*Stamper Information

Some people complain that we never give out stamper information, but that’s just not true. We rarely give out the stampers of the Shootout Winning pressings, but we do give out some of the stampers of records that are best avoided by audiophiles looking for top quality sound. Read on to find out more.

Did We Get The Power of the Orchestra Wrong, or Are These Just Bad Stampers?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Living Stereo Recordings Available Now

More on Mussorgsky’s (and Ravel’s) Masterpiece – Pictures at an Exhibition

In 2007, we wrote the following review for The Power of the Orchestra, VCS 2659:

DEMO DISC QUALITY ORCHESTRAL SOUND like you will not believe. We put two top copies together to bring you the ultimate-sounding Pictures At An Exhibition. Folks, it doesn’t get any better than this for huge orchestral dynamics and energy.

I confess I badly misjudged this record over the course of the last few years. I remember liking it in the early ’90s; at that time it was the only Golden Age recording of Pictures whose performance moved me. I never liked the famous Reiner, LSC 2201, and Ansermet’s performance on London also lacks drive and coherency in my opinion.

I then went on to extoll the many virtues of the recording, making special mention of the brass, dynamics and bass, which you can read about here.

More recently we played a copy of VCS 2659 in one of our regular Pictures at an Exhibition shootouts and were not the least bit impressed by it.

Side One:

Steely and opaque, not that good.

Side Two:

Strings are not very [unintelligible], not much weight.

In other words, it just sounded like an old record.

The world is full of old records. It’s why we are in business. We sell old records, sure, but ours sound good, and, more often than not, amazingly good, better than any pressings you’ve ever heard.

In both cases, the EMI with Muti “kills it.”

Were we wrong years ago? Hard to say. That copy from 2007 is long gone.

Are 6s/4s especially bad stampers, and others might be superior? That is certainly possible.

The following three things should be kept in mind when a pressing doesn’t sound like we remember it did, or think it should:

  1. Our standards are quite a bit higher now, having spent decades critically listening to vintage classical pressings by the hundreds.
  2. Our stereo is dramatically more revealing and more accurate than it used to be.
  3. Since no two records sound the same, maybe the one from long ago actually did sound as good as we thought at the time.

With all of the above considered, the current consensus is that The Power of the Orchestra is very unlikely to be as good a record as we used to think it was. It’s also unlikely we would ever buy another one at anything but a bargain price.

Looking at the big picture, this is probably an example of a record we got wrong.

2007 was a long time ago. It was the year we made many breakthroughs. In fact, we made more breakthroughs in that year than in any other in the history of the company, including this singularly important break with the past.

However, if tomorrow we run into a copy of the album that sounds amazing, with different stampers, or even the same stampers, then all of the above is thrown into the cocked hat that is the reality of the record world: pressing variability.

Further Reading

Bruch / Scottish Fantasy – These Are the Stampers to Avoid

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin Available Now

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

The 70s Red Seal pressings we’ve played recently have all left a lot to be desired, but, since we had one sitting on a shelf in the backroom with lower stampers, we figured what the hell, let’s clean it up, throw it into our next shootout and hope for the best.

As you can see, the best was not to come.

There are quite a number of other records that we’ve run into over the years with obvious shortcomings.

Here are some of them, a very small fraction of what we’ve played, broken down into the three major labels that account for most of the best classical and orchestral titles we’ve had the pleasure to play.

London/Decca records with weak sound or performances

Mercury records with weak sound or performances

RCA records with weak sound or performances

We’ve auditioned countless pressings in the 36 years we’ve been in business — buying, cleaning and playing them by the thousands.

This is how we find the best sounding vinyl pressings ever made, through trial and error. It may be expensive and time consuming, but there is simply no other method for finding better records that works. If you know of one, please write me!

We are not the least bit interested in pressings that are “known” to sound the best.

Known by whom? Which audiophiles — hobbyists or professionals, take your pick — can be trusted to know what they are talking about when it comes to the sound of records.

I have never met one, outside of those of us who work for Better Records. I remain skeptical of the existence of such a creature.

We’re looking for the pressings of albums that actually do sound the best.

If you’re an audiophile with an ear for top quality sound on vintage vinyl, we’d be happy to send you the Hot Stamper pressing guaranteed to beat anything and everything you’ve heard, especially if you have any pressing marketed as suitable for an audiophile. Those, with few exceptions, are rarely better than mediocre.

And if we can’t beat whatever LP you own or have heard, you get your money back.  It’s as simple as that.


Question – Do the “wrong stampers” sometimes win shootouts?

mendestill_depth_1102533608More of the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Sergio Mendes and Brasil ’66

Soren has some questions about shootouts and our White Hot Stamper pressing of Stillness. His questions are indented, our answers are not.


Does it ever bug you to realize, maybe one or two years down the road and with (as Tom mentions) better playback/cleaning technology, that stampers which you dismissed in a shootout turn out to win the next one, meaning that you could have let many possible hot stampers go?


We talk about that a bit here:

But being bugged by it does no good. It is a reality that must be accepted.

Because we know how easy it is to be wrong, or, more precisely, to not know everything we would like to know, we never stop doing research and development for the titles we sell.

We tell people all the time, go play your heavy vinyls and half-speeds that you haven’t played recently. If you’ve made improvements to your system, they will often start to show themselves to be not as good sounding as you remember, and that means you are making progress.

I was actually reaching out to you to inquire whether the super hot Sergio Mendes Stillness that I bought from you a couple of years ago is the version with the phase reversed on side 2?

I ask because I don’t recall a phase issue on this specific title was ever mentioned on your site back when I bought it (i would have remembered, I think) so maybe you only found out recently?

Side 1 on the record sounds better to me than side 2. The matrix on this side 2 ends in “M3”.

Both M2 and M3 are in correct polarity. M3 used to win shootouts by the way. For the longest time, at least ten years, I thought M3 was the ultimate side two.

Having done many, many shootouts since then, along with making many changes to everything involving the cleaning and playing of records, we believe Super Hot (2+) is about the highest grade any M stamper can earn.

The fact that you like an M2 pressing better than the Hot Stamper you bought from us is not a polarity issue. It is most probably a system-dependent issue.

Your stereo is different from ours. Our stereo probably would prefer the M3 we sent you, and your stereo likes the M2 you have. It’s really not much more complicated than that.

Finally concerning this magic Stillness white hot stamper (and don’t worry, I am not going to ask you which one it is because you wouldn’t tell me, and you shouldn’t, because it’s a trade secret that you worked hard for and besides I am probably better off with my own super hot copy where I don’t have to bother about that phase issue on side 2).

But out of curiosity: Has this “magic” stamper/pressing turned out to be great on other Sergio Mendes records also (and thereby defied your previous knowledge and caused you to evaluate your game on those titles also), or was it simply a magical one-off revelation with Stilness?

Part of the reason we were wrong about Stillness is that the best copies broke the rule we tend to use about stampers for A&M albums. In this case, the “wrong” stampers turned out to be the best! The stampers we tend to like for most A&M records, the “right stampers,” are not the ones that currently win shootouts.

But that’s what shootouts are for, so that we take our biases and previous judgments out of the search and just go with what actually does sound the best.

How beautiful actually, that the “wrong” stampers turned out to be the best on this one title. Records are nice that way. You must always keep on your toes. Thank you for taking the time to answer my three questions.

Best regards,


Staying on your toes is indeed the name of the game when it comes to records. With every change to your system, the record you used to like the best could turn out to be second-rate compared to the record you used to think was second-rate but is now first-rate.

This, of course, drives most audiophiles crazy, so they ignore or downplay the possibility.

Being in the shootout business means we have no way to avoid these realities, which is why it is so easy for us to accept them.

The amateurs and professionals alike who review records for audiophiles want there to be clear-cut answers for every album they write about. Uncertainty and trade-offs upset them no end.

We recognized twenty years ago that the empirical pursuit of record knowledge, practiced scientifically, must be fundamentally Incomplete, Imperfect, and Provisional, and that is never going to change no matter how upsetting anyone may find it.

Thanks very much for writing.


Dick Schory – Out of Polarity Stampers Revealed

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Dick Schory

More Stamper and Pressing Information

Presenting another one of the many pressings we’ve discovered with reversed polarity on some copies.

An amazing discovery from Better Records. Many copies of this album are REVERSED POLARITY on side two (the side with Buck Dance, one of the better tracks on that side and great for testing).

Yes, once again you heard it here first, folks. We had two 4s copies of the album and both of them had side two out of polarity.  

NEWSFLASH: 7s on side two is out of polarity too. Just played one today. There’s practically no real top end extension until you reverse the polarity.

Further Reading


The Beatles / Hard Day’s Night – These Are the Stampers to Avoid

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Stamper and Pressing Information, Gratis

In our experience, the stereo pressings with -2/-2 stampers are terrible sounding. We do not have any on hand, but we doubt that -1/-1 — the original, the first, the one approved by George Martin himself! — is any better.

With -2 stampers this is a Hall of Shame pressing, as well as another early Beatles LP reviewed and found seriously wanting.

That Old Canard

The early pressings are consistently grittier, edgier and more crude than the later pressings we’ve played. So much for that old canard that “the original is better.” When it comes to A Hard Day’s Night it just ain’t so, and it doesn’t take a state of the art system or a pair of golden ears to hear it.

The audiophile community seems not to have caught on to the faults of the early Beatles pressings, but we here at Better Records are doing our best to correct their all-too-common misperceptions, one Hot Stamper pressing at a time.

It may be a lot of work, but we don’t mind — we love The Beatles! We want to find the best sounding copies of ALL their records, and there is simply no other way to do it than to play them by the dozens.

Monos, Originals and Twin Track Stereo


Mendelssohn and Prokofiev Violin Concertos‎ – These Are the Stampers to Avoid

Hot Stamper Pressings Featuring the Violin

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

None of the White Dog pressings we played in our most recent shootout were better than mediocre, and the ’70s Red Seal pressings were uniformly awful as well.

We had two different side ones with 8s stampers, and two different sides twos with 5s and 7s, respectively. (One of our Shaded Dogs had a 5s side two but it sounded quite a bit better than the White Dog side two with 5s.)

There are quite a number of other records that we’ve run into over the years with obvious shortcomings.

Here are some of them, a very small fraction of what we’ve played, broken down by label.

London/Decca records with weak sound or performances

Mercury records with weak sound or performances

RCA records with weak sound or performances

We’ve auditioned countless pressings in the 36 years we’ve been in business — buying, cleaning and playing them by the thousands.

This is how we find the best sounding vinyl pressings ever made.

Not the ones that should sound the best. The ones that actually do sound the best.

If you’re an audiophile looking for top quality sound on vintage vinyl, we’d be happy to send you the Hot Stamper pressing guaranteed to beat anything and everything you’ve heard, especially if you have any pressing marketed as suitable for an audiophile. Those, with very few exceptions, are the worst.

And if we can’t beat whatever LP you own or have heard, you get your money back, simple as that.


Simon and Garfunkel – 1A, or Is 1B Better? Your Guess Is As Good As Mine

More of the Music of Simon and Garfunkel

Reviews and Commentaries for Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme

Before we go any further, I have a question: Why are we guessing?

I received an email recently from a customer who had gone to great pains to do his own shootout for a record; in the end he came up short, with not a lot to show for his time and effort. It had this bit tucked in toward the end:

Some of [Better Records’] Hot Stampers are very dear in price and most often due to the fact that there are so few copies in near mint condition. I hate to think of all the great Hot Stampers that have ended up in piles on the floor night after night with beer, Coke, and seeds being ground into them.

Can you imagine all the 1A 1B or even 2A 2B masters that ended up this way or were just played to death with a stylus that would be better used as a nail than to play a record!

As it so happens, shortly thereafter I found myself on Michael Fremer’s old website of all places, where I saw something eerily similar in his review for the (no doubt awful) Sundazed vinyl. I quote below the relevant paragraphs.

So how does this Sundazed reissue hold up next to an original 1A Columbia pressing that I bought new when it originally was released (it still has the Sam Goody “C” Valley Stream sticker on it, with the $2.49 markdown written in pen)? Well, for one thing, when people say records wear out, I don’t know what they are talking about! Since it was first released more than forty years ago, I’ve played this record a hundred times at least, in Ithaca in my fraternity house, in Boston, in Los Angeles, in Hackensack and now and it still sounds fantastic. It’s quiet, it’s detailed, it’s three-dimensional and it still has extended, clean high frequencies.

No reissue could possibly touch an original 1A pressing of just about any Columbia title and that goes for this reissue, which is very good, but not as open, spacious, wideband, transparent and “tubey” as the original.

He later goes on to give this piece of advice:

If you can find a clean, reasonably priced used original 1A pressing, it’s definitely going to sound better, but if you can’t, this reissue sounds very good and you’ll not know what you’re missing.

The entire review can be found on his site for those who care to read it. If, as MF seems to believe, you won’t know what you’re missing on the Sundazed LP, you need to put a lot more effort into this hobby, or find yourself another one. If it’s anything like most of their cardboardy crap, it’s missing a great deal more than it’s finding. (more…)

Schubert / Symphony No. 9 / Krips – Hot Stampers Revealed!

More of the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828)

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Franz Schubert

Looking to pick up a Hot Stamper on your own? Easy — all the best Decca copies in our shootout had the stampers 5G/7G.

I suppose it’s only fair to point out that all the worst copies had those same stampers.

There were a few others as well — it was quite a big shootout — but most of those ended up in the middle of the pack.

And here you thought I was actually being helpful. But we are being helpful. We’re sharing with you an important truth.

Stamper numbers only tell a part of the story, and they can be very misleading, in the same sense that a little knowledge is sometimes a dangerous thing.

To know what a record sounds like you have to play it.

This is a subject near and dear to us here at Better Records, and has been for many decades.

We discuss it at length in a commentary you may have seen on the site called the book of Hot Stampers.

Further Reading

Offenbach / Gaite Parisienne – Our Shootout Winner from 2004

More of the Music of Jacques Offenbach (1819-1880)

More Stamper and Pressing Information (You’re Welcome!)

In 2004 we wrote:

11S/10S are the best stampers we have found for this amazing DEMONSTRATION QUALITY record!

I think that information still holds up. I can also tell you that 5S/5S has never impressed us much. We’re not sure if it’s bad enough to belong in the Bad Shaded Dog category, but audiophiles would be wise to give it a miss at anything over a nominal price.

Side 1 plays nearly NM without a pop! Side 2 opens with a half inch scratch. But think about it — isn’t one side about the right amount for this kind of music? Do you really need to play side 2 after hearing side 1? This copy gives you a good portion of the music with AMAZINGLY GOOD SOUND.

This 1954 2-track recording is RCA’s first stereo recording of the work. 1954. Can you believe it? Four mics and two channels and it blows away 90% of all the classical recordings ever made.

Some old record collectors and tube equipment lovers [not so much anymore] say classical recording quality ain’t what it used to be. This record proves it. (And this record proves that sometimes old records just sound like old records.)

Further Reading

Letter of the Week – “Just curious as to why you never point out a Bob Ludwig “RL” pressing?”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I am an avid vinyl cat and have been all of my life. I am super curious about your vinyl. I have a pretty good ear myself for top-shelf LP’s but I am just curious as to why you never point out a Bob Ludwig “RL” pressing? Or maybe you have and I just have not noticed?

Thanks so much for a response and much respect for what you are doing and selling…


Dana, we explained it here, in a commentary we called The Book of Hot Stampers.

We give out precious little in the way of stamper numbers, no information about cutting engineers as a rule, although we do break that rule from time to time. Here is an excerpt of a listing for Rock of Ages from way back when:

What We Thought We Knew

In 2006 we put up a copy with with what we implied were Hot Stampers (before we were using the term consistently) on at least one side:

Side One sounds tonally right on the money! This is as good as it gets… Robert Ludwig mastered all of the originals of these albums, but some of them have bad vinyl and don’t sound correct.

I only played side one of the album, so I can’t speak for the other sides, but what I heard was sound about as good as I think this album can have.

There are some truths along with some half-truths in the above comments, and let’s just say we would be quite a bit more careful in our language were we writing about that copy today.

One side is no indication whatsoever as to the quality of the other three, and without the kind of cleaning technologies we have available to us today, I wouldn’t want to make a “definitive” sonic assessment for any of them.

When you play uncleaned or poorly cleaned records, you’re hearing a lot of garbage that has nothing to do with the sound of the actual vinyl. (Note that we are joking above: there is no such thing as a definitive sonic assessment of a record, from us or anybody else.)

Ludwig cut many bad sounding records. Roxy Music’s Avalon original domestic pressings are RL. They’re made from dubs and sound like it.  Same with Dire Straits’ Alchemy.

Some RL Houses of the Holy sound amazing and some only decent. It’s the nature of the beast. (more…)