Advice – Record Shootouts

David Bowie – Ziggy Stardust – Breaking the Price Barrier in 2007

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

The following is our 2007 commentary for the best Ziggy Stardust we had ever heard

This RCA Import has DRAMATICALLY better sound than any Ziggy LP we’ve ever played here at Better Records. Whatever you think you know about the sound of this record, THINK AGAIN. The sound of this copy is so far beyond any expectation I had that hearing it was nothing short of a REVELATION. It’s TWO FULL GRADES better than any copy we played in our shootout.

Ater hearing this copy we had to lower our grades for every other pressing we had played. This was a completely new standard. (more…)

Jethro Tull – Aqualung – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner from 2013

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This Original Reprise Aqualung has a STUNNING Beyond WHITE HOT side two that just may have the best sound we’ve ever heard for the album. It will absolutely MURDER the British Originals and make mincemeat out of any reissue! Folks, for hard rockin’, Tubey Magical, psychedelic early ’70s analog, it just does not get any better. Here’s a knockout copy that will bring the power of Aqualung to life right in your very own listening room.

Keep in mind that most copies of Aqualung do almost nothing right. In fact, in one of our recent shootouts we didn’t find a single copy worthy of a three-plus grade. This one was so impressive, we felt that A+++ was not enough. No, Three Pluses won’t do for an Aqualung that sounds this good.

We’re calling it A++++. It’s some of the best Jethro Tull sound to grace our listening room in a very, very long time. We’ve missed our old friend and we’re glad to see he’s back and better than ever. (more…)

Frames of Reference, Carefully Conducted Shootouts and Critical Listening

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven 

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

The sound we were hearing on this copy during a recent shootout was both rich and sweet, with easily recognized, unerringly correct timbres for all seven of the instruments heard in the work. The legendary 1959 Decca Tree microphone setup had worked its magic once again. And, as good as it was, we were surprised to discover that side two was actually even better! The sound was more spacious and more transparent. We asked ourselves, how is this even possible?

Hard to believe but side two had the sound that was TRULY Hard To Fault. This is precisely what careful shootouts and critical listening are all about. If you like Heavy Vinyl, what exactly is your frame of reference? How many good early pressings could you possibly own, and how were they cleaned?

Without the best pressings around to compare, Heavy Vinyl can sound fine. It’s only when you have something better that its faults come into focus. (We, of course, have something much, much better, and we like to call them Hot Stampers!) (more…)

Building a Store of Knowledge – One Record at a Time

See more commentaries on Record Collecting

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We recently ran across the commentary below in a reply to a Hot Stamper testimonial for Honky Cat. Based on our own experience, we give a quick and dirty primer on how one can build up one’s knowledge of records, stampers, labels, pressing variations and the like. 

We don’t really give out much in the way of specific information about any of those things; we just tell you how it can be done. It’s your job to go out and do it. It’s simple; just follow our lead. How tough can it be? (more…)

James Taylor on Warners / Rhino 180g Vinyl EQ Anomaly Test

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Sweet Baby James

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

Our Heavy Vinyl Review

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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Confirmation Bias – Why You Won’t Hear What You Don’t Want to Hear

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Steven Novella has a wonderful critical thinking blog I only just discovered today, and in it was this article discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect. An extract:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Could this explain why so many audiophile reviewers are so bad at their jobs, especially the ones who are most well-known and highly regarded (leaving aside for the moment their exceptional amounts of self-regard)?

But hold on just a minute: What about us? Aren’t we as susceptible to these critical thinking errors as anyone else?
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Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

Thinking About Hot Stampers

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A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses , the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way: “In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.” In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

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Chicago – Chicago V

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

Triple Triple! The best copy to ever hit the site – Saturday In The Park is really rockin’ this side two. Both of these amazing A+++ sides are rich, full and warm – the brass has tremendous power and energy. 4 stars on Allmusic and one of the best sounding albums in their massive catalog, the last they recorded at Columbia’s 30th Street studios

Their first Number One, and The Biggest Selling Album of 1972 (!), spending nine weeks at the top of the charts.

Most pressings don’t reproduce percussion harmonics, the leading edge transients of the horns, or the big, open space around Peter Cetera’s vocals that we know is there, but a high-res, super-transparent copy like this one brings out all those qualities and more.

Both sides here have a sweet and open top end that really helps the vocals and guitars sound tonally and harmonically correct.

The presence here puts the vocalists right in the room with you, and when the band kicks in, the sound really starts jumping out of the speakers. That’s what I’m talkin’ about when I give these sides our highest grade: A Triple Plus. It just doesn’t get any better. (more…)

A Random Walk Through Heavy Vinyl

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Heavy Vinyl Production And the Unpredictability of Random Processes

Those in the business of producing the highest quality remastered recordings on LP are crashing smack into a problem endemic to the manufacturing of the vinyl record — randomness.

Record producers can control many of the processes (variables) that go into the making of a high quality record. But they cannot control all of them. The word for such a situation, one with random, uncontrollable aspects, is “stochastic.”

Taking the liberty to paraphrase Wikipedia liberally, we would explain it this way.

A stochastic, or random, process, is the counterpart to a deterministic process. Instead of dealing with only one possible way the process might develop over time, in a stochastic or random process there is some indeterminacy described by probability distributions. This means that even if the initial condition or starting point is known, there are many possibilities the process might go to, but some paths may be more probable and others less so.

In other words, although some of the variables can be controlled, there will always be some element of randomness that makes the final result predictable within limits, but not predictable precisely.

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The Beatles White Album 10 Copy Shootout – “I was near a nervous breakdown.”

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Our good customer Erik in Germany purchased one of our hottest Hot Stamper White Albums ($700) and decided to do his own shootout with the ten — count ’em, ten — copies he had on hand.  

He makes a point to mention that it’s worth the seven hundred bucks he paid (plus international shipping and customs, let’s not forget, so add another 20-25% on to that figure). Some skeptics may think he’s suffering from Cognitive Dissonance, but we say there’s nothing dissonant about the kind of sound Erik describes hearing in the testimonial he sent us, as follows.

[We should note that we now prefer the right UK pressings of the album over our previous favorite, the right German pressing. Live and learn.]

Hello my friends,

I want to say THANK YOU for the Beatles White Album Hot Stamper. I’m so amazed and lucky – I can’t describe it. You graded it correct (A+/A++/A++/A++ to A+++) and it is worth the price, the sound is exactly “sweet, breathy vocals; well-defined bass; stunning clarity; warmth and richness; immediacy; astonishing transparency and spaciousness; clear transients; loads of ambience and more.”

I’m at the source here in good old Germany concerning the German Apple pressings, collected 10 copies (also a UK first issue and one in a box). 4 were crap, half a dozen had the condition for a shootout. But not one single side reach a rating above A-, I was near a nervous breakdown. Now this problem is solved and I can simply enjoy the album in the future.

Kind regards

Erik

Erik, so glad to hear our copy of the White Album so easily vanquished all comers, especially considering you had mutliple German pressings to play. Wow, that is quite a compliment.

Best, TP