Stampers and Pressing Information

Shelly Manne and his Friends / My Fair Lady – This Black Label Original Stereo Pressing Was Just Awful

In our experience, the Black Label stereo originals with D4/D5 stampers are terrible sounding.

With those stampers, My Fair Lady is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early pressing we’ve reviewed and found wanting. Both sides graded “No,” our not-especially-technical term for a record that sounds bad.

Notes for Side One:

Track one is bright and unnatural up top. Track two is not very musical.

Notes for Side Two:

Track one is very weird sounding, thin and small.

(Obviously there was no need to play a second track.)

As you may have read elsewhere on the site, some Contemporary originals are very poorly mastered, which should put paid to the idea that Hot Stampers are only, or even usually, original pressings.

In our most recent shootout, the second-best sounding pressing was on the early Black Label. We would love to give out the stampers for that one, but we don’t do that.

Click here to read about the various labels that Contemporary used over the years. Some people like to search for relationships between the sound of the pressing and the label it has, but in our experience that is more often than not a fool’s game once you account for the confirmation biases that go along with that approach.


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Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne / Fiedler – Our Shootout Winner from 2004

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

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More Reviews and Commentaries for Gaite Pareisienne

In 2004 we wrote:

 11S/ 10S are the best stampers for this amazing DEMONSTRATION QUALITY record!

I think that information still holds up. I can also tell you that 5S/5S has never impressed us much.

M-/ E+++. Side 1 plays nearly NM without a pop! Side 2 opens with a half inch scratch. But think about it — isn’t one side about the right amount for this kind of music? Do you really need to play side 2 after hearing side 1? This copy gives you a good portion of the music with AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND.

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? Four mics and two channels and it blows away 90% of all the classical recordings ever made.

Some old record collectors and tube equipment lovers [not so much anymore] say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it. (And this record proves that sometimes old records just sound like old records.)


FURTHER READING

What to Listen For on Classical Records (more…)

The Beatles / With The Beatles – These Are the Stampers to Avoid

More of The Beatles

More Stamper and Pressing Information, Gratis

Reviews and Commentaries for With the Beatles

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In our experience, the stereo pressings with -2/-2 stampers are terrible sounding. We do not have any on hand, but we doubt that -1/-1 — the original, the first, the one approved by George Martin himself! — is any better. 

With -2 stampers this is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early LP reviewed and found wanting.

We’ve auditioned countless pressings like this one in the 33 years we’ve been in business — buying, cleaning and playing them by the thousands. This is how we find the best sounding vinyl pressings ever made.

Not the ones that should sound the best. The ones that actually do sound the best.

If you’re an audiophile looking for top quality sound on vintage vinyl, we’d be happy to send you the Hot Stamper pressing guaranteed to beat anything and everything you’ve heard, especially if you have any pressing marketed as suitable for an audiophile. Those, with very few exceptions, are the worst.

And if we can’t beat whatever LP you own or have heard, you get your money back.  It’s as simple as that.

That Old Canard

The early pressings are consistently grittier, edgier and more crude than the later pressings we played. So much for that old canard “original is better”. When it comes to With The Beatles it just ain’t so, and it doesn’t take a state of the art system or a pair of golden ears to hear it.

The audiophile community seems not to have caught on to the faults of the early Beatles pressings, but we here at Better Records are doing our best to correct their all-too-common misperceptions, one Hot Stamper pressing at a time.

It may be a lot of work, but we don’t mind — we love The Beatles! We want to find the best sounding copies of ALL their records, and there is simply no other way to do it than to play them by the dozens. (more…)

The Doors / Self-Titled ‎- These Are the Stampers to Avoid

More of The Doors

More Stamper and Pressing Information, Gratis

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In our experience, the Gold Label stereo originals with 1B/1B stampers are terrible sounding.

With 1B stampers it’s a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another Original reviewed and found wanting.

We’ve auditioned countless pressings like this one in the 33 years we’ve been in business — buying, cleaning and playing them by the thousands. This is how we find the best sounding vinyl pressings ever made.

Not the ones that should sound the best. The ones that actually do sound the best.

If you’re an audiophile looking for top quality sound on vintage vinyl, we’d be happy to send you the Hot Stamper pressing guaranteed to beat anything and everything you’ve heard, especially if you have any pressing marketed as suitable for an audiophile. Those, with very few exceptions, are the worst.

And if we can’t beat whatever LP you own or have heard, you get your money back.  It’s as simple as that.

Tom Port / Better Records


FURTHER READING

Basic Concepts and Realities Explained  (more…)

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Limits of Expert Advice

More Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Zuma

Richard Feynman gave a series of lectures concerning the workings of the scientific method. Here is an excerpt from one of them that I would like you to keep in mind as you read the discussion below.

Now I’m going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it (audience laughter), no, don’t laugh, that’s the truth. Then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see what, if this is right, if this law we guess is right, to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature or we say compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works.

If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is … If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.

Back in 2015 a mastering engineer by the name of Phil Brown contacted me in reference to a Hot Stamper pressing of Neil Young’s Zuma he had seen in our mailer. (Apologies in advance for not giving out the stamper numbers; we frown on that sort of thing around here.) He wrote:

  Hey Tom,   

I see it’s a featured disc in the newsletter. I’m curious what the matrix numbers are since I mastered it. (more…)

Strauss / Don Quixote / Reiner on Soria Living Stereo

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6S/ 5S. RCA Soria pressing in like new condition, which means it plays about M–, maybe a little better. This is the best sounding copy of this album I have ever heard. Far from the best RCA Living Stereo has to offer, this copy is not nearly as dreadful as I remember the last one sounded. The quieter passages are especially lovely. The climaxes are strained as usual but I’ve never heard a copy of this record that didn’t have that problem. (more…)

Letter of the Week – Diamond Dogs and Hunky Dory

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom,   

I want to thank you so much for the Diamond Dogs I received from you. It is in a whole different league to the best I have ever managed to find and it is so satisfying to hear something how I always thought it should sound and at a very reasonable price. This is my favourite Bowie album.

Interestingly I bought a Hunky Dory recently that is out of this world. I know one is not supposed to give away stamper numbers and such (blame my compulsive honesty on my Aspergers!) and you probably know this already but the pressing is German RCA International with E 0014A -2 II and E 0014 B 1 II. It is seriously one of the best records I have and by far the best Bowie.

Thanks again Tom and everyone at Better records!

Cheers,

Peter

Peter, glad to hear you liked our Diamond Dogs! Those are indeed very special pressings.

Best, TP

[We happen to know the German pressing he references above. It can be good but not great. They are not competitive with the copies we sell.] (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…)

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

More of the music of Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)

Reviews and Commentaries for the music of Rimsky-Korsakov

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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. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “Just curious as to why you never point out a Bob Ludwig “RL” pressing?”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I am an avid vinyl cat and have been all of my life. I am super curious about your vinyl. I have a pretty good ear myself for top-shelf LP’s but I am just curious as to why you never point out a Bob Ludwig “RL” pressing? Or maybe you have and I just have not noticed?

Thanks so much for a response and much respect for what you are doing and selling…

Dana

Dana, we explained it here, in a little commentary we like to call The Book of Hot Stampers.

We give out no stamper numbers, no information about cutting engineers as a rule, although we do break that rule from time to time. Here is an excerpt of a listing for Rock of Ages from way back when:

What We Thought We Knew

In 2006 we put up a copy with with what we implied were Hot Stampers (before we were using the term regularly) on at least one side:

Side One sounds tonally right on the money! This is as good as it gets… Robert Ludwig mastered all of the originals of these albums, but some of them have bad vinyl and don’t sound correct.

I only played side one of the album, so I can’t speak for the other sides, but what I heard was sound about as good as I think this album can have.

There are some truths along with some half-truths in the above comments, and let’s just say we would be quite a bit more careful in our language were we writing about that copy today.

One side is no indication whatsoever as to the quality of the other three, and without the kind of cleaning technologies we have available to us today, I wouldn’t want to make a “definitive” sonic assessment for any of them.

When you play uncleaned or poorly cleaned records you’re hearing a lot of garbage that has nothing to do with the sound of the actual vinyl. (Note that we are joking above: there is no such thing as a definitive sonic assessment of a record, from us or anybody else.)

Ludwig cut many bad sounding records. Roxy Music Avalon original domestic pressings are RL and are made from dubs — and sound like it.  Same with Dire Straits’ Alchemy. Some RL Houses of the Holy sound amazing and some only decent.  It’s the nature of the beast. (more…)