Frequently Asked Questions

The Book of Hot Stampers

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I received this email a while back: “Hi Tom, could you please recommend a book which would give the stamper numbers associated with the different pressings of a particular record.”

Let me take this opportunity to give a more comprehensive answer, since the concept of Hot Stampers is not especially well understood by the audiophile community outside of our admittedly rather small customer base. Only those who have spent a great deal of time reading the reviews and commentary on the site are likely to understand the importance of stampers. This is partly my fault, as this issue of stamper variability and quality is spread out all over the place, exactly where, no one really knows.
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Are Hot Stamper pressings quiet?

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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 this 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 since 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 LINK will take you to the records on the site that earned our highest play grade, Mint Minus. (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 most 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.

With six people on staff, keeping the records playing, the listings going up on the site and the mailers going out to our customers runs about a thousand dollars a day. The cost of the records — the “raw material” of our business — is rarely more than 20% of that.

Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour, have them all cleaned, file them and then wait anywhere from six months to two years for the pile of copies on the shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout.

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 it’s possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process is time-consuming.

No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of time 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 even take two, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.

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