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.
Basic Concepts and Realities Explained
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) (more…)
Hot Stampers are pressings that sound dramatically better than the average LP.
Discovering these extraordinary records and making them available to the music loving public is the work of every member of the staff here at Better Records. It is also my life’s work.
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.
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.
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, 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. 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.
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. (more…)
That’s an easy one. We’ve played them by the hundreds over the years, and we’ve found that as our ability to play records improved (better equipment, set-up, tweaks, room, electricity and the like), the worse they sounded, with very few exceptions.
The most serious fault of the typical Half-Speed Mastered LP is not incorrect tonality or poor bass definition, although you will have a hard time finding one that doesn’t suffer from both.
It’s Dead As A Doornail sound, plain and simple.
And most Heavy Vinyl pressings coming down the pike these days are as guilty of this sin as their audiophile forerunners from the ’70s and ’80s. The average Heavy Vinyl LP I throw on my turntable sounds like it’s playing in another room. What audiophile in his right mind could possibly find that quality appealing?
But there are scores of companies turning out this crap. Somebody must be buying it.
Some Relevant Commentaries
A Technological Fix for a Non-Existent Problem
How to Make All Your Records Sound Like Mobile Fidelity Pressings – For Free!
A Half-Speed that Actually Beats Most Originals
Adding 10k Was a Dumb Idea, But They Did It Anyway
Half-Speed Stamper Variations Are Real
Another Classic Album Ruined
Where Did All the Musical Information Go?
Why Is This Album So Compressed?
Why Is This Album So Spitty?
This Beatles’ Albums Are Consistently Spittier on Mobile Fidelity – Why Is That?
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; 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…)
Someone wrote the following to us recently:
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,
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:
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
Basic Concepts and Realities Explained
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments
Key Tracks for Critical Listening
Making Audio Progress
Stampers and Pressing Information
We Was Wrong
You get your money back, no questions asked.
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 it did for us, 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. (more…)
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. With 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.
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.
Hot Stampers sound better than other records — 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. (more…)
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 FAQ.
We recommend that you read it before continuing on with this one. The Hot Stamper FAQ below deals specifically with the kinds of issues that potential customers, as well as skeptics and forum posters (god bless ’em!), have raised with us over the years.
We think sitting down to play 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 audio system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog.