Record Collecting for Audiophiles – Hot Stampers

Steely Dan – A Killer Can’t Buy a Thrill (and Some Lessons We Learned)

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From the moment the needle hit the groove on side one, we were treated to some of the best sound we’ve ever heard for this album.

Both sides have an incredibly tight and punchy bottom end, with the kind of energy and WHOMP that brings this music to life! The soundfield is BIG, WIDE, and OPEN, with a three-dimensional quality that we didn’t hear on other copies. The top end is silky sweet — just listen to the cymbals on Do It Again.

Dirty Work sounds superb here — rich and sweet mids, breathy brass, and lots of texture to the vocals. Often this track sounds dull and dubby, but it’s actually just a case of the mix being smoother than most of the other songs on the album. If this track sounds smooth, and the other songs sound right, the tonality is correct for the whole side, because that’s what the best copies sound like.

Flip the record over and the good times begin all over again. Elliot Randall’s guitar on Reeling In The Years has the meaty texture and uncanny presence to take the song to an entirely new level. Fire In The Hole is exceptionally dynamic with real weight to the piano, and the double tracked vocals on Turn That Heartbeat Over Again sound rich and poppy the way they should.

Combine two sides this good and press them on fairly quiet vinyl and you have yourself an LP that’s practically a FLUKE. (more…)

Cat Stevens / Teaser & The Firecat – One of Our First Hot Stampers from Way Back (2006)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

Before we start discussing this record, let’s talk about the price for a moment. I have never put a used rock record on this site at this price. I’ve sold other records directly to my best customers for this kind of money, but this is the first $500 rock record of its kind to go on this website. This is the result of three factors. First, it’s the best sounding copy of this record I have ever heard (on side two anyway). Second, this is Teaser and the Firecat, one of the most important recordings in the history of popular music. Third, it’s amazingly quiet. The confluence of these three factors makes this copy practically unique.

For years I have been telling people that one day I would put up on the Web site some Hot Stamper copies of Cat Stevens greatest albums. Today is that day.

Before I get further into the sound of this record, let me preface my remarks by saying this is a work of GENIUS. Cat Stevens made two records which belong in the Pantheon of greatest popular recordings of all time. In the world of folky pop, Teaser and the Firecat and Tea for the Tillerman have few peers. There may be other recordings that are as good but there are no other recordings that are better.

The above comments were written for the last Hot Stamper which went up early in 2005, and of course, my sentiments have not changed. Not only do I think this record can’t be bettered, I have now found copies that are superior to even the best pressing I had heard back then.

Of course, I own a much better stereo than I did in 2005. I’m now using the DynaVector 17D cartridge, which is more correct than the 20X I had before. Also, I’ve improved phono stages quite a bit, incorporating the EAR 834P (and a very special vintage tube complement which makes ALL the difference in the world) into the system, balancing tubey magic with the speed and dynamics of the best transistor systems.

I’ve been acquiring and evaluating superb copies of this album for a couple of years now, waiting for just the right time and the right stereo to shoot them out with each other. The changes I mention above gave me the confidence to tackle this project. I can tell you in all honesty that I have NEVER heard better sound than I heard last night while doing these comparisons. It is my contention that there is no audiophile pressing on the face of the Earth that can compete with the best sounding original Teaser and the Firecats. Of ANY music. This is a sound I simply don’t experience when playing modern mastered records. There is a magic in these grooves that seems to be impossible to recapture. Perhaps one day I’ll be proven wrong, but that day is not upon us yet. Until then, this is the king.

Last night I listened to at least fifteen of the best pressings of this album that I had available to me — we’re talking some heavy hitters here, all top quality British and American original pressings — and this pressing took top honors. In my opinion, it’s one of a handful of the best records we have EVER put up on the site. It is without a doubt the best sounding record I have ever played. (more…)

Prokofiev / Violin Con. #1 & Lalo / Symphonie Espagnole – Milstein – Reviewed in 2008

More Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Violin Con. #1 & Lalo / Symphonie Espagnole – Milstein

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This Milstein record has exquisite violin tone and of course the performance is magical. These comments only apply to the Lalo on side two. (Side one never sounds good on this album.) 

Prokofiev / Piano Concerto #3 – Graffman – Reviewed in 2008

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Piano Concerto #3 – Graffman

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This Plum Label Original pressing is one of the TOP TOP VICTROLA TITLES! The sound is excellent, with real weight to the orchestra, powerful dynamics, deep bass, and solid piano tone. Add to that a wonderful performance by Gary Graffman and the San Francisco Symphony, and you have one truly OUTSTANDING record. (If you can add 1 or 2 db to the top end, it’s even better.) 

Prokofiev / Symphony #5 / Martinon (LSC 2272) – Reviewed in 2010

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Symphony #5 / Martinon (LSC 2272)

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

This rare Shaded Dog pressing has an absolutely AMAZING side two. It’s transparent, with sweet (yes, for the Prokofiev 5th!), smooth and rich strings. Listen to how natural the woodwinds sound on this side 

Side two here is the fluke, since most of the time this record sounds terrible. But now we know how well engineered it really is. We have the copy right here to prove it! (more…)

Cat Stevens Albums – Lee Hulko Cut Them All – Good, Bad and Otherwise

More Cat Stevens

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Is the Pink Label Island original pressing THE way to go? That’s what Harry Pearson — not to mention most audiophile record dealers — would have you believe.

But it’s just not true. And that’s good news for you, Dear (Record Loving Audiophile) Reader.

HOT STAMPER COMMENTARY FROM JOHN BARLEYCORN

Since that’s a Lee Hulko cutting just like Tea here, the same insights, if you can call them that, apply. Here’s what we wrote: (more…)

Are Hot Stampers a Good Investment?

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

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Hot Stampers sure sound better than other records, but do they have any real “collector” value?

Not really. On the surface they look just like any other pressing, so their market value cannot be established or verified in any meaningful way. The value of a Hot Stamper pressing is almost purely subjective: they exist only to provide listening pleasure to their owner. Yes, a Pink Label Island pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King is worth big bucks, but is it worth the $850 we charged recently if you were to try and resell it? Probably not.   (more…)

Prokofiev / Romeo and Juliet / Munch – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

More Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953)

Romeo and Juliet / Munch

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Orchestral Music Hall of Fame.

Superb Sound on this Victrola pressing, with TRANSPARENCY, spaciousness and low level detail you will not believe. And plenty of Living Stereo COLOR.  

DEMO QUALITY SOUND, if what you’re demonstrating is the three dimensional quality of Living Stereo recordings. Amazing space, depth and width can be heard on this side one. And the music is sublime.

The low level detail in the opening and the amount of ambience heard in the quieter sections is shockingly realistic Yes, the recording is compressed, which led me to think that the entire record was compressed, but that’s not completely true. In some parts it’s quite dynamic. The quiet portions are very quiet; in a couple of places there are just horns playing off in the deep distance, followed by some flutes, and they sound very natural, just as you would hear them in a concert hall. (more…)

The Good News in Audio: Things Change

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It’s amazing how many records that used to sound bad now sound pretty darn good. The site is full of commentaries about them. Every one of them is proof that comments about recordings are of limited value.

The recordings don’t change. Our ability to find, clean and play the pressings made from them does, and that’s what the Hot Stamper Revolution is all about.

You have a choice. You can choose to take the standard audiophile approach, which is to buy the record that is supposed to be the best pressing and consider the case closed. You did the right thing, you played by the rules, you bought the pressing you were told to buy, the one you read the reviews about, the one on the list, the one they said was made from the master tape, the one supposedly pressed on the best vinyl, all that kind of stuff. Cross that title off and move on to the next.
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Something Phony This Way Comes

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Here’s what we learned when doing our most recent shootout.

Many copies sounded like they were half-speed mastered.

They had a little something phony added to the top of Linda’s voice, they had a little bit of suckout right in the middle of the midrange, the middle of her voice, and they had a somewhat diffuse, vague quality, with sound that lacked the SOLIDITY we heard on the best pressings. These hi-fi-ish qualities that we heard on so many copies reminded us of the kind of audiophile sound we decry at every turn. We’ve played literally hundreds and hundreds of MoFis and other half-speed mastered records over the course of the last twenty years, and one thing we know well is That Sound.
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