Record Collecting for Audiophiles – A Guide to Understanding The Fundamentals

Advice on how to find the best sounding pressings of your favorite music.

Selling Your TAS Super Disc List LPs? – Say It Isn’t So!

[This listing is from more than ten years ago. Please to enjoy!]

We ran across a website years ago that confirmed our worst prejudices regarding Audiophiles and their apparent desire to rely on gurus such as Harry Pearson to tell them which records sound good and which don’t.

This flies in the face of everything we stand for here at Better Records.

  • Since no two records sound the same, a list of so-called Super Discs is practically meaningless. “Practically meaningless” hits the nail right on the head as far as we are concerned. Picture yourself standing in your local record store with a record in your hands, one you happen to know is on the TAS List. This knowledge makes the record slightly more likely to sound better than any other record you might have randomly picked up in the store. Insignificantly, trivially more likely. In other words, as a practical matter, no more likely. Why is this? Three reasons: one, many Super Discs are not on the TAS List; two, some of the records on the TAS List are not deserving of Super Disc status; and most importantly, three, most pressings of titles on the TAS List don’t sound good — only the right ones do.
  • But that’s not even the point. Ask yourself this: Why on earth would anyone want to collect the records on The TAS List, when most of these records contain music that appeals to a very small circle of people outside of Harry and his friends? The purpose of having an audiophile quality music system is that it allows you to hear your favorite music sound better than it would otherwise sound. It’s not for playing someone else’s favorite records; it’s for playing your favorite records.

This is why we do our Hot Stamper shootouts for records nobody in his right mind would think of doing. Toto IV? Zuma? Toulouse Street? You’ve got to be kidding.

No, we’re not. We love those albums. We sincerely want to find great sounding copies of them for those of our customers who love them too. It’s as simple as that.

Nobody else on the planet seems capable (or interested) in doing the kind of work it takes to find superior pressings of these albums, so if we don’t do it, who will? Nobody, that’s who.

But I digress. The website we ran across is no longer active.

Had you gone there back in the day, the page you would have seen first is a list of Marty’s Audiophile Vinyl Collection, which he introduces this way:

I have been a reader of The Absolute Sound since issue 33, (1982) one of the great journeys of my life. (I still have those old issues.) I was always an avid follower of the “Super disc list” that Harry Pearson had put together, a “Holy scripture” that I followed in earnest. I have amassed many of those titles knowing full well that I would be rewarded by sonic treats they lay ahead.

Thanks Harry !!

Holy scripture? Sonic treats? I think I just threw up in my mouth.

What followed was the TAS List, in all its vainglory, with Marty’s links to the copies he has been “fortunate” enough to acquire.

Just for fun you might have wanted to click on the Rock & Pop section. Here you would have found some of the worst sounding audiophile pressings ever made.

Mobile Fidelity Magical Mystery Tour?

Abbey Road and Rubber Soul on Japanese vinyl?

This is some real garbage. 

The more I browsed the more I had the feeling that my head was about to explode. Records like these positively disgust me. They pretend to be audiophile records, when in fact they universally sound phony and wrong. They fool audiophiles easily enough, that’s pretty clear, but any music lover would recognize their junky qualities in a heartbeat. (more…)

Finding Good Companies to Invest in Is a Lot Like Finding Good Sounding Records to Play

Which of the copies below sound good and which don’t?

If you turn over enough of these rocks you will find the good ones.

There is no other way.

These are just some of the rocks we’ve turned over in the last 20+ years.

More rocks! (more…)

Was It Even Possible for Harry Pearson to Create a Meaningful Super Disc List?

A customer brought up Harry Pearson in a discussion we were having about the best sounding records, to wit:

You’re as much a pioneer as Harry Pearson ever was, and your authenticity is unchallengeable…

Even I wouldn’t go that far! We make plenty of mistakes, and we learn new things about records all the time, so calling us “unchallengable” is way off the mark. However, we are always up for the challenge, and are happy to put our records up against any and all comers.

As far as Harry Pearson, I had this to say about the man:

Very kind of you to say. I think Harry could have been much better at his job if he had modern record cleaning technology, better playback, and a staff of people playing thousands of records every year to discover the best sounding pressings for him.

No one can succeed as a one man show in audio. Audio is too complicated. It takes a team of dedicated professionals with expertise in every area of audio and record collecting to do it right.

He never understood stampers and the like because he didn’t have the research staff to get the data he would have needed to find the stamper patterns.

He was stuck at the level of labels, and also not nearly skeptical enough of the idea that “the original is better,” a myth audiophiles cling to to this very day. That, and the superiority of the Heavy Vinyl remaster, which we both know is a crock of sh*t. (more…)

A Killer Kind of Blue — We Guarantee You’ve Never Heard It Sound Like This

More on Kind of Blue

Hot Stampers of Miles’s Albums Available Now

A knockout copy of one of the most famous albums of all-time, the great Kind Of Blue! This one is absolutely SUPERB, earning our top Triple Plus (A+++) grade for both sides. You will not believe the presence, energy and transparency on this pressing. The brass sounds AMAZING. The bottom end is just right. And the piano is Right On The Money. Folks, I don’t think you could ask anything more from this music than what this White Hot Stamper gives you.

In my opinion, many of the best sounding copies are standard domestic Red Label pressings from the ’70s. I’m fully aware of how outrageous a statement that may sound. But I’ve long known of amazing sounding Kind Of Blue reissues.

Having played scores of different pressings of this record over the years, I think I know this recording about as well as anyone. The tube mastered original Six Eye Stereo copies have wonderful, lush, sweet sound. I’ve heard many of them. The 360s from the ’60s often split the difference — less tubey magical, but cleaner and more correct. The Red Labels are all over the map, ranging from smeary and dull to out of this world. And this copy, my friends, is one of the good ones.

Unimpeachable Audiophile Credentials

We know we’re asking a lot of money for a record that any jazz record dealer would be embarrassed to charge more than $25 for. (Actually, these are starting to sell for $40+ pretty regularly on eBay and elsewhere. Apparently the word got out that these can sound incredible. Blame us!) But jazz record dealers don’t know anything about sound. They know about collectibility. They know about price guides. They know their market — jazz collectors — and I know mine: audiophiles. This record has unimpeachable audiophile credentials. It has the sound in the grooves like you have never heard before. And who else but your friends at Better Records are going to be able to tell you that?

Quick Listening Test for Side One

This is an easy one. Just listen to the trumpet at the start of Freddie Freeloader. Most copies do not fully convey the transient information of Miles’ horn, causing it to have an easily recognizable quality we talk about all the time on the site: smear. No two pressings will have precisely the same amount of smear on his trumpet, so look for the least smeary copy that does everything else right too. (Meaning smear is important, but not all-important.)

The Definitive Vinyl Version? – Perhaps There Is a Third Way

More Joni Mitchell

Reviews and Commentaries for Blue

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The letter you see reproduced down below got me to thinking.

If I had to choose one record that separates the men from the boys, the stereos that really work from the phony, lifeless audiophile systems you might read about in the magazines or hear at an audio show, Blue would make a darn good choice.

The problem there is that you have to be one serious record collector to have a great copy of Blue. But good pressings are out there, if you can clean and play them properly. This is why we created the Blue Game. It can be done, and we can help you get there, but most of the work has to be done by you.

Naturally we are happy to do the shootouts for you and charge you the pretty penny the winners command, but for those of you who want to find out what’s wrong with the new Blue and don’t want to buy a Hot Stamper from us, there is a third way: Blue, The Game.

(more…)

What Are Some Good General Rules for Acquiring Records with the Highest Quality Sound?

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The Riverside pressings we’ve auditioned of both The Thelonious Monk Orchestra – At Town Hall and Thelonious Monk Quartet Plus Two – At The Blackhawk were just awful sounding. The OJC reissues from the ’80s, although better, were not overflowing with the rich, natural, relaxed sound we were looking for either.

Ah, but a few years back we happened to drop the needle on one of these good Milestone Two-Fers. Here was the sound we were looking for and had had so little luck in finding.

Which prompts the question that should be on the mind of every audiophile: What are the rules for collecting records with the best sound quality?

The answer, of course, is that there are no such rules and never will be.

There is only trial and error. Our full-time staff has been running trials — we call them shootouts and needle drops — for more than twenty years now, with far more errors than successes. Such is the nature of records. It may be a tautology to note that the average record has mediocre sound, but it nevertheless pays to keep that rather inconvenient fact in mind.

Even worse, if you make the mistake of pinning your hopes on a current reissue — and you unfortunately find yourself a member of that small minority of audiophiles with reasonably high standards and two working ears — your disappointment is almost guaranteed. (more…)

If Records Are About Money, You’re Doing It Wrong

Van_Halen_-_1984

We get letters from time to time chiding us for charging what strikes some as rather large amounts of money for records that admittedly do not have much in the way of Collector Value, the implication being that collectible records are of course worth the high prices they command in the marketplace. Hot Stampers, however, are somehow different. Clearly they cannot be worth the outrageously high prices we’re asking.

It is our opinion that the writers of these letters have made a rather glaringly erroneous assumption: That the records we sell are not subject to the same market forces as other records..

This strikes us as just plain silly.

As anyone with a grounding in basic economics will tell you, we cannot force our customers to buy anything from us, especially old vinyl records, the kind of thing that most people have found they can easily do without, thank you very much.
(more…)

Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Limits of Expert Advice

More Neil Young

Reviews and Commentaries for Zuma

Richard Feynman gave a series of lectures concerning the workings of the scientific method. Here is an excerpt from one of them that I would like you to keep in mind as you read the discussion below.

Now I’m going to discuss how we would look for a new law. In general, we look for a new law by the following process. First, we guess it (audience laughter), no, don’t laugh, that’s the truth. Then we compute the consequences of the guess, to see what, if this is right, if this law we guess is right, to see what it would imply and then we compare the computation results to nature or we say compare to experiment or experience, compare it directly with observations to see if it works.

If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. In that simple statement is the key to science. It doesn’t make any difference how beautiful your guess is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are who made the guess, or what his name is … If it disagrees with experiment, it’s wrong. That’s all there is to it.

Back in 2015 a mastering engineer by the name of Phil Brown contacted me in reference to a Hot Stamper pressing of Neil Young’s Zuma he had seen in our mailer. (Apologies in advance for not giving out the stamper numbers; we frown on that sort of thing around here.) He wrote:

  Hey Tom,   

I see it’s a featured disc in the newsletter. I’m curious what the matrix numbers are since I mastered it. (more…)

The Modern Heavy Vinyl Reissue – Audiophile Blessing or Curse?

More of The Who

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The run of the mill heavy vinyl pressing is so dull and opaque that we think the run of the mill CD, on average, will sound better.

In this letter Dan tells us of his disappointment with the new reissues he’s been trying:

… And thanks again for that amazing “Who’s Next” record. It was startling to hear the difference between that and the Classic – and that was one of the better modern audiophile records!I can’t tell you how many modern reissues I’ve bought over the past couple months that have lost, and lost badly, to just my one single original or early pressing of an album. Reissues by AC/DC, The Who, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith have all failed miserably against my merely average sounding originals.
(more…)

The Rolling Stones / Out of Our Heads – Mono or Reprocessed Stereo?

More Rolling Stones

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On this London LP, even though it says the record is electronically re-processed into stereo, the songs we heard on side one were dead mono.

So much for believing what you read on album covers. (more…)