Pursuing Perfect Sound with Aaron B.

Letter of the Week – “I can’t see myself ever getting bored of the way my music sounds.”

Record Collecting for Audiophiles from A to Z

How to Get the Most Out of Your Records – A Step by Step Guide

Aaron has some comments about the audiophile record collectors he has been watching lately on youtube:

Sometimes I wonder why people are even into records.

I get it that it’s fun to collect them and compare them and brag about them and have a tangible thing you can hold in your hands and put on your shelves.

But for me, those aspects of vinyl listening are a distraction at best, and unhealthy at worst, and I really try to resist their allure.

If somebody’s not doing it for the sound, it’s a dangerous hobby, since it can waste a lot of time and money. If you ARE doing it for the sound, you have to be an empiricist. You have to wonder. You’ve got to be curious! [Aaron wrote a very nice piece about the importance of curiosity, which you can read here.]

He added this in another email to us:

Part of me envies the dudes who can just buy what they’re told to buy, and believe they have it as good as it can possibly be. Sometimes I think it must be nice to just be complacent like that. But, I’ll bet they eventually stop listening to their records. It’s not all that rewarding a hobby if you stop at pretty good sound. I can’t see myself ever getting bored of the way my music sounds.

I’m sure I will have plenty more to say on this blog regarding record collecting, but for now I would just point out that audiophiles collect records for lots of reasons, and if they enjoy having a collection of audiophile pressings, and find that they derive satisfaction from owning and discussing them with other similarly-interested individuals, then more power to them. Who am I to tell them what they should be doing with their spare time?

For me, and obviously for Aaron and other letter writers, Robert Brook among them, the appeal to this aspect of record collecting borders on nonexistent, a subject I have written a fair amount about here on the blog, to wit:

For us here at Better Records, collecting for the sake of collecting has never held much appeal.

We like to play records, not just collect them, and we like to play records with the best sound we can find, using the shootout process we developed over the last two decades. We call those kinds of records Hot Stamper pressings, and finding them, and making them available to other like-minded audiophiles, has been the focus of our work for close to twenty years.

All the collecting we leave to other people who enjoy that sort of thing.

The only kinds of records I like to play are the ones that can give me a thrill, the way live music (sometimes) gives me a thrill.


Did Carlos Santana want to make music or produce fireworks?

More of the Music of Santana

Reviews and Commentaries for Abraxas

Our good customer Aaron has lately been putting a great deal of time and money into the pursuit of perfect sound. His progress in audio since he discovered Hot Stampers and the kind of high quality vintage equipment we’ve recommended he use to play them has been remarkable.

In 2022 he wrote to tell us that the Super Hot Stamper Abraxas we had sent him and the Mofi One-Step he already owned were comparable in sound quality. Knowing what an awful label Mobile Fidelity is, and what a foolish idea Half-Speed Mastering is, you can imagine that we might have been a wee bit skeptical of this estimation, and we asked him to clarify his position.

Aaron also has made many improvements to his system since then. He carefully listened to both versions of Abraxas again and reported his findings. We believe that there is much to be learned from the kind of shootout that Aaron did for the album.

Hey Tom,

Oh it’s a fascinating comparison! Here’s some data points, with the final one being the most relevant to your question.

I did another series of shootouts yesterday with my new vintage amp and speakers, and I included Abraxas in it. The bass on the onestep is monstrous and unreal. Sometimes the cymbals and chimes leap out of the speakers. I understand why people go gaga for this record. If you listen for sound, it doesn’t get any better than this.

Then I put on the hot stamper. The bass was back under control. Driving, but not dominating. The overall character was lighter and less ponderous. It was more listenable, more musical, and overall it was a relief to be less distracted by the fireworks. The vocals are back in front where they belong, and more palpable.

But, the hot stamper simply doesn’t grab ahold of you the way the onestep does.

When you describe the sound of the MoFi One-Step of Abraxas, with bass that’s “monstrous and unreal. Sometimes the cymbals and chimes leap out of the speakers,” all I hear in my head is a classic case of smile curve equalization, the kind MoFi has been using since the day they produced their first rock record in 1978, Crime of the Century. Years ago we noted:

We get these MoFis in on a regular basis, and they usually sound as phony and wrong as can be. They’re the perfect example of a hyped-up audiophile record that appeals to people with lifeless stereos, the kind that need amped-up records to get them to come to life.

I’ve been telling people for years that the MoFi was junk, and that they should get rid of their copy and replace it with a tonally correct version, easily done since there is a very good sounding Speakers Corner 180g reissue currently in print which does not suffer from the ridiculously boosted top end and bloated bass that characterizes the typical MoFi COTC pressing. [Of course, we no longer recommend anyone buy Crime of the Century on Speakers Corner. The better our system gets, the less we like them.]

That’s the sound of MoFi all right. The Hot Stampers we offer would never have those “qualities,” if you care to call them that.

Leaping cymbals and chimes? Are they supposed to do that?

Also, the bass on our early pressing would have to be “back under control” or we wouldn’t have sold it to you as a Hot Stamper.

Unsurprisingly, without all that extra added bass, the sound is “lighter and less ponderous.” Saints be praised.

Smile Curve Redux

With the smile curve adding to the top and the bottom, what suffers the most? The midrange. There’s less of it relative to the  now-boosted frequency extremes. We described the effect here:

The Doors first album they released was yet another obvious example of MoFi’s predilection for sucked-out mids. Scooping out the middle of the midrange has the effect of creating an artificial sense of depth where none belongs. Play any original Bruce Botnick engineered album by Love or The Doors and you will notice immediately that the vocals are front and center.

The midrange suckout effect is easily reproducible in your very own listening room. Pull your speakers farther out into the room and farther apart and you can get that MoFi sound on every record you own. I’ve been hearing it in the various audiophile systems I’ve been exposed to for more than 40 years.

Nowadays I would place it under the general heading of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi. Our one goal for every tweak and upgrade we make is to increase the latter and reduce the former.

Or as Aaron might have phrased it, “The vocals are back in front where they belong, and more palpable.” You sure got that right.


Aaron was impressed with how much more musical our pressing is, noting: “It was more listenable, more musical, and overall it was a relief to be less distracted by the fireworks.”

Then he concludes with this, sending my head into a spin: “But, the hot stamper simply doesn’t grab ahold of you the way the onestep does.”

Ah, but there is one final paragraph to his letter, his saving grace, one that sums up the differences nicely.

I would no longer describe the choice between the onestep and the hot stamper as a toss-up. That implies they are similar, and they aren’t. They are two fundamentally different sounds, which is all the more baffling to witness since the music is clearly the same. I think it is fair to say this – as my system changed (“improved” would be a debatable term for it – the gear I use now sells for 1/4 what my old gear sells for!), and as my tastes evolved, and perhaps, as my listening skills developed, I now far prefer the Abraxas hot stamper for listening. I’ll break out the OneStep when I want to show off my stereo, but it won’t be what I reach for when I want to enjoy listening to music.


Aaron is saying that there is one clear choice when it comes to wanting to play Abraxas, and a different one for when he wants to show off his system.

Show it off to whom? Somebody who doesn’t know much about sound? Some clueless audiophile who’s impressed by phony, boosted bass and treble? Someone who knows what the MoFi One-Step of Abraxas is selling for these days?

Yes, I can see that such a person might be impressed. People were impressed with the Bose 901 back in the day. “The sound is coming from everywhere!” they exclaimed. If only live music could be more like the Bose 901. If only every copy of Abraxas had all the extra bass and top end that the MoFi has, wouldn’t that be wonderful?

No, MoFi didn’t “restore” or “improve” the sound of Abraxas. They ruined it. Any Columbia engineer who wanted to release Abraxas with that kind of sound in 1969 would have been escorted to the parking lot and told to take such foolishness elsewhere.

Anybody with a cheap ten band equalizer can produce that sound. Did Carlos Santana want to make music or produce fireworks?

If you have a good copy of the album, you know that he could actually do both.

One Test to Rule Them All

There is only one true test, and you hit it right on the head: which pressing would you rather play?

Anything else is audiophile BS.

Thanks for writing,

Best, TP


Getting rid of crappy expensive audiophile equipment and buying cheaper but better sounding gear selling for a quarter as much money is a sign that you are definitely going about this whole audio thing the right way.

Further Reading


Letter of the Week – “I get a lot of buyer’s remorse when I purchase records from you.”

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Led Zeppelin

Aaron sent us this email not long ago

This email to you reminds me of a thought I’ve been having recently: I get a lot of buyer’s remorse when I purchase records from you. The best antidote to my buyer’s remorse is to play the record. For all the records I’ve kept, whenever I listen to them, I’m glad I purchased them. The only remorse I’ve felt, actually, is when I went super hot instead of white hot. Or when I put something in my cart, but it vanished while I dithered.

This happened to me last night. I was feeling pretty bad about the money I spent on the Zep 1 WHS I just purchased. It didn’t help when you posted that favorable review of the Classic Records Zep 1. I just sold that record, sealed, as part of a box set. I got $2000 for the set, having paid $500 just four years ago, but that $2000 is a fraction of the cost of getting them as white hot stampers. If the Classic Records Zep 1 sounded nearly as good as the Zep 1 WHS I just purchased, then I’d have a lot of remorse. Because I sold it sealed (having disliked 2 and 4 from that set), I couldn’t compare, so I’ll never know.

With all these thoughts swirling through my head, last night I put on my headphones (everybody else was asleep) and gave an end-to-end listen to the Zep 1 WHS. It is perfect. Hard to imagine any other mastering and pressing coming even close to it. I shut down my stereo happy, buyer’s remorse obviated, at least until the next one.


As you surmise, there is not a chance in the world that the Classic reissue comes close. We know because we have played both, but you don’t have to take our word for it. When you hear sound as good as the sound on that White Hot Stamper pressing we sold you, it’s simply not the kind of sound you can find on any modern reissue.

You were wise to leave those Heavy Vinyl pressings sealed and sell them. New records such as those Classic Records pressings don’t do what the copy you now own can do — leave you happy after spending a ton of money on a single record.

You’re not the first person to tell us how good our Led Zeppelin Hot Stamper pressing sound either. We actually hear it a lot.

As always, thanks for your letter,


Further Reading

Fleetwood Mac – “Tom likes forward-sounding records, mastered for FM broadcasts. Steve masters for home stereos.”

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

More Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

One of our good customers played some Hot Stamper pressings for a friend of his and wrote to tell us about  the experience.

Dear Tom,

There’s some fascinating sociology here with how contentious your business model is. It really tweaks people.

I recently made a friend who’s always been a vinyl enthusiast. He’s got a fantastic collection. My friend has worked with Steve Hoffman on a few projects in the past, and holds him in very high regard, both professionally and personally.

We got together over Thanksgiving and I brought along my hot stampers. We listened to them on his gorgeous Linn stereo. One by one, he could appreciate the differences in them, and confirm what I was hearing.

I put my Rumours hot stamper and then his Steve Hoffman remaster. I put my Mahavishnu alongside his first UK pressing. I played my Abraxas Hot Stamper against the MoFi OneStep, which he had heard of, but never actually heard.

We debated the sonic merits of each, noting the different decisions that different mastering engineers had made. In all cases, he heard what there was to like about the hot stampers. Despite the evident sonic differences, which we could both hear and agree to, we disagreed over whether that meant Better Records was really on to something.

My friend’s reasons to resist becoming a customer really had nothing to do with the listening experience we had just shared. “Tom likes forward-sounding records, mastered for FM broadcasts. Steve masters for home stereos.”

Or, “a 1A-1A pressing that’s been well cared for will sound the best by definition because that’s closest to what the artists intended.”

Or, “Tom says there’s variance from one biscuit to the next. That’s clearly absurd.”

All this, despite having heard the records! Now, to my friend’s credit, he did allow that he might have a look at the site and try one out, if a record he really loves pops up at a reasonable price. (As far as I know, he hasn’t done it yet…)

Anyway, I had to agree with him – your business model makes no sense in light of all our preconceptions about how to find great sounding records.

And, even when you hear hot stampers for yourself, the defensive walls still stay up. It’s possible to deny what you’re hearing.



A quick note about 1A/1A. There was a time when we might have had 6-8 original pressings of a title, some 1A’s, some 1B’s etc. I would have loved to have let you borrow them and have your friend spot the 1A pressing, since it’s the best. It is of course impossible to do that, but then you just lose friends when you embarrass them that way, and who cares what somebody else likes or doesn’t like, thinks or doesn’t think about records? I sure never have. The records sound the way they sound. Opinions, as you found out for yourself, have been known to vary.

Hoffman’s fans are true believers. Try blindfolding the guys on his forum and playing them a variety of pressings, of his stuff and others. They would not do a good job of knowing which is which by ear, which are the ones you’re supposed to like and which are the ones that shouldn’t sound good, your friend included.

But most audiophiles will never submit to this test because the rug might be pulled out from under them. That is a risk they cannot take. The only tests they are willing to submit to are the ones where they know what the answers are in advance, and, to make matters worse, the only answers they will accept are the ones guaranteed to corroborate their biases and prejudgments.

When Geoff Edgers of The Washington Post wanted to test me with a batch of mystery pressings, I said “Bring it on. I do this for a living, and I’ve been at it for twenty years. I know good sound when I hear it.” He went on to play me two of the best sounding Heavy Vinyl pressings I have ever heard (here’s one of them), and some of the worst. (Reviews for those are  coming, but there are only so many hours in a day and finding the motivation to critique mediocre Heavy Vinyl pressings has hampered my productivity.)

The book you see pictured below explains everything — and I mean everything — having to do with hot stampers and the one psychological trap that every audiophile must guard against above all others: motivated reasoning.

Hoffman’s Rumours is simply not competitive with the right original pressings when played back on accurate and revealing equipment. I have personally done the demonstration for a number of people.

No one with an open mind could fail to hear how much better the real thing is compared to his remastered modern version. His is a good record. Our top copies are great ones, amazing even — at least that’s what our customers tell us.

That comparison, should you wish to do your own, would show you how much more energy the band had in 1977 than was left in the tank by 2009.

Same band, same tape, clearly different energy level. We all know the story of where that passion came from during the troubled recording of the album in 1977. How some portion of it was lost by the time Hoffman’s record came out in 2009 is the story that no one seems to want to talk about.

Certainly the heavy vinyl crowd doesn’t want to hear about it. Some might even talk themselves into believing that all that passion may have been good for FM radio broadcasts but would surely be less appropriate for home stereos.

A Different Approach

I have not been a True Believer since I extricated myself from the Fulton audio cult I was in all through the 70s. Since then I have taken to heart the opposite philosophy and approach, a purely evidence-based one. It has helped me achieve things in audio that I would have never achieved otherwise.

The scientific method works. I do not believe anything else does. There is no shortage of theories out there in audio land, and when we put them to the test, we often find out just how silly they are. We happily share the data with our readers on this very blog, which, of course, you can read to your heart’s delight free of charge.

You will not make many friends pointing these things out to your fellow audiophiles. Eventually they will want to burn you at the stake. Such is the way of all heretics, myself included, perhaps especially. (I’m not sure what stage of truth we are at, but it is definitely not stage three.)

As the only real skeptic who ever became an audiophile record dealer — which seems to be more of a contradiction in terms with each passing year — I can’t take credit for being scientifically minded and requiring evidence for the things I believe. It’s simply the way I am and have been as far back as I can remember.

I also do my best not to make excuses and come up with flimsy rationalizations when the evidence shows that what I wanted to believe turns out to be wrong.

Based on my forty years of experience in the audio game, I believe that no one can succeed who does not approach audio and records skeptically. I implore everyone to test this proposition for themselves and let the evidence be your guide.

As for taking a chance on Hot Stampers, you do get your money back if you don’t see things our way. But apparently even that is not enough for most audiophiles.


Robert Brook Undoubtedly Has an Impressive System

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to a review he has posted from a guest contributor, ab_ba, a person who has written us a number of letters as well.

Please read his posting on Robert’s blog and then check out my notes below.


Wires dangling from the ceiling?


ab_ba writes:

So, if we can’t hear distortion until it’s been removed, reason leads us to conclude that we can never declare a stereo free of distortion, even one that sure sounds like it is. And indeed, Robert could readily demonstrate for me that his system still has some distortion. While I sat there marveling at the sound of John Bonham’s drumming on his pristine Ludwig pressing of Led Zeppelin 2, Robert hopped up to shut off the breaker to the fridge.

We have been writing about this subject ourselves for a very long time. Here are a couple of links.

And here is a good overview of our approach: How To Get The Most Out Of Your Records – A Step By Step Guide

As for getting one’s stereo act together, we are all for it. The better the stereo, the more obvious the superiority of a top quality pressing will be. ab_ba notes in his posting:

Listening to good records on a good system is a delight, but hearing a great system is an absolute revelation. If you want to find really great copies of your favorite records, they’re out there, but you need a stereo that will enable you to identify them.

We wrote a commentary addressing that subject, entitled: First Get Good Sound – Then You Can Recognize and Acquire Good Records

One of the (many) reasons Robert Brook’s stereo has such low distortion is that he uses the same Townshend Seismic Platforms that we do. If you are interested in getting distortion out of your system, we can supply you with one to try. We have never had one returned. They are by far the cheapest, fastest, easiest way to improve the sound of any stereo. (Of course unplugging your fridge is even cheaper, but it may not be as easy.)

Robert uses the same Hallographs that we employ to help improve the acoustics of his room. We have three pair. Three of the units can be seen in the photograph above.

Tweaking and tuning are the foundation of good sound. The 80/20 rule is very real, and, if I may offer up my own experience to serve as a guide, the numbers are probably closer to 90/10.


Letter of the Week – “I was swept up, and able to relax and enjoy a stupendous album again.”

More of the Music of Michael Jackson

Reviews and Commentaries for Thriller

Dear Tom and Fred,

I surprised myself by buying a White Hot Stamper of Thriller. It’s an album that struck me as a particular challenge to your business model. This is probably the most-pressed record in existence. A hot stamper has to be a needle in a really big haystack. And besides, how much better can they be, really? Isn’t any old copy of Thriller a pretty awesome-sounding record?

And, what’s more, why do I need an expensive copy of an album that I could happily live my entire life without ever hearing again?

But hey, I’ve returned records to you before, and you’ve never once tried to convince me to keep it, or given me any headaches about a return, so why not explore the limits of what your business can provide?

The first time I put it on, I could already tell it was special. It’s not like I was “hearing new details” or something like that. It’s that I was swept up, and able to relax and enjoy a stupendous album again. Listening to this copy of Thriller brought me as much joy as this music used to.

We’ve written about this experience before. If your current copy or some new audiophile pressing doesn’t bring you the joy of the music you remember feeling back in the day, it’s not the music’s fault. It’s the record’s. Or the stereo’s.

Aaron, you have taken your system to new heights. Your ears don’t work the way they used to. While you weren’t looking, the bar somehow, rather mysteriously, reset itself. Now it’s much, much higher.

You’re simply a lot harder to please than you used to be. You have a much better understanding of how high is up, and up is a lot higher than it used to be, whether you like it or not. Good isn’t good enough anymore.

And you will never be able to go back, even if you wanted to. You could no more go back to those days than you could become a child again. [1]

Welcome to my world, post 2007.

That’s why we tout Beatles albums as being critically important for testing and tweaking your system. We know they have the life of The Beatles’ Music in their grooves, giving you the sound you remember falling in love with all those years ago.

If you’re not getting a thrill from your Beatles records, something is very, very wrong — precisely the reason their recorded oeuvre is a true audiophile wake up call.

Aaron continued:

A few weeks later, on the eve of the closing of the return window, I shot it out against the best of my other copies. They range from the copy I grew up with, one of the few records from childhood that I held onto, to a pricy Japanese pressing in great shape (purchased long ago, when I thought Japanese pressing were where it’s at), to some copies I’ve picked up over the years because they looked to be in good shape and they were just five bucks, and a pressing that the forums told me was the “holy grail.” None stacked up to the white hot stamper. In fact, they really weren’t even close. Here’s what I found:

The copy I grew up with is bright and edgy. To think, I spent all those years playing and re-playing a record that was bright and edgy, none the wiser to matrix numbers and pressing variations. Some other lucky kid back then was surely listening to the copy I now own. I wonder if he ever said to himself, “wow, there’s something about this record. It sounds really special.”

The pressing with a sought-after matrix code had phenomenal bass, but the vocals were recessed. I’d so easy to be impressed with those huge drums on Billie Jean, but that alone is not enough to tell you it’s a great pressing. A lot of pressings seem to get that right.

My Japanese pressing was clear and full. But too smooth. The guitars don’t bite. Also, it fatigued me by about halfway through the side. This is energetic music. It might exhaust you, but it doesn’t have to fatigue you. This is an example of where if you don’t have a white hot stamper to compare it to, you’ll just assume your version sounds as good as it can get.


Japanese pressings are almost always made from dubbed tapes. You’re describing the smeary, distorted sound you get from a second-generation tape. Less bite on the guitars, more fatiguing harmonic distortion everywhere else, these records are only playable on modest, unrevealing systems.

After getting my system to a higher level and playing the imports I owned head to head against good domestic LPs, I got rid of my Japanese pressings. That was more than 30 years ago. It was simply no contest. I was actually embarrassed to have them in the house. What a fool I had been.

So, at one end of the spectrum, I have my Ricci hot stamper [shown here] that I could sell for what I paid you for it, and now at the other end of the spectrum I have a hot stamper that you probably paid $5 for, but is a true “needle in the haystack.” I wonder how many $5 copies (now, $20) I’d have to buy on my own to find one that sounds this good, and how many hours that’d take me, and what would I do with all the copies I wouldn’t want to keep? I’ll leave all that hassle to you, and I’ll be keeping this copy of Thriller. The price I paid is worth it to me to again love and enjoy this truly phenomenal album.

This is a common criticism levelled at us by audiophiles on forums. They find our pricing of common records outrageous. They seem to think we buy our records for dollars and sell them for hundreds, with percentage markups typically in the thousands.

There was a time when Thriller in Los Angeles might have been a ten or fifteen dollar record. Those days are long gone. A clean pressing would easily run $40-50 and maybe even more if it were still in the shrink with the stickers. (At Amoeba records, where we used to shop, a so-so record in a clean cover would always be priced higher than a clean record in a ratty cover. We think that speaks volumes about record buyers and record collectors these days.)

We hear there are stores that have records like Thriller for cheap, but we are not able to drive to those stores, many of which are in other states. We willingly pony up the fifty bucks we have to pay because we love the record and so do our customers.

Our hottest stamper copies have the sound you always wished it had, the perfect sound that really only existed in your head back then. Think of all the money and time you had to put into your stereo to get that perfect sound to come out of your speakers.

And no matter how good your equipment, only a top quality pressing could possibly turn that idea into a reality.

Your experience proves that all the money, time and effort you put into your system was justified, many times over. Without all of your work, and our Hot Stamper, Thriller would just be another album you used to like, one you kind of grew out of, one that doesn’t sound the way you remember it sounded, and it would be sitting there on your shelf collecting dust.

The work you did (with some help from us) paid off. Now Thriller is back, and better than ever. What is that worth?

A PS from Aaron

I’m really surprised how much I like it. It’s an even bigger “delta” from the run of the mill copies than most of my hot stampers, even white hot stampers, are.


Summing up, we thank you again for another wonderful letter. We love it when our customers take the time and make the effort to do their own shootouts, especially when we win, which is what happens about 99% of the time.

A few other thoughts, on and off the subject.

Thriller is a tough record to master. Lots of boosted EQ in places, hard to get right. Bernie can take great pride in a job well done.

Some of these things are system dependent. Some records “lock-in” to a system in surprising ways and just really take off.

That’s what Bob and Ray does for my system, it just takes off like crazy.

Recently a good Brothers in Arms did the same thing. I put it in our Top 100, the first time it ever impressed me that way. It sounded as big as a house.

(And the Chris Bellman recut is excellent, about A+, maybe 1.5, about as good as heavy vinyl gets. I would put it in the Top 1%. To say that we are rarely impressed by any album on Heavy Vinyl these days is the understatement of the year.)

Best, TP


Letter of the Week – “…if you want to pay $700 for Aja, go right ahead.” I took his advice, and I’m glad I did!

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide

One of our good customers recently watched a video on Steve Westman’s youtube channel of an interview he conducted with Michael Fremer. (I appeared with Steve back in October of 2022. You can find the interview here.)

This video upset my customer so much that he felt he needed to get a few things off his chest, which he did in the letter you can find right after my commentary below. He does not pull many punches.

I would like to comment on some of the points he makes, points which I hope will be of interest to our readers. That is what you see here at the top.

At the end of my comments I have reproduced the letter, so if you don’t care to see Fremer raked over the coals, please feel free to stop reading at the end of my comments. Mike Esposito, the guy who exposed MoFi’s duplicity, comes in for some criticism as well. (Justified in my opinion, because Mr. Esposito sure likes some bad sounding records. But why pick on him? Modern audiophile reviewers seem to like nothing but bad sounding records, the same way I did in 1982. Except it’s not 1982 anymore, and there is simply no excuse for having equipment that cannot help you tell a good sounding record from a bad one.)

Our customer, let’s call him Mr. A, had this to say in Point No. 2:

[Fremer] says old records in good shape still sound the best. [Which is true.] He says the playback gear back in the day could not even reveal how great those albums actually are. [Also true.] He says that there are significant variations from one stamper to another and you need to get the right stamper. [True again.] (In his view of the world, there’s no variations in pressings within the same stamper. Apart from this detail, he supports every point you make. He even says, “if you want to pay $700 for Aja, go right ahead.” I took his advice, and I’m glad I did!)

I don’t think he says any of these things nearly as often as they need to be said, or with any real conviction. They are footnotes, a kind of anodyne lip service. They’re the fine print that nobody reads. They’re boxes that get checked off so that we don’t have to talk about them anymore.

I don’t think his readers think any of the statements above are relevant to their ongoing pursuit of high-quality vinyl. They want to know how amazing the new pressings are so that they can be assured that buying the record they were going to buy anyway is clearly the right choice. There’s a name for this kind of biased thinking. [1]

Making generalizations about records is rarely of much use. The devil is in the details. Let’s take a look at what Fremer has written recently about originals.

In his review for the new Stand Up on Heavy Vinyl from Chad, he notes that it has great “transient clarity on top and bottom,” and the original has hyped-up mids and upper mids. This is because he is making the most obvious mistake any record collector could possibly make.

He thinks the original pressing is the standard against which the new pressing should be judged.

But this is out and out poppycock, the kind of conventional wisdom that new collectors might fall for, but only the most benighted veterans would still believe nowadays. We discuss this myth here and in hundreds of reviews on the blog.

There are currently about 150 listings for reissues that beat the originals, compared to 700 or so listings for records in which the early pressings — not necessarily first pressings, but the right early pressings — can be expected to win shootouts.

Stand Up is one of the titles we have found to be clearly superior on the right reissue. After playing dozens of copies over the course of about twenty years, something that no individual audiophile could be expected to have the wherewithal to pull off, we’ve heard our share of great Stand Ups and awful ones.

Fremer makes the common mistake of stopping with his one original. Thinking inside the box, he naturally gets it wrong. It’s a mistake that few record collectors don’t make. I should know. I was one of them.

A big part of the fun of record collecting is learning about them, a subject I have devoted all of my adult life to. There is precious little learning going on when you buy an original and simply assume you now know what the album really sounds like. This blog is practically dedicated to the proposition that nothing could be further from the truth.


Letter of the Week – “When the sound field is this huge, lots of things click into place.”

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

More Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

One of our good customers had this to say about a comparison he did between a Super Hot and a White Hot pressing of Rumours.

Dear Tom and Fred,

White Hot Stampers are very special records. I know you know this already, but it still astonishes me every time. It’s been a pleasure to compare the WHS of Rumours to my SHS [Super Hot Stamper].

Tom, I hear you talk about the size of the acoustic space a lot on your blog, but it was hard for me to picture what you meant until I heard it myself. The WHS sounds bigger than the SHS. It is like I’m sitting a few rows back at a show. It’s such a palpable difference, I feel like I can measure the increased size of the sound field for the WHS. I’d say it’s about two feet more forward, up, and out compared to the SHS.

When the sound field is this huge, lots of things click into place. The instruments have their own space, and that seems to make it easier to follow each of them, and to notice all the details in someone’s playing. It’s really exhilarating.

Vinyl amazes me. It’s just so remarkable that two pressings can differ in terms of the size of the soundstage. What parameter of the pressing gives you that? I’d love to know, but even without understanding the physics of it, the effect is unmistakably real.

I imagine that picking out the white hot stampers is the easiest part of your job. I’m guessing that all it takes is a couple notes of music to know when a particular copy has THAT sound. Finding good candidates, I’m certain, can be tedium, then disappointment when they don’t pan out. But, spotting a 3+ is probably a cinch.

When I first got the SHS of Rumours, I shot it out against all the other copies I had, and it bested them all. It took me a whole afternoon (a delightful afternoon, but still.)

The WHS is simply in a different league. I went back and forth between it and the SHS, track after track, amazed by how easy it was to hear the differences, particularly in the size of the acoustic space. It’s really no wonder your white hots seem to sell faster than your super hots, even at 3-4x the price.



The size and space that any given pressing reproduces is one of the most important aspects of the sound that we listen for. Bigger and bolder, without being hyped-up in any way — that is our sound.

This brings to mind a milestone event in the history of Better Records. We did a huge shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second album many years ago, all the way back in 2010. We found two copies with sides that went far beyond any we had ever played. They reproduced the brass from wall to wall and floor to ceiling in a way that we had no idea was possible. We described it this way.

Let me give you just one example of how big a role the brass plays in our understanding of this recording. The best copies present a huge wall of sound that seems to extend beyond the outside edges of the speakers, as well as above them, by quite a significant amount. If you closed your eyes and drew a rectangle in the air marking the boundary of the soundscape, it would easily be 20 or 25% larger than the boundary of sound for the typically good sounding original pressing, the kind that might earn an A or A Plus rating.

The effect of this size differential is ENORMOUS. The power of the music ramps up beyond all understanding — how could this recording possibly be this good? You may need 50 copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 49 sound like this one? The sound of the amazing LP has to be on the master tape in some sense. Mastering no doubt contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude? Our intuitions say no.

More likely it’s the mastering of the other copies that is one of the factors holding them back, along with worn stampers, bad vinyl, bad needles and all the rest. Any reason you like for why a record doesn’t sound good is as valid as any other, so you might as well pick one you are comfortable with; they’re all entirely meaningless. Of course the reverse of this is just as true: why a record sounds good is anyone’s guess, and a guess is all it can ever be.

We may not know why some copies can do what they do, but it is definitely not difficult to hear them doing it.

Thanks for taking the time and making the effort to do your own shootout, Nothing can teach you more about records that sitting down and playing a pile of copies of the same album and critically listening for the differences in the sound you hear. Experience is a great teacher.

Thanks for your letter,



Letter of the Week – “Today, sitting at home, I felt like I was at a concert.”

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

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently. The bolding has been added by us.)

Hi Tom,

I finally had a chance to listen to the Super Hot of Beethoven’s 5th I bought from you last month.

Tom, I am feeling really grateful to you. With your guidance, and your records, I have something I simply assumed I could never have – a stereo that can do full justice to orchestral music.

I picked this record, along with Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, as my first foray into full orchestral music on my reworked stereo assembled following your recommendations – Dynavector cartridge, EAR phono stage, Legacy speakers.

Today, sitting at home, I felt like I was at a concert.

This is saying something. I had come to believe this was just not possible. I still remember the sound and the feeling of hearing Beethoven’s 5th performed by the SF Symphony, conducted by Michael Tilson Thomas, about 20 years ago. Seeing it performed for the first time, I was struck by what a small number of musicians the piece calls for. Nobody needed a score, MTT didn’t hold a baton – the whole performance just had a sense of mastery, control, and passion for the music. The sound from that relatively small orchestra was overwhelming. It is this sound I’ve been longing to hear at home. Today, I heard it.

About four years ago I had the opportunity to hear the Berlin Philharmonic play Tchaikovsky’s 5th from a really good seat. Hearing orchestral music performed unamplified in a venue with good acoustics has always led me to believe that it’s not possible to create that on a stereo.

I had come to believe that all stereos distort. When live orchestral music gets loud, it coheres. The sound of a symphony at full volume is just something no stereo or recording can provide. Or so I thought. I figured it was just one of the realities of musical reproduction.

Second, I assumed a full sound field just isn’t possible from a pair of speakers. When you’re a few rows back from an orchestra in a great hall, the entire space is filled, smoothly and cohesively. It makes you realize there’s always an empty space between two speakers. One of those things that you don’t even notice until it’s gone.

Today, listening to this record of Solti performing Beethoven’s 5th overturned both of those beliefs for me. When it got loud, the music hung together with no hint of distortion. Also, the sound field has the most cohesion and depth of anything I’ve heard so far on my Legacys. Most important though is the tone of the instruments on this record. The strings were distinct and differentiated.

The mastery of the performance from the Vienna Philharmonic is just breathtaking. I’m simply so grateful this performance is captured on record, and glad that I have a phenomenal copy of it. This music demands all of your focus. Even if I only listen to it a handful of times, I will be glad to be able to do so.

And, this record is “only” a super hot! I can’t wait to see what a white hot stamper of orchestral music is going to sound like on this stereo. Also, I haven’t played with azimuth or VTA at all, or even broken in the Dynavector yet. It will be wonderful to see if this cartridge can reveal even more.

So, thank you, Tom. I now have something I’ve always wanted, that I assumed I could never attain – the ability to hear orchestral music at home, the way I know it can sound in person.



This is great news, a milestone to mark your success in this hobby we find ourselves in.

With the right equipment playing the right record, the suspension of disbelief is not only possible, it’s practically guaranteed. Once the sound achieves escape velocity, assuming the music is of the highest caliber, it isn’t long before your critical listening faculties shut down and the music starts to live and breathe from moment to moment just as it would in the concert hall.

You experienced it for yourself. You were finally able to prove your theory false by having an experience that showed you how wrong your thinking was.

But it took better equipment and better records than you previously had access to, and this is key.

How many audiophiles have equipment that can do what yours did? How many have pressings of such quality? My guess is not many.

The theories of such audiophiles, very much like your old theories, are based on faulty data, the data that comes from inadequate systems, bad electricity, bad rooms and second-tier recordings. Think of all the audiophiles that own Heavy Vinyl pressings, or CDs, or stream digitally, or who knows what else. Will they ever have the experience you had? Will they ever agree with you about the quality of the sound of orchestral music you’ve achieved?

More than likely they will just assume you don’t know what you are talking about. They deny the experience you had because they’ve never had it themselves.

I wrote to you about classical music before you bought the two records you talk about above. When I told you I could play classical music at home at live levels with amazing fidelity to the live event, you were skeptical to say the least. Oh ye of little faith! Now you see where I was coming from. Experience is a great teacher.

Recently you’ve acquired some top quality equipment, equipment that has made the appreciation of classical music on vintage vinyl possible for you for the first time in your life.

I discovered most of the equipment I currently own — the same stuff I recommended to you — a good twenty or more years ago, and have been tweaking and tuning and experimenting regularly with it for all of that time, to the tune of hundreds and hundreds of hours.

Why did I put so much time and effort into my stereo? Well, for one thing, I got paid to do it.

For another thing, I like doing it because I like to hear my favorite music sound better.


Curiosity and the Pursuit of Perfect Sound

One of our good customers has started a blog which he calls A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

He invited a friend and colleague to talk about his own personal journey through the twin worlds of audio and records, and we expect you will find his story excellent reading.

This bit caught my eye:

On my new stereo, my modern pressings and reissues sound better than they did on my old stereo. But what’s improved more, FAR more, is the sound of my vintage vinyl. Not just my Hot Stampers, but many of my other vintage records as well. Here is a sampling of the titles where I’ve been able to make a direct comparison between an early (like, pre-CD-era) pressing and a recent (vinyl resurgence) pressing: Led Zeppelin 2, Willie Nelson’s StardustElla Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong, E. Fitzgerald’s Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie, Carmen, played by Ruggerio Ricci, Santana Abraxas, Carole King’s Tapestry, Blood, Sweat, and Tears, and Mingus Ah Um.

Good company to say the least!

Please to enjoy.