All About Hot Stampers

Turntable Tweaking Works Its Magic Once Again “I’m sitting in shock!”

More Letters

More Turntable Setup Advice 

Hi Tom,

Just wanted to give you a big thank you for the commentary on turntable tweaking. I constantly learn important advice on the audiophile subject from your website. I check it everyday.

Lately I have been thinking my audio sound was lacking. It didn’t sound as good as I remember it. After reading the turntable tweaking advice I reset up the tonearm. VTF, VTA, and azimuth. I have “magic” in my sound now.

Listened to some Neil Young, [Ten Years After] A Space in Time. Very Tubey.

Listened to my Miles Davis Kind of Blue. It sounded better than I ever heard it. I’m sitting in shock!

The killer was Chicago 2. I love 25-6-to 4 so I was blown away and normally I’m not interested in the rest of that side of the album but I sat through the rest of it and was enthralled by the vocals. Memories of Love is one track I was never interested in but it sounded so good I loved it. When you want to listen to every record in your collection you know you’ve done something right.

Anyway I want you to know we audiophiles appreciate the time you take to put up your advice and commentaries. I just got a huge upgrade and it didn’t cost me a cent. Only some time and I learned a little more.

(more…)

Harry Belafonte / Belafonte at Carnegie Hall – Wrong About Harry Again?

More Harry Belafonte

Live and Learn, Right?

  • This early Black Label RCA pressing boasts stunning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or very close to it on all four sides
  • A very large group of musicians will transport themselves directly into your listening room, Harry included, all backing him live on the stage in real time and in ANALOG
  • The palpable presence and performance energy of the man himself are really something to hear, and a copy this good lets you REALLY hear it
  • Harry Pearson made his reputation bringing this kind of amazing recording to the attention of the audiophile public, and for that we owe him a debt of gratitude
  • This is one of the pressings we’ve discovered with Reversed Polarity.
  • 5 stars: “The granddaddy of all live albums, this double-LP set captures the excitement of a Harry Belafonte concert at the height of his popularity.”

NEWSFLASH:

We’ve long known that some copies of the album are mastered with the polarity reversed. This is one of those copies.

But the crazy news we have today is that this copy of the records sound just fine without adjusting the system polarity, better than any other copy we played.

It sounds a bit better with your polarity reversed, but it is still our Shootout Winner even with the polarity wrong.

I would never have believed that to be the case in the past, but my theory is that the new studio we built has reduced distortions and problems to such a degree that polarity issues are less of a problem now than they might have been in the past.

As I say, it’s just a theory, and as time goes on we will revisit this idea with other recordings that we know to have polarity issues, and we’ll be sure to let you know what we find. (more…)

Jim Reeves – The Intimate Jim Reeves

More Recordings by Bill Porter

More Living Stereo Titles Available Now

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

and One We Will Probably Never Shootout Again

Some records never justified the time and money required to find Hot Stamper pressings of them in order to make it worth our while to give them a second go around. This is one such album, and the link above will take you to many more.


For us audiophiles both the sound and the music found here are enchanting. If you’re looking to demonstrate just how good 1963 All Tube Analog sound can be, this killer copy may be just the record for you.

All the copies we played were stereo. We’ve had very poor luck with mono pressings of Living Stereo recordings and tend to avoid them.

Produced by Chet Atkins in Nashville, 1960, with Bill Porter engineering, this is superb countrypolitan pop by the man who practically invented it.

Jim Reeves is lucky to have had the Bill Porter and his staff of RCA engineers from the era on his team. Although we love to do these vintage Hot Stamper shootouts, finding clean copies of these albums is getting harder every day.

(more…)

Strict Quality Control? We Put That Proposition to the Test

Yet Another Important Lesson We Learned from Record Experiments bellcurve500Part one of this commentary concerns the random nature of record making processes. It can be found here.

A number of years ago we had the opportunity to crack open two brand new sealed copies of a recently remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing. We were told that with this record every effort was made to produce the highest quality product and to maintain the highest quality control throughout the production process, such that every copy produced, from first to last, would be more or less identical. Not just in terms of surfaces, but sound quality too.

To accomplish this feat the producer used the real master tape (we were told), had a well known mastering engineer do the mastering at a highly-regarded studio, then had a well-known audiophile pressing plant in Germany make the record, using the highest quality vinyl compounds available, in presses that meet the highest standards in the industry, operated by highly skilled professionals.

Long before any stamper could possibly be worn out it would be replaced. All the metal mothers and stampers would be made in a way designed to eliminate any possible variation. One and only one complete run would be made; if another was needed at some later date the whole process would have to be started over from scratch using the same strict quality controls.

No corners would be cut, nothing would be left to chance. Each one of the finished records would reflect the exceptional efforts brought to bear at every stage in the process. Every copy would be quiet, the sound would be of the highest audiophile quality, and, more to the point, every copy — from number 001 all the way to number 7,500 — would sound as good as any other.

Our Experience

As you might suspect, our opinion as to the possibility of these results being achievable is that they are not.

Bear in mind that this is an opinion supported by the playing of thousands and thousands of records, including sometimes more than a hundred of the same title, and having them all sound different to some degree.

So we proceeded to test the proposition that by exercising maximal control over all the known variables of record production, using the most exacting standards at each and every step, two copies of the same record, chosen at random, would sound the same.

We picked a song, cued it up and listened to it for a minute or so. Then we put the other copy on our table, cued up the same track and let it rip.

Falsified in Fifteen Seconds

Immediately the sound was different and, importantly, quite a bit better. The first big cymbal splash was brighter and more life-like, with more extended high frequencies. The bass was better too: deeper, as well as more solid and easier to follow. All of this was evident within the first fifteen seconds of playing the second copy. So much for controlling the variables.

The random variability inherent in the record making process cannot be overcome by best practices and high standards. The process is complex, not well understood, and surely stochastic; some parts of it can be controlled but not all the parts of it can be controlled, which means that the finished product will have some unavoidable element of randomness.

(more…)

Carly Simon / No Secrets – Listening in Depth

More Carly Simon

xxxxx

Balance is key to getting all the tracks to sound their best. Many copies we played were too dull or too bright.

One more note: having your VTA set just right is critical to getting the best out of this album. The loudest vocal parts can easily strain otherwise. Once you get your settings dialed in correctly, a copy like this will give you the kind of rich, sweet sound that brings out the best in this music.

Two Points

Listen to Embrace Me, You Child on side two — on the best copies you can really hear the rosiny texture of the strings as they are bowed.

The cymbals can sound amazing — listen to how extended the crashes are on You’re So Vain.

(more…)

John Is Pretty Sure Hot Stampers Don’t Sound Good: “The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out the interview Wired conducted with me a few years back.

If you have some time on your hands, maybe too much time on your hands, go to the comments section and read the 300 plus postings that can be found there, the writers of which seem to be offended by the very idea of Hot Stampers. They also decry the obvious shortcomings of analog vinyl itself, as well as the ridiculously expensive equipment some credulous, misguided audiophiles use to play it, as if you didn’t know already!

Here is one that I found to be especially interesting from a psychological perspective: 

Bad, mismatched system setup. Customer base probably has the same. Also evaluation process is questionable. Uses a mediocre solid state amp and looks for “tubey magic” because of some misplaced concept of “accuracy” as I discussed before.

Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff out there, and it does give the stereo industry as a whole a bad name. I have heard some pretty crappy, expensive setups in my day.

I was listening to Phoebe Snow’s “Second Childhood” on my best system last night. Boy, I love my new turntable!

The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records. My comments are probably correct, but it would be interesting to audition a few of his “golden” albums just to confirm he hasn’t really found anything. The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original. Claiming otherwise hurts his credibility.

John

There is one sentence in the paragraphs above that should raise a giant red flag and help you to appreciate how reliable John’s analysis of our stereo and methods might turn out to be. If you didn’t catch it the first time through, give it another shot. Okay, here goes:

“The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original.”

That’s so strange! Virtually every repressing I’ve heard is worse than the original. What gives?

If I may paraphrase our writer: the reason I am confident that he probably does not know anything about records or audio is that he thinks repressings are always better than vintage pressings. We’ve critically auditioned tens of thousands of records, including many hundreds of repressings, admittedly on our “bad, mismatched system setup,” and I guess we must have gotten it all wrong over the 34 years we’ve been in the audiophile record business. The shame of it all!

Obviously, John knows he does not need to try one of our Hot Stampers. You can see him talking himself into the wisdom of doing nothing with each succeeding paragraph. It’s so easy for him to be right by pretending to know something he can’t possibly know.

And if he did ever order one, and had at least a halfway decent stereo to play it on, it would turn his world upside down so fast it would make his head hurt, and the possibility of that happening would be very, very upsetting. It makes no sense for John to risk such an outcome.

Even if our records were as cheap as the ones he is buying, it would not justify the psychological damage that would result. He would basically have to start his collection over again, as this good customer did.  A few hundred others just like him have done the same, and they’re the ones that will be keeping us in business for years to come. To paraphrase another famous saying, “They’ve heard the future, and it works!

Better for John to follow the path he is on. It’s working for him. Why would he want to rock his own boat? (more…)

Elton John / Self-Titled – In Audio, We Live and Learn, Or At Least We’re Supposed To

More Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Elton John’s Self-Titled Second Album

xxxxx

A classic case of Live and Learn.

Scroll down to read what we learned from our from a while back. To illustrate how the game is played we’ve copied some of the previous commentary into this listing to show the change in our understanding from 2004 to about 2010 or so, which is when all this was probably written.

Live and Learn, Part One

These domestic original pressings have the very same stamper numbers as the British pressings. It appears that the metalwork was produced in England and shipped to America for pressing on domestic vinyl. What’s strange is that the American pressings are consistently brighter than the British pressings. Why this should be is a mystery, but I have a theory to explain it. The British stampers are used to make British LPs on that lovely see-through purple vinyl, and I’m guessing that that compound is a little smoother sounding than the vinyl that Uni uses. Either that or there is some other way that Uni produces their records so that they end up being brighter, even using the exact same stampers as the British ones.”

Partly true. We have five British copies in stock, and the reason they don’t sound as good probably has less to do with British vinyl and more to do with the fact that the British ones we have are not the stampers we like the best. The domestic pressings with our favorite stampers have more highs and better highs and just plain sound better to us now.

Notice how I completely contradict myself below, yet both listings were up on the site all this time and nobody, especially me, seems to have noticed.

Live and Learn, Part Two

These original British pressings, with the lovely see-through purple vinyl, are the only good sounding versions of this album that I have ever heard. As you can imagine they are extremely difficult to come by in clean condition.

What is there to say about such a bald-faced turnabout? Simple. We make our judgments based on the records we have on hand to play. When better pressings come along, or our equipment improves to the point where we can appreciate other pressings, we will happily and unhesitatingly report what we hear.

There is not now, nor can there ever be, an absolutely correct answer to the question, “Which is the best version of Record X?”

All knowledge is provisional. We do the best we can, and we think we do it better than anybody else. That said, we keep our minds and our ears open to new and better pressings whenever they come our way. (If the remastered Blue had sounded good, I would have been perfectly happy to say so and sell them to all our customers like crazy. But that was not to be, not for any reason other than the record just didn’t sound right to us. Maybe someday I will come to appreciate it more — can’t say I won’t — but I’m sure not holding my breath until then.) (more…)

Trying to Get at the Truth of The Four Seasons with Transistors

A classic case of Live and Learn

Tubes in Audio

zzz

In 2007 we did a shootout for this album and noted the following:

For those with better tube gear, the string tone on this record is sublime, with that rosin-on-the-bow quality that tubes seem to bring out in a way virtually nothing else can, at least in my experience.

Our experience since 2007 has changed our view concerning the magical power of tubes to bring out the rosiny texture of bowed stringed instruments. We have in fact changed our minds completely with respect to that unquestioned belief.

Our transistor equipment — and by ours we mean the unnamed low-powered ’70s integrated amp we use, mated with the EAR 324P phono, making no claims whatsoever for any other transistor equipment of any kind, almost all of which in my experience is not very good — is dramatically faster, more transparent, dynamic and resolving than any tube equipment we have ever heard.

It is, simply put, much more TRUTHFUL. It is precisely this quality that is hardest to find in all of audio.

It is also the one quality of our system that, more than any other, allows us to do our job correctly and efficiently.

Our equipment lets us hear the sound of the record being played, uncolored and unadorned. It also has the added benefit of sounding to us more like live music. 

(more…)

Led Zeppelin / Houses of the Holy – Listening in Depth

More Led Zeppelin

More Key Tracks for Critical Listening

You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies.

To take just one example, listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique character. The clarity of the better copies allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

Music Does the Driving

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash / More Young

csny

Of course it’s easy to argue that finding good sound on an album with two or more members of Crosby, Stills, Nash or Young, in any configuration, has never been easy.

It’s the rare copy of either of the first two albums that’s even listenable, and the CSN album from 1977 doesn’t sound nearly as good as any of the first three Crosby/Nash albums. Which simply means that the “good” sound of our Hot Stamper copies is far better than what most audiophiles own of any of these guys in combination.

Their solo albums are a different story altogether. The first solo albums by David Crosby (1971), Stephen Stills (1970) and Graham Nash (1971) are three of my favorite records of all time; each is a brilliant recording, each contains powerful, compelling music (the Nash album especially). Two made our Top 100. (more…)