Record Shootouts

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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Confirmation Bias – Why You Won’t Hear What You Don’t Want to Hear

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Steven Novella has a wonderful critical thinking blog I only just discovered today, and in it was this article discussing the Dunning-Kruger effect. An extract:

Dunning summarizes the effect as:

“…incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are,”

He further explains:

“What’s curious is that, in many cases, incompetence does not leave people disoriented, perplexed, or cautious. Instead, the incompetent are often blessed with an inappropriate confidence, buoyed by something that feels to them like knowledge.”

Could this explain why so many audiophile reviewers are so bad at their jobs, especially the ones who are most well-known and highly regarded (leaving aside for the moment their exceptional amounts of self-regard)?

But hold on just a minute: What about us? Aren’t we as susceptible to these critical thinking errors as anyone else?
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Jethro Tull – We Broke Through in 2016, Finally

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    • Triple Plus (A+++) on side two and nearly as good on side one – this is one of the best copies to EVER hit the site
    • We haven’t had any copies of this album at all up since 2013, and no White Hot copies since 2008 – it’s that tough to find
    • Guaranteed to MURDER any Pink Label Island original you have ever heard – these are the Hot Stampers
    • Melody Maker thoroughly recommended the album in 1968 for being “full of excitement and emotion” and described the band as a blues ensemble “influenced by jazz music” capable of setting “the audience on fire”. Wikipedia
    • See all of our Jethro Tull albums in stock

Folks, this is the best copy we are going to have on the site for a very long time. It took years and hundreds upon hundreds of dollars to get this shootout going and this killer copy is the result.

Tull Records Are Tough To Cut Right

It’s very common for Jethro Tull records to lack bass or highs, and more often than not they lack both. (Think of your typical copies of Aqualung and Stand Up, for example.) The bass-shy ones tend to be more transparent and open sounding — of course, that’s the sound you get when you take out the bass. (90 plus percent of all the audiophile stereos I’ve ever heard were bass shy, no doubt for precisely that reason: less bass equals more detail, more openness and more transparency. Go to any stereo store or audiophile show and notice how bright the sound is. Ugh.)

Just what good is a British Classic Rock Record that lacks bass? It won’t rock, and if it don’t rock, who needs it? You might as well be playing the CD.

The copies that lack extreme highs are often dull and thick, and usually have a smeary, blurry quality to their sound. When you can’t hear into the music, the music itself quickly becomes boring.

If I had to choose, I would take a copy that’s a little dull on top as long as it still had a meaty, powerful, full-bodied sound over something that’s thin and leaned out. There are many audiophiles who can put up with that sound — I might go so far as to say the vast majority can — but I am not one of them. Small box speakers and screens are not for me. Those systems don’t do a very good job with bands like Jethro Tull, and a stereo that can’t play Tull is not one I would be very likely to own.

Flute

Of course one of the key elements to any Jethro Tull record is the sonic quality of the flute. You want it to be airy and breathy — like a real flute — and some copies will give you that, but keep in mind there are always trade-offs at work on old rock records like this. It’s a full-bodied, rich sounding recording. Make sure your system is playing it that way before you start to focus on the flute, otherwise you are very likely to be led astray.

A Big Speaker Record

Let’s face it, this is a Big Speaker Record. It demands to be played loud. It requires a pair of speakers that can move lots of air below 250 cycles. If you don’t own a speaker that can do that, this record will never really sound the way it should. It will certainly never come to life the way it should.

I’m not saying don’t buy it. Maybe one day you’ll get hold of a pair of big speakers and be able to play this record like a pro. (Considering the price of big speakers today, that’s not very likely unless you win the lottery, but we can always hope.)

We Was Wrong in 2008 About Tull

We listed a White Hot copy of This Was in 2008 on the Island Pink label, and noted at the time:

Be forewarned: this ain’t Stand Up or Aqualung. I don’t think you’ll be using any copy of This Was to demo your stereo, because the recording has its share of problems. That said, this record sounds wonderful from start to finish and will make any fan of this music a VERY happy person. We guarantee you’ve never heard this album sound better, or your money back.

Now we know a couple of things that we didn’t back in 2008.

1). This album is a lot better sounding than we gave it credit for years ago. It’s not perfect by any means but it is much better than the above comments might lead you to believe.

We chanced upon an exceptional sounding copy of the album a couple of years back, and that taught us something new about the record:

2). The Pink Label pressings are not the ideal way to go on this album.

Once we heard the exceptional copy alluded to above, we played it against our best Pink Label copies and it was simply no contest.

The Pink Label original British pressings can be good, but they will never win a shootout up against copies with these stampers (assuming you have more than one copy – any record can have the right stampers and the wrong sound, we hear it all the time).

MORE 2016 BREAKTHROUGHS

We Get Letters – This One Is on Rumours

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This week’s letter [from quite a few years ago] comes from our good customer Roger, who was blown away by our Hot Stamper pressing of Rumours. Roger did his usual thorough shootout of our Hot Stamper against his own pressings. The results? Another knockout for our Hot Stamper pressing!

 

Hi Tom,

Just a quick note on the Fleetwood Mac Rumors Hot Stamper I just bought. I have a Nautilus pressing and my original pressing I bought in college when it came out. I have never liked this record as much as Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac, perhaps partly because its sonics were somewhat inferior.

So I played the Nautilus and quickly remembered what a piece of sonic detritus this thing is. How can audiophile labels like Nautilus put out something that is as thin, bright, flat, and compresssed as this thing is? It obviously reinforces your point that most audiophiles are lemmings when it comes to audiophile records. If some audiophile guru said the Japanese pressing of Girl Scout Troup #657 singing the Girl Scout Theme Song was sonic nirvana, it would show up on every internet record website for $50 each.

Next up was my original pressing with an F16 matrix on side one, and man, what a relief after following the Nautilus disaster. In fact, I resisted buying a pricey hot stamper because I always felt my pressing to be pretty darned good, which it was. So I was shocked to hear just how much better the hot stamper was.

I played Dreams on side one and it took all of about 5 seconds of hearing the massive bass and startlingly dynamic cymbal crashes on this track to find the hot stamper worth every penny I paid for it. If the drum kit on Oh Daddy doesn’t get your pants flapping, time for a new stereo. Voices were eerily present, guitars had great detail, pianos had weight just like in real life (we have a piano in our house), and best of all, the highs were arrayed in space and were delicate and detailed.

Since the Nautilus is too thin to make a good frisbee and would probably fetch big bucks on ebay I will stuff it back on my shelf forever, unless I need a good laugh, and add the HS Rumors to my favorite recordings.

Roger


Roger, thanks as always for the insightful review. The sad fact of the matter is that the Nautilus Digitally Remastered Half Speed — Yes, you heard that right — is actually better than the average reissue, and probably better in most ways than the average grainy domestic original, which is pretty much unbearably edgy and gritty, especially if it hasn’t been cleaned right.

So what does the typical audiophile do? He buys the Nautilus, finds the sound better than his crappy domestic pressing — not noticing that there’s no bass on the Half Speed because his system has no bass in the first place — and stops there. It is what it is.

You took it a step further, finding a good domestic pressing, F16, far superior to the Nautilus, and figured that the sound of that LP was pretty much what the recording had to offer. You probably went through a few to get that one I’m guessing.

Ah, but now you have a pretty good idea of just how AMAZING the recording really is. (Our Triple Plus Crazy Expensive Hot Stamper copy was even better, but it takes $750 to get a record like that from us, and who has that kind of money?) Let’s face it: there are only so many hours in the day, and there are an awful lot of titles one might want to do one’s own shootouts for. Not to mention leaving time to listen for pleasure. How on earth can anyone be expected to go through all the rigmarole (defined as “a long and complicated and confusing procedure” and boy, that word sure fits the bill when it comes to record shootouts!) necessary to find a copy of Rumours good enough to enjoy?

We summed up our shootout with this final thought or two:

You would have to go through at least 25 or more copies of this record to even hope to find one in a league with our best pressings. That’s a lot of record hunting, record cleaning and record playing! (If you know anything about this record, you know that the average domestic pressing of this album is quite average sounding; the good ones are few and far between.)

And the stampers, as we’ve come to learn, aren’t the whole story. For one thing, there are at least 75 different side ones and 75 different side twos, all cut by Ken Perry at Capitol on the same three cutters from the same tapes — but they all sound different! (Ken also cut the original English and Japanese pressings; his KP is in the dead wax for all to see. The two import KP copies that I heard were quite good, by the way. Not the best, but very good. He only cut the originals though, so practically every import copy you can find will be a reissue made from a dub, ugh.)

So this is the service we offer. If you already have a job and don’t need another one, we are happy to find you the pressing that has the sound you’ve been searching for but could never find. It’s what we do best, and it positively warms our hearts to know that fellow audiophiles like Roger are sharing in the kind of musical thrill that only comes from playing a truly killer LP.

Until next time,
TP

More Fleetwood Mac

A Guide to Finding Hot Stampers: The More Mistakes the Better, Part Three

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“The essence of success is that it is never necessary to think of a new idea oneself. It is far better to wait until somebody else does it, and then to copy him in every detail, except his mistakes.” ~Aubrey Menen

Indeed, if only that were practical. Our approach to Hot Stampers and How to Find Them is certainly a revolutionary new idea, and undoubtedly the only way of discovering records with superior sound quality.

But even if we were to publish all of our secrets, the stamper numbers and labels and countries of origin of all the best pressings we’ve ever played, every last one, that would still not be the answer, for the simple reason that no two records sound the same.

As long as that’s true, either we have to play a pile of records to find the best sounding ones, or you do. There is no other way to do it.

But at the very least, with commentaries such as this one, we hope we can be helpful in pointing the analog record lover in the right direction. Follow us. What we do can work for anyone — anyone who’s willing to make mistakes that is.


Further Reading

We have a number of entries in our original equals better series, in which we debunk the conventional wisdom regarding which are the best sounding pressings for specific artists and titles.

Here are some commentaries on a subject near and dear to all of us, namely Record Collecting.

The entries linked here may help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding Hot Stampers.

And finally we’ll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.

Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.

 

Warners / Rhino 180g EQ Anomaly Test

Sweet Baby James

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises.

There is one obvious and somewhat bothersome fault with this new pressing, an EQ issue. Anybody care to guess what it is? Send us an email if you think you know. Hint: it’s the kind of thing that sticks out like a sore thumb, the kind of obvious EQ error I can’t ever recall hearing on an original.

Our Heavy Vinyl Review

This Warner Brothers 180g LP is the BEST SOUNDING Heavy Vinyl reissue to come our way in a long long time. Those of you who’ve been with us for a while know that that’s really not saying much, but it doesn’t make it any less true either, now does it? Let’s look at what it doesn’t do wrong first.

It doesn’t sound opaque, compressed, dry and just plain dead as a doornail like so many new reissues do. It doesn’t have the phony modern mastering sound we hate about the sound of the new Blue. (We seem to be pretty much alone in not liking that one, and we’re proud to say we still don’t like it.)

The new Sweet Baby James actually sounds like a — gulp — fairly decent original.
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How can common rock records be worth as much as you are charging?

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We freely admit that we paid south of twenty bucks each at local stores for most of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most rock records are priced from five to twenty bucks.

Unfortunately the cost of the records you see on the site is only a part of the cost of that finished “product.” The reality of our business is that it costs almost as much to find a Carly Simon or Gino Vannelli Hot Stamper that sells for a hundred dollars as it does to find a Neil Young or Yes Hot Stamper that sells for five times that.

With six people on staff, keeping the records playing, the listings going up on the site and the mailers going out to our customers runs about a thousand dollars a day. The cost of the records — the “raw material” of our business — is rarely more than 20% of that.

Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour, have them all cleaned, file them and then wait anywhere from six months to two years for the pile of copies on the shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout.

Shootouts are a two man job: one person plays the record and someone else (who rarely has any idea what pressing is on the table) listens for as long as it takes to accurately and fairly critique the first side of every copy. Then we start the whole process over again for side two.

This is a huge commitment of labor, with the amount of time and effort going into a shootout obviously the same for every title regardless of its popularity or eventual value. Naturally we would like to be able to streamline the process and cut costs in order to lower our prices and sell more records. We just don’t think it’s possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process is time-consuming.

No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of time it will take at least an hour to perform Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Shootouts are like that, they simply can’t be rushed. It’s rare to get one done in under an hour, and some can even take two, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.

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Spending More Time With The Beatles

beatlwitht_x20To find the Hottest Stampers it helps to have piles and piles of minty British pressings. And lots of time on your hands. Fortunately we have both!

This is a tough album to get to sound right, as long-time readers of our site surely know, but on a good copy it can sound wonderful. This one really delivers, with plenty of presence and energy as well as natural, balanced tonality.

So, What’s Out There?

We’ve heard copies that were smeared, murky, muddy, grainy, or all of the above. Almost all of them had no real magic in the midrange. And of course, we heard tons of copies with the kind of gritty vocals that you’ll find all over the average Parlophone Beatles pressing. So when we dropped the needle on this copy, it was nothing short of a revelation! It has the energy and the life of the music in the grooves in a way I guarantee you have never heard before.
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