Letter of the Week – “After playing a few very smooth and quiet bands I put on my excellent vintage copy of Aja that proceeded to destroy the Cisco.”

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

It’s amusing that even Golden Ears who have the attention of large readerships can miss and misunderstand so much. You don’t have to understand the technical why of the variability of LPs to appreciate just how profound the audible differences can be from stamper to stamper. Even in acknowledging that differences are present, they do not seem to appreciate the extreme degree of the variation in sound among LPs from different stampers.

As so many of us have learned from you, a “hot stamper” LP is simply in a whole different league in sound quality. A good sound system is necessary to realize just how big that difference is and the more optimized that system is the better.

Beyond the audible reality and the technical issues, it is the subject of value that is not understood or appreciated. The ability to simply find a nice playable copy of a vintage LP is a major task. So many LPs have suffered the gouging of what must have been a rusty nail used as a stylus as well as all the other sins that can be wreaked on the plastic disc. Then the incredible task of assembling enough different copies to be able to do the “shoot-out” would seem impossible.

I have, as many now may have tried, done a simple “shoot-out” of a few copies of a favorite LP. Among those I have always found the “better” of the bunch. Now and then and just by luck (since the statistics of not having enough samples was not working in my favor) I have found what must indeed be a “hot stamper). And WOW …..what a difference!

The number of times this has occurred fits on less than one hand yet when you hear an LP that has been mixed and mastered really well and then “transferred” with care and quality via an excellent stamper, there is an epiphany. Suddenly you hear what you often refer to as “master tape” sound. As I have said before, this is really a sad statement about the quality and consistency of record production throughout its history.

The “Audiophile” Half-Speed thing only piles it on top of this with the way mastering at half speed seems to extract the dynamic life and frequency response from an album in contrast to a standard copy. The logical intention that mastering at half speed would allow the cutting lathe tool to have “more time” to lay down more of the music signal just never really worked. You would think the “Golden Ears” that developed this idea would have compared the result with real-time cutting speed (not brain surgery). I never wanted all this to be the way it is and didn’t even know it until I stumbled upon Better Records one day. But it is the way it is!

There seems to be a focus on the “wear” of the stamper as the primary cause of differences in the quality of the vinyl LP. My sense is that there is much variation over time in the production of stampers regarding the audio mastering and transfer in tonal balance and especially in the degree of compression used for a specific stamper that can destroy the “life and transparency” of the sound. This has nothing to do with stamper wear or physical variation but can vary from stamper to stamper over the duration of being in print and production and in some cases, never get transferred correctly.

I purchased the new Cisco Steely Dan “Aja” album hoping it would deliver perhaps even greater sound than the original and the hype regarding the remix quality, heavy virgin vinyl, etc, etc. certainly suggested that. After playing a few very smooth and quiet bands I put on my excellent vintage copy of Aja that proceeded to destroy the Cisco. The life, dynamics and transparency were in a totally different and superb league above. I very carefully returned my now even more precious copy to its sleeve. A few dealers that sell reissues like Aja will sometimes admit this but they certainly don’t want the world to know it.

From these incredibly difficult adventures, you quickly realize that what you do at Better Records cannot be to make “outrageous” profits. It is not that everyone or even a large number of audiophiles can or want to afford many “hot stamper” LPs. It is just that they are what they are……the best examples available today for long out of print LPs that contain so much of the music we have loved and appreciate listening to today in its most glorious presentation.

The amount of time and effort necessary for you to assemble the number of hot stamper LPs and otherwise “Better Records” has to be way out of proportion to making a highly profitable income. It has to be something you just really love doing. Other dealers, albeit not many, have done a great job of assembling very minty LPs for sale and often at premium prices. NO ONE goes to the effort to actually listen, critique, and present their findings in such an effective and complete manner and with such integrity.

Are some Hot Stamper LPs worth hundreds of dollars? Based on my experience regarding the rarity and especially the playing condition combined with specific market demand relative to the rarity, I would easily conclude yes. If this were not so, these Hot Stampers would never sell. The market is the ultimate voice…

I will buy hot stampers for some of my absolutely favorite LPs and will settle for the best copies I can find for other recordings and yes, I will also know while listening to a less than Hot Stamper that there is one out there somewhere that sounds incredible, that I want it and that Tom is probably on its trail.

After spending a lifetime building a great stereo system and trying to build a great record collection, I definitely agree that “life is too short to play crappy records.”

Best regards,

Ed

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