Which One’s Pink? – And What Do All Those Numbers Mean?

This commentary was written way back in the day, circa 2006 I believe. 

An erstwhile customer wrote to us a while back asking a question about Dark Side of the Moon: “What is the FULL stamper matrix for this record… all the way around the dead wax?”

I replied that we never give out stamper numbers for the records we sell. The only way to find out the stampers for our records is to buy them.

He then countered with this bit of information:

Well, ok. I don’t understand the logic, but it’s your show.

Floyd stampers are probably the most uniquely well documented stampers on [a site that no longer exists] that they’re pretty much common knowledge. If I understand your logic, a first pressing may not be a “Hot Stamper” while a 3rd, 4th or 5th might be. Just a function of the stars aligning when that record is pressed. So what’s the diff?

I would think this would be pretty obvious. If we say pressing X is the best, this is information that you cannot get anywhere else, certainly not on the site you linked to. The day that such a site tells you which stampers sound the best is the day that such a site will have any value to those who are not collecting for the sake of collecting, but actually want to find pressings with the best sound to play

The information on that site has absolutely no value to me, or to any of my Hot Stamper customers, of that I can assure you. [It no longer exists by the way.]

If you told me what the stampers were and it was a first pressing and /or issue, it would enhance the marketability of that particular record and I would be more inclined to buy it…not that I would sell it, but just knowing it was a first press would have more value to me.

Why would you want a first pressing if it didn’t sound as good? Or, if a later pressing sounded better, why would that make any difference in your desire to buy it? Isn’t the idea to get good sound?

If you buy records principally to collect original pressings, you will end up with one awful sounding collection of records, that I can tell you without fear of contradiction.

On the other hand, if you want the best sounding pressings, we are the only record sellers on the planet who can consistently find them for you. This is precisely the service we are able offer, unique in the world as far as we know. 

Anyone can sell originals. Only we can sell the best sound. (Others could of course, but none of them have ever bothered to try, so the result is the same.) Finding the best sound is far more difficult and far more rewarding to both the seller and the buyer, as any of our customers will tell you.

I guess the only problem for the “collector” who cares about sound as well as rarity is that your “Hot Stampers” aren’t “certified” in any way. That is, if I went to re-sell a Hot Stamper I bought from you, no one else would know it to be different from any other pressing of the same record. Ever thought about coding your records so that individual record had some kind of verifiable marking that it was a certain level of “hot stamper”???

We do have a customer who makes us fill out hot stamper certificates, but they are really of little value for resell in the real world.

Records aren’t to sell, they are to play and enjoy.

Btw, I collect for sound first, but “collectability / rarity” is up there too. My stone mint MFSL Muddy Waters Folk Singer #0005 / 5000 might fetch a couple more bucks on ebay than number 4999 say, right? I know, 4999 might sound better, but hey, a lot of people don’t have the equipment to tell the difference.

[This is where I got a little fed up and a little testy, or maybe I should say testier than usual.]

Since that is an AWFUL sounding pressing, I hope your equipment is able to tell you what is wrong with its sound. Mobile Fidelity is one of the worst labels in the history of the world; surely you don’t buy their lousy sounding records to play them? Collect them all you want, it’s your money, but who in his right mind thinks they sound any good? There are tons of commentaries on the site detailing their deficiencies. Please take the time to read them.

The fastest way to improve your record collection is to get rid of all your audiophile pressings, since only one out of every ten or twenty is even passable. If your stereo isn’t showing you how wrong the sound of those records is, it’s time to make some serious changes.


The Collector Game

The collector game cannot really be played with Hot Stampers. If anything they are just the opposite of a collectible, due to the fact they have practically no established or verifiable value. Their value is purely subjective; they exist only to provide listening pleasure for their owner. No other concerns have any real bearing on their worth.

I can understand why a record collector would be confused by this notion of subjective and limited value.

Collecting records is mostly about buying, selling and owning various kinds of records, and the ones that are worth the most money are typically considered the coolest ones to collect.

Who wants to collect worthless records?

Collecting records is not primarily about playing music; this seems to be a less important aspect of collecting. (I’ve known record collectors who didn’t even own a turntable!)

So all those funny numbers in the dead wax and on the label and the spine of the cover are just numbers, man.

They don’t mean anything to me (other than helping us recognize the best pressings) and they shouldn’t mean anything to you — that is, if you care about the sound of your music. If you want to collect a record because it has one set of numbers in the dead wax or the label or on the cover rather than another set of numbers, that’s your business. I guess that’s what some record collectors do. I, for one, want no part of it. I just want good sounding records. They can have any numbers they want.

To be clear, we here at Better Records very much want copies of the records we sell with the right stampers, the stampers that win shootouts, because that makes our job a lot easier.

As listeners, we don’t care about the numbers and neither should anyone else who is serious about listening, not collecting.

The Elephant in the Room

One more afterthought, which may sound like a cheap shot but still needs to be said, because, from my point of view, it is clearly the elephant in the room and very probably the underlying cause of this man’s troubles. If Muddy Waters on MoFi is your idea of a good sounding album, you have plenty of work ahead of you.

You need one or more of the following three things:

  1. better quality playback,
  2. a better room,
  3. or better-trained ears.

Without some or all of those, Hot Stampers are going to remain very much a mystery.

The Opposite of a Hot Stamper

It’s easy to be a collector; you just collect stuff. To get your stereo and room to sound right, and to be able to recognize when they do, that is very very hard. I’ve been at it for thirty-five plus years and I still work at it and try to learn new things every day. I know there’s a long way to go.

Until you get your stereo, room and ears working, collecting good sounding records is all but impossible. You will very likely waste a fortune on “Collector Quality Pressings:” the kind with Collector Value and very little else. These records are the opposite of Hot Stamper pressings: All their value is tied up in their Music and Sound, which is where we think it should be.

Further Reading

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