All About Hot Stampers

Letter of the Week – “This is absolutely the best vinyl I have found since I began re-collecting 8 years ago.”

More of the Music of The Beatles

Letters and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

After many disappointing attempts to pair my brother’s original and extremely well-worn Sgt. Pepper, I came across Better Records and decided to try a Hot Stamper copy. This is absolutely the best vinyl I have found since I began re-collecting 8 years ago. I can only imagine how good Super and White Hot sound — but I will be sure to find out!

Kevin

Kevin,

Thanks for your letter!

TP


The Titles We’ve Done Shootouts For

Reviews and Commentaries for Please Please Me

Reviews and Commentaries for With the Beatles

Reviews and Commentaries for A Hard Day’s Night

Reviews and Commentaries for For Sale

Reviews and Commentaries for Help

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Revolver

Reviews and Commentaries for A Collection of Beatles Oldies

Reviews and Commentaries for Sgt. Peppers

Reviews and Commentaries for Magical Mystery Tour

Reviews and Commentaries for The White Album

Reviews and Commentaries for Abbey Road

Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

Sergio Mendes + Psych + Your Mind Will Be Blown

mendestill_depth_1102533608More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for Stillness

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

This commentary was written sometime around 2010.

If you are looking for DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND with music every bit as wonderful, look no further — this is the record for you.

If I had one song to play to show what my stereo can really do, For What It’s Worth on a Hot Stamper copy would probably be my choice. I can’t think of any material that sounds better. It’s amazingly spacious and open, yet punchy and full-bodied the way only vintage analog recordings ever are.

This one being from 1970 fits the bill nicely.

Side two of this album can be one of THE MOST MAGICAL sides of ANY record — when you’ve got a killer copy. I don’t know of any other record like it. It seems to be in a class of its own. It’s an excellent test disc as well. All tweaks and equipment changes and room treatments must pass the Stillness test.

To fail to make this record sound better is to fail completely. The production is so dense, and so difficult to reproduce properly, that only recently have I begun to hear just how good this record can sound. There is still plenty to discover locked in these grooves, and I enthusiastically accept the challenge to find all the sounds that Sergio created in the studio, locked away in the 40 year old vinyl.

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Stravinsky / The Rite of Spring – Boy, Was We Ever Wrong

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Stravinsky

This is a VERY old and somewhat embarrassing commentary providing the evidence for just how Wrong We Were about the sound of Solti’s 1974 recording for Decca.

Here is what we had to say about the album in 2008:

This is an amazing recording, DEMO QUALITY SOUND, far better than the Decca heavy vinyl reissue that came out in the 2000s. [That part is no doubt true.]

This record is extremely dynamic; full of ambience; tonally correct; with tons of deep bass. Because it’s a more modern recording, it doesn’t have the Tubey Magic of some Golden Age originals, but it compensates for that shortcoming by being less distorted and “clean.” Some people may consider that more accurate. To be honest with you, I don’t know if that is in fact the case.

However, this record should not disappoint sonically and the performance is every bit as exciting and powerful as any you will find. The Chicago Symphony has the orchestral chops to make a work of this complexity sound effortless.

Skip forward to the present, roughly ten years later. We had three or four copies on hand to audition when we surveyed the work a couple of years ago in preparation for a big shootout.

The Solti did not make the cut. It was not even in the ballpark.

Our reasons are laid out in the post-it note you see to the left. We had three or four copies and even the best one still had the shortcomings you see listed, just to a lesser degree. (For more on the subject of opacity on record, click here and here.)

So in the eleven or twelve years from the time we played a pile of copies in 2008, to 2020 or thereabouts when we auditioned a new batch, this recording seems to have gotten a lot worse.

But that’s not what happened. We’re under no illusions now that the album did not always have these sonic shortcomings, shortcomings that existed from the day copies came off the presses in England, some with London labels, others with Decca labels.

We simply did not have the cleaning system or the playback system capable of showing us what was wrong with their sound, and how much better other recordings were than they were.

And Harry Pearson was fooled as well. The Decca (SXL 6691) is on the TAS List to this day. Other records that have no business being on anything called a Super Disc List can be found here. Our list of Demonstration Quality Orchestral Recordings can be found here.

You may be aware that Speakers Corner remastered this recording  in the ’90s. We carried it and recommended it highly back in the day when we offered those kinds of records. At some point, 2007 to be exact, we wised up. We asked ourselves why we were selling mediocre records instead of Better Records. Since we didn’t have a good answer, we stopped ordering them and proceeded to sell off our remaining stock.

In 2008 I had been seriously involved with the audio hobby for more than 30 years. I had been an audiophile record dealer for more than twenty.

I thought I knew what good sound was.

Clearly I had a lot to learn.

This is, once again, what progress in audio in all about. As your stereo improves, some records should get better, some should get worse. It’s the nature of the game for those of us who constantly strive to improve the quality of our cleaning and playback. We keep at it, as we have been for close to

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Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne – Our Shootout Winner from 2004

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

More Reviews and Commentaries for Gaite Parisienne

In 2004 we wrote:

 11S/ 10S are the best stampers we have found for this amazing DEMONSTRATION QUALITY record!

I think that information still holds up. I can also tell you that 5S/5S has never impressed us much. We’re not sure if it’s bad enough to belong in the Bad Shaded Dog category, but audiophiles would be wise to give it a miss at anything over a nominal price.

Side 1 plays nearly NM without a pop! Side 2 opens with a half inch scratch. But think about it — isn’t one side about the right amount for this kind of music? Do you really need to play side 2 after hearing side 1? This copy gives you a good portion of the music with AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND.

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? Four mics and two channels and it blows away 90% of all the classical recordings ever made.

Some old record collectors and tube equipment lovers [not so much anymore] say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it. (And this record proves that sometimes old records just sound like old records.)


FURTHER READING

What to Listen For on Classical Records (more…)

Letter of the Week – “Today, sitting at home, I felt like I was at a concert.”

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently. The bolding has been added by us.)

Hi Tom,

I finally had a chance to listen to the Super Hot of Beethoven’s 5th I bought from you last month.

Tom, I am feeling really grateful to you. With your guidance, and your records, I have something I simply assumed I could never have – a stereo that can do full justice to orchestral music.

I picked this record, along with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, as my first foray into full orchestral music on my reworked stereo assembled following your recommendations – Dynavector cartridge, EAR phono stage, Legacy speakers.

Today, sitting at home, I felt like I was at a concert.

This is saying something. I had come to believe this was just not possible. I still remember the sound and the feeling of hearing Beethoven’s 5th performed by the SF Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, about 20 years ago. Seeing it performed for the first time, I was struck by what a small number of musicians the piece calls for. Nobody needed a score, MTT didn’t hold a baton – the whole performance just had a sense of mastery, control, and passion for the music. The sound from that relatively small orchestra was overwhelming. It is this sound I’ve been longing to hear at home. Today, I heard it.

About four years ago I had the opportunity to hear the Berlin Philharmonic play Tchaikovsky’s 5th from a really good seat. Hearing orchestral music performed unamplified in a venue with good acoustics has always led me to believe that it’s not possible to create that on a stereo.

I had come to believe that all stereos distort. When live orchestral music gets loud, it coheres. The sound of a symphony at full volume is just something no stereo or recording can provide. Or so I thought. I figured it was just one of the realities of musical reproduction.

Second, I assumed a full sound field just isn’t possible from a pair of speakers. When you’re a few rows back from an orchestra in a great hall, the entire space is filled, smoothly and cohesively. It makes you realize there’s always an empty space between two speakers. One of those things that you don’t even notice until it’s gone.

Today, listening to this record of Solti performing Beethoven’s 5th overturned both of those beliefs for me. When it got loud, the music hung together with no hint of distortion. Also, the sound field has the most cohesion and depth of anything I’ve heard so far on my Legacys. Most important though is the tone of the instruments on this record. The strings were distinct and differentiated.

The mastery of the performance from the Vienna Philharmonic is just breathtaking. I’m simply so grateful this performance is captured on record, and glad that I have a phenomenal copy of it. This music demands all of your focus. Even if I only listen to it a handful of times, I will be glad to be able to do so.

And, this record is “only” a super hot! I can’t wait to see what a white hot stamper of orchestral music is going to sound like on this stereo. Also, I haven’t played with azimuth or VTA at all, or even broken in the Dynavector yet. It will be wonderful to see if this cartridge can reveal even more.

So, thank you, Tom. I now have something I’ve always wanted, that I assumed I could never attain – the ability to hear orchestral music at home, the way I know it can sound in person.

Aaron

Aaron,

This is great news, a milestone to mark your success, musically and sonically.

With the right equipment playing the right record, the suspension of disbelief is not only possible, it’s practically guaranteed. Once the sound achieves escape velocity, assuming the music is of the highest caliber, it isn’t long before your critical listening faculties shut down and the music starts to live and breathe from moment to moment just as it would in the concert hall.

You experienced it for yourself. You were finally able to prove your theory false by having an experience that showed you how wrong your thinking was.

But it took better equipment and better records than you previously had access to, and this is key.

How many audiophiles have equipment that can do what yours did? How many have pressings of such quality? My guess is not many.

The theories of such audiophiles, very much like your old theories, are based on faulty data, the data that comes from inadequate systems, bad electricity, bad rooms and second-tier recordings. Think of all the audiophiles that own Heavy Vinyl pressings, or CDs, or stream digitally, or who knows what else. Will they ever have the experience you had? Will they ever agree with you about the quality of the sound of orchestral music you’ve achieved?

More than likely they will just assume you don’t know what you are talking about. They deny the experience you had because they’ve never had it themselves.

I wrote to you about classical music before you bought the two records you talk about above. When I told you I could play classical music at home at live levels with amazing fidelity to the live event, you were skeptical to say the least. Oh ye of little faith! Now you see where I was coming from. Experience is a great teacher.

Recently you’ve acquired some top quality equipment, equipment that has made the appreciation of classical music on vintage vinyl possible for you for the first time in your life.

I discovered most of the equipment I currently own — the same stuff I recommended to you — a good twenty or more years ago, and have been tweaking and tuning and experimenting regularly with it for all of that time, to the tune of hundreds and hundreds of hours.

Why did I put so much time and effort into my stereo? Well, for one thing, I got paid to do it.

For another thing, I like doing it because I like to hear my favorite music sound better.

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Mapleshade Thinks Female Vocals Are Good for Turntable Setup

Years ago, in a section on their site, Mapleshade recommended a female vocal for turntable setup and mentioned Blue by name.

How much deep punchy bass is there on Blue? Barely a trace in the piano, that’s it. Blue is a good record for testing some sonic qualities, not at all good for testing others.

Our advice: do not limit yourself to a female vocal recording when setting up your turntable.

We use Bob and Ray Throw a Stereo Spectacular because it is BIG. How big is Blue? How big can it get? How big is it supposed to be? (We asked that very question about a Heart album we liked to test with years ago. As you can imagine, it is an impossible question to answer when one has only a single copy of the album.)

Blue is simply not a good test for size, power, weight or energy.

These things are very important to us — we talk about them in almost every Hot Stamper listing we write — and if you are not the kind of audiophile BS record lover whose collection is full of Sarah McLachlan and Patricia Barber “vinyls,” they should be every bit as important to you as they are to us.

They are what make music fun and exciting. Don’t you want your music to be fun and exciting? We sure do. It’s practically a three word definition for the kinds of records we sell.

For this same reason, female vocals should not be used exclusively when judging turntables either.

Cheap turntables — you know the kind — with no real energy, solidity or weight, can still do a very good job reproducing female vocals.

Not so good on Revolver, Back in Black, 88 Basie Street, Scheherazade or anything else on this list.

But if you have your speakers too far apart like this guy, a good female vocal would be just the thing to show you the error of your ways.

Regarding speakers, Blue is the kind of record they are going to want to play you at an audio store to demonstrate how good their small speakers can sound.

Small speakers may be able to play Blue, but they can’t play the records we love.


The KEF speakers you see pictured to the left retail for $8,999.

Yes, you read that right.

Roughly 2% of my record collection might play just fine on them. Perhaps less than 2%. Either way, I don’t want to find out.

If you are in the market for better speakers, here is some Speaker Advice you might find useful.


FURTHER READING

Robert Brook has some advice for those who would like to learn more about analog setup, and you can find it here.

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Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

Back in the day I thought the Classic 180 and then 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote:

“You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…”

Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

No, that’s not quite fair. I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so. It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring this dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking, of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100 to $400 on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.


A Loaded Seismic Sink and the Remarkable Benefits of Testing and Tuning

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he has written for one of our favorite ways to improve the sound of any stereo, the Townshend Seismic Sink.

LOADING the TOWNSHEND SEISMIC PLATTER Brings Your SYSTEM TO LIFE!

A few years back I discovered something wonderful about the Seismic Sink I was using under my turntable to control vibration. (In our experience, vibration control is one of the most important Revolutionary Changes in Audio of the last twenty years or so.)

We sell the Seismic Sink and this is what I wrote to a customer who recently bought one:

Play your most complex test discs, the ones that are hardest to get to sound right. Classical is the toughest test if you have some, but Pet Sounds is tough too. [I knew he was a fan and had a good copy of the album.]

Listen to one or two for a good while, at least 20-30 minutes, to know exactly what you are hearing on the tracks you know to play.

Put the sink under the table. (You can also put it under your receiver, that works great too.)

Then play those tracks again.

Go back and forth a few times.

It should be pretty obvious what is going on.

Then read Robert Brook’s post.

Here is a very special tip.

The sound changes depending on how the seismic sink is “loaded.”

This means two things:

Where the weight is on the sink.

For my receiver I have it all the way to the front of the sink. Sounds clearly better that way.

For the table, I have it weighted down with thin but heavy steel plates, about one quarter inch thick, about 4 inches by 8 inches. You can get them at Home Depot and the like.

This may be too advanced for your system and your skills [not an insult, he knows he is new to the game], but any amount of weight changes the sound, so you keep adding weights until you get to the top of the hill and start heading down.

Sounds easy enough, takes a lot of critical listening to pull it off, but this is how your ears get good at hearing small changes.

Good luck. We are here to help, now that I am retired and do almost nothing but write on my blog. (more…)

10cc / Deceptive Bends – Listening in Depth

More of the Music of 10cc

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of 10cc

If you are interested in digging deeper, our Listening in Depth commentaries have extensive track by track breakdowns for some of the better-known albums we’ve done multiple shootouts for.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Good Morning Judge

There’s a wonderful guitar duel in this song, but notice how the guitar in the right channel is softer than the one in the left. It’s the same way on every copy we played, so it must be that way on the tape. The guitar in the left channel is louder so it wins.

The Things We Do for Love

A big hit for the band on both sides of the pond, and as such, there’s always a touch of radio EQ to the lead vocals on this track. If you have an suitably transparent copy you’ll be able to hear that the background vocals actually sound much more natural. They’re tonally correct, assuming your copy is right enough in the first place to let you hear it.

Marriage Bureau Rendezvous

This track has wonderful Tubey Magical Tillermanesque guitars. They sound out of this world on a copy with the kind of clarity and sweetness found on the best pressings.

People in Love
Modern Man Blues

Side Two

Honeymoon With B Troop

Amazing DEMO DISC SOUND on the best copies! Some of the punchiest sound we have ever heard, bar none.

I Bought a Flat Guitar Tutor

This track has a richer, more relaxed sound than most of the rest of the album. The sparse instrumentation allows the various elements more room to breathe. On a Hot Stamper copy even the whistling will sound full-bodied.

This is Analog Magic at its best. The sound is effortless, completely natural, and totally free from any hint of hi-fi-ishness. Not one out of a hundred rock records has a track this well recorded.

As long as it’s not too bright. If it is it will spit like crazy.

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Audiophile Wire Testing with Jethro Tull and His Friend Aqualung

More of the Music of Jethro Tull

Reviews and Commentaries for Aqualung

… who seems to have a rather nasty bronchial condition…

[This commentary is from 2008 or so I’m guessing. Still holds up though.]

Like Heart’s Little Queen album, Aqualung presents us with a Demo Disc / Test Disc that really puts a stereo through its paces, assuming it’s the kind of stereo that’s designed to play an album like Aqualung.

Not many audiophile systems I’ve run across over the years were capable of reproducing the Big Rock Sound this album requires, but perhaps you have one and would like to use the album to test some of your tweaks and components. I used it to show me how bad sounding some of the audiophile wire I was testing really was.

Here’s what I wrote:

A quick note about some wire testing I was doing a while back. My favorite wire testing record at the time (2007)? None other than Aqualung!

Part One

Here’s why: Big Whomp Factor. Take the whomp out of Aqualung and the music simply doesn’t work, at all. To rock you need whomp, and much of Aqualung wants to rock.

Part Two

But not all of it. Some of it is quite pretty, so you must make sure to preserve the breathy flutes and recorders, and the delicate harmonics in the strummed acoustic guitar parts. That’s more or less the job of the top end; the whomp is the bottom end’s job. There’s no real mystery to either of those sonic elements.

Part Three

But the third and most important quality Aqualung has that makes it an ideal test disc is the honky midrange it has in places, especially in the “singing through a telephone” break in the middle of the title track. Why is this important?

Simply because many audiophile wires lean out the lower midrange and boost the upper midrange, which adds “clarity” and “detail” to the sound. (Detail can be a trap, something we discuss here.)

It’s not always easy to tell that that’s what’s really happening if you play the typical audiophile test record (whatever that may be. I don’t use them but I suspect there might be others that do.) On Aqualung that extra boost in the voice is positively ruinous. It already has a little problem there, so if that problem gets worse, it’s easy to spot.

Phony Audiophile Sound

The phony “presence” of most audiophile wire is exactly what Aqualung helps to guard against, because Aqualung doesn’t need any more presence.

It needs rich, full-bodied, punchy sound, with plenty of weight from 250 Hz on down. These are qualities found in few audiophile interconnects or speaker wires in my experience.

Come to think of it, none of the audiophile wires I’ve tried in the last two or three years [this was 15 years ago] would pass the Aqualung test. (I used different recordings before the recent discovery of the Hot Stamper Aqualung, but the recordings I used all showed up the same problems in wire after wire.)

Wire shootouts are very frustrating. Most wires do wonderful things in some part of the frequency spectrum — that’s why their inventors and proponents love them so much. They are often highly resolving and amazingly transparent.

But what they give with one hand they take away with the other — leaning out the sound, transforming rock records that used to really rock into rock records that kinda rock. When that happens I put them in their fancy boxes and ship them back from whence they came.

An Invitation

Here’s an idea. Next time you want to test some audiophile wire, invite your non-audiophile friends over to hear Aqualung with the new wires. My guess is they’re less likely to be fooled by the wire’s tricks than we audiophiles would be. They’ll know when the music works and when it doesn’t; you’ll be able to see it on their faces.

It’s easy to lose sight of what this hobby is all about when the money and the egos and the “new improved technologies” all get mixed up with the sound.

Fortunately Aqualung doesn’t care about all that crap. That’s why he’s a good guy to keep around.

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