Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Advice on how to find the best sounding pressings of your favorite music.

First Get Good Sound – Then You Can Recognize and Acquire Good Records

I defy anyone who has not made a lifelong study of record collecting to tell me what even a small fraction of the records pictured here sound like. 

The owner can’t possibly know either.

You know why this guy has so many records? Because it’s easy to be a collector; you just collect stuff.

To get your stereo and room to sound right, and recognize when they are sounding right, that is very, very hard.

I’ve been at it for forty-five years. I still work at it and try to learn new things every day.

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 “Collectible Audiophile Records.” The kind with Collector Value and very little else.

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

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Beware of Fooling Yourself with Pseudo Shootouts

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We encourage any audiophile who wants to improve the quality of his record collection to start doing his own shootouts. 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 playing 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. Be sure to take extensive notes.

Shootouts 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 carefully, or follow rigorous testing protocols, 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…)

The Dirty Little Secret of the Record Biz Part 3

More Traffic

More Steve Winwood

Hits That Are Made from Dub Tapes

The sound of some songs on some greatest hits albums can be BETTER than the sound of those very same songs on the best original pressings.

How can that be you ask, dumbfounded by the sheer ridiculousness of such a statement? Well, dear reader, I’ll tell you. It’s a dirty little secret in the record biz that sometimes the master for the presumptive Hit Single (or singles) is pulled from the album’s final two track master mix tape and used to make the 45 single, the idea being that the single is what people are going to hear on the radio and want to buy, or, having heard it sound so good on the radio, go out and buy the album.

One way or another, it’s the single that will do the selling of the band’s music. This is clearly the case with the albums of Traffic.
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Building a Store of Knowledge, One Record at a Time

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We recently ran across the commentary below in a reply to a Hot Stamper testimonial for Honky Cat. Based on our own experience, we give a quick and dirty primer on how one can build up one’s knowledge of records, stampers, labels, pressing variations and the like. 

We don’t really give out much in the way of specific information about any of those things; we just tell you how it can be done. It’s your job to go out and do it. It’s simple; just follow our lead. How tough can it be?

How We Find Them

Phil wondered how we could find such an amazing sounding record, which in this case is a rhetorical question. Phil knows exactly how we find them, because he shops at the same L.A. stores we do and finds a few himself — the only way it can be done, the old-fashioned way. We buy them, clean them and play them, just like Phil does.

The difference these days is one of scale. With five or six people here cleaning and playing records every day, we can probably shootout forty or fifty or even a hundred times as many records as any single person working by himself could. And to find the raw material (LPs, what else?) it helps immensely if you live in a major city like L.A., where records, even high-quality ones, are still abundant, if not ubiquitous.

After a shootout one of my favorite things to do is to jot down the stampers for the hottest copies. I then head right out to my favorite record stores to search through the bins and — even better — the overstock underneath. So many times I’ve thrilled to the purchase of an album with exactly the right stampers that very day, a copy that I would never have known to buy had we not just done the shootout.

Streamlining the Process

This is how record knowledge builds: one LP at a time. To that end we’ve streamlined the system of finding Hot Stampers, turning the process into a rough kind of science and devoting well over a hundred manhours a week to the effort. It’s time-consuming and expensive, but every week we find Hot Stamper copies of great albums that MURDER the competition, in the process often dramatically changing our expectations of how good that music can sound. (more…)

John Is Pretty Sure Hot Stampers Don’t Sound Good: “The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records.”

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out the interview Wired conducted with me a few years back.

If you have some time on your hands, maybe too much time on your hands, go to the comments section and read the 300 plus postings that can be found there, the writers of which seem to be offended by the very idea of Hot Stampers. They also decry the obvious shortcomings of analog vinyl itself, as well as the ridiculously expensive equipment some credulous, misguided audiophiles use to play it, as if you didn’t know already!

Here is one that I found to be especially interesting from a psychological perspective: 

Bad, mismatched system setup. Customer base probably has the same. Also evaluation process is questionable. Uses a mediocre solid state amp and looks for “tubey magic” because of some misplaced concept of “accuracy” as I discussed before.

Yes, there is a lot of bad stuff out there, and it does give the stereo industry as a whole a bad name. I have heard some pretty crappy, expensive setups in my day.

I was listening to Phoebe Snow’s “Second Childhood” on my best system last night. Boy, I love my new turntable!

The only problem I have with my evaluations is that I never heard his records. My comments are probably correct, but it would be interesting to audition a few of his “golden” albums just to confirm he hasn’t really found anything. The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original. Claiming otherwise hurts his credibility.

John

There is one sentence in the paragraphs above that should raise a giant red flag and help you to appreciate how reliable John’s analysis of our stereo and methods might turn out to be. If you didn’t catch it the first time through, give it another shot. Okay, here goes:

“The reason I am confident that he probably does not have anything is because virtually every repressing I’ve heard is better than the original.”

That’s so strange! Virtually every repressing I’ve heard is worse than the original. What gives?

If I may paraphrase our writer: the reason I am confident that he probably does not know anything about records or audio is that he thinks repressings are always better than vintage pressings. We’ve critically auditioned tens of thousands of records, including many hundreds of repressings, admittedly on our “bad, mismatched system setup,” and I guess we must have gotten it all wrong over the 34 years we’ve been in the audiophile record business. The shame of it all!

Obviously, John knows he does not need to try one of our Hot Stampers. You can see him talking himself into the wisdom of doing nothing with each succeeding paragraph. It’s so easy for him to be right by pretending to know something he can’t possibly know.

And if he did ever order one, and had at least a halfway decent stereo to play it on, it would turn his world upside down so fast it would make his head hurt, and the possibility of that happening would be very, very upsetting. It makes no sense for John to risk such an outcome.

Even if our records were as cheap as the ones he is buying, it would not justify the psychological damage that would result. He would basically have to start his collection over again, as this good customer did.  A few hundred others just like him have done the same, and they’re the ones that will be keeping us in business for years to come. To paraphrase another famous saying, “They’ve heard the future, and it works!

Better for John to follow the path he is on. It’s working for him. Why would he want to rock his own boat? (more…)

The Search for Lush Life – We Broke Through in 2016

More John Coltrane

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

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We’ve been searching for years trying to find just what kind of Lush Life pressing — what era, what label, what stampers, mono or stereo, import or domestic — had the potential for good sound.

No, scratch that. We should have said excellent sound. Exceptional sound. We’ve played plenty of copies that sounded pretty good, even very good, but exceptional? That pressing had eluded us — until a few months ago.

Yes, it was only a few months ago, early in 2016 in fact, that we chanced upon the right kind of pressing — the right era, the right label, the right stampers, the right sound. Not just the right sound though. Better sound than we ever thought this album could have. (more…)

Labels, Patterns and the Circle of Reason

Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

30+ Reviews of Mercury Classical LPs

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This commentary was written more than ten years ago, but as far as I can tell, it still holds up!

RFR1/ 2.

This pressing has DEMONSTRATION QUALITY SOUND.

Here is the sound that Mercury is famous for: immediate, dynamic and spacious. This record lives up to the Mercury claim: You immediately feel as though you are in the Living Presence of the orchestra.

This is precisely the kind of record that Speakers Corner would not have a clue how to master. I’d stake my reputation on it, for what that’s worth.

As you know, I am one of the most vocal critics of the new Speakers Corner Mercury series, and I can tell you without ever hearing their version of this recording that there is NO CHANCE IN THE WORLD they will ever cut a record that sounds like this. It’s alive in a way that none of their pressings would even begin suggest. If you don’t believe me, please buy this record and play it for yourself. If you don’t agree, I will refund your money and pay the domestic shipping back.

This record also gives the lie to those who think that Vendor pressings are inferior. This is a Vendor and I would be very surprised if there’s a better sounding copy than this one. I’ve certainly never heard one.

People who like to read labels and find some sort of pattern or connection between the label and the sound of the record are living in a world of their own making.

The stamper numbers are the only thing that can possibly mean anything on a record, and even those are subject to so much variation from pressing to pressing that they become only a vague, general guide.

This LP is a good example of a record that a misguided or misinformed record collector would pass up, hoping to find a better sounding non-Vendor pressing.

Of course the circular reasoning that would result is that such a collector would buy the non-Vendor pressing, possibly with the exact same stamper numbers, hear how good it sounded, and congratulate himself on the fact that the non-Vendor pressings always sound so much better. All without ever having done a comparison.

A good way to never be wrong!

After Years of Searching, We Finally Found an Old Beatles Record that Sounds Pretty Good

The Beatles for Sale

On the Yellow and Black Parlophone label! This is best sounding early label pressing we have ever played. Not a Shootout Winner, far even close, but a perfectly enjoyable copy of one of the best sounding Beatles albums we play on a regular basis.

Before this, the only Beatles record we would sell on the Yellow and Black Parlophone label was A Collection of Oldies… But Goldies. That title does have the best sound on the early label. In numerous shootouts, no Black and Silver label pressing from the ’70s was competitive with the best stereo copies made in the ’60s.

Until now, it was clearly the exception to our rule: that from With the Beatles up through Sgt. Pepper, the best sounding Beatles pressings would always be found on the best reissue pressings.

Here are the notes for the best sounding For Sale on the early label we played in our recent shootout. (more…)

Selling Your TAS Super Disc List LPs? – Say It Isn’t So!

[This listing is from more than ten years ago. Please to enjoy!]

We ran across a website years ago that confirmed our worst prejudices regarding Audiophiles and their apparent desire to rely on gurus such as Harry Pearson to tell them which records sound good and which don’t.

This flies in the face of everything we stand for here at Better Records.

  • Since no two records sound the same, a list of so-called Super Discs is practically meaningless. “Practically meaningless” hits the nail right on the head as far as we are concerned. Picture yourself standing in your local record store with a record in your hands, one you happen to know is on the TAS List. This knowledge makes the record slightly more likely to sound better than any other record you might have randomly picked up in the store. Insignificantly, trivially more likely. In other words, as a practical matter, no more likely. Why is this? Three reasons: one, many Super Discs are not on the TAS List; two, some of the records on the TAS List are not deserving of Super Disc status; and most importantly, three, most pressings of titles on the TAS List don’t sound good — only the right ones do.
  • But that’s not even the point. Ask yourself this: Why on earth would anyone want to collect the records on The TAS List, when most of these records contain music that appeals to a very small circle of people outside of Harry and his friends? The purpose of having an audiophile quality music system is that it allows you to hear your favorite music sound better than it would otherwise sound. It’s not for playing someone else’s favorite records; it’s for playing your favorite records.

This is why we do our Hot Stamper shootouts for records nobody in his right mind would think of doing. Toto IV? Zuma? Toulouse Street? You’ve got to be kidding.

No, we’re not. We love those albums. We sincerely want to find great sounding copies of them for those of our customers who love them too. It’s as simple as that.

Nobody else on the planet seems capable (or interested) in doing the kind of work it takes to find superior pressings of these albums, so if we don’t do it, who will? Nobody, that’s who.

But I digress. The website we ran across is no longer active.

Had you gone there back in the day, the page you would have seen first is a list of Marty’s Audiophile Vinyl Collection, which he introduces this way:

I have been a reader of The Absolute Sound since issue 33, (1982) one of the great journeys of my life. (I still have those old issues.) I was always an avid follower of the “Super disc list” that Harry Pearson had put together, a “Holy scripture” that I followed in earnest. I have amassed many of those titles knowing full well that I would be rewarded by sonic treats they lay ahead.

Thanks Harry !!

Holy scripture? Sonic treats? I think I just threw up in my mouth.

What followed was the TAS List, in all its vainglory, with Marty’s links to the copies he has been “fortunate” enough to acquire.

Just for fun you might have wanted to click on the Rock & Pop section. Here you would have found some of the worst sounding audiophile pressings ever made.

Mobile Fidelity Magical Mystery Tour?

Abbey Road and Rubber Soul on Japanese vinyl?

This is some real garbage. 

The more I browsed the more I had the feeling that my head was about to explode. Records like these positively disgust me. They pretend to be audiophile records, when in fact they universally sound phony and wrong. They fool audiophiles easily enough, that’s pretty clear, but any music lover would recognize their junky qualities in a heartbeat. (more…)

Finding Good Companies to Invest in Is a Lot Like Finding Good Sounding Records to Play

Which of the copies below sound good and which don’t?

If you turn over enough of these rocks you will find the good ones.

There is no other way.

These are just some of the rocks we’ve turned over in the last 20+ years.

More rocks! (more…)