Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

A Frequently Asked Question – 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. (more…)

A Frequently Asked Question – Do I already have some Hot Stamper copies in my collection?

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?

Familiarity with the conventional wisdom regarding which labels and stampers are supposed to have better sound is really not much help in this regard, despite what you may have heard, and is often misleading when not outright erroneous.

The only way to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing for certain is through the shootout process.

If you’ve done shootouts for your favorite albums on your own (or with friends), pitting five or ten cleaned copies of the same record against one another, then you definitely have Hot Stampers in your collection, and you know exactly which ones they are — they’re the ones that won the shootout.

How hot they are relative to the records we sell is a much more difficult question to answer, and can really only be answered by pitting our copy against yours, head to head. Needless to say, we welcome the challenge!

There are many more entries in our Conducting Your Own Shootouts series which can help you find the Hot Stampers hiding in your own collection.

A Frequently Asked Question – Why don’t you give out the stampers of your “Hot Stampers”?

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When it comes to stampers, labels, mastering credits, country of origin and the like, we make a point of rarely revealing any of this information on the site, for a number of good reasons we discuss in some depth HERE.

The idea that the stampers are entirely responsible for the quality of any given record’s sound is a MYTH, and a rather convenient one too, once you stop to think about it. Audiophiles, like most everybody else on this planet, want answers. (Continued below.)

But in the world of records, there really aren’t any.

There is only the hard work that it takes to come up with the best answer you can under your present circumstances: your present equipment, your present tweaks, your present room, your present electrical quality, your present listening skills, your present table set-up, etcetera, etcetera.

This is discussed at length in a commentary we wrote long ago entitled: The Science of Hot Stampers: Incomplete, Imperfect, and (Gulp!) Provisional,, reproduced below. (more…)

A Frequently Asked Question – Aren’t Hot Stampers just original pressings?

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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, and do so strictly on the merits?

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.

Click on this link to read more about one of the thorniest questions in all of audio: Which have the best sound, Originals vs. Reissues? (more…)

A Frequently Asked Question – What Exactly Are Hot Stampers?

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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. 

Here we lay out the basics of how we go about Finding Hot Stampers. The most important thing to keep in mind is this: if we can do it, you can do it.

We also have two FAQ sections: one for general questions about the business end of things, and one to answer your questions about Hot Stampers in more detail.

More Shootout Advice

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…)