All About Hot Stampers

Sergio Mendes & Brasil ’66 – Bruce Botnick and The Big Bottom End

xxxxx

 

What separates Sergio from practically all of his ’60s contemporaries is the AMAZING SOUND of his recordings. The first album was recorded by the legendary BRUCE BOTNICK, the man behind the superb recordings of The Doors, Love and others too numerous to mention. This, in my opinion, is his Masterpiece. The Doors albums Bruce recorded represent some of his best work, but what Doors album sounds as good as Sergio’s debut? I can’t name one. [Actually I can: the first album, when you get the right pressing. It’s out of this world.] 

Only the best copies are sufficiently transparent to grant the listener the privilege of hearing all the elements laid out clearly, each occupying a real three-dimensional space within the soundfield. When you hear one of those copies, you have to give Botnick his due. The man knew what he was doing. (Larry Levine, who recorded the subsequent albums, was no slouch either. Stillness is one of the ten best sounding records I have ever played, and that’s no exaggeration.)

Funky Brazilian Music For Audiophiles

This is one of my favorite albums, one which certainly belongs in any Audiophile’s collection. Better sound is hard to find — when you have the right pressing. Unfortunately those are pretty hard to come by. Most LPs are grainy, shrill, thin, veiled and full of compressor distortion in the louder parts: this is not a recipe for audiophile listening pleasure.

But we LOVE this album here at Better Records, and have since Day One. One of the first records I ever played for my good audio buddy Robert Pincus (Cisco Records) to demonstrate the sound of my system was Sergio’s syncopated version of Day Tripper off this album. That was close to twenty years ago, and I can honestly say I have never tired of this music in the intervening decades.

Universal Japan and Other 180g Disasters – The Economics of Buying Pigs in a Poke

xxxxx

One of my good customers sent me this email recently:

I noticed that Universal Japan has come out with several new titles, stuff I’m interested in, like Stevie Wonder / Innervisions…Stan Getz, James Brown…and many others — that are on acousticsounds.com. Generally, for these somewhat expensive heavy vinyl releases (relative to used prices), I’m trying to stick with stuff where your site has favorable comments regarding the sound quality but you don’t seem to carry these new items. Do you think they are bad, or you just have not had a chance to check them out yet?”

I replied as follows:

We don’t like Japanese records. They almost NEVER sound good, to these ears anyway. The only report I’ve heard concerned Aja, which was that it was awful, bright as bright can be.

A Japanese pressing that’s too bright? Shocking. Say it isn’t so.

We are going to be carrying almost no new releases of heavy vinyl pressings from now on. They just don’t sound good to us and we don’t want to waste our time playing bad records when there are so many good ones sitting around that need a loving home. If you pay $30 for heavy vinyl reissues and only one out of five sounds good — an optimistic estimate if you ask me — you’re really paying $150 for the one good one, right? This makes no sense to me. And since the real odds are one out of ten, it’s really $300 for the good one.


Which made me think back to our recent blog entry in which we discussed the latest round of bad Heavy Vinyl LPs that are apparently selling like hotcakes at Acoustic Sounds. If you like the new versions of Aja, Aqualung and Blue, by all means, buy some Universal Japanese Heavy Vinyl pressings. If that’s your sound, go for it, dude. Who are we to say you are wrong?

But if you don’t like the sound of those three titles on Heavy Vinyl, where can you go to find records that sound better than they do? I only know of one place, and you’re already there.

Happy Shopping,
TP

The “Not-So-Golden-Age” of RCA, Mercury, London and More

xxx

Another in our ongoing series of Random Thoughts on issues concerning music and recordings.

We ran into a number of copies of this title that had what we like to call that “Old Record” sound, which is surprisingly common on even the most revered Golden Age labels, RCA included.

No top, no real bottom, congested climaxes and a general shrillness to the sound — we’ve played Living Stereos by the dozens that have these shortcomings and many more.

Some audiophiles may be impressed by the average Shaded Dog pressing, but I can assure you that we here at Better Records are decidedly not of that persuasion. Something in the range of ten to fifteen per cent of the major label Golden Age recordings we play will eventually make it to the site. The vast majority just don’t sound all that good to us. (Many have second- and third-rate performances and those get tossed without ever making it to a shootout.)

(more…)

A Frequently Asked Question – Do I already have some Hot Stamper copies in my collection?

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope these comments will be of value.

Do I already have some Hot Stamper records in my collection?

If you have a good sized collection of LPs, mastered and pressed from the ’50s to the ’80s, you surely do. In fact you must have at least some. The problem is, how can you possibly know which records are Hot Stampers and which aren’t?

Familiarity with the conventional wisdom regarding which labels and stampers are supposed to have better sound is really not much help in this regard, despite what you may have heard, and is often misleading when not outright erroneous.

The only way to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing for certain is through the shootout process.

If you’ve done shootouts for your favorite albums on your own (or with friends), pitting five or ten cleaned copies of the same record against one another, then you definitely have Hot Stampers in your collection, and you know exactly which ones they are — they’re the ones that won the shootout.

How hot they are relative to the records we sell is a much more difficult question to answer, and can really only be answered by pitting our copy against yours, head to head. Needless to say, we welcome the challenge!

There are many more entries in our Conducting Your Own Shootouts series which can help you find the Hot Stampers hiding in your own collection.

Art Pepper / Today – Which Is Better: Phil DeLancie Digital or George Horn Analog?

peppetoday_ojc_1441117461

[This commentary was written many years ago.]

 

We’ve wanted to do Art Pepper Today for more than a decade, but the original Galaxy pressings were just too thick and dark to earn anything approaching a top sonic grade. Thirty years ago on a very different system I had one and liked it a lot, but there was no way I could get past the opaque sound I was now hearing on the more than half-dozen originals piled in front of me.

So, almost in desperation we tried an OJC reissue from the ’90s. You know, the ones that all the audiophiles on the web will tell you to steer clear of because it had been mastered by Phil DeLancie and might be sourced from digital tapes.

Or digitally remastered, or somehow was infected with something digital somehow.

Well, immediately the sound opened up dramatically, with presence, space, clarity and top end extension we simply could not hear on the originals. Moreover, the good news was that the richness and solidity of the originals was every bit as good. Some of the originals were less murky and veiled than others, so we culled the worst of them for trade and put the rest into the shootout with all the OJCs we could get our hands on.

Now, it’s indisputable that Phil DeLancie is credited on the jacket, but I see George Horn’s writing in the dead wax of the actual record, so I really have no way of knowing whether Mr Delancie in fact had anything to do with the copies I was auditioning. They don’t sound digital to me, they’re just like other good George Horn-mastered records I’ve heard from this period.

And of course we here at Better Records never put much stock in what record jackets say; the commentary on the jackets rarely has much to do with the sound of the records inside them in our experience.

And, one more surprise awaited us as we were plowing through our pile of copies. When we got to side two we found that the sound of the Galaxy originals was often competitive with the best of the OJCs. Which means that there’s a good probability that some of the original pressings I tossed for having bad sound on side one had very good, perhaps even shootout winning sound on side two.

This is a lesson I hope to take to heart in the future. I know very well that the sound of side one is independent of side two, but somehow in this case I let my prejudice against the first side color my thinking about the second. Of all the people who should know better…

Elton John’s Caribou Is Usually Noisy and Sounds Bad – Why Is That?

xxxxx

There’s a good reason you’ve practically never seen this album for sale on our site. In fact there are quite a number of good reasons.

The first one is bad vinyl — most DJM pressings of Caribou are just too noisy to sell. They can look perfectly mint and play noisy as hell; it’s not abuse, it’s bad vinyl. (Empty Sky is the same way; out and out bad vinyl, full of noise, grit and grain.)

The second problem is bad sound. Whether it’s bad mastering or bad vinyl incapable of holding onto good mastering, no one can say. Since so many copies were pressed of this monster Number One album (topping the charts on both sides of the Atlantic), perhaps they pressed a few too many after the stampers were worn out.

Or pulled too many stampers off the mother.

Or made too many stampers from the father.

Or used crap vinyl right from the start.

Of course there’s not an iota of evidence to back up any of these assertions, but I just thought I would throw it out there as a topic for speculation. (Have you noticed how much audiophiles and audiophile reviewers love to talk about things that they have no empirical evidence for one way or the other? Very little of that sort of thing can be found on our site. We like to stick to the sound of the records we’ve played and leave most of the “reasoning” about the sound to others.)

Steely Dan’s Pretzelly Logic – Holy Shit! This Is a GREAT LP!

xxxxx

“I Took Tom’s Advice and Played It Real Loud.”

One of our newest Hot Stamper converts, John R., a customer only since February, has already managed to acquire about a dozen of our best Hot Stamper LPs to the tune of many thousands of dollars. As we like to say, the best copies may not be cheap, but here at Better Records you most certainly get what you pay for. Just ask John. If I read him right what he got for his 650 clams was something that exceeded any expectation he might have had for it. Like we say ourselves sometimes: Who knew? How would anyone know this album could so this good? The average copy barely hints at the sound the engineers recorded.

Anyway, that’s our story. Now here’s John’s.

Tom,

This is the best sounding LP I have ever heard including all the ones I have bought from you or ever heard in my life at a show etc. Holy Shit! This is a GREAT LP – sound and music. I must confess, I never heard this LP before – even once. I did recognize the lead song though having heard it on the radio several times. MY GOD! I listened to it twice over both sides. This is fantastic. The music slayed me.

I took Tom’s advice and played it real loud. Once I turned it up hard – well it got even better and better and better. Wow! You can’t have this one back. Every single song on both sides is a winner. I especially got a kick out of the last song on side one – which is an old fashioned instrumental that got me jumping all over the place.

Todd – one of the great things about doing business with you guys is that you know and love your music. This means I get good advice and direction about what LPs are great music and about the performers. This means I can get great stuff that not only I know I love but stuff I don’t know yet that I will love. Wow – there just is no way to be able to buy that. No way at all. Thanks so very much. Please tell Tom that I am really happy with this LP. Katy Lied now has to be on my short list to get soon.

I think I jumped on another good one tonight. I also am not familiar with this LP or this group Return to Forever. But the description had me salivating to listen to it.

Regards,
John

John,

Thanks so much for your enthusiastic letter. We were pretty crazy about that copy of Pretzel Logic (and the music of course) ourselves, as you can see from our commentary below.

We love turning people on to the records we’ve known and loved for years. Countdown to Ecstasy was the first Steely Dan album I ever bought, thought it was pretty good at first, not much more than that really, but I kept playing it and playing it and it wasn’t long before it became one of my favorite albums and Steely Dan one of my favorite bands. I had a Top Five back then and if I remember correctly it was Steely Dan, Roxy Music, Supertramp, Ambrosia and 10cc. (Yes, no Beatles, hadn’t come back around to them yet, I needed the MoFi Beatles Box and what I thought was its superior sound in order to fall in love with their music all over again. Little did I know…)

Then Pretzel Logic was released. I was living in San Diego at the time and I used to go into my local Tower Records across from the Sports Arena as often as I could, just to see what might have come out that week. There they were; they had boxes full of them, laid out on the floor in front of the cash registers. I grabbed a copy, sped home and threw it on the turntable, where as you can imagine it proceeded to blow my mind, as Katy Lied and The Royal Scam and Aja would when they came out each of the following years.

Records Like These

And it’s records like these that make us want to improve our stereo systems. I used to play the song Pretzel Logic to demo my system, but I can assure you that there is no way in the world I was reproducing the information on that record even a tenth as well I can now. 

This is precisely what is supposed to drive this hobby — the plain and simple desire to get the music you love to sound better than it used to so that you can enjoy it more. If you’re an audiophile then by definition you love good sound. Pretzel Logic is a very well recorded album and it can have WONDERFUL sound. Finding a copy of the album that was mastered and pressed properly is not easy. Learning how to really get the LP clean and putting together the kind of stereo that can play such a complicated recording right are also quite hard. All three things combined require the expenditure of tens of thousands of dollars of money and the investment of many thousands of hours of time if the result is to be truly satisfying. Our track commentary for the song has more along the same lines:

The title track here is one of my all time favorites. I’ve often used it in the past to demonstrate my system. The sound is wall to wall and big as life on the best copies. I’m a big speaker guy and this song is custom made to show what a powerful full range big speaker system can do. (Keep in mind that the individual drivers must be large as well, 12″ and up, to allow the voices to sound like they are full-size human beings, not shrunken toy people. I positively hate that sound. See the listing, What We Listen For: Life-Size Images and Living Presence, for more on that subject.)

The multi-tracked vocals in the choruses present one of the biggest challenges for any copy of the LP. The choruses need to get very loud, as loud as anything on the side, with plenty of presence, yet not go over the edge into aggressiveness or harshness the way they do on so many copies. If the midrange is smooth and full-bodied, and the top end is extended and sweet, it makes all the difference; the sound will tend to be balanced and free from hi-fi-ishness.

Any grit or grain will show itself here, big time, especially if you like to play this album as loud as I do, which is LOUD. The power of all those voices singing at the top of their lungs should give you chills.

At moderate levels chills are hard to come by. Most audiophiles play their music much too quietly. Sometimes this is due to obvious system limitations, but often it seems to be merely a preference.

I want to have a powerful emotional experience when playing an album like this. I want to be THRILLED. That just isn’t possible at the kind of comfortable listening levels most audiophiles prefer. This music heard live would be very loud, because rock concerts are very loud. Why wouldn’t we want to reproduce the sound of the live event? (Within reason of course. One must make adjustments for the size of one’s listening room. But you get the point. Turn it up man!)

Shortcuts One and Two

We have been known to remark that there are no shortcuts in audio. You have to put in years, even decades, of often tedious work to get your stereo and room to reproduce music properly. But this is one very obvious shortcut in audio, and another sort-of shortcut, that will allow you to get much better sound than you could on your own without putting in the huge amounts of time that would normally be required.

The first one is a Hot Stamper pressing. We’ve already found the record of your dreams for you. This saves you an awful lot of time — time we think you’ll agree is better spent listening to records rather than digging through dusty record bins in dingy record stores trying to find them.

The other is record cleaning. After years of experimentation we’ve got the science of record cleaning down to a T. It’s partly why our records sound so good; they’ve been cleaned right. We have everything you need — machines, fluids, etc. Alll you have to do is come up with the money to buy the stuff and the discipline to use it.

So two shortcuts out of three, not bad when you stop to think about it. On that note we will close for the day. Thanks to Robert for his letter and all of you out there for taking the time to read this far.
Best,
TP

AMG  Review

Instead of relying on easy hooks, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen assembled their most complex and cynical set of songs to date. Dense with harmonics, countermelodies, and bop phrasing, Pretzel Logic is vibrant with unpredictable musical juxtapositions and snide, but very funny, wordplay. Listen to how the album’s hit single, “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number,” opens with a syncopated piano line that evolves into a graceful pop melody, or how the title track winds from a blues to a jazzy chorus — Becker and Fagen’s craft has become seamless while remaining idiosyncratic and thrillingly accessible… Steely Dan made more accomplished albums than Pretzel Logic, but they never made a better one.

Tears For Fears – The Seeds Of Love – A Near Perfect Pop Masterpiece

tearsseeds_1510s_1448982243
tearsseeds_1510s_1448982243

The band’s MAGNUM OPUS, a Colossus of Production to rival the greatest Prog, Psych and Art Rock recordings of all time. (Whew!)

When it comes to Genre Busting Rock I put this album right up at the top of the heap, along with several other landmark albums from the Seventies: Roxy Music’s first, The Original Soundtrack, Crime of the Century, Ambrosia’s first two releases, The Yes Album, Fragile, Dark Side of the Moon and a handful of others.

The Seeds Of Love is clearly the band’s masterpiece, and being able to hear it on a White Hot Stamper pressing is nothing short of a THRILL.

I have a long history with this style of Popular Music, stretching all the way back to the early ’70s. I grew up on Bowie, Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, The Talking Heads, Ambrosia, Peter Gabriel, Supertramp, Yes, Zappa and others, individuals and bands that wanted to play rock music but felt shackled by the constraints of the conventional pop song. Nothing on Sowing the Seeds of Love fits the description of a Conventional Pop Song.

Which albums by The Beatles break all the rules? Side two of Abbey Road and the whole of The White Album, which is why both are Desert Island Discs for me. Can’t get enough of either one.

The Discovery of a Lifetime

When I discovered these arty rock bands in my early twenties I quickly became obsessed with them and remain so to this day.

My equipment was forced to evolve in order to be able to play the scores of challenging recordings issued by these groups and others in the ’70s. These albums informed not only my taste in music but the actual stereo I play that music on. I’ve had large dynamic speakers for the last four decades precisely because they do such a good job of bringing to life huge and powerful recordings such as these.

Tears For Fears on this and their previous album continue that tradition of big-as-life and just-as-difficult-to-reproduce records. God bless ’em for it. (more…)

Judy Collins – Colors of the Day – DCC Discussed

xxxxx

A classic case of Live and Learn, maybe. Previously we had written:

Superb sonics. Judy has never sounded better. Not a big seller for DCC but it should have been. Those sweet acoustic guitars are hard to beat. No modern recording has sounded like this for over twenty years, so if you’ve forgotten what a real acoustic guitar sounds like, buy this record and get reacquainted with that sound. Tons of breath of life, superb production and mastering so you can clearly hear her hitting those flat notes (!), and some of the best sounding echo ever recorded.

Addendum to the above comments, posted 11/07

I wrote the above review many many years ago. As you may have read countless times on the site by now, it is my opinion that all such dated judgments are suspect. The major REVOLUTIONS in vinyl playback that have occurred over the last dozen years have turned many of these old comments on their heads.

Hot Stamper pressings again and again have revealed magic in the mass-produced copies that is simply nowhere to be found in their audiophile counterparts.

Whether this is true for this particular title I can honestly say I don’t know.  We are going to play some copies of the album and will report our findings down the road, so Judy Collins fans, stay tuned.

Making Mistakes and Other Advice from Better Records

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers

Wise men and women throughout the ages have commented on the value of making mistakes. Here is one of our favorite quotes on the subject.

“Making a different mistake every day is not only acceptable, it is the definition of progress.”
~Robert Brault

Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and most cogently in this commentary from way back in 2005.

We believe that the only way to really learn about records is to gather a big pile of them together, clean them up and listen to them one by one as critically as you can.
(more…)