Genre – Rock – Psych Rock

The Moody Blues – A Question of Balance – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame. 

This British Threshhold pressing is one of the best copies of this album we’ve heard. Both sides have tons of tubey magic (natch), BIG BASS, and better transparency than the copies we played it against. Most Moody Blues records are too murky to make much sense of, but this Hot Stamper copy breaks through that mud and gives fans of this band the sound they’ve been wishing for and likely never found.

It has the tubey magic missing from the reissues and the typical import pressings. (The domestic copies of course are a bad joke.) When you hear the acoustic guitars strumming on a song like Question, the strongest song on the album, you would think you had a pair of 1954 McIntosh MC-30 vintage tube amps hooked up to your speakers. (I know that sound well; I owned those amps and they are hard to beat for midrange magic.)

Of course the problem with these vintage Moody Blues records (and the problem with vintage McIntosh amps too!) is that transparency and clarity are not their strong suits. In other words, there’s a certain “murky” quality to the sound that some may find less than appealing.

However, this is the sound the Moody Blues wanted. (There’s a long story behind that but I won’t go into it now.) Trying to “fix it” can only result in one outcome — a disaster. This is what modern recording engineers don’t understand. Brightening up a record like this adds nothing to its sound. The richness and the sweetness are what’s good about these recordings, and making them brighter causes them to lose a great deal in those two areas. (A judicious bit of boost in the extreme highs, one or two DB at 10 or 12K might have some benefit. The problem is that anyone messing with the sound is going to want to add some below that, in that dangerous 3 to 5K range, and that’s the last thing in the world that should be done.)

You can EQ this all you want. It is what it is and nothing you are likely to do will make it any better. (more…)

Frank Zappa / Captain Beefheart – Bongo Fury – Our Shootout Winning Copy from 2006

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Bongo Fury

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

This Minty looking Discreet LP has STUNNINGLY GOOD SOUND ON BOTH SIDES! It’s very transparent and full-bodied from top to bottom. The bass is meaty and punchy, and the top end is wonderfully extended. You can hear lots of ambience the cymbals and hi-hats. It doesn’t sound like there’s anything between you and the music. I can’t remember ever hearing this record sound so good. 

Some of this music is recorded live and some of it is studio material. The live tracks offer some of the best live Frank Zappa sound you will EVER hear.

This recording is just plain wacky fun. You get the maximum entertainment value with this one. Muffin Man is the high point of this album. It’s one of my favorite Zappa tracks. (more…)

Traffic – Best of Traffic – Our Shootout Winner from 2011

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Best of Traffic

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

This Island British Pink Label pressing has SOME OF THE BEST TRAFFIC SOUND YOU’LL EVER HEAR! We’ve been flipping out over Hot Stamper copies of this greatest hits comp for ages for a very simple, yet likely shocking, reason — the sound on the best copies can be BETTER than 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. Follow me over the jump to find out. 

It’s a dirty little secret in the record biz that sometimes the master for the anticipated Hit Single (or singles) is pulled from the album’s final two track master and used to make the 45, the thinking being that the 45 is what people are going to buy, or, having heard it sound so good on the radio, cause them to buy the album. One way or another, it’s the single that will do the selling of Traffic’s music. (more…)

The Doors – The Soft Parade – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

This incredibly rare, exceptionally quiet Elektra Gold Label LP sounds AMAZING, As Good As It Gets (AGAIG)! The sound is BIG, RICH, and FULL-BODIED, exactly the way it should be. As good as the Hot Stamper Big Red E Label copies can be, and that’s very good indeed, the right first pressing is still The King. It just can’t be beat. 

The difference might only be 5%, but on a big dynamic speaker playing at loud levels that 5% can really give the sound the boost it needs to go over the top into crazy Demo Disc Land. (more…)

Love – Love

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

A classic from 1966, a combination of proto-punk and psychedelia featuring My Little Red Book, Hey Joe and more. The first Love album is without a doubt the punchiest, liveliest, most POWERFUL recording in the Love catalog. Engineered by none other than Bruce Botnick, here is the kind of massive bottom end weight and energy that we like to call WHOMP.

Some of you may not know this music, but it’s a true Must Own Psychedelic Gem from the ’60s, a record no rock collection should be without, along with other groundbreaking albums from the ’60s such as Surrealistic Pillow, The Doors’ debut, the first Spirit album and too many others to list. (more…)

The Doors – Waiting For The Sun – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame

It’s been over a year, but Waiting For The Sun Hot Stampers are BACK! It’s exceedingly difficult to find a good sounding, reasonably quiet Gold Label copy of this album, let alone enough copies to put together a proper shootout. It wasn’t easy, but a copy like this makes all the trouble worthwhile. Side one is a tubey magical A++, and side two is As Good As It Gets (AGAIG) at A+++.

Side one is WONDERFUL — tubey magical with tons of energy and real weight to the bottom end. The highs are silky sweet, the mids are warm and rich, and the bass is tight and punchy. This is THE BIG SOUND that we look for on Doors records. Morrison’s vocals sound JUST RIGHT here — full-bodied and breathy with incredible immediacy. The transparency is astonishing — you can easily pick out and follow Morrison’s double tracked vocals. (more…)

Frank Zappa & The Mothers – Freak Out! – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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Freak Out!

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Jazz Hall of Fame.

No Demo Disc by any stretch, this Hot Stamper beat the pants off of what appears to be a true first pressing that we just happened to have on hand. Most pressings of this double album are just awful, if you can even find one that’s clean enough to bother playing. Our copy here earned grades of A Plus on sides one, two and four, and a grade of A Double Plus on side three. No copy in our shootout earned a higher grade than A++, for the simple reason that we just can’t find enough clean original copies with which to do a definitve shootout.  (more…)

Iron Butterfly – In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida – Dubby Da-Vida

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The craziest thing we learned in our shootout is that something close to half of all the yellow label, authentic, non-record-club Atco copies we played had clearly been mastered from a dub tape on side two, the side with In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida.

We’re guessing that at some point after 1968, when it came time to recut the record, the cutting master for side two was either damaged or couldn’t be found. Not a problem the label says to itself, we have a safety tape we can copy and use for side two.

Problem solved, except for the fact that on those copies In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida sounds like a cassette playing on a machine with worn out heads. The sound is smeary, veiled, small and recessed — all but unlistenable.  (more…)

Jefferson Airplane – Surrealistic Pillow – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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Surrealistic Pillow

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

An OFF THE CHARTS side one with more tubey magic than you probably ever imagined! We always have fun playing a great copy of the psychedelic ’60s masterpiece, because the sound gives you so many of the qualities we love about good ol’ analog. No one’s recording albums any more with this kind of richness, sweetness, and warmth, that’s for sure! Drop the needle on My Best Friend or Today to hear that trippy Sixties San Francisco sound at its best. 

I don’t know how many more Hot Stamper copies we’ll be able to dig up, as these are getting harder and harder to come by — not to mention more expensive. Decent looking original pressings sell for good money these days, and not too many of them sound all that good. Add in the groove damage and surface noise that plague most of them, and you can see why it’s hard for us to continue picking them up and hoping for the best.

It’s An Uphill Battle Every Time

This album is an exceedingly difficult nut to crack — no matter how many copies we have, no matter how much information we have to work with. Play the typical copy and you’ll likely run for cover — we heard played copies that were aggressive, shrill, lifeless, dull, thick, veiled, bass-shy — you name it, we heard it. Not only that, but as a rule these early pressings are BEAT TO DEATH. Finding a copy that sounds any good and plays Mint Minus Minus or better is a real challenge.

But we didn’t give up. We knew that the best pressings of this album have tubey magic in spades. Undaunted, we kept up the search and eventually found some OUT OF THIS WORLD Hot Stamper copies.

Almost every pressing you’ll ever find suffers from at least a bit of harmonic distortion — some MUCH worse than others. We were convinced at one point that it was on the tapes, but after playing these super clean copies, we now know that not to be the case. (more…)

Traffic – Mr. Fantasy – Where’s the Bass?

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This Pink Label Original Island pressing has amazingly sweet, open, extended and transparent mids and highs. It has two major shortcomings: a lack of bass, and a fair amount of surface noise. If you can add a few dB around 50 cycles and can put up with some surface noise and scratches, you are guaranteed to hear some wonderful sound in the best tubey Island tradition. 

Side two sounds better than side one; it has more bass and therefore is more tonally correct.