Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

A Frequently Asked Question – How can your records possibly be worth these prices?

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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…)

A Frequently Asked Question – How come you guys don’t like Half-Speed Mastered Records?

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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, a subject we discuss in greater depth here.

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.

Head to Head It’s No Contest

Visit our Hall of Shame (300+ strong) to see what are in our opinion some of the worst sounding records ever made.

Note that most of the entries are audiophile remasterings of one kind or another.

The reason for this is simple: we’ve gone through the all-too-often unpleasant experience of comparing them head to head with our best Hot Stamper pressings.

When you can hear them that way, up against an exceptionally good record, their flaws become that much more obvious and, frankly, much more intolerable.

A Frequently Asked Question – Are all Hot Stampers exceptionally good sounding records?

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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 the only 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, those records will sound.

 

A Frequently Asked Question – What if I like the copy I own as much as the Hot Stamper?

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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.

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% 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.

A Frequently Asked Question – What makes you guys think you know it all?

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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. (more…)

Are Hot Stampers a Good Investment?

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

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Hot Stampers sure sound better than other records, but do they have any real “collector” value?

Not really. On the surface they look just like any other pressing, so their market value 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.   (more…)

Straight Answers to Your Questions – Are Hot Stampers Just Original Pressings?

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.

Are Hot Stampers just original pressings?

They certainly can be, but quite often are not, which of course comes as a surprise to no one who works here. 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 on the turntable), why not just evaluate both the originals and the reissues at the same time, and do so strictly on the merits? (more…)

How can common rock records be worth as much as you are charging?

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

Unfortunately the cost of the records you see on the site is only a part of the cost of that 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. (more…)

A Frequently Asked Question – How much better will a Hot Stamper sound on my system?

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions

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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 is to try a record or two and see if the sound quality justifies the price to you. 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.

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 what he’s missing out on: the enjoyment of that music.



Another 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 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! (more…)

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

Straight Answers to Your Questions about Hot Stampers

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?

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? (more…)