich in classical music, they opened the gates for normal people to access the professional music world.
zZounds’ site is extensive and easy to navigate. However, it can be a bit overwhelming to read because there are so many drop-down menus and buttons to click – there’s a lot of “blue” everywhere. Weird to say, but when you browse, you’ll see what I mean!
Fortunately, their homepage has a lot of great information. They have a scrolling banner with informational articles and deals.
If you scroll down, they have the bestselling products arranged in their respective categories. This makes it easy to find a popular item in a specific category, like guitars or keyboards.
My biggest critique of zZounds would be their sales pages. You can find products just fine, but the page themselves has very little information. To be assured that I’m buying the right product, I end up researching specs all over Google.
zZounds has an extensive inventory like Sweetwater. If you need a fairly popular product, chances are they have it. If I had to make a choice though, I would say that Sweetwater probably has a bit more, due to their company’s size.
zZounds has four warehouses located in Toledo, Memphis, Oakland (NJ), and Reno (NV). They make a point to ship within 1-2 days. Most places receive their products within one to two days, which is very impressive.
However, if you live in the “Rocky Mountain states” like Colorado or Wyoming, it can take several days longer. This is because of the Rockies sitting between the Nevada location and the Great Plains separate you from the other three.
zZounds does not have a credit card, but they have many flexible payment plans. These include 6-, 8-, 12-, and 18-month plans, all without interest.
Additionally, they offer a 45-day return policy. They claim to make it hassle free. Because I’m a stingy budgeter, I’ve shopped from zZounds myself. When I returned a product for personal reasons, they made the process very manageable.
zZounds Customer Service
zZounds has good customer service. Some friends of mine have reported rude employees and unsatisfactory help. But overall, they’re very reliable – not everyone can have the shine of Sweetwater, and zZounds does very well with what they have.
Interestingly, zZounds reps do not get paid commissions for selling gear. This means that when you talk to them, they won’t have any agenda. Lots of times this leads to more honest opinions.
Comparing Sweetwater and zZounds
Now that we’ve looked at each company individually, let’s compare the two.
Sweetwater Has the Best Website
In my opinion, Sweetwater has the best website. They organize it clearly, make deals easy to find, and most importantly, give extensive information for each product.
zZounds’ website is well organized, but it’s rather cluttered, and the sales pages don’t list a lot of specs.
They Both Have Great Inventories
This one is hard to say definitively, so I’ll call it a tie. As the two oldest online music stores, they’ve had ample time to diversify and grow.
If I had to choose, I’d guess Sweetwater has a wider selection. But practically speaking, you’ll be fine with both in most cases.
zZounds Has Better Locations for Shipping
zZounds has faster shipping, due to their four warehouse locations. Unless you live near the Rockies, you’ll probably get your package faster than Sweetwater (if you’re near the Rockies you’ll probably get them at the same speed).
However, both companies do perfectly well with delivering their products. If time isn’t a priority, either one is fine.
zZounds Often Has Lower Prices
While both have fantastic deals, zZounds is more likely to offer lower prices. Both companies offer price matching if a competitor is selling for cheaper. Sweetwater says they can do it, while zZounds calls it a guarantee.
Besides that, zZounds offers more wiggle room for long-term payment plans. And while neither one charges interest, Sweetwater requires their credit card and a one-time payment for some. Not bad at all, but still more hoops to jump through than zZounds.
Lastly, their 45-day return policy is 15 days longer than Sweetwater’s.
Sweetwater Has the Best Customer Service
Sweetwater wins, hands down. That isn’t a slight towards zZounds either – it’s simply because Sweetwater is way above the average company in this regard.
As mentioned above, Sweetwater pairs customers up with long-term sales associates. Most employees are professional musicians themselves, and go through extensive training for their job.
Every time I look up a product on their site, or even find a random forum mentioning them, dedicated clients are always giving shout-outs to their favorite reps. I’ve even seen the same names across multiple, unrelated pages! That’s word-of-mouth advertising at its finest!
Even though I lean towards budget options, at the end of the day, excellent customer service is the surest way to build a reliable company. Especially with big-ticket items like musical instruments, you want helpful reps who really care.
As I stated at the beginning, I think Sweetwater is the better company because of their customer service, along with their informational site.
Nevertheless, zZounds is an equally quality company in terms of inventory and budgeting. You will have a higher chance of receiving packages faster, at a cheaper price.
Either way, whichever company you choose, your product will be in good hands!