FAQ

Are all Hot Stampers exceptionally good sounding records?

What Exactly Are Hot Stamper Pressings?

More Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

Not necessarily. What makes a Hot Stamper hot is reasonably good sound. At the very least a Hot Stamper should sound quite a bit better than any other pressing you have heard.

Not every album was well-recorded. As a result, the records made from those recordings will display most of the limitations that are baked into the master tape. A good engineer can fix an awful lot of problems in mastering, but, to mix a few metaphors, making a silk purse out of a sow’s ear is rarely if ever going to be in the cards.

Records are graded on a curve.

In our shootouts we must compare apples to other apples; there is no other practical way to do it. We find the best sounding pressings we can out of the pile of audition copies we have available to us. We’re confident that the record we call a Hot Stamper will beat any pressing you have ever heard, or that you currently own, and if it doesn’t you get your money back.

We also guarantee that no half-speed mastered record or Heavy Vinyl LP sounds as good as any of the Hot Stampers we offer. We’ve played too many of these so-called audiophile pressings to worry about them being competitive with the records on our site.

It is our strongly held conviction that the better your system gets, the worse — or at the very least the more artificial, veiled, ambiance-challenged, frequency-limited and uninvolving — those records will sound. (more…)

Are Hot Stampers original pressings?

Records that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Reissue Pressings with Hot Stampers

They certainly can be, but quite often they are not, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to any serious record collector, and definitely not to any member of our listening crew.

Reissues come out on top in our record shootouts fairly regularly.   

Yes, most of the time the original will beat the reissue, but most of the time is far from always, and since we have to play a big pile of copies anyway (and always with the person doing the sound grading kept in the dark about the pressing being auditioned), why not evaluate both the originals and the reissues at the same time, on the merits and not on any of our prejudices?

But this discussion bypasses an important question: What IS an original? Is a record with a 1A stamper an original and a record with a 1B stamper not an original, or slightly less original? Is every copy on the original label an original, and only the copies with the later labels reissues?

To be honest, attempting to lay down strict rules about what constitutes an original is best understood as a fool’s errand, an audiophile parlor game of little use in the real world of records, and one we never cared to play even when we didn’t know how pointless it would turn out to be.

To be blunt about it, we are not the least bit interested in how original a pressing may or may not be.

On this site we are only interested in one thing, the answer to the question: Which copy of the record sounds the best? (Also: In what way? So I guess that’s really two things we are interested in.)

The rest of it we leave to our record collecting brethren.

(more…)

What if I like the copy I already own as much (or more!) as the Hot Stamper I bought from you guys?

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Frequently Asked Questions 

You get your money back, no questions asked.

Seriously, we have been in business since 1987 and there has never been a time when we did not give a customer a full refund on any order he returned. We also refunded records that were abused by customers and no longer saleable. We refunded records that were damaged in transit because of poor packaging.

We refunded all of them, no matter what.

Why? Because that is our policy and we adhere to it one hundred per cent of the time. We make no exceptions to that policy and never have. If anyone says otherwise, that person is not telling the truth.

And if we decided not to provide a refund, for any reason, the credit card companies would simply take the money out of our account and put it back in the customer’s.

We take great pride in our Money Back Guarantee, which, as far as audiophile records go, seems to be unique in the industry (although of course any used record dealer would have to abide by the rules that the credit card companies enforce as well, see above.)

Even if you actually like our copy better than yours, but don’t think the difference in sound quality justifies the price, the same policy applies: you get your money back.

If you simply don’t like the music or have issues with the recording itself, you get your money back. If the record plays noisier for you than you would like, you get your money back.

Part of the fun of having auditioned so many records over the course of so many years is that we’ve run into scores of amazingly well recorded albums, albums that most audiophiles don’t know well or may have never even heard of.

We love it when our customers are willing to try these kinds of albums on no more than our say so, and here again, we insist that you be 100% satisfied with the music and the sound if you are going to keep the record. If you aren’t, just send it back to us and we will — wait for it — give you your money back.

Bottom line: our policy is that for any reason under the sun, real or imagined, you get your money back. With a return rate of about 1-2%, this is not nearly as expensive a policy as it would be if customers did not love our records as much as they do.

General Information

Many of the basic questions concerning Hot Stampers, including our grading system, 2-packs, coupons, the mailing list, as well as more general ordering and payment information, can be found in our original Frequently Asked Questions section.

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope the above comments will be of value.

If you have further questions feel free to contact me at tom@better-records.com. I will do my best to answer them.

(more…)

What Exactly Are Hot Stamper Pressings?

New to the Blog? Start Here

More Frequently Asked Questions 

The easiest and shortest version of the answer would be something like “Hot Stampers are exceptional pressings that sound better than other copies of a given album.

My good friend Robert Pincus coined the term more thirty years ago. We were both fans of the second Blood, Sweat and Tears album, a record that normally does not sound very good, and when he would find a great sounding copy of an album like B,S&T, he would sell it to me as a Hot Stamper. It was a favorite album and I wanted to hear it sound its best.

Even back then we knew there were a lot of different stampers for that record — it sold millions of copies and was Number One on the charts for 8 weeks in 1969 — but there was one set of stampers we had discovered that seemed to be head and shoulders better than all the others. Side one was 1AA and side two was IAJ. Nothing we played could beat a copy of the record with those stampers.

More Than Just the Right Stampers

After we’d found more and more 1AA/ IAJ copies — check out the picture of more than 40 laid out on the floor — it became obvious that some copies with the right stampers sounded better than other copies with those same stampers.

We realized that a Hot Stamper not only had to have the right numbers in the dead wax, but it had to have been pressed properly on good vinyl.

All of which meant that you actually had to play each copy of the record in order to know how good it sounded.

There were no shortcuts. There were no rules of thumb. Every copy was unique and there was no way around that painfully inconvenient fact.

Thirty Years Roll By

For the next thirty years we were constantly innovating in order to improve our record testing. We went through hundreds of refinements, coming up with better equipment, better tweaks and room treatments, better cleaning technologies and fluids, better testing protocols, better anything and everything that would bring out the best sound in our records.

Our one and only goal was to make the critical evaluation of multiple copies of the same album as accurate as possible. Whatever system our customer might use to play our record – tubes or transistors, big speakers or small, screens or dynamic drivers — our pressing would be so much better in every way that no matter the system, the Hot Stamper he bought from us would have sound that was dramatically superior to anything he had ever heard.

Technology Played a Big Part in Our Success

It was indeed a slow process, and a frustrating one. Lots of technological advancements were needed in order to make our Hot Stamper shootouts repeatable, practical and scalable, and those advancements took decades to come about.

When I got started in audio in the early- to mid- ’70s, the following important elements of the modern stereo system did not exist:

  • Stand-alone phono stages.
  • Modern cabling and power cords.
  • Vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment.
  • Synchronous Drive Systems for turntable motors.
  • Carbon fiber mats for turntable platters.
  • Highly adjustable tonearms (for VTA, etc.) with extremely delicate adjustments and precision bearings.
  • Modern record cleaning machines and fluids.
  • And there wasn’t much in the way of innovative room treatments like the Hallographs we use.

A lot of things had to change in order for us to reproduce records at the level we needed to in order to do our record shootouts, and be confident about our findings, and we pursued every one of them about as far as time and money allowed.

Our first official Hot Stamper offering came along in 2004. We had a killer British pressing of Cat Stevens’ Teaser and the Firecat which we had awarded our highest grade, the equivalent of A+++ (White Hot). Having done the shootout, I wrote up the review myself. At the end, I said, “Five hundred dollars is a lot for one record, but having played it head to head against a dozen others, I can tell you that this copy is superior to every copy I have ever heard. It’s absolutely worth every penny of the five hundred bucks we are charging for it. If no one wants to pay that, fine, no problem, I will put the record in my own collection and thrill to its amazing sound for the rest of my life.”

As you can imagine, it sold immediately. That told us that the demand was there. To provide the supply, we eventually ended up needing about eight of us working in concert [now ten or more]. It takes a crew of people to find a big batch of vintage LPs of the same title, clean them, do the Hot Stamper shootout, then check the playing surfaces on each side from start to finish, and finally describe the sound of each individual record on the website to the best of our ability.

How to Find Your Own

Yes, we like to tell our customers exactly how to go about finding their own Hot Stampers, how to clean them, how to do shootouts with scientific rigor, and all the rest. But to be brutally honest, if you actually try to do it right, it’s just a crazy amount of work. Virtually no sane person would have the time and energy required to devote to it in order to be successful.

However, since it’s the only proven way to find the best sounding records, to us we think it’s worth it. And that is what you are paying for when you buy a Hot Stamper — all the work that very few audiophiles are willing to put in. (more…)

How can your records possibly be worth these prices?

New to the Blog? Start Here

This commentary was written about fifteen years ago, about the time that we first started selling Hot Stamper pressings in limited numbers. (The numbers were limited because shootouts were so hard to do back then.)

It starts with the following paragraph:

We freely admit that we paid south of thirty bucks each at local stores for many of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most good rock records are priced from ten to thirty bucks these days.

ADDENDUM #1

About five years ago we added this text to the listing:

This is no longer true, but it was true when this commentary was written. Most rock records cost us double and triple what we used to pay, if they can be found at all.

ADDENDUM #2

As of 2022, we would like to point out that very few good records can be found in local Los Angeles stores these days. Young people have started collecting records again, so the supply of records in the stores is a small fraction of what it was even five years ago, and the prices have doubled and tripled for the better titles. Foreigner and Carly Simon we can still find locally, but Fleetwood Mac and Led Zeppelin? Forget it.

These developments means that we have been forced into buying mostly from dealers on the web now, paying the collector prices they charge and, like any business, passing the costs on to our customers. There is no other way to run a business that specializes in old records. Vintage LPs are practically the only ones that have the potential to be Hot Stamper pressings, and we must pay whatever they cost in order to acquire them in large enough numbers so that our record shootouts can continue.

The rest of the commentary describes a business that no longer works the way it did.

Unfortunately for us, the price we paid for the records you see on the site is only a small part of the cost of the finished “product.” The reality of our business is that it costs almost as much to find a Carly Simon or Gino Vannelli Hot Stamper that sells for a hundred dollars as it does to find a Neil Young or Yes Hot Stamper that sells for five times that. [Not true, obviously; Neil Young records cost ten or twenty times more than Carly Simon records!]

With eight to ten full-time people on staff, the listening crew constantly playing one title after another, the scores of listings going up on the site daily, all-day shopping trips to local stores [alas, not as many these days], internet searches for the rarest titles, and the weekly mailers going out to our customers — all of this and more runs in excess of a thousand dollars a day [about double that now]. The cost of the records — the “raw material” of our business — is rarely as much as the labor it takes to find, clean and play them [still true].

Finding good clean vinyl these days can be a real chore. Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour searching for good pressings, or, more likely, pressings that look like they might be good, have them all cleaned, file them away and then wait anywhere from three months to three years for the pile of copies on the storeroom shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout. [Mostly true, except that the records come by mail.]

Shootouts

Shootouts are a two man job: one person plays the record and someone else (who rarely has any idea what pressing is on the table) listens for as long as it takes to accurately and fairly critique the first side of every copy. Then we start the whole process over again for side two.

This is a huge commitment of labor, with the amount of time and effort going into a shootout obviously the same for every title regardless of its popularity or eventual value. Naturally we would like to be able to streamline the process and cut costs in order to lower our prices and sell more records. We just don’t think that a much higher level of efficiency will ever be possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process occurs in real time.

No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of the world it will take at least an hour to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Shootouts are like that; they simply can’t be rushed. It’s rare to get one done in under an hour, and some can take two or more, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.

The math is simple: $1000 [now $2000] in labor and materials divided by the number of saleable records we end up with (those with Hot Stamper sound and reasonably quiet surfaces). I don’t know if we actually lose money on records that sell for under a hundred dollars, but we sure as hell don’t make very much on them, not with costs like these. If you know of a better way to do it, please drop us a line.

DIY

We encourage any audiophile who wants to improve the quality of his record collection to do some shootouts for himself. Freeing up an afternoon to sit down with a pile of cleaned copies of a favorite LP (you won’t make it through any other kind) and play them one after another is by far the best way to learn about records and pressing variations. Doing your own shootout will also help you see just how much work it is.

They are a great deal of work if you do them right. If you have just a few pressings on hand and don’t bother to clean them rigorously, that kind of shootout anyone can do. We would not consider that a real shootout. (Art Dudley illustrates this approach, but you could pick any reviewer you like — none of them have ever undertaken a shootout worthy of the name to our knowledge.)

With only a few records to play you probably won’t learn much of value and, worse, you are unlikely to find a top copy, although you may be tempted to convince yourself that you have. As Richard Feynman so famously remarked, “The first principle is that you must not fool yourself – and you are the easiest person to fool.”

(more…)

What makes you guys think you know it all?

xxxMore Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

We definitely don’t know it all. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. If we knew it all we couldn’t learn anything from the piles and piles of records we listen to every day.

On practically every shootout we learn something new about our favorite records. That, more than anything else, is what makes the kind of tedious, time-consuming, mentally exhausting work we do fun. 

The stuff we were wrong about, and there has been plenty, you can find right here on the blog, often under the heading Live and Learn.

It should be said that most audiophiles, at least the ones I know well, do not have the patience to critically analyze ten different copies of the same record for hours on end. For me (and everybody else who sits in the listening chair), it’s all in a day’s work.

I learned to critically listen for extended periods of time back in the early ’80s. I got heavily into — obsessed with might be more accurate — tweaking my table setup, system components, wires, vibration controlling devices and the like.

Listening for differences in interconnects and listening for differences in pressings calls upon precisely the same set of skills. If you can do it all day, if you actually like tweaking and analyzing the sound of your stereo for hours and hours, you will undoubtedly end up with a much better sounding system, as well as one helluva high quality collection of records (not to mention very finely honed listening skills).

Here’s a good way to chart your progress.

(more…)

Are Hot Stampers a good investment?

Hot Stampers sound better than other records — at the least plenty of folks who’ve tried them sure think they do — but do they have actual “collector” value?

Not really. On the surface they look just like any other pressing, so their market value as authentic and sometimes pricey Hot Stampers cannot be established or verified in any meaningful way.

The value of a Hot Stamper pressing is almost purely subjective: they exist only to provide listening pleasure to their owner. Yes, a Pink Label Island pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King is worth big bucks, but is it worth the $850 we charged recently if you were to try and resell it? Probably not.  

I understand why a record collector would be confused by this notion of subjective and limited value. Collecting records is often more about buying, selling and owning various kinds of records more than anything else.

For many it’s not primarily about playing or even listening to music. (I’ve actually met record collectors who didn’t even own a turntable!)

Some people see records as an investment. We do not. We think audiophile-oriented music lovers should pursue good sounding records for the purpose of playing them and enjoying them, understanding that the better their records sound, the more enjoyable they will be.

Collecting records primarily to build a record collection that can be sold at a profit in the future should be the last thing on anyone’s mind.

Get Good Sound, Then Good Records

It’s easy to be a collector; you just collect stuff. To get your stereo and room to sound good, and know the difference when they do, that is very very hard. I’ve been at it for forty-five years and I still work at it and try to learn new things every day. I know there’s a long way to go. Until you get your stereo, room and ears working, collecting good sounding records is all but impossible. You will very likely waste a fortune on “collector records:” the kind with Collector Value and very little else.

Collectible records are the opposite of the records we offer. All of the value of our Hot Stamper pressings is tied up in their Music and Sound, which is where we think it should be.

General Information

Many of the basic questions concerning Hot Stampers, including our grading system, 2-packs, coupons, the mailing list, as well as more general ordering and payment information, can be found in our original Frequently Asked Questions section.

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played on a top Hi-Fidelity system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog.

Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope the above comments will spur you to action. And if the record doesn’t stand up to our claims for it in your opinion, send it back and we will return all your money.

(more…)

Do I already have some Hot Stamper pressings in my collection?

More Frequently Asked Questions

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records — 100% guaranteed, no questions asked — we hope these comments will be of value.

Do I already have some Hot Stamper records in my collection?

Yes, you do. You just don’t know which ones they are.

If you have a good sized collection of LPs, mastered and pressed from the ’50s to the ’80s, you surely do. In fact you must have at least some. The problem is, how can you possibly know which records are Hot Stampers and which aren’t?

Familiarity with the conventional wisdom regarding which labels and stampers are supposed to have better sound is really not much help in this regard, despite what you may have heard, and is often misleading when not outright erroneous.

The only way to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing is through the shootout process.

If you’ve done shootouts for your favorite albums on your own (or with friends), pitting five or ten cleaned copies of the same record against one another, then you definitely have Hot Stampers in your collection, and you know exactly which ones they are — they’re the ones that won the shootout.

One very important fact to keep in mind: Hot Stampers and Good Sounding Records Are Not the Same Thing

And some shootouts are not worthy of the name. Only that rare audiophile who conducts rigorous shootouts of multiple LPs from different eras can know which are the best sounding pressings (keeping in mind that the results from any given shootout, like any scientific finding, are provisional.)

How hot your shootout winners are relative to the records we sell is a much more difficult question to answer, and can really only be answered by pitting our copy against yours, head to head.

Needless to say, we welcome the challenge! And we happily refund your money if you believe your copy bested ours.

(more…)

Are Hot Stamper pressings quiet?

They’re about as quiet as vintage LPs ever are.

Some surface noise is always going to be audible on an old record. We believe we sell the quietest vintage pressings in the world, but they are certainly not silent. Lately we’ve been adding the following text to our listings to clarify our position on surface noise:

Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any original pressing will play, and since only the right originals have any hope of sounding amazing on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

We continued:

Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don’t have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful originals. If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that’s certainly your prerogative, but we can’t imagine losing what’s good about this music — the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight — just to hear it with less background noise.

We do a much better job of cleaning our records than we did even a year or two ago. In fact, any record that hasn’t been cleaned within the last 12 months gets recleaned and replayed in a shootout, and many of them sound better and play quieter than our original grades would indicate.

How to Find Our Quietest Records

This section has the Hot Stamper pressings that earned our highest play grades.

However, for those who like their records to play with minimal surface noise, I recommend a quiet cartridge and very high quality arm and table. In my experience they should be good for at least one full grade of improvement in the reduction of surface noise. They should be able to take you from “Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus” — the grade a brand new record from the ’70s would play at — to “Mint Minus” or something very close to it.

I have heard many of my quietest pressings play noisy on very expensive equipment owned by friends and I’ve made an effort to help some of them fix their problems.

Some audiophiles have a bad habit of getting married to their equipment, which makes it hard for them to find solutions to their problems. The solution is more often than not different equipment. I’ve found this especially true in the case of cartridges.

One Further Note

The Record Cleaning Advice we offer lays out how we clean our records. There are some fluids on the market that may get your records to play quieter than the fluids we use, but we have yet to hear such fluids make the records sound as good as they do with the Walker System we use.

Again, it’s a matter of tradeoffs. We want the best sound for our records, period. Apparently our customers do too, as less than 1% of the records we sell get returned for surface noise. (more…)

How much better will a Hot Stamper sound on my system?

That’s a tough question, because it involves two things I can’t know: how good your stereo is, and how critically you listen to it.

Really, the only way to find out how much better sounding a Hot Stamper pressing is would be to try one or two and see if the sound quality justifies the price. Which is why we offer a 100% money back guarantee: the record has to perform to your satisfaction or we give you all your money back.

A fellow wrote me a while back with a long list of his equipment. I replied:

I would like to help you but I know very little about any of the equipment you discuss below other than the EAR 834p, which I do like. I very much like KEF speakers in general — they are neutral as a rule — which means that probably anything you buy that makes them sound better will most likely be a good piece of gear, but what that would be I cannot say, sorry.

The only way to know if your system can resolve the differences between our records and everybody else’s is to try some. You are the ultimate judge of what the value of that difference is and no one else.

All guaranteed of course. Try anything you like and send it back if you don’t feel it’s worth the cost.

And keep in mind that as your stereo gets better, our records get better. This is not true for most audiophile reissues, whose flaws become more obvious the better your system gets.


Just a few days back a fellow asked me why Led Zeppelin III sounds so awful — he’s hated the sound of his copy since he bought it in the ’70s.

I sent him a link to our Hot Stamper pressing, which was priced at many hundreds of dollars, and said that our copy will show you the sound you’ve been missing for 40 years. This is the service we offer. He hasn’t bought it yet and probably never will, but think about what he’s missing: the enjoyment of that music. (Many have written to us about just how good that record sounds on the pressings we sell.)

(more…)