Our good customer Ed likes doing his own shootouts, and to that we say Hear Hear — more power to ya. He had about a dozen copies of Ambrosia’s debut on hand and thought he might actually have one or two that were pretty special. Then he popped for one of our Super Hot Stamper copies and heard why we’ve been such big fans of the album. Here is his story.
So let’s assume that you have either spent enough on good advice or evolved a stereo system that simply resolves what is in a vinyl groove.
Let’s also assume that you have discovered that there ARE actually substantial audible.differences among the various copies of a given vinyl record title i.e. harmonics, resolution, detail, musicality, transparency, micro-dynamics, macro-dynamics, “whomp” factor, IGD (inner groove distortion), all kinds of surface noise and defects (film, dirt, grit, burnt regrind, scrubbed record label particles, and oh yes, the end products of styli that were never replaced until they fell off. Whoops, almost forgot the Mastering Engineer.
Now let’s assume that you really like a certain vintage album, like Ambrosia by Ambrosia, and you agree that somehow a small band of extremely young and extraordinarily talented musicians from the San Francisco “volcano” of late ’60s and early ‘70s had recorded a debut album that was a “perfect” amalgam of sound, tone, lyrics, musicality, layering, dynamics, harmonics and singularity of style.
You’ve heard a few copies and now you’re on a “mission from god” to find the HOLY GRAIL COPY!
After digging and searching out about a dozen listenable copies from various bins, stores and online gambles you set about determining if that “HOT STAMPER” is among them. One or two sound really quite good. They ALL sound different from each other!
Then one Wednesday evening you see that Tom Port [or, more likely, all the guys he works with since they do the bulk of the listings] has listed a “Super Hot Stamper” of the album of your desire. You read Tom’s descriptions and analysis and you know how absolutely right he is and you also realize where he places this particular record in his HOLY GRAIL collection… right at the top!
You don’t exactly know how close your current copy is to this one and that alone drives your neurotic mind crazy… So you push the “BUY IT NOW” button and sit and wait for it to arrive. And it does… and you warm up the rig for an hour in anticipation, wanting everything to be right… and you sit down in your dimmed audio den and you drop the needle on “Nice Nice Very Nice….. And as a familiar smile appears on your face you think to yourself… that’s really not such a bad title for what you are hearing!
So I played the whole record and did it as Tom recommends…CRANKED! And soon enough you realize that with a Hot Stamper you will never be disappointed (unless you are getting stupid anal picking among his “levels’” of Hot Stampers, i.e., Hot, Super Hot, White Hot, AGAIG, etc.)
Do I have a Hot Stamper among the dozen of copies I bought on my own? Maybe. I just don’t really care! You can spend a lot of money looking and the flow of money seems much lower than a BR Hot Stamper until you add it up. Then you realize that Tom doesn’t do this to become rich! Just won’t happen this way. Gotta just be for the love of the music, the sound, and the hunt. If this was lucrative you’d see other competitors. All you see are a couple of people selling LPs and borrowing the term “Hot Stamper” for the ones they think are really good sounding.
Will I continue to do my own “shootouts” and hunt through used record stores looking for what Tom sells… sure… it’s like fishing for the ‘big one”. But there will be times when I just want a sure thing for a record that is special.
So glad you liked the copy we sent you, even up against a dozen others! That speaks volumes. Like you say, how much time and money did you actually invest in finding, cleaning, playing and evaluating TWELVE records? A lot would be my guess, more than a full day of work, probably more like a full weekend, a weekend you could have spent listening to some wonderful music for pleasure.
We are on record as strongly recommending that audiophiles do serious and in-depth shootouts of alternate pressing in order to hone their listening skills. There is no other way to build a good audiophile system or a good audiophile record collection (and by that I mean of course not Audiophile records but records that actually sound good, the kind that are almost never pressed for audiophiles).
But doing heavy shootouts just to find a copy worth playing, of every title you like? That’s a lot of work. We are happy we could make life a little easier for you and get you the kind of very special copy that’s really worth playing (and $300).
Thanks for your letter.