*Our Playback System

Hi-Fi Beats My-Fi If You Are At All Serious about Audio

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, nothing added, nothing taken away.

When we play a modern record, it should sound modern. When we play a vintage Tubey Magical Living Stereo pressing, we want to hear all the Tubey Magic, but we don’t want to hear more Tubey Magic than what is actually on the record.

We don’t want to do what some audiophiles like to do, which is to make all their records sound the way they like all their records to sound.

They do that by having their system add in all their favorite colorations. We call that “My-Fi,” not “Hi-Fi,” and we’re having none of it.

If our system were more colored, slower and tubier, a vintage Living Stereo record would not sound as good as it should. It’s already got plenty of richness, warmth, sweetness and Tubey Magic.

To take an obvious example, playing the average dry and grainy Joe Walsh record on our system is a fairly unpleasant experience. Some added warmth and richness, with maybe some smear and some upper-midrange suckout thrown in for good measure, would make it much more enjoyable.

But then how would we know which Joe Walsh pressings aren’t too dry and grainy for our customers to play and enjoy?

We discussed some of these issues in another commentary: (more…)

Our Playback System – And Why You Shouldn’t Care

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

Advice on Making Audio Progress

Below you will find a list of most of the equipment we have been using over the years to carry out our Hot Stamper pressing evaluations, or “shootouts” as we like to call them.

Of course the old 80/20 Rule comes into play here — 80% (probably more like 90 or 95%, truth be told) of the sound is what you do with your audio system, 20% (or 10 or 5%) of the sound is the result of the components you own.

We like to say it’s not about the audio you have, it’s about the audio you do: how you set up your system, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest of it.

Our VPI Aries (original, not the latest model) with Super Platter (no longer made) and TTWeights Carbon Fiber Platter (a big upgrade, no longer made) / VPI Synchronous Drive System (as of 2016 now sitting on a Townshend Seismic Sink) Triplanar Tonearm / Dynavector 17d3 [now 17dx] / Aurios (no longer made), which sit on a Townshend Seismic Sink (another big upgrade, contact me if interested) / EAR 324P and the hundreds of hours we’ve spent setting up and tweaking this beast is at the heart of everything we do around here.

We love our modified Legacy Focus speakers, even more now that they have much improved high frequency extension courtesy of Townshend Super Tweeters.

Mix in extensive room treatments, aided inestimably by three pairs of Hallographs (as we like to say, there is no practically no Hi-Fi without them), more than thirty years of experience and endless hours of experimentation and you have a system that can separate the winners from the losers like nobody’s business.

Exactly like nobody’s business, because nobody does it in this business but us. Having heard hundreds of systems over the years, it’s an open question as to whether anyone else could do what we do.

The Benefits of Low Power Amps

Our preamp and amp are vintage and low power; the Focus can play quite loudly with the thirty-five watts our amp puts out. We are big fans of Low Power (but not single ended) and are not the least bit happy with the current trend toward high-power amps, whether tube or transistor. I remember well when this trend started in the early ’70s with the Phase Linear 400 amp. It has only gotten worse with each passing year.

A few years back we tried using higher power amps when doing shootouts for the likes of Nirvana, AC/DC and such. We found that using a bigger amp involved major trade-offs, trade-offs (opacity; loss of transient information, spaciousness and ambience) whose costs far exceeded their benefits.

With more power comes less Tubey Magic, sweetness, transparency, three-dimensionality and that wonderful relaxed quality which allows the music to flow. High power amps in our experience do none of these things well. As most speakers today are terribly inefficient, they require the use of high power amps, a choice most audiophiles do not even know they are making when they buy inefficient speakers. 

If you own large power amps, there is a very good chance you do not know what you are missing.

Most of our wiring — interconnect and speaker (the Triplanar is hardwired with a top quality phono interconnect) — is custom, although we recommend certain power cords when you buy specific equipment from us (such as the EAR phono stages). We occasionally engage in audiophile wire-bashing in our commentaries.

And Why You Shouldn’t Care

Having said that, we don’t think you should care a whit about what equipment we use.

No, I take that back. Let’s be honest. The equipment we’ve listed is the equipment we use and recommend because it’s the best equipment we have had the opportunity to audition, or managed to acquire, or happened to come our way, and was affordable at the time. In truth, it was some combination of the above. It’s what works for us.

The bulk of audiophile equipment we have auditioned over the last thirty plus years would make our famous Hot Stamper shootouts difficult to carry out.

Most of it sounds far too colored, limited and often — not to put too fine a point on it — just plain wrong.

This Beatles commentary targets the issue, but in hundreds of listings we try to help the reader/ listener focus specifically on what a recording should be doing in the home. The better your equipment and room, the better your Hot Stamper pressing will be able to do what we know it can do.

If you would like to hear your records sound their best, we would love to help you accomplish that goal. There is no greater thrill than hearing your favorite music sound better than you ever thought possible. It’s what Hot Stampers are all about. And the right equipment is a big part of that better-than-you-ever-thought-possible sound. Not the biggest part; the biggest part is you.

Still, a very big part.

A Good Record Is an Education

A good record is an education for us too. This is not only how we’ve managed to learn about the pressing in question; it’s the same process that allows us to make improvements in the sound of the stereo. It’s learning how to identify what is right and what is wrong with the sound of any pressing — the same process that helps us recognize whether any change to the stereo makes it sound better or worse, and to try and figure out by how much and in what way.

And the best part is, like the practice of any skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it. We do it all day, every day. Not because we’re noble or dedicated. We do it because we enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s the most fun part of this job. Discovering great sounding recordings is a THRILL. It’s what this hobby is all about — hearing music sound better than you ever thought it could.

Change For The Better

Of course, as I’ve stated elsewhere on the site, you learn almost nothing from the same record played back on the same equipment. What you must do is learn to listen for differences in the sound, and differences only come about as the result of a change. You have to CHANGE something in the system to develop your critical listening skills.

How about this example: the difference in sound between any two sides of a record. The only change there involves flipping the record over. No new equipment, no tweaks, no shootouts with dozens of alternate pressings. Just flip the record. Most records do not have the same sound on both sides, not the records we play anyway, and we play them by the thousands.

Where else have you ever read such a thing? Nowhere else, at least to our knowledge. Because few audiophiles and almost no record dealers make the effort to listen critically at anything approaching this level of scrutiny.

Training Your Ears

If you can’t hear the difference on at least some of your records, it has to be one or both of the following. Either your system is not good enough to resolve these differences, which is sometimes the case, or, much more likely, you simply haven’t trained your ears to listen for them.

This has nothing to do with listening for pleasure. This is listening like it’s a job. Critically. Analytically.

Try to listen for one quality by itself. Listen for grain, or top end extension, or bass, or dynamics — anything, the list is endless. Focus in on that single quality, recognize it, appreciate it, then flip the record over and judge that one quality for side two.

Cheap Tables

There is a minimum level of resolution your front end must attain before these differences are important. With a cheap rig you certainly don’t need us to find records for you. (More on the limitations of cheap tables here.)

Many of the records we praise highly present a severe test for a playback system, one that less sophisticated setups will have a hard time passing. Sergio Mendes’ records come readily to mind. You need to have one helluva well-setup, high-quality front end before you can play them without sibilance and grain, let alone bring out all the magic. I don’t know a tougher test than Stillness, or Sergio Mendes & Brasil ‘66. They will bring most stereos to their knees, mine included if I haven’t tuned it right.

Better in What Way?

Much of the commentary on the site is there to explain how to differentiate the better pressings from the not-so-better pressings. The better the system, and the more careful the listener, the more these differences will matter. That’s why we charge so much money for the really hot copies – to us, they are worlds better than the runners-up.

They are right in a way that the typical Half-Speed Mastered or Heavy Vinyl pressing almost never is. The more critically one listens, the more obvious this distinction becomes. The real thing just can’t be beat, and you can be pretty sure that the real thing is an old record.

Not any old record of course. It needs to have been cleaned properly, mastered properly and pressed properly. Ideally it should have Hot Stampers, but that is not a requirement for top quality sound. Lots of old records have top quality sound, but not all of them have Hot Stampers. (More on that subject here.)


Our System Just Loves Certain Records – Why Do You Suppose That Is?

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Ted Heath

More Records that Are Good for Testing Tonality and Timbre

The highest fidelity vintage recordings are truly amazing if you can play them right. That’s a big if.

In fact, it may just be the biggest if in all of audio.

Be that as it may. What do we love about vintage pressings like the Ted Heath disc you see pictured?

The timbre of the instruments is hi-fi in the best sense of the word.

The unique sound of every instrument is being reproduced with remarkable fidelity on this old record.

That’s what we mean by “hi-fi,” not the kind of Audiophile Phony BS sound that passes for hi-fidelity on some records.

Older audiophile records, typically those made by Mobile Fidelity in the ’70s and ’80s, suffered from a common group of problems on practically every record they released:

A boosted top, a bloated bottom, and a sucked-out midrange.

Nowadays that phony sound is no longer in vogue. A new, but equally phony sound has taken its place.

What seems to be in vogue these days, judging by the Heavy Vinyl Reissue pressings we’ve played over the last few years, is a very different sound, with a very different suite of shortcomings.

These newer records, with few exceptions, tend to be compressedthickdullopaque, veiled, recessed and lacking in ambience.

These are currently the hallmarks of the Heavy Vinyl LP. Whether made by Speakers Corner, DCC, AP or any other label, starting at some point in the mid-’90s, the sound these labels apparently preferred had an infuriating tonal balance problem we noted in practically every record we played — sound that was just too damn smooth.

The phony boosted highs of the bad old days are gone, replaced by the phony rolled off highs of today.

(Bernie Grundman cut hundreds of records for Classic Records starting in the ’90s, and it’s clear he chose to go a different way, but his way turned out to be every bit as problematical.)

Are the audiophiles who buy these new, super-smooth records any better off?

The ones with bright, phony systems probably are.

As we have been saying for years, first you need to have reasonably good sound. Then you can buy records that actually are good.

Last Question

How do we know we are right about the tonality issues of these modern remasterings?

Stay tuned for part two of this commentary.

The Ideal System for an Exceptionally Well Recorded Album

It’s clear our stereo loves this record. Let’s talk about why that might be the case.


“How would you describe the sound signature of your evaluation equipment?”

The following came to us recently:

Hey Tom, 

I am trying to make sense of the information on your site and the asking prices for these ‘hot stampers.’

In order to better understand how you assess sound quality, can you let me know what equipment you use for this purpose (what turntable, arm, cartridge, amps, speakers)?

How would you describe the sound signature of your evaluation equipment?



Thanks for contacting us. We wrote a commentary about it, linked here:

Our Playback System – And Why You Shouldn’t Care

As for our sound signature, we’ve labored mightily over the last forty years to build the biggest, most dynamic, most powerful system, limited by only those colorations we don’t know how to rid ourselves of. Here are some thoughts on what we went through in order to achieve our current level of fidelity:

Our System Just Loves Certain Records – Why Do You Suppose That Is?

Having done all that work over the course of decades, we feel we are in a good position to offer our readers:

Audio Advice

A lot of the basics about our Hot Stampers can be found at the top of every page under:

Start Here

Our customers tend to be very enthusiastic about our Hot Stampers, as you can see by the letters they write us:

Hot Stamper Testimonial Letters

Any questions, feel free to write me.  Of course, writing is one thing, but

Hearing Is Believing

Best, TP (more…)

The VPI Super Platter and Our Testing Methodologies

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Turntable Tweaking Advice

This review was written in 2005, perhaps before. To see what comprises our current system, click here.

We love the new VPI Super Platter. It’s a big step up over the acrylic platter, which makes records sound more like CDs, kind of thin, vague, edgy. The original TNT type Aries platter is a very similar design to the Super Platter, and so when I got my super platter it was obviously better after the first five seconds of play but not dramatically better. On a customer’s TNT with the acrylic platter it was huge.

The bigger and more powerful the stereo, the bigger will be the difference, because it has to do with weight and heft and solidness and those sorts of issues, the kind that so many modern audiophiles ignore. (The CD guys don’t even know what those things are because CDs rarely have those qualities.)

It has been our experience that VPI upgrades tend to be actual sonic improvements over the earlier versions of their equipment, unlike so much of what passes for “better” audio in the land of Hi-Fi, which is often just different and in many cases actually worse.

These are the kind of upgrades we love to do, and the reason is no doubt obvious to all you audiophiles out there. Pop the new platter on and thirty seconds later you can hear the difference. Not sure about the change? Don’t like it? Thirty seconds later you can have your old platter spinning to see exactly what happened to the sound.

It’s the kind of testing we do here all day long with Hot Stamper and other pressings. [1] Take ten copies of any title and play them, making notes as to their strengths and weaknesses. Assign each one am overall sonic grade. Think numbers 2 and 7 are the best of the bunch on side one, but not quite sure which of the two is better? No problem. Take one of them, throw it back on the table, listen for a minute, then pop on the other. That kind of head-to-head shootout is the easiest, most accurate way to find out which record really has the Hot Stamper Magic and which one only appears to.

Not sure if your new turntable or cartridge does everything better than your old one? That’s a tough test. It’s practically impossible to quickly set up the old table or mount up the old cartridge for a head to head. Unless something in the sound is just plain driving you crazy, you’re not likely to want to go through the hassle of setting up the old system, and who can blame you — it’s a pain in the ass.

One of the reasons I had never upgraded from my original Aries is that after years and years and scores and scores of hours of tweaking the damn thing, the sound was so right I didn’t want to mess with it. Any new table would be starting from scratch and I just couldn’t bear the thought. I’ve set up a number of TNTs and new Aries 3 tables and to my ear they could not better what I was already hearing, for one simple reason — they hadn’t been tweaked yet. (And none of them had my Triplanar arm, which is pretty hard to beat with a JMW.)

Bottom Line — we love the new Super Platter and recommend everyone who owns the acrylic platter replace it immediately. If you are looking to buy a VPI table you can save hundreds of dollars by ordering it with the Super Platter installed. You will be glad you did.

And one more thing: Aurios [2] (more…)

Talisman Testimonial – … Damn! And to think I doubted you …


I’m in receipt of the Talisman and have tried it on numerous CDs, LPs and DVDs… damn! And to think I doubted you. A truly serious upgrade without spending serious money. A sheen has been removed from the top and I can hear farther into the recording than ever before, whatever the format. It definitely benefits LP playback more, at least on my system (a Linn rig). Mids are more palpable and instruments play more to their natural voice.

I’m a member of the St. Louis Symphony and recordings that I have participated in sound more like the sound I hear when I’m in the midst of my colleagues on stage at Powell Hall. Thanks for your help.

Tom D.


O ye of little faith… Seriously, could you ever be without it now? And the private email I sent you explaining how to get even more out of the device surely meant an even greater improvement in the sound of your system. The kind of change you describe — for a couple hundred bucks! — is practically unheard of nowadays, but of course you heard it, I heard it, everybody hears it. The only people who don’t hear it are the people who are so skeptical that they cannot allow themselves the opportunity to hear it.

This is the kind of thinking that I rather unkindly refer to as Stone Age Audio. If you don’t believe audio has made huge strides in recent years, you simply haven’t taken advantage of the Revolutionary Changes in Audio we talk about on the site. Talisman? Magic Pillow? Hallographs? These things can’t work!

Of course it’s easy to say that if you’ve never heard them, not so easy once you have. If you’re happy with the sound of your stereo, don’t really see the need to make it sound any better, hey, you sure don’t need any of these products.

If, however, you, like us, are THRILLED with the fact that the sound of your favorite recordings is constantly improving, then you need to have a little faith in your friends here at Better Records. We talk the talk because we walk the walk, five days a week and twice on Sunday. My [old] annual tweaking budget is easily in the multi-hundreds of hours; that’s what it takes to make improvements of the kind that we have implemented over the years. With a system like mine, nine out of ten things I try don’t work. It’s that tenth one that makes it all worthwhile.

For our customers, however, we make it so easy. The devices we recommend are guaranteed to work or your money back. They do not require hours of tedious tweaking and listening in search of an appreciable change (that might never materialize). The equipment and sound improving devices we recommend make a DRAMATIC and OBVIOUS change right from the get go.

The only people who don’t know that are the ones who haven’t tried them. Perhaps with a little more faith… (more…)

Revolutionary Changes in Audio – What Works for Us Can Work for You

More Commentaries and Advice on Equipment

This listing, like the stereo itself (mine and yours), is a work in progress. It used to be on our website, but now resides here on the blog.

When I first got started in audio in the early- to mid-’70s, the following important elements of the modern stereo system did not exist:

  • Stand-alone phono stages.
  • Modern cabling and power cords.
  • Vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment.
  • Synchronous Drive Systems for turntable motors.
  • Carbon fiber mats for turntable platters.
  • Highly adjustable tonearms (for VTA, etc.) with extremely delicate adjustments and precision bearings.
  • Modern record cleaning machines and fluids.
  • And there wasn’t much in the way of innovative room treatments like the Hallographs we use.

Our reason for having this kind of commentary on a site ostensibly devoted to the selling of records is simple: the better your stereo sounds, the better our records sound, and, more importantly, the bigger the difference between our records and the copies you already own. That includes those LPs recommended by “audiophile” record dealers, which tend to be on Heavy Vinyl, at 45 RPM, half-speed mastered or, even worse, Japanese pressed.

We have no interest in any of them. Why? On our system they rarely sound better than second-rate.

We love our modified Legacy Focus speakers, even more now that they have much improved high frequency extension courtesy of Townshend Super Tweeters.

Our preamp and amp are vintage and low power; the Focus can play quite loudly with the thirty watts our amp puts out. We are big fans of Low Power (but not single ended) and are not the least bit happy with the current trend toward high-power amps, whether tube or transistor. (This trend started in the early ’70s with the Phase Linear 400 amp and has only gotten more out of hand with each passing year.)

We tried higher power amps to do the shootouts for Nirvana, AC/DC and their ilk but gave up fairly quickly. Using those amps involves major trade-offs; trade-offs whose costs rarely exceed their benefits. With more power comes less Tubey Magic, sweetness, transparency, three-dimensionality and that wonderful relaxed quality which gives the music its flow and sense of ease.

High power amps do none of these things well, but most speakers today are terribly inefficient and require their use, a choice most audiophiles do not even know they are making when they buy them. I made that mistake myself many years ago. Live and learn.

Most of our wiring — interconnect, phono and power cord — is custom.

Having said that, this commentary is all about why you shouldn’t care a whit about the equipment we use. 

Latest Findings

Prelude Step 4