Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

Letter of the Week – “How would you describe the sound signature of your evaluation equipment?”

Someone wrote the following to us recently:

  Hey Tom, 

I am trying to make sense of the information on your site and the asking prices for these ‘hot stampers’. In order to better understand how you assess sound quality, can you let me know what equipment you use for this purpose (what turntable, arm, cartridge, amps, speakers)? How would you describe the sound signature of your evaluation equipment?

Thanks for your help,

Bas

Bas,

Thanks for contacting us. We wrote a commentary about it, linked here:

Our Playback System – And Why You Shouldn’t Care

As for our sound signature, we’ve labored mightily over the last forty years to build the biggest, most dynamic, most powerful system that has only the colorations we don’t know how to rid ourselves of. Some thoughts on that process:

Our System Just Loves Certain Records – Why Do You Suppose That Is?

A lot of the basics about our Hot Stampers can be found here:

About Us

Our customers tend to be very enthusiastic about our Hot Stampers:

We Get Letters

Any questions, feel free to write me.  Of course, writing is one thing, but

Hearing Is Believing

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

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Hot Stamper Shootouts – The Four Pillars of Success

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained

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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 discovering and evaluating 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, we cobbled together this commentary to help formalize the process and hopefully 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

That work is made up of 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. (more…)

The Said and the Unsaid – The Firebird on Mercury

More on The Firebird

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

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For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that just too noisy to sell.)

We had one FR pressing and two of the later pressings with the lighter label, the ones that most often come with Philips M2 stampers.
This is how we described the winner:

So clear and ALIVE. Transparent, with huge hall space extending wall to wall and floor to ceiling. Zero compression.

Lifelike, immediate, front row center sound like few records you have ever heard.

Rich, sweet strings, especially for a Mercury. This side really gets quiet in places, a sure sign that all the dynamics of the master tape were protected in the mastering of this copy.

What we didn’t say — and what we never say in the listings — is what the second tier copies didn’t do as well as the shootout winner. (more…)

Letter of the Week – An Introduction to the World of Better Records

One of our (now) good customers had some questions about our Hot Stampers. Here are our answers.

Hey Tom, 

First off, I got to say, congratulations on a great concept. Also, congrats on having the balls to charge what these albums are worth.

Thanks. Like any business, we charge what the market will bear, and it seems people are willing to pay a lot for these records, although less than they used to — some records now sell for half or even less of what we were getting two or three or five years ago. That said, the top copies have held their prices pretty well over the years. It’s the second tier and third tier titles and the Super Hots that have really fallen in price. That’s where the real “bargains” are these days. (more…)

Thought for the Day – Getting Older and Losing Patience

I’ve observed an interesting development in the world of record collecting, one that seems to be true for both myself and many of my customers.

As I’ve gotten older I find I have more money, which allows me to buy higher quality goods of all kinds, especially records. At the same time I seem to have much less tolerance for mediocrity, as well as less patience with the hassle of having to do  too much work to find a record that’s truly exceptional, one that actually will reward the time and effort it takes to sit down and listen to it all the way through.

As a consequence, if I’m going to play a record, I’m going to make sure it’s a good one, and I don’t want to have to play five or ten copies to find the one with the magic.

We actually do play five or ten copies of every record  because it’s our business, but I sure don’t have the patience to go through all that for my own personal listening the way I used to twenty years ago. Of course, that’s precisely what taught me what I know about records today, and how I learned to find the one with the magic, but it sure would be hard to start all over again at this age (I’m 66). (more…)

1A, or Is 1B Better? – Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

More Simon and Garfunkel

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Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs.

So how does this Sundazed reissue hold up next to an original 1A Columbia pressing that I bought new when it originally was released (it still has the Sam Goody “C” Valley Stream sticker on it, with the $2.49 markdown written in pen)? Well, for one thing, when people say records wear out, I don’t know what they are talking about! Since it was first released more than forty years ago, I’ve played this record a hundred times at least, in Ithaca in my fraternity house, in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Hackensack and now and it still sounds fantastic. It’s quiet, it’s detailed, it’s three-dimensional and it still has extended, clean high frequencies.

No reissue could possibly touch an original 1A pressing of just about any Columbia title and that goes for this reissue, which is very good, but not as open, spacious, wideband, transparent and “tubey” as the original.

He later goes on to give this piece of advice:

If you can find a clean, reasonably priced used original 1A pressing, it’s definitely going to sound better, but if you can’t, this reissue sounds very good and you’ll not know what you’re missing.

The entire review can be found on his site for those who care to read it. If, as MF seems to believe, you won’t know what you’re missing on the Sundazed LP, you need to find yourself another hobby. If it’s anything like most of their cardboardy crap, it’s missing more than it’s finding. (more…)

Stevie Nicks – Speculate Shmeculate

Albums with Stevie Nicks Performing

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

The sound of the typical copy can best be summed up in three words: thin, hard and bright. When the sound is thin or hard or bright the fun factor of this mainstream drops to zero. Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around and Leather And Lace both sound great on the radio, why not on Warners vinyl? We can’t blame Sheffield Labs, the original cutting house: all the copies we played — good, bad and otherwise — were originals and mastered by them.

Could it be the vinyl? It could. It could be a lot of things, but speculating about them doesn’t really get us or you anywhere, so I’m going to stop doing it and just say we played a big pile of records and heard a lot of unpleasant sound. If you have the record you probably know what I mean. (more…)

Good Audio Advice and Critical Listening Skills

[This is an updated version of a commentary written in 2009.]

The latest Mapleshade catalog (Spring 09) has, along with hundreds of recommendations, this little piece of audio advice that caught my eye:

For much improved bass and huge soundstage, put your listening chair or sofa right against the wall behind you. Move your speakers in to 5’ in front of you and 7’ or more apart. No room treatments will yield this much bass improvement.

I literally had to read through it a couple of times to be sure I wasn’t hallucinating. But every time I read it, it still said the same thing, so I know I can’t have been dreaming. This is crazy talk. What the hell is wrong with these people?

Well, it’s not all crazy. There is actually a factually true statement at the end of that paragraph. Yes, it is true that no room treatments will yield as much bass as sitting up against a wall. But why stop there? Bass, regardless of its source, immediately seeks out the corners of the room. That’s where the most bass will always be: where the room boundaries are. If you want to hear the maximum amount of bass your speakers are producing, put your head in the corner of the room down at the floor, where three boundaries intersect. Like the sound now? Getting enough bass are ya?

Along the same lines, for a “huge soundstage” try putting one speaker at one end of the room and the other speaker at the opposite end. Why stop at seven feet? My listening room is twenty feet deep; I can get a soundstage that’s twenty feet across without any problem at all.

I would just have to be dumb enough to think that doing such a thing would be a good idea.

Fellow audiophiles and music lovers, it is not. Let’s talk about why. (more…)

Ansermet’s Scheherazade – Yes, Sometimes There Is Only One Set of Magic Stampers

More Scheherazade

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In 2015 we wrote:

There are certain stampers that seem to have a consistently brighter-than-it-should-be top end. They are tolerable most of the time, but the real magic can only be found on the copies that have a correct or even slightly duller top. Live classical music is never “bright” the way recordings of it so often are.

It’s rarely “rich” and “romantic” the way many vintage recordings are — even those we rave about — but that’s another story for another day.

We recently did the shootout again, and now with a much more clear, accurate upper midrange and an even more extended top end, the stampers that we used to find “brighter than they should be” are almost always just too damn bright, period. We will never buy another copy with those stampers.

We was wrong and we don’t mind admitting it.

Which leaves one and only one stamper that can win a shootout. Another stamper we like well enough to offer to our discriminating customers, but after that it is all downhill, and steeply.

Of course the right stampers are the hardest ones to find too. All of which explains why you rarely see a copy of the album for sale on our site.

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Rimsky-Korsakov

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Is the Average Record Really Worthless? – We Do the Math (So You Don’t Have To)

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What follows is an excerpt from a much older letter in which the writer made the case, as best he could, that spending lots of money on records is foolish when for a dollar one can buy a perfectly good record at a thrift store and get exactly the same music and decent enough sound.

We think this is silly and, with a few rough calculations, a heavy dose of self-promotion and not a little bullying, we set out to prove that the average record is worthless. Prepare to confront our sophistic logic. (Yes, we are well aware that our reasoning is specious, but it’s no more specious than anybody else’s reasoning about records, so there.)

Jason, our letter writer, points out this fact:

Your records are a poor value in terms of investment. Until you convince the whole LP community that your HOT-STAMPER choices are the pinnacle of sound a buyer will never be able to re-sell B S & T for $300. Even if they swear it is the best sounding copy in the world.

We replied as follows:

If records are about money, then buying them at a thrift store for a buck apiece and getting something halfway decent makes perfect sense. As the Brits say, “that’s value for money.” If we sell you a Hot Stamper for, say, $500, can it really be five hundred times better? (more…)