Personal Favorites

After the Gold Rush – What a Record

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This is amazing copy of AFTER THE GOLD RUSH and a member of our Rock Hall of Fame.

It’s an album we admit to being just a bit obsessed with. We love the album and we hope you do too. If you have some time on your hands — maybe a bit too much time on your hands — please feel free to check out our commentaries.

Folks, your Hot Stamper collection is just not complete without a knockout copy of After The Gold Rush; that’s why we’ve named it a Better Records All Time Top 100 title. We built our reputation on finding records that sound like this, because who else can find a copy of this album that delivers so much magic? When you drop the needle on any track on side two, you’ll know exactly why we are able to charge these kind of prices for a record like this — because on the right system, it’ll sound like a million bucks! (more…)

Is The Pink Label The Hot Ticket?

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Stand Up

 

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Well, it certainly can be, but sometimes it isn’t, and failing to appreciate that possibility is a classic case of misundertanding a crucially important fact or two about records. Audiophile analog devotees would do well to keep these facts in mind, especially considering the prices original British pressings are fetching these days.

Simply put: Since no two records sound alike, it follow that the right label doesn’t guarantee the right sound. A recent shootout illustrated both of these truths.

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Zep II – 1990 to 2010

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Led Zeppelin II

 

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Here’s the story of my first encounter with a Hot Stamper Zep II.

I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the second album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.

To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.
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A Thiller Like You Have Never Heard in Your Life

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This copy has Triple Plus Shootout Winning sound on side one!

  • A killer Top Copy: Triple Plus (A+++) on the first side, Double Plus (A++) on the second
  • The sound is huge — big, wide, deep, and open, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you
  • Billie Jean and Beat It sound out of this world here, but that’s not fair to the rest of the album since every track does
  • “More than just a phenomenon…it is simply great music.” — AMG 5 stars

 

The sound on this copy is huge — big, wide, deep, and open, with the kind of three-dimensional soundstaging that lets the music unfold in front of you and around you as well. You get the bottom end punch that’s so crucial to this music and tons of energy as well. The bass is meaty and well-defined, showing you the rhythmic foundation that the music needs. The overall sound is transparent with amazing texture to practically every element.

Michael’s voice is marvelous on this copy — breathy, textured, and positively dripping with emotion (just listen to him break down on The Lady in My Life).

A Real Thrill(er)

Thanks to constant improvements in our stereo, we’re now getting this album to sound better than it ever has. Extended highs appeared where none had been before. We were hearing synthesizers buried deep in the mix we’d never heard. All of a sudden, these ’80s pop records had amazing analog magic.

If your system is up to the task, you won’t believe how big and lively this album sounds. Who woulda thunk it?

Good old Bernie Grundman handled the mastering and managed to do a really nice job; unfortunately, most copies of this mass-produced classic don’t give you all that much of the magic.

Vinyl Condition

Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good 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.)

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.

See all of our Michael Jackson albums in stock

Advice on Elvis’s Records

This is my favorite Elvis Costello album,  although the first album is every bit as good.

I remember loving the sound of my old Brit copy from twenty years back, even to the point of agreeing with Michael Fremer when he put it on his top 40 rock album list. Now I know better: that most of them leave something to be desired, especially down below. Did I have good one? Does he? Who can say? Everything is different, and revisiting old sonic favorites can sometimes be a bit of a shock. (Of course this is especially true for all the old MOFIs I used to like. Now most of them make me gag.)

Elvis: Still The King

By the way, we played a domestic copy of this album, just for fun you might say, and sure enough, it was a real mess. Boosted highs, poor bass definition and copious amounts of grit and grain — ’70s Columbia at their best, what else is new? The first album and Spike are the only Elvis records I know of that sound good on domestic vinyl. Forget the rest. If you love Elvis Costello as much as we do around here, we suggest you do yourself a favor and trash your domestic LPs — you need a British copy to even get in the ballpark, and that’s far from a guarantee of good sound. Elvis is “Still the King,” but you would never know it without the right pressing.

All About Elvis

Listening in Depth to Pretzel Logic

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Pretzel Logic

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It’s positively criminal the way this amazingly well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP. And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when it sounds like that?

The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music which sounds bad. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

Rikki Don’t Lose That Number

By far the biggest hit on this album and one of the biggest for the band, it’s also one of the clearest indicators of Hot Stamper Sound. The Horace Silver inspired intro is at its best when you can easily hear the acoustic guitar in the left channel doubling the piano. On most copies it’s blurry and dull, which causes it to get lost in the mix. Transparent copies pull it out in the open where it belongs.

That’s the first test, but the real test for this track is how well the (surprisingly) DYNAMIC chorus is handled. On a properly mastered and pressed copy, Fagen’s singing in the chorus is powerful and very present. He is RIGHT THERE, full of energy and drive, challenging the rest of the band to keep up with him. And they do! The best copies demonstrate what a lively group of musicians he has backing him on this track. (If you know anything about Steely Dan’s recordings, you know the guys in these sessions are the best of the best.)

Check out the big floor tom that gets smacked right before the first chorus. On the best copies the whomp factor is off the scale.

Shocking as it may seem, most copies of this album are DOA on this track. They’re severely compressed — they never come to life, they never get LOUD. The result? Fagen and the band sound bored. And that feeling is contagious.

Of course most audiophiles have no idea how dynamic this recording is because they’ve never heard a good pressing. Only a handful of the copies we played had truly powerful dynamics. These are Pretzel Logics with far more life than I ever dreamed possible. Hey, who knew?

(As an aside, back in 1976 I had my fifty favorite albums professionally cleaned on a KMAL record cleaning machine at the stereo store I worked at. They would give you a custom record sleeve along with the cleaning, and sure enough I found my original Pretzel Logic with its KMAL sleeve. My copy was pretty good but no Hot Stamper.)

So, yes, it really did take us thirty years to find the best copy!

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Listening in Depth to Heart Like a Wheel

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

Heart Like a Wheel

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Heart Like a Wheel.

A key test on either side was to listen to all the multi-tracked guitars and see how easy it was to separate each of them out in the mix. Most of the time they are just one big jangly blur. The best copies let you hear how many guitars there are and what each of them is doing.

Pay special attention to Andrew Gold’s Abbey Road-ish guitars heard throughout the album. He is all over this record, playing piano, guitar, percussion and singing in the background. If anybody deserves credit besides Linda for the success of HLAW, it’s Andrew Gold.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

You’re No Good

Right from the git-go, if the opening drum and bass intro on this one doesn’t get your foot tapping, something definitely ain’t right. Check to make sure your stereo is working up to par with a record you know well. If it is, your copy of HLAW belongs on the reject pile along with the other 90% of the copies ever pressed.

It Doesn’t Matter Anymore

Amazing acoustic guitars! Lots of tubey magic for a mid-’70s pop album. And just listen to the breathy quality of Linda’s voice. She’s swimming in echo, but it’s a good kind of echo. Being able to hear so much of it tells you that your pressing is one of the few with tremendous transparency and high resolution.

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Frank Zappa Big Band Jazz Fusion Masterpiece

Waka/Jawaka

 

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  • This copy is an absolute KNOCKOUT, with Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • A Top 100 Title, and deservedly so: the sound is HUGE – big, rich, punchy, lively and clear
  • The size and power of a big band, Zappa style, with White Hot Stamper sound? There is (almost*) nothing like it
  • Rolling Stone raved that it’s “…some of the best material he’s done in years.”

See all of our Frank Zappa and Mothers of Invention albums in stock

(*Other than The Grand Wazoo, which can have sound every bit as good but is not the equal of Waka/Jawaka musically.)

What an incredible album. I know of no other music like it in the world. It’s not big band, it’s not rock, it’s not jazz, it’s a unique amalgamation of all three with an overlay of some of Zappa’s idiosyncratic compositional predilections (say that three times fast) thrown in for good measure.

In our opinion it’s nothing less than Zappa’s MASTERPIECE, the summation of his talents, and a record that belongs in every right-thinking audiophile’s collection. (We say that about a lot of records audiophiles don’t know well, but we’ve been doing it for most of our 27 years in this business and don’t see much reason to stop now.)

The Secret

Most copies, especially the WB brown label reissues, are dull and smeary with not much in the way of top end extension, failing pretty miserably at getting this music to come to life. This copy gets as much of what we like about the sound to actually come through the speakers as any copy we have ever played, and that makes it a very special copy indeed.

Not long ago we discovered the secret to separating the men from the boys on side one. On the lively, punchy, dynamic copies — which are of course the best ones — you can follow the drumming at the beginning of ‘Big Swifty’ note for note: every beat, every kick of the kick drum, every fill, every roll — it’s all there to be heard and appreciated. If that track on this copy doesn’t make you a huge fan of Aynsley Dunbar, I can’t imagine what would. The guy had a gift.

Big Swifty!

The 17-plus-minute-long Big Swifty is a suite in which each section slowly, almost imperceptibly blends into the next, so that you find yourself in a completely new and different section without knowing how you got there — that is, until you go back and play the album and listen for just those transistions, which is what makes it worth playing hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times.

Big Swifty is a jazz suite with amazingly innovative work by Sal Marquez on trumpet. He single-handedly turns this music into a work of GENIUS. I can’t imagine a more talented player. Zappa on guitar is excellent as well. Aynsley Dunbar plays his ass off, only falling short when it comes time to do his drum solo on Waka/Jawaka. The interplay of each of these rock musicians is in the tradition of great jazz artists.

And since the drumming throughout this record is so crucial to the music itself, a copy that really gets that right is one that gets everything right.

A Desert Island Disc

What more can I say? If you love Zappa you need this record. If you want to expand your musical horizons and hear big band like you’ve never heard it before, this is the record for you. I’ve listened to this album literally hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times. It gets better every time I play it.

Blue Labels and Reissues

By the way, the Blue Label originals are quite a bit better than the later Warner Brother reissues. I would avoid any reissues for Zappa’s albums; we’ve never heard a good one. And that includes the Classic Records reissue of Hot Rats.

Jobim and Ramone

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

Credit engineer PHIL RAMONE for correctly capturing the sound of every instrument here: the guitars, piano, flutes, strings, drums, percussion instruments — everything has the natural timbre of the real thing. I used to think this recording erred on the bright side, but not the Hot Stamper copies. They are tonally Right On The Money.

More Antonio Carlos Jobim

When the balance lacks lower midrange the sound gets lean, which causes the strings to seem brighter than they really are, a not uncommon problem with some of the pressings we heard.

We had quite a batch of these to play, including imports, originals, reissues (all stereo), and one lone mono, which was so ridiculously bad sounding we tossed it right out of the competition and into the trade pile.

For those of you playing along at home, we are not going to be much help to you here in finding your own Hot Stampers. Every version had strengths and weaknesses and all are represented in the three listings we are putting up today.

AGAIG Side One!

The sound of this side one blew our minds — no other copy could touch it. So open and airy, yet with real weight to the piano and a clear and strong bass line, this copy did EVERYTHING right. The strings are very much part of the ensemble on this album, and getting good string tone, with just the right rosiny texture, the least amount of smear, freedom from shrillness or hardness — this is not easy to do. On the strings, this copy KILLED.

Side two was quite good at A+ to A++, but we found other copies that bested it, including one Triple Plus that was in a league of its own. Even so, this copy on side two would be hard to beat without ten or more carefully cleaned pressings to choose from. At 4 1/2 pluses total, no other copy earned as high a rating. It is the official champion for this go around.

His Best Album

I’m a HUGE fan of Jobim’s music. In my opinion, based on my admittedly limited knowledge of his work, this is the best album he ever made. If you find yourself loving these syncopated beats, you owe it to yourself to check out Sergio Mendes’ music. He did wonderful arrangements of many of Jobim’s songs, and the sound (at least on the Hot Stamper pressings) is out of this world! Astrud Gilberto does wonderful versions too, but her records are very difficult to find in saleable condition. Believe me, we’ve tried.

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Beethoven’s Symphony #6 with Ansermet – Our Favorite for Performance and Sound

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Beethoven / Symphony #6 (Pastoral) / Ansermet

    • With Double Plus (A++) or better grades on both sides, this is a wonderful find from our first shootout in two years
    • The texture on the strings is captured perfectly – this is an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely
    • Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is almost nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There
    • Recorded in Geneva’s exquisite Victoria Hall in 1959, this is a top performance from Ansermet and the Suisse Romande, the best we know of

Everything sounds so right on this record, so much like live music, there is practically nothing to say about the sound other than You Are There.

This is the kind of record that will make you want to take all your heavy vinyl classical pressings and put them in storage. None of them, I repeat none of them, will ever begin to sound the way this record sounds. Quality record production is a lost art, and it’s been lost for a very long time.

The texture on the strings is captured perfectly; this is by the way an area in which modern pressings fail almost completely. We have discussed this subject extensively on the site. The “rosin on the horsehair” is a sound that is apparently impossible to encode on modern vinyl.

Other Pressings

The best pressings from Readers Digest set with Leibowitz conducting were very good but no match for Ansermet and the legendary Orchestre De La Suisse Romande and the lovely Victoria Hall in which they recorded.

We have liked Monteux on RCA for the 6th in the past. We do not believe the best pressings are competitive with this London.

The ’60s Decca/London cycle with Schmidt-Isserstedt and the Vienna Phil has always sounded flat and modern to us on every pressing we’ve played.

Production and Engineering

James Walker was the producer, Roy Wallace the engineer for these sessions from October of 1959 in Geneva’s glorious Victoria Hall. Released in 1960, it’s yet another remarkable disc from the Golden Age of Vacuum Tube Recording.

The gorgeous hall the Suisse Romande recorded in was possibly the best recording venue of its day, perhaps of all time. More amazing sounding recordings were made there than in any other hall we know of. There is a solidity and richness to the sound that goes beyond all the other recordings we have played, yet clarity and transparency are not sacrificed in the least.

It’s as wide, deep and three-dimensional as any, which is of course all to the good, but what makes the sound of these recordings so special is the weight and power of the brass, combined with timbral accuracy of the instruments in every section.

 

More of the music of Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)