All About Hot Stampers

The Poll Winners – Straight Ahead

More Shelly Manne

More Ray Brown

More Barney Kessel

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  • This superb collaboration has KILLER Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on both sides
  • Musically, this is by far our favorite Poll Winners record – these guys got back together after 15 years and were eager to prove that they still had their youthful exuberance, and even better chops, which they did have and did prove!
  • 4 1/2 stars: “Kessel in particular is heard in excellent form… Overall this is the best all-around recording by The Poll Winners and is easily recommended to bop fans.”

These guys play with more spunk here than on any other album of theirs I’ve heard. And you have to love those ’70s leisure suits they’re wearing on the cover. I remember my commentary when this record was around, mentioning that Roy DuNann had lost none of his engineering skills in the intervening years either.

This is a very dynamic recording, one of his best. You almost never hear cymbals sound this good on an RVG Blue Note, that’s for sure. The bass definition on this record is amazing — you can really hear Ray Brown pulling and bending the strings of the instrument. He’s tearing it up. (more…)

What Are the Rules for Collecting Records with the Best Sound Quality?

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The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be.

There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep that rather inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your hopes on a current reissue — and you unfortunately find yourself a member of that small minority of audiophiles with reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

Joe Sample / Rainbow Seeker – Live and Learn

A classic case of Live and Learn

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[This commentary is about fifteen years old.]

Hot Stampers discovered! It took years, decades even, but it FINALLY happened. This copy has a side one with all the sound I always knew must be on the tape but somehow never seemed to make it to the vinyl. This copy has that sound!

Let me backtrack a bit. I’ve been recommending the MOFI for as long as I can remember, because it has always been the only copy that didn’t sound like a bad cassette. The domestic pressings and imports I had run into over the years had no top end whatsoever, no bass below 50 or 60 cycles, and enough veils over the midrange to cover an entire harem. The sound was Pure Compressed Cardboard.

The best MOFI copies had an actual top end; a real bottom too. (Not a tight or deep one but that’s MOFI for you.) I’ve always loved the music, so even though the sound was somewhat washed out and lifeless, you could listen to the MOFI and enjoy it for what it was: not perfect, but a whole lot better than the alternatives. (The CD was hopeless by the way, no surprise there.)

Ah, but all that changed this week. I had just picked up a sealed original copy at a local store and was considering putting it up on the site, sealed of course. Then a thought went through my mind. I’ve always loved this record. What if this copy is The One? So I did the unthinkable. I cracked it open, and soon enough the needle was in the groove on my favorite track, Fly With Wings of Love. To my surprise it had the BEST SOUND I had EVER heard for that song. When all was said and done, when all the copies in the backroom had been disc doctored, along with my three MOFI copies, and each carefully evaluated, sure enough this is the side two that turned out to be the King. I give it an A with Two Pluses. The typical domestic copy gets an F.

Wait, there’s more. So with all our copies cleaned and ready to play, it was now time to play all the side ones. Even more shocking and surprising, one copy had a side one that was OUT OF THIS WORLD. Master tape sound, As Good As It Gets, perfection.

That’s this copy. Side two is pretty good, maybe a B+ or so. Better than average, but no Hot Stamper.

Since this is one of my favorite pop-jazz albums, if not my actual all time favorite, I can’t recommend this album highly enough. It may not be deep — for real piano trio jazz check out Sample’s The Three — but it’s not trying to be. It is what it is — sophisticated, melodic, well-crafted piano-based easy-going jazz. With the awesome Eric Gale on guitar too!


FURTHER READING on Half-Speeds

The best place to start is here:

How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered records?

(more…)

If Records Are About Money, You’re Doing It Wrong

Van_Halen_-_1984

We get letters from time to time chiding us for charging what strikes some as rather large amounts of money for records that admittedly do not have much in the way of Collector Value, the implication being that collectible records are of course worth the high prices they command in the marketplace. Hot Stampers, however, are somehow different. Clearly they cannot be worth the outrageously high prices we’re asking.

It is our opinion that the writers of these letters have made a rather glaringly erroneous assumption: That the records we sell are not subject to the same market forces as other records..

This strikes us as just plain silly.

As anyone with a grounding in basic economics will tell you, we cannot force our customers to buy anything from us, especially old vinyl records, the kind of thing that most people have found they can easily do without, thank you very much.
(more…)

When Led Zeppelin IV Sounds This Good, We Get Letters “Finally – It’s alive!”

More Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

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Michael just got a nice copy of Zep IV from us. His letter follows.

Well son of a bitch. Do you know how many tube combinations, cartridge adjustments, turntable adjustments, speakers, speaker placements, and other hocus pocus shit I’ve gone through after listening to a Led Zeppelin album I have where Bonham was barely present and Page’s guitar would wear my ears out within 2 songs thinking this can’t be the way they sounded… I know Bonham hit those drums hard. Well, that ain’t the case with the Zeppelins I recently purchased from you. Shit man, finally. It’s alive! Thank you Tom.

Michael S

Mike,
Glad to hear it! If you ever win the lottery we’ll get you a White Hot copy and REALLY blow your mind. About one out of ten with the right stampers gets When the Levee Breaks to sound the way you want it to.  When I finally heard it about two or three years ago I could hardly believe it. Most pressings just plain suck.

Notes on When the Levee Breaks

When The Levee Breaks is rarely mastered properly and consequently rarely sounds the way it should. If the cymbals or the double-tracked harmonicas on your copy don’t get at least a little gritty you probably have an overly smooth copy, and it’s even possible that it’s made from a second or third generation tape. On the best copies both are alive with presence and energy.

And the room around the drums is huge, as is that famous 26″ Ludwig bass drum.*

The Classic Records reissue corrects this problem somewhat, but at a cost. They’ve completely robbed the song of all the Zep magic. It’s not as big, not as open, not as rich, not as lively, not as punchy, and so on — but the cymbals are clean. Is that the tradeoff we should be happy to live with? If you’re on our site you already know the answer.

Good to know you are giving the boys a good home to live in, where they can be appreciated.

TP

Stevie Wonder – Innervisions

More Stevie Wonder

Hot Stamper Pressings of Innervisions Available Now

  • With two outstanding Double Plus (A++) sides, this is an all around killer pressing – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • One of the funkiest audiophile-quality discs money can buy, but you need a copy that sounds as good as this one to make that case
  • The key qualities are richness, warmth, Tubey Magic, and clarity, and here you will find a healthy dose of all four
  • “Stevie Wonder applied his tremendous songwriting talents to the unsettled social morass that was the early ’70s and produced one of his greatest, most important works, a rich panoply of songs addressing drugs, spirituality, political ethics, and what looked to be the failure of the ’60s dream — all set within a collection of charts as funky and catchy as any he’d written before.”

Having done this for so long, we understand and appreciate that rich, full, solid, Tubey Magical sound is key to the presentation of this music. We rate these qualities higher than others we might be listening for (e.g., bass definition, soundstage, depth, etc.). The music is not so much about the details in the recording, but rather in trying to recreate a solid, palpable, real Stevie Wonder singing live in your listening room. The best copies have an uncanny way of doing just that. (more…)

Lena Horne & Gabor Szabo – Now That’s What a Real Drum Kit Sounds Like!

Another Record We’ve Discovered with (Potentially) Excellent Sound…

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records are just too consistently noisy for us to offer to our audiophile customers no matter how good they sound.

We have a section for records that tend to be noisy, and it can be found here.

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This is the most realistic drum kit I have heard on a non-jazz album in my life. The drum sound on the first track is exactly the sound we all know from hanging around small clubs and our friends’ garage bands. There is simply no audible processing on any part of the kit. The drums are centered behind the vocals and lead instruments, with what sounds like to me the barest of miking, surrounded by just the right amount of unbaffled studio space.

When the drums come in on the first track on side one you will hear immediately what I mean. The third track on side two has especially good drums as well. The vocals on that third track, Message to Michael, are some of the most natural on the album as well. Lena can strain a bit on some songs in the loudest passages, but on others she can belt it out and stay clean all the way to the top. Listen track by track to hear how well she holds up when the bigger choruses come in.

As music lovers and audiophiles this was a truly marvelous discovery for us years ago. True, we’ve known about the album for a long time, but as a practical matter it’s been impossible to find enough clean copies to do a shootout — until now of course.

Dave Sanders, a name I — and no doubt most audiophiles — was not familiar with, brilliantly engineered the album as well as other favorites of ours, including Szabo’s 1969, Gilberto’s Windy and McFarland’s Does The Sun Really Shine On The Moon? It’s hard to find a recording he did that isn’t full of Tubey Magic, huge studio space and right-on-the-money instrumental timbres. (more…)

What We Listen For – The Basics

What Makes This Enya Pressing a Hot Stamper?


Specifically, what are the criteria by which a record like this should be judged?

Pretty much the ones we discuss in most of our Hot Stamper listings:

  • energy,
  • vocal presence,
  • frequency extension (on both ends),
  • transparency,
  • harmonic textures (freedom from smear is key),
  • rhythmic drive,
  • tonal correctness,
  • fullness,
  • space,
  • Tubey Magic,

And on and on down through the list.

When we can get all, or most all, of the qualities above to come together on any given side, we provisionally award it a grade of “contender.” Once we’ve been through all our copies on one side we then play the best of the best against each other and arrive at a winner for that side.

Repeat the process for the other side and the shootout is officially over. All that’s left is to see how the sides matched up.

It may not be rocket science, but it is a science of a kind, one with strict protocols that we’ve developed over the course of many years to insure that the results we arrive at are as accurate as we can make them.

The result of all our work speaks for itself. We guarantee you have never heard this music sound better than it does on any of our Hot Stamper pressings — or your money back.

Size

One of the qualities that we don’t talk about on the site nearly enough is the SIZE of the record’s presentation. Some copies of the album just sound small — they don’t extend all the way to the outside edges of the speakers, and they don’t seem to take up all the space from the floor to the ceiling. In addition, the sound can often be recessed, with a lack of presence and immediacy in the center.

Other copies — my notes for these copies often read “BIG and BOLD” — create a huge soundfield, with the music positively jumping out of the speakers. They’re not brighter, they’re not more aggressive, they’re not hyped-up in any way, they’re just bigger and clearer.

When you hear a copy that does all that, it’s an entirely different listening experience.


Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee – A Long Way From Home

More Sonny Terry

More Classic Blues Albums

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  • A Long Way From Home makes its Hot Stamper debut here with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides of this original Bluesway pressing
  • The sound here is shockingly good – the space is huge, the vocals and instruments clear, and there is a surprising amount of solid, note-like bass, the kind we did not expect to find on a Bluesway album from this era
  • Recorded over two days, this album is basically a live-in-the-studio affair – having neither the time nor the budget to screw up the sound of the band means that this album has the audiophile goods like practically no other Blues album you may have heard
  • 4 stars: “Solid, relaxed, rockin’ grooves are the hallmarks here with both artists in fine form.”

This original Bluesway pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound.

If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it — not often, and certainly not always — but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.

What the Best Sides of A Long Way From Home Have to Offer Is Not Hard to Hear

  • The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
  • The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1969
  • Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
  • Natural tonality in the midrange — with all the instruments having the correct timbre
  • Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space

No doubt there’s more but we hope that should do for now. Playing the record is the only way to hear all of the qualities we discuss above, and playing the best pressings against a pile of other copies under rigorously controlled conditions is the only way to find a pressing that sounds as good as this one does.

What We’re Listening For on A Long Way From Home

  • Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
  • Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren’t “back there” somewhere, lost in the mix. They’re front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt would put them.
  • The Big Sound comes next — wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
  • Then transient information — fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
  • Tight punchy bass — which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
  • Next: transparency — the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
  • Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing — an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

Long Way From Home
Big Question
Rock Island Line
Night And Day
You Just Usin’ Me For A Convenience
Hole In The Wall

Side Two

Life Is A Gamble
Don’t Mistreat Me
Packin’ Up, Gettin’ Ready
Wailin’ And Whoopin’
B.M. Special

AMG 4 Star Review

Music from Brownie and Sonny’s latter period, circa March and September of 1969. This combines two albums (A Long Way from Home and I Couldn’t Believe My Eyes, both cut in two days) recorded for ABC-BluesWay, with the inclusion of a stray unreleased track, “Beggin’ You,” from the second session in September. The personnel stays basically the same for both sessions with excellent rhythm section support from drummer Panama Francis and bassist Jimmy Bond, while the September session also includes Earl Hooker on guitar. Solid, relaxed, rockin’ grooves are the hallmarks here with both artists in fine form.