*Basic Concepts Explained

2-Packs – The Best Case for Dramatic Pressing Variations

More of the Music of The Eagles

Hot Stamper 2-packs Available Now

Presenting another entry in our series of Big Picture observations concerning records and audio.

Just today (3/16/15) we put up a White Hot Stamper 2-pack of the Eagles’ First Album. One of the two pressings that made up the 2-pack had a killer side two, practically As Good As It Gets. 

What was interesting about that particular record was how bad side one was. Side one of that copy — on the white label, with stampers that are usually killer — was terrible. The vocals were hard, shrill and spitty. My notes say “CD sound.”

When a record sounds like a CD it goes in the trade-in pile, not on our site.

We encouraged the lucky owner to play the bad side for himself, just to hear how awful it is. Yet surprisingly, one might even say shockingly, it has exactly the qualities that audiophiles and collectors are most often satisfied with: the right label, and, in this case, even the right stampers (assuming anyone besides us would know what the right stampers are).

The problem was it didn’t have the right sound.

I know our customers can hear the difference, but can the rest of the audio world? Most of my reading on the internet makes me doubt that they can. When some people say that the differences between pressings can’t be all that big, I only wish they could have played the two sides of this copy. Or  had higher quality reproduction so that these differences become less ignorable.

Our 2-pack sets combine two copies of the same album, with at least a Super Hot Stamper sonic grade on the better of each “good” side, which simply means you now have a pair of records that offers superb sound for the entire album.

Audiophiles are often surprised when they hear that an LP can sound amazing on one side and mediocre on the other, but since each side is pressed from different metalwork, aligned independently, and perhaps even cut by different mastering engineers from tapes of sometimes wildly differing quality, in our experience it happens all the time.

In fact, it’s much more common for a record to earn different sonic grades for its two sides than it is to rate the same grade.

That’s just the way it goes in analog, where there’s no way to know how a any given side of a record sounds until you play it, and, more importantly, in the world of sound everything is relative.

Since each of the copies in the 2-pack will have one good side and one noticeably weaker or at best more run-of-the-mill side, you’ll be able to compare them on your own to hear just what it is that the Hot Stamper sides give you. This has the added benefit of helping you to improve your critical listening skills. We’ll clearly mark which copy is Hot for each side, so if you don’t want to bother with the other sides, you certainly won’t have to.

Further Reading


Hot Stamper Shootouts – The Four Pillars of Success

What Exactly Are Hot Stamper Pressings?

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Finding Hot Stampers is all about doing shootouts for as many copies of the same title as you can get your hands on. There are basically four steps in this process and you have to achieve success with each of the four if you are going to be any good at evaluating the pressings you own in order to discover your own Hot Stampers. 

We discuss each and every one of them in scores of commentaries and listings on this very site. Although none of it will come as news to anyone who has spent much time reading our stuff, this commentary lays out the basic formula for the process. Hopefully this will make it easier to understand and follow.

If you want to make judgments about recordings — not the pressing you have in your collection, but the actual recording it was made from — you have to do some work, and you have to do it much more thoroughly than most audiophiles and record collectors think is necessary.

The Four Cornerstones of Hot Stampers

The work required to find Hot Stamper pressings comprises these four steps.

  1. You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one “hot” one.
  2. You must be able to clean your copies properly in order to get them to sound their best.
  3. You must be able to reproduce your copies faithfully.
  4. You must be able to evaluate them critically.

How It Used to Be

It’s an open question whether before, say, 2010 we could have done shootouts for many of the albums you’ve seen come to the site since then. Frankly, I have my doubts.

But the good news in audio is that things change. It’s amazing how many records that used to sound bad now sound pretty darn good. The site is full of commentaries about them. Every one of them is proof that comments about recordings are of limited value.

The recordings don’t change. Our ability to find, clean and play the pressings made from them does, and that’s what the Hot Stamper Revolution is all about.

You have a choice. You can choose to take the standard audiophile approach, which is to buy the record that is supposed to be the best pressing and consider the case closed. You did the right thing, you played by the rules, you bought the pressing you were told to buy, the one you read the reviews about, the one on the list, the one they said was made from the master tape, the one supposedly pressed on the best vinyl, all that kind of stuff. Cross that title off and move on to the next.

When — sometimes if but usually when — the sound of the record doesn’t live up to the hype surrounding it, you merely accept the fact that the recording itself must be at fault. Prepare to allot a fair amount of time to complaining about such an unfortunate state of affairs. “If only they had recorded the album better…” you can say to yourself as you toddle off to bed, fatigued and frustrated with a record that doesn’t sound as good as you remember.

Try It Our Way

Or you can adopt our approach and hear those very same albums sound dramatically better than you ever thought possible. It happens all the time here at Better Records and it can happen at your house too. Just follow the yellow brick– uh, scratch that, just follow the four steps.

Our approach has the added benefit of freeing up time that would normally be spent bitching about the bad sound of most records. This in turn makes more time available for pleasurable listening to the Hot Stamper pressing you discovered on your own or the one we found for you. (It’s the same process whether you do it yourself or we do it for you.)

You also probably won’t feel the need to go on silly audiophile forums to argue the merits of this or that pressing. You will already own the pressing that settles the argument. Keep in mind that your pressing only settles the argument for you — nobody else will believe it. And why should they? They have never heard your copy. It would take quite a leap of faith on their part to believe that your copy sounds so much better than the one they own, when the one they own looks just like the one you own. It might even have the same catalog number, and the same label, maybe even the same stampers.

But this is precisely what Hot Stampers are all about. Records may look the same but they most assuredly do not sound the same.

What We Offer

Unfortunately most of what is important in audio you have to learn to do for yourself. We can find you the best sounding pressings; that’s the easy part. Figuring out how to play them, and learning how to listen to them, well, that’s a fair bit harder. That part takes a lifetime, at least.

This hobby is supposed to be fun. If you’ve been in it for any length of time you know that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But if you enjoy doing it at least some of the time, and you devote the proper resources to it — time and money — you will no doubt derive much more pleasure from it. This is especially if you use an evidence-based approach, which is the one we have pioneered and discuss throughout this blog. It has worked for us and it can work for you.


Hot Stampers and Good Sounding Records Are Not the Same Thing

More Commentaries Outlining The Big Picture

More Entries in Our Critical Thinking Series

They are barely even related. Here’s why.

A good customer wrote to us recently to say that he was not happy with the Stevie Ray Vaughan White Hot Stamper pressings we had sent him.


I also have a couple more returns for you: SRV Couldn’t Stand the Weather and SRV Soul to Soul. While these are good, they’re just not quite up to White Hot Stamper quality like some of the other records clearly are.

I took the opportunity to reply at length. The most interesting part is at the top if you don’t want to read the whole thing.

Dear Sir,

You appear to be conflating two concepts, Hot Stampers and Good Recordings. They are not the same thing. They are barely even related.

Hot Stampers are especially good sounding pressings of specific albums that we found through shootouts.

The recordings of these albums may be better or worse than others you are familiar with. That has nothing to do with how hot the stampers are of the pressings we sell.

It works this way: if you had a hundred copies of The Dark Side of the Moon, the median pressing– the one that would have ranked number 50 out of 100 — would sound substantially better than either of those two SRV albums.

Pink Floyd: amazing recording. 

SRV: good, not great recording.

We would never sell an average pressing of DSOTM. We only sell the best sounding versions of it.

We would never sell the average version of any SRV album. We only sell the best sounding versions of them.

But no SRV album is ever going to sound like a good Dark Side of the Moon! (more…)

Frames of Reference, Carefully Conducted Shootouts and Critical Listening

Hot Stamper Decca and London Pressings Available Now

180+ Reviews and Commentaries for Decca/London/Argo

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 to play that its faults come into focus.


“After 40 years of audio experience and record collecting, I have learned a few things.”

A customer recently contacted us after making his first purchase and being disappointed with the White Hot Stamper pressing we had sent him.


Wondered who I can talk to about this record that I purchased. I’ve listened to it numerous times and it just does not have that sound stage I was expecting.

I am not looking for a refund. In fact, I refuse a refund. However, I would appreciate the opportunity to speak to someone about the factors that make this a “White Hot Pressing.”

I’m sure you need to understand what amplifier, speakers, setting, etc. I am using. Without going into the details, I have a McIntosh amplifier and Focal 936 speakers. I know how much of a difference equipment makes in the sound of a record.

I love to hear amazing records, some of which I have in original pressings I purchased when they were released and can truly feel it when there is something special about the record. This one does not seem to have it to me, but I am interested in finding and purchasing one from you that gives that amazing feeling.

Please let me know if there is someone I can speak to about finding that record.

Thank you,

I replied with an overwhelming amount of information (and opinions!) designed to help Mr. S understand more about records, as follows:

Dear Sir,

Tom here. Let me see if I can help.

The first thing I would need to know is what version of the album do you have that you think sounds better, or, if not better, comparable?

[He had no other pressing, not surprising as our White Hot copies are almost impossible to beat.]

Assuming you don’t have a better copy — we would be very surprised if you did — we would say that it’s likely there are two factors at play:

White Hot does not mean amazing Demo Disc sound. It means the best sound we can find for this recording, relative to the others we play. In other words, the best there is within the limitations of the recording.

We can’t fix the recording, we can only find you the best available pressing. If you were expecting more, something along the lines of Dark Side of the Moon, then I understand your disappointment.

For the band’s first album, we wrote:

It’s unlikely you will be demonstrating your system with this record, but you may find yourself enjoying the hell out of it for what it is — an early example of Roots Rock that still holds up today.

For Green River we wrote:

Green River isn’t ever going to be a knockout demo disc, but a copy like this allows you to enjoy the music as it was recorded. Most copies are so dull, grainy and lifeless that someone would have to wake you at the end of a side.

We have a section for great sounding rock and pop recordings, it’s this one:

There are no CCR records in this section and never will be.

The second point I would make is that some records are much more difficult to reproduce than others, and require the right equipment to do them justice.  In the listing for your record, under one of the tabs, you can find all of this.


You Say You Want a Revelation? Well, You Know…

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

We get letters from time to time chiding us for charging what strikes some people as rather large amounts of money for records that we would be the first to admit do not have much in the way of Collector Value, the assumption being that collectible records are of course worth the high prices they command in the marketplace because their prices are set by the market.

The writers of these letters are convinced that our Hot Stamper pressings, for some reason or another, are a very different animal. They simply can’t be worth the seemingly outrageous prices we ask for them.

Let’s be honest: if you don’t like our prices, you have plenty of other sources for the records we sell. And it’s unlikely that anyone would charge as much as we charge for what appears to be the same pressing, although it does happen.

(The phrase “appears to be” in the sentence above is at the heart of our business model. It is also foundational to much of what you need to know in order to collect better sounding records. The 5000 entries on this blog are dedicated to explaining the details that follow from that premise.)

Customer Satisfaction Is Everything to Us

Some of our customers seem to be inordinately pleased with their purchases. We know that because they’ve told us so.

  • One of our customers paid $700 for a copy of Aja and — mirabile dictu — he’s actually glad he did.
  • Another customer wrote to tell us how much he liked the copy of Let It Be we sent him: “I would have paid $15,000 for this feeling had I known it was there.”
  • Was our Hot Stamper pressing of Deja Vu a bargain at $800? This customer thought it was.

Revelatory Sound Quality Can Be Yours

Some of our customers have found the sound of our Hot Stamper pressings to be nothing less than a revelation, especially the customers who’ve taken the time to compare them to the Heavy Vinyl or Half-Speed Mastered pressings of the same titles they owned.

This prompted some of them to swear off the modern masterings they used to like. This, as you can imagine, warmed our hearts no end.

Our How-To Guide Is Free

If you want to do the work yourself and avoid the cost of buying our Hot Stamper pressings, we are behind you all the way.

We even tell you how to go about it.

You can buy records from us, or you can learn to do your own shootouts.

The one thing you can’t do is buy a ready-made superior sounding remastered copy of anything, no matter what anyone tells you. After 36 years in the audiophile record business, having conducted thousands upon thousands of Hot Stamper shootouts — the process which allowed us to discover the best sounding pressings of countless titles in every genre of music — we can tell you with confidence that records don’t work that way.

And we back that up with a 100% money back guarantee.

As the great philosopher Philip K Dick once wrote, “Reality is that which, when you stop believing in it, doesn’t go away.”

Not to worry! The Beatles have a good take on it, as usual.

Don’t you know it’s gonna be (all right)Don’t you know it’s gonna be (all right)


How Can I Recognize What I Should Be Listening For on a Given Album?

Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

Hot Stampers – The Four Pillars of Success

Doing carefully controlled shootouts with large groups of records is the only practical way anyone can teach themselves what to listen for.

The advice you see below is often reproduced on our site. Here is some we recently included in a listing for Rubber Soul, with specific commentary about the song Norwegian Wood:

If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what’s right and what’s wrong with the sound of the album at key moments of your choosing.

Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that others do not do as well, using a specific passage of music — the acoustic guitar John strums the hell out of on Norwegian Wood from Rubber Soul just to take one example — it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces that passage.

The process is simple enough.

    1. First you go deep into the sound.
    2. There you find something special, something you can’t find on most copies.
    3. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.

Admittedly, to clean and play enough copies to get to that point may take all day, but you will have gained experience and knowledge that you cannot come by any other way. If you do it right and do it enough it has the power to change everything you will ever achieve in audio.

Once you have done that work, when it comes time to play a modern record, on any label, it often becomes obvious what they “did to it” in the mastering, and how far short if falls when compared head to head to the pressings that were found to have the best sound. 

Our critiques are often quite specific about the sound of these Heavy Vinyl pressings. Our review for the remastered Rubber Soul is a good example of how thorough we can be when we feel the need to get down to brass tacks. 

Many of those who were skeptical before they heard their first Hot Stamper have written us letters extolling the virtues of our pressings. Here are some Testimonial Letters you may find of interest.

One Final Note

Before you try your first Hot Stamper, as long as you are buying vintage pressings in the meantime, not audiophile records, you are probably not wasting much money.

Every vintage pressing has the potential to teach you something.

A modern record, on the other hand, should never be considered anything more than a stop-gap, a kind of sonic benchmark to beat when you finally find a better sounding vintage pressing in acceptable condition.


Critical Listening Vs. Listening for Enjoyment

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to the Fundamentals

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

In order to do the work we do, our approach to audio has to be fundamentally different from that of the audiophile who listens for enjoyment. Critical listening and listening for enjoyment go hand in hand, but they are not the same thing.

The first of these — developing and applying your critical listening skills — allows you to achieve good audio and find the best pressings of the music you love.

(Developing critical thinking skills when it comes to records and equipment is important too but that is not the focus of today’s commentary.)

Once you have a good stereo and a good record to play on it, your enjoyment of recorded music should increase dramatically. A great sounding record on a killer system is a thrill.

A Heavy Vinyl mediocrity, played back on what passes for so many audiophile systems these days — regardless of cost — is, to these ears, an insufferable bore.

If this sounds arrogant and elitist, so be it. Heavy Vinyl records are fine for some people, but for about the last fifteen years we’ve set a higher standard for ourselves and our customers. Holding our records to that higher standard allows us to price our Hot Stamper pressings commensurate with their superior sound and please the hell out of the people who buy them.

For those who appreciate the difference, and have resources sufficient to afford them, the cost is reasonable. If it were not, we would have gone out of business long ago.

Hot Stampers are not cheap. If the price could not be justified by the better sound quality and quieter surfaces, who in his right mind would buy them? We can’t really be fooling that many audiophiles, can we?

We talked about our approach to audio in a commentary we wrote decades ago:

We have put literally thousands of hours into our system and room in order to extract the maximum amount of information, musical and otherwise, from the records we play, or as close to the maximum as we can manage. Ours is as big and open as any system in an 18 by 20 by 8 room I’ve ever heard.

[We now have a custom-built studio with a twelve foot high ceiling, which, as you might imagine, does wonders for the size and scope of the recordings we play.]

It’s also as free from colorations of any kind as we can possibly make it. We want to hear the record in its naked form; not the way we want it to sound, but the way it actually does sound. That way, when you get it home and play it yourself, it should sound very much like we described it.

If too much of the sound we hear is what our stereo is doing, not what the record is doing, how can we know what it will sound like on your system? We try to be as truthful and as critical as we can when describing the records we sell. Too much coloration in the system makes those tasks much more difficult, if not a practical impossibility.

A White Hot copy should have a near-perfect blend of Tubey Magic and clarity, because that’s what we hear when we play it on our system.

We are convinced that the more time and energy you’ve put into your stereo over the years, decades even, the more likely it is that you will hear this wonderful record sound the way we heard it. And that will make it one helluva Demo Disc in your home too.

Audio Progress Is Key to Understanding and Appreciating Hot Stampers

Making progress in audio is not easy — in fact, if our experience is any guide, nothing is harder.

However, if your approach to audio is clear-headed and evidence-based — in other words, scientific — progress is not only possible, it is virtually guaranteed.


How We Go About Evaluating Big Rock Records

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

Big Rock Records such as Honky Chateau always make for tough shootouts. Their everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach to recording make it difficult to translate so much sound to disc, vinyl or otherwise. Everything has to be tuned up and on the money before we can even hope to get the record sounding right. Careful VTA adjustment could not be more critical in this respect.

If we’re not hearing the sound we want, we keep messing with the adjustments until we do. There is no getting around sweating the details when sitting down to test a recording as complex as this. If you can’t stand the tweaking tedium, get out of the kitchen (or listening room as the case may be).

Obsessing over every aspect of a record’s reproduction is what we do for a living. This kind of Big Rock Recording requires us to be at the top of our game, both in terms of reproducing the albums themselves as well as evaluating the merits of individual pressings.

When you love it, it’s not work, it’s fun. Tedious, occasionally exasperating fun, but still fun. And the louder you play a record like this the better it sounds.

More Is More

Elton John is one of the handful of artists to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s, music that holds up to this day. The music on his albums, so multi-faceted and multi-layered, will endlessly reward the listener who makes the effort and takes the time to dive deep into the sound of his classic releases.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen, the more you are sure to discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by Elton and his bandmates. And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of the recordings.

His producers’ (Gus Dudgeon being the best of them) and engineers’ (Ken Scott and Robin Geoffrey Cable likewise the best) approach to recording — everything-but-the-kitchen-sink is the rule — make it difficult to translate their complex sounds to disc, vinyl or otherwise.


The Book of Hot Stampers – We’d Love to Read It

_1400755003Some Moderately Helpful Title Specific Advice

More Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

I received this email about fifteen years ago:

Hi Tom,

Could you please recommend a book which would give the stamper numbers associated with the different pressings of a particular record.

Dear Sir,

Let me take this opportunity to give a more comprehensive answer, since the concept of Hot Stampers is not especially well understood by the audiophile community outside of our admittedly rather small customer base. Only those who have spent a great deal of time reading the reviews and commentary on the site are likely to understand the importance of stampers. This is partly my fault, as this issue of stamper variability and quality is spread out all over the place, exactly where, no one really knows.

First of All, There Is No Such Book

I regret to say there is no such book and probably never will be. To my knowledge, we are the only guys on the planet selling records who know much about the subject. In fact, we pioneered the very concept, starting about fifteen years ago.

Back in the early ’90s I complained that the TAS Super Disc List didn’t list the “correct” stampers: the stampers (or matrix numbers if you prefer) being the individual markings associated with the actual pressing HP was calling a Super Disc. Without knowing those stampers almost any pressing one might acquire would be different from the one on the list, and quite possibly inferior (or superior; in any event, different sounding).

The catalog number or label — practically all that could be gleaned from his writings — serves as a very poor guide in this respect. Occasionally one might read a review which mentioned stampers, but any such mentions were few and infrequent. To do much good they would have had to be much more systematic, and that never happened (mostly because the reviewers making these pronouncements were of course not very systematic and never pretended to be).

So, since we do not have the time or the intention to write such a book, and no one else to my knowledge has the necessary expertise, one will probably never be written. There are at least two good reasons for not even attempting such an endeavor, however. One is selfish, one is not.

Trade Secrets

First off, when we discover hot stampers, they become the equivalent of trade secrets — we never reveal them to anyone. Over the last twenty five years of collecting we have bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of records and spent tens of thousands of hours of our time deciphering those arcane little squiggles in the dead wax that correlate, however imperfectly, with both the good records and the bad ones. Why would we want to give that hard-earned information away? It’s priceless, to us anyway.

Today’s Fact Is Tomorrow’s Error

Secondly, and every bit as importantly, they change, and frequently. We find new and better pressings all the time. This very subject is discussed in the commentary for David Crosby’s first album. we note in our review that we used to like a different stamper. Now, with better equipment and better ears, we prefer a new one. And tomorrow we might like still another!

The Best Sound

As we see it, our job is to get you the best sounding records we can find. That’s how we would like to think we make our living. Knowing the right stampers helps us do it, but that is only part of the process. The right stampers only sound right some of the time. The vinyl plays a big part in the sound, and we’re not talking about condition here, we’re talking about the quality of the vinyl compound itself. This unpleasant fact is the bane of our existence. So many potentially great records that we buy just don’t sound the way we know they should, even after an expensive and time-consuming cleaning.

No one can know precisely why some pressings come up short. But the ears know. Playing records is the only reliable test we’ve discovered to date. Imperfectly reliable to be sure, but markedly more reliable than any other.

Right Stampers, Wrong Sound

We could rattle off all sorts of stamper numbers that should sound amazing. We have hundreds of them memorized, so that when we go to a record store we know what to buy and what to avoid. But the LP you find on your own with the “right” stamper numbers might sound dreadful, or no better than mediocre. Naturally, you would conclude we were to blame for recommending such a bad pressing. But our copy and your copy, both with the same stampers, don’t sound the same. In fact, if our experience is any guide, they can never sound the same. Similar maybe, virtually identical even, but like two snowflakes or two grains of sand on the beach, not truly identical. And, based on our experience, often not even all that close.

So, with all that in mind, we have decided to take a different approach to the task of helping you acquire the best sounding LPs. We find them for you, clean them up, play them, and make sure they sound good before you buy them. This way, we do all the work, and you get to spend more time listening to good records and less time finding, cleaning and evaluating bad ones.