*Big Picture Stuff

Supertramp and Your 1977 Ears – There’s No Going Back


More of the Music of Supertramp

Reviews and Commentaries for Even in the Quietest Moments

I grew up on this album. By 1977 I was a huge fan. Played their albums all the time.

The first Supertramp album I ever bought was Crime of the Century on Mobile Fidelity. Every audiophile bought that one; MoFi sold over a hundred thousand of them. And why not? The sound was killer on the systems of the day. Lots of slam down low (but not really that low, although it seemed plenty low at the time), lots of extra top up high, lots of phony detail, just what the old school stereos of the day, like mine, needed.

Crisis? What Crisis?, followed in 1975. It was the Supertramp album that sent me over the top. I played that album relentlessly. Before long Art Rock was at the top of my list anytime I wanted to have an immersive musical experience, and that, for an obsessive audiophile like myself, meant almost every day.

Roxy Music, 10cc, Eno, Crack the Sky, ELO, Bowie – it’s all I wanted to listen to back then, and it encouraged me to keep upgrading my equipment whenever I had the money, although I admit to being completely clueless about all of that at the time. More on that subject here.

A year and a half later EITQM followed. It too became a staple of my musical diet. Man, I played that record till the grooves were worn smooth.

I thought the sound of my domestic pressing was killer at the time, too. Crisis was a demo disc at my house and this was right up there with it. Now the obvious question is, did I have a good sounding copy, or did my stereo not reveal to me the shortcomings of my LP? Or maybe my ears were not well enough trained to hear what was wrong.

Those of you who have been doing this for a long time know the answer: any or all of the above, probably all, and nobody can know just how much of each.

And there is no way to find out because you are not that person anymore.

Your 1977 Ears… and Mine

Even if you could recreate your old stereo and room, and find your original copy, there’s one thing you can’t do, and that’s listen to it with your 1977 ears. Every time you play a record and listen to it critically, your ears get better at their job.

If you do a lot of critical listening, your ears should be very good by now. You no doubt listen for things you never listened for before. This is simply the way it works. You don’t really have to try that hard to get better. It happens quite naturally.

So now the half-speed sucks when it used to sound good. (Such is the case with practically all audiophile records; the better you get at listening, the more obvious their shortcomings.)

And now, with your better stereo and better ears, when you drop the needle on some copy you picked up of Even in the Quietest Moments, expecting to hear the glorious sound you remember from your youth, it’s a huge letdown — so grainy, thin, and edgy, with blurry bass.

On top of that the whole sordid mess is stuck somewhere back behind the speakers, like the sound you hear from a cassette.

It’s not the record you remember, that’s for sure.

The Good News

The good news is that ten years later and more copies than we care to remember we think we’ve got EITQM’s ticket. We now know which stampers have the potential to sound good as well as the ones to avoid. Finding the right stampers (which are not the original ones for those of you who know what the original stampers for A&M records are) has been a positive boon.

[UPDATE: We used to prefer the right domestic pressings for this album, but for years now the better imports have been winning our shootouts. We think this state of affairs is unlikely to change. We have a link to other records like this one, in which the imports win the shootouts but the best domestic pressings still do well, earning grades somewhere in the range of Two Pluses.]

Once we figured the stampers out we were in a much better position to hear just how well recorded the album is. Now we know beyond all doubt that this recording — the first without Ken Scott producing and engineering for this iteration of the band — is of the highest quality, in league with the best.

Until recently we would never have made such a bold statement. Now it’s nothing less than obvious.

Further Reading


The Audiophile Roundtable Returns with Port’s Picks

Steve Westman invited me to appear again on his youtube channel chat with the Audiophile Roundtable.

At about the 39 minute mark, we discuss my picks for what I would rate as the Five Best Sounding Records I know of.

I wanted to go with more variety, so I picked two rock records, two jazz records and one classical album.

A rough transcription with corrections and additions follows:

Before I did my top five, I wanted to say something along the lines of, if you want to know where somebody’s coming from in audio, you don’t ask them what their stereo is, you don’t ask them what their room is like, and how their electricity is done, and what their history with audio is, because they’re not going to tell you, and they just don’t want to go down that road.

But you can ask them about music, and that will tell you a lot about where they’re coming from, so here are my questions for people if I wanted to know more about their understanding of records (and, by implication, audio):

    • One: what are the five best sounding records you’ve ever heard?
    • Two: what are your five favorite records of all time?
    • Three: what five famous recordings never sounded good to you?
    • Four: name five recordings that are much better than most of your friends or audiophiles in general think?

In my world, you would have to tell me what pressing you’re listening to. If you said “I love the new Rhino Cars album,” I think we would be done, but if you told me that you love the original, then I would say yes, I love that record too. I bought it in 1978 and I’ve played it about 5000 times. Never gotten tired of it.

At about the 48 minute mark I reveal the best stampers for Ry Cooder’s Jazz album.

At about the 50 minute mark someone asks about my system. This would be my answer:

All that information is on the blog., I actually do a thing about my stereo where I take it all the way from 1976 to the present, which I’m sure bores people to death, but you know, there was a lot to talk about there.

There were a lot of changes that I went through and I even talk about how my old stereo from the 90s, which I had put together after having been an audiophile for 25 years, was dark and unrevealing compared to the one I have now, so all my opinions from 25 years ago are suspect, and rightly so.

I feel the same thing is going on in the world of audiophiles when you have systems that aren’t very revealing and aren’t tonally accurate, yet are very musical and enjoyable the way Geoff would like, but they’re not good for really knowing what your records sound like because your system is doing all sorts of things to the record that you’re playing in order to keep the bad stuff from bothering you.

That’s the opposite of what we have.

All the bad stuff just jumps out of the speakers, and that’s why these heavy vinyl records don’t appeal to us anymore, because we hear all the bad stuff and we don’t like it.

At 1:03 I’m asked if I like any modern mastering engineers, and the only one I can think of is Chris Bellman, because he masterered one of the few Heavy Vinyl pressing I know of that sounds any good, Brothers in Arms, released in 2021. I played it when Edgers brought it by the studio when he first visited me in preparation for his article.

My best copy was clearly better in some important ways, but Bellman’s mostly sounds right, and that surprised me because most of these modern records sound funny and weird and rarely do they sound right.

(Geoff brought over three records that day: Brothers in Arms, the remastered Zep II, and a ridiculously bad sounding Craft pressing of Lush Life, which was mastered by Kevin Gray, and one which I have not had time to review yet. It was my introduction to the Craft series, and let’s just say we got off on the wrong foot. I told Geoff it sounded like a bad CD, and that’s pretty much all I remember of it. The average price for that pressing on Discogs is roughly $69 these days. The CD is cheaper and there is very little doubt in my mind that it would be better sounding to boot.)

At 1:04 I mention the biggest snake oil salesman in the history of vinyl, the man behind The Electric Recording Company.

Patrick mentions an ERC Love record which he likes, but we played one that sounded about as bad as a bad record could sound. That Love record will never get any love from us. He says he’ll never buy another ERC pressing, but that doesn’t sound like the kind of thing someone who really likes a record would say, does it? I suppose you can ask him in the comments section why that would be.

At some point I talk about the studio we play records in, not exactly spouse-friendly but good for hearing what’s really in the grooves of the records we play:

The reason the sound room is the way it is is because you’re not there to be reading magazines and looking at your phone. You’re just in there to sit in a single chair in front of two speakers, not talking. Nobody else is in there. They have no business being in there. It’s just you and the music and that’s the way I like it.

This next section has been fleshed out quite a bit. I took the question posed and ran with it:

In Geoff Edgers’ Washington Post article about audiophiles, somebody asks “why would you want to go into a room and just play a record by yourself?”

I would answer the question with a question of my own: why would you go to a museum and just look at a painting by yourself?

You don’t need anybody around you to help you understand a painting.

You just look at the painting and that’s the experience of looking at a painting.

When I listen to a record, I want the experience of listening to the record. I don’t need anybody else around. I don’t need anybody talking to me. I just want to hear that record, and as Nathan said, I want it to take me from the beginning to the end. And at the end I should feel like I still want more.

For me, that’s what a good record and a good stereo is all about. That’s the reason some of us describe ourselves as audiophiles.

The shortest definition of an audiophile is a “lover of sound.” I love good sound and I’ve spent more than forty years building a stereo system that has what I think is very good sound. (What others think of it has never been of much concern, nor should it be.)

It’s in a dark room with no windows because music sounds better in a dark room with no windows and the door closed.

There is one chair and it is located in the only sweet spot in the room. (Yes, there can only be one sweet spot.)

I go in there to put myself in the living presence of the musicians who performed on whatever record I choose to play.

Music is loud and so I play the stereo at levels as close to live music as I can manage.

The system creates a soundfield that stretches from wall to wall and floor to ceiling. With the speakers pulled so far out into the room, they have often been known to disappear, leaving only three-dimensional imaging of great depth and precision (especially in the case of orchestral music).

By listening this way, I am able to completely immerse myself in the music I play, with no distractions of any kind.

This way of listening is more intense and powerful and transportive than any other I have known (outside of the live event of course).

That’s what I am trying to achieve with my system and the best records I can find to play on it: an experience that is so intense and powerful that I find myself completely transported out of the real world I exist in, and into the imaginary world created by the producers, engineers and musicians responsible for making the record.

If you want this kind of experience, you need more than good music. You need a good recording of that music, and, if you’re an analog sort of person with high standards, you need an exceptionally good pressing of that recording.

At the highest levels of sound quality, for us audiophiles it can’t just be about the music. You really do need all three.

Depending on your tastes and standards, good music can easily be found most everywhere. Good music with good sound, at least on vinyl, is much more rare, and good sounding music reproduced well is, in my experience, very rare indeed.

Some people are upset and put off by what they consider to be our “extreme” approach to records and audio. It bothers them that we constantly say that doing records and audio well is harder than it looks. To them it seems so easy.

Naturally, we believe there is ample evidence to support our views on the subject.

And, to paraphrase Jesus, the upset will always be with us.

I finish up with a talk about the one and only Heavy Vinyl record that has won a shootout, an Original Jazz Classic of all things, and what it would take to find another OJC title that might win the next one. The odds are not good, and the cost to find such a record would be sizable, perhaps prohibitive, but who knows? We might just get lucky again.


Paraphrasing Hayek – Our Curious Task

F. A. Hayek summarized his view succinctly when he noted that “The curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design.”

Our curious task has been to demonstrate to audiophiles and the reviewers who write for them how mistaken they are to think that they can understand the sound of a recording by playing a few pressings of it.

Similarly, the modern mastering engineer operates under the pretense that he can design and operate a cutting system that produces consistently superior sounding records when compared to those of the past.

Based on the hundreds of the modern records we have played, this is clearly a case of over-promising and under-delivering.

These assumptions, and the mistaken approach to record collecting that flows from them, are clearly unsupportable. The scores of commentaries we have written on both subjects provide all the evidence required to falsify them, and — with a fair amount of effort, to be sure — can be found among the 5000 postings on this blog.

The Hot Stamper pressings we offer, so much bigger, livelier, and more engaging than anything produced by these so-called audiophile mastering houses, are simply the physical evidence of our deeper and more correct understanding of the true nature of records and their mysterious and confounding properties.

Digging Deep

Everything we think we know about records is based on strictly empirical findings, findings that resulted from critically auditioning thousands and thousands of albums. Many of these albums we have played by the score. For some titles, such as the more popular Beatles’ albums, we have played more than a hundred copies.

No one else has ever dug as deep as we have into the mysteries of pressing variations, for the simple reasons that no individual or group would be motivated to do so and have the resources required to accomplish such a feat.

Pseudo-shootouts are easy to carry out. Real shootouts are hard, and doing more than a few dozen without the help of a large staff and an even larger budget would be practically impossible.

Audiophiles, like most people, are often tempted to pretend to know more than they really can know. We call that kind of knowledge “pretend knowledge,” since there is nothing to back it up but the will to believe. We think running experiments is the fastest and easiest way of finding out what you really know and don’t really know about audio and records.

The most important skill any audiophile should be trying to improve is his ability to think skeptically.

It is at the heart of everything we’ve achieved in audio. It has worked for us and we know it can work for you.

Pretentious Knowledge

When someone pretends to know things they cannot possibly know, or think they know things that simply are not true and are easily demonstrated to be false, such a person can be said to suffer from a “pretense of knowledge.”

Some of the theories that audiophiles believe — original pressings have the best sound, the first pressings off the earliest stampers sound better than later pressings — are best understood as articles of faith. There is rarely much data to support them. They’re so commonsensical no data is needed to back them up, so none is ever offered.

“Made from the master tape,” “no compression or equalization was used in the making of the recording,” “AAA, all analog mastering,” etc., etc., are all forms of pretentious knowledge that should never be accepted at face value.

Anyway, these claims and others like them are beside the point.

Records must be judged only by the way they sound, not by what may or may not be true about the processes, equipment and good intentions of those who make them.

Further Reading

Kind of Blue – Is This a Good Test Record?

Hot Stamper Pressing of Miles’s Albums Available Now

More of Our Favorite Jazz Test Discs

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

Hey Tom, 

Listening to Kind Of Blue. Who needs an equipment upgrade with records like these?

Our reply at the time:

So true!

But on further reflection, it became clear to me that there is more to this idea than one might think upon first hearing it.

When records sound as good as Kind of Blue on vintage vinyl (not this piece of trash), it’s easy to think that everything in the system must be working properly, and, more to the point, reproducing the sound of the album at a high level.

If only more records were as well recorded as KOB, we could save ourselves a lot of time and money, time and money that we’re currently spending on tweaking, tuning and upgrading the various components of our systems. (Assuming you are in fact doing these things. I certainly hope you are. Achieving higher quality sound is one of the greatest joys to be had in all of audio.)

This is undoubtedly true, as far as it goes. But we must live in the world of records as we find it, not the one we want to exist.

Finding good sound for most of the records you wish to enjoy takes a great deal of effort, assuming you are setting your standards for sound at an exceptionally high level. Yours don’t have to be as high as ours — we’re the guys who put their reputations on the line for extravagantly priced Hot Stampers, not you — but the records you are playing have to sound good enough to allow you to forget they are records and just get lost in the music.

With every improvement you make to your system, you eventually will find yourself banging your head up against the psychological effect of Hedonic Adaptation.* Once you have achieved better sound, it doesn’t take long before you get used to it, and now your much-improved “new normal” isn’t as thrilling as it was when you first experienced it.

It’s a common misconception among many audiophiles that if you can make a record like KOB sound great, you must have a good stereo system. Some of them write to us to tell us that the so-called Hot Stamper pressing we just sent them didn’t sound good, which must be the record’s fault since so many of their other records sound just fine.

A certain Bob Dylan record came back to us, twice, something that has never happened before or since. One customer said it just didn’t sound good enough to qualify as a Hot Stamper, and another said it was full of distortion.

In both cases, once the record had come back to us, we immediately played it to see where we might have gone wrong. In both cases it still sounded fine. We realized there was something about it that made it difficult to play, but since we were able to reproduce it properly, there was no way for us to even know what that might be. Eventually the next person to buy it found it to his liking and that was the last we heard of it. Since then no copies have been returned.

We’re Devoted

A great deal of this blog is devoted to helping audiophiles gain a better understanding of the vagaries of high-quality record pressings and the difficulty of finding and setting up the equipment needed to play them.

To this end, we have created a number tests to help improve your playback. Kind of Blue is a phenomenally good sounding jazz record. You can certainly use it as a test disk, but only if you go about it the right way, by setting very, very high standards for it.

Rather than play a record that tends to sound good in order to improve your stereo, set up, etc., why not play something that’s difficult to get to sound good? Once you have improved the sound of such a record, then it will be much more obvious  that your efforts were actually successful. (Here are some of the toughest test discs we’ve encountered over the years.)

We live the challenges posed by difficult recordings, not the ones that are easy to reproduce.

If you want to test the limits of your system, here are some difficult to reproduce records that will allow you to do it.

And if you want to buy some records that sound great but are difficult to reproduce, these Hot Stamper pressings should do the trick.

*Psychology Today explains one aspect of the Hedonic Treadmill this way:

What are examples of hedonic adaptation?

After moving to a new house or apartment, one may revel in the extra room, the higher ceilings, the improved view to the outside, or other features—only to stop appreciating these things as much as the months wear on. The same could be said for the mood boost we might receive from other new possessions or highly anticipated experiences… such that eventually, their level of happiness returns back to where it started, or at least closer to the baseline than immediately after the event.


An Insult to Aaron Copland on Reference Records

Exceptional Classical and Orchestral Pressings Available Now

Sonic Grade: F

An Audiophile Hall of Shame pressing and another Reference Record reviewed and found wanting.

In all the years I was selling audiophile records, one of the labels whose appeal escaped me almost entirely was Reference Records.

Back then, when I would hear one of their orchestral or classical recordings, I was always left thinking, “Why do audiophiles like these records?”

I was confused, because at that time, back in the ’80s, I had simply not developed the listening skills that today make it so easy to recognize the faults of their recordings.

I thought other audiophiles must be hearing something I wasn’t.

I could not put my finger on what I didn’t like about them, but now, having worked full time (and then some!) for more than twenty years to develop better critical listening skills, the shortcomings of their records, or, to be more accurate, the shortcomings of this particular copy of this particular title, took no time at all to work out.

My transcribed notes for RR-22:

  • Lean tonality
  • No real weight
  • No Tubey Magic
  • Blurry imaging when loud
  • No real depth
  • Bright tonal balance

Is this the sound you are looking for in an audiophile record?

Shouldn’t you be looking for audiophile quality sound?

Well, you sure won’t find it here.

This link will take you to some other exceptionally bad records that, like this one, were marketed to audiophiles for their putatively superior sound. On today’s modern systems [1], it should be obvious that they have nothing of the kind and that, in fact, the opposite is true.

[1] Regarding modern stereo systems:

When I first got started in audio in the early- to mid-70s, the following important elements of the modern stereo system did not exist:

  • Stand-alone phono stages.
  • Modern cabling and power cords.
  • Vibration controlling platforms for turntables and equipment.
  • Synchronous Drive Systems for turntable motors.
  • Carbon fiber mats for turntable platters.
  • Highly adjustable tonearms (for VTA, etc.) with extremely delicate adjustments and precision bearings.
  • Modern record cleaning machines and fluids.
  • And there wasn’t much in the way of innovative room treatments like the Hallographs we use.

On our current playback system, this Reference Record is nothing but a joke, a joke played on a much-too-credulous audiophile public by the ridiculously inept and misguided engineers and producers who worked for Reference Records.

This is a reference for something? For what? As I wrote about another one of their awful releases, If This Is Your Idea of a Reference Record, You Are in Real Trouble.

It would be hard to imagine that anyone who has ever heard a good vintage classical recording — here are some of our favorites — could ever confuse this piece of audiophile trash with actual hi-fidelity orchestral sound.


Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

More Commentaries for the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

More Outlier Pressings We’ve Discovered

This commentary was written about ten years ago and updated more than a few times since.

A while back we did a monster-sized shootout for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second release, an album we consider THE Best Sounding Rock Record of All Time. In the midst of the discussion of a particular pressing that completely blew our minds — a copy we gave a Hot Stamper grade of A with Four Pluses, the highest honor we can bestow upon it — various issues arose, issues such as: How did this copy get to be so good? and What does it take to find such a copy? and, to paraphrase David Byrne, How did it get here?

  • We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.
  • Nowadays we usually place them under the general heading of Breakthrough Pressings. These are records that, out of the blue, reveal to us sound that fundamentally changes what we thought we knew about these familiar recordings.
  • When this pressing (or pressings) landed on our turntable, we found ourselves asking “Who knew?
  • Perhaps an even better question would have been “How high is up?”

Which brings us to this commentary, which centers around the concept of outliers.

Wikipedia defines an outlier this way:

In statistics, an outlier is an observation that is numerically distant from the rest of the data.

In other words, it’s something that is very far from normal. In the standard bell curve distribution pictured below, the outliers are at the far left and far right, far from the vast majority of the data which is in the middle.

In the world of records, most copies of any title you care to name would be average sounding. The vertical line in the center of the graph shows probability; the highest probability is that any single copy of a record will be at the top of the curve near the middle, which means it will simply be average. The closer to the vertical line it is, the more average it will be. As you move away from the vertical line, the data point — the record — becomes less and less average. As you move away from the center, to the left or the right, the record is either better sounding or worse sounding than average.

Hot Stampers are simply those copies that, for whatever reason, are far to the right of center, far “better” than the average. And as the curve above demonstrates, there are a lot fewer of them than there are copies in the middle. 

Measuring the Record

Malcolm Gladwell has a bestselling and highly entertaining book about outliers which I recommend to all. Last year I read The Black Swan (or as much of it as I could stand given how poorly written it is) which talks about some of these same issues. Hot Stampers can be understood to a large degree by understanding statistical distributions. Why statistics you ask? Simple. We can’t tell what a record is going to sound like until we play it. For all practical purposes we are buying them randomly and “measuring” them to see where they fall on the curve. We may be measuring them using a turntable and registering the data aurally, but it’s still very much measurement and it’s still very much data that we are recording.

No Theory, Just Data

Many of these ideas were addressed in the recent shootout we did for BS&T’s second album. We played a large number of copies (the data), we found a few amazing ones (the outliers), and we tried to determine how many copies it really takes to find those records that sound so amazing they defy not only conventional wisdom, but our understanding of records per se.

We don’t know what causes these records to sound so good. We know ’em when we hear ’em and that’s pretty much all we can say we really know. Everything else is speculation and guesswork.

We have data. What we don’t have is a theory that explains that data.

And it simply won’t do to ignore the data because we can’t explain it. Hot Stamper Deniers are those members of the audiophile community who, when faced with something they don’t want to be true, simply manufacture reasons why it can’t or shouldn’t be true.

That’s not science. Practicing science means following the data wherever it leads. The truth is found in the record’s grooves and nowhere else. If you don’t think record collecting is a science, you’re not doing it right.

Ignoring Outliers

Wikipedia has a good line about ignoring outliers. Under the heading of Caution they write: “… it is ill-advised to ignore the presence of outliers. Outliers that cannot be readily explained demand special attention.” Here here.

Now let’s see where the grooves for Blood, Sweat and Tears’ second album led us. They demanded special attention and by god we gave it to them.

The Grooves

We noted some new qualities to the sound that we would like to discuss; they’re what separated the men from the boys this time around. What we learned can be summed up in a few short words: it’s all about the brass. 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.

Size Matters

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 BIG and POWERFUL? How did it achieve this kind of scale? You may need 50 copies to find one like this, which begs the question: why don’t the other 49 sound the way this one does? The sound we heard on the Four Plus copy has to be on the master tape in some sense, doesn’t it? Mastering clearly contributes to the sound, but can it really be a factor of this magnitude? Intuition says no. More likely it’s the mastering of the other copies that is one of the many factors holding them back, along with worn stampers, bad stampers, bad metal mothers, bad plating, bad vinyl, bad needles and all the rest — all of the above and more contributing to the fact that the average copy of this album is just plain bad news.

Conventional Wisdom

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 equally 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.

People like having answers, and audiophiles are no different from other people in this respect. Since there are no answers to any of these questions, answers in this case being defined as demonstrable conclusions based on evidence gained through the use of the scientific method, most people, audiophiles included, are happy — if not better off — making up the answers with which they are most comfortable.

This is precisely why the term Conventional Wisdom was coined, to describe the easy answers people readily adopt in order to avoid doing the hard work of actually finding out the truth.

Do You Need Fifty?

The short answer this time around is Yes, you need fifty. We had one Four Plus Side One and one Four Plus side two, on two different copies obviously, and I would say we had pretty close to fifty copies in our data pool if you count the first round needle-drop rejects, of which there were probably thirty or more I would guess, with more than fifteen making the cut for the final rounds. Forty to fifty, that seems to be about the right number.

The Recipe or the Pudding?

Fortunately for us we have more than just opinions; we have records. Our records are really all we need to make our case; in fact they do a pretty good job of making it for us, week in and week out, Hot Stamper sales having doubled or almost tripled over the last two years. [From 2004 to 2006.]

The truth is that our opinions, like any opinions, right, wrong or somewhere in between, are entirely superfluous. Anything other than the actual sound captured in the grooves of the record we are selling is of almost no consequence. That sound, in those grooves, cannot be denied. No amount of commentary, for or against, will change it in any way.

That fact apparently won’t shut us up, as you can see by the length of this commentary, but this is precisely what we referred to above when we mentioned “sharing” with you, our readers, the experiences we had on our — how to describe it — journey of discovery.

We’re not selling recipes; we’re selling pudding, and this is some mighty fine tasting pudding if we don’t say so ourselves. Blood, sweat and tears as ingredients may not strike you as especially mouthwatering, but somehow the end result, in this case anyway, turned out to be unusually satisfying.

Who can explain why this pudding tastes so good? Not us, that’s for sure. We can name it though. It’s an outlier. We prefer to call them Hot Stampers, but outlier works too.


We Can Help You Back Up Your Claims

Hot Stamper Shootouts for Heavy Vinyl Pressings

Record Collecting for Audiophiles from A to Z

When we run experiments with Heavy Vinyl records, comparing them to the vintage vinyl pressings we have on hand, the one thing we can say about them is that they are certain to be inferior.

Some are a great deal worse than others, to be sure, but they are all inferior to one degree or another.

We have yet to play a Tone Poets reissue in one of our shootouts. We have a couple of titles scheduled and should be able to report our findings soon.

If you, speaking as an audiophile, want to make the case for the superior quality of the records put out by this label, we are happy to entertain the possibility. The chances of their records having sound we would find acceptable are vanishingly small, but we can’t say they are zero.

Repeating the tiresome truism (aren’t they all?) that because reviews are subjective, your review is as credible as any other, simply will not do.

Back Up Your Claims

If you want y0ur claims to be taken seriously by us, we will need you to provide some context for them. Here are some of the things we would like to know.

  • Tell us about your system, room, electricity, etc.. What do you feel are your system’s strengths and weaknesses?
  • Tell us what specific pressings you compared.
  • Tell us if you cleaned them, and if so, by what method.
  • Tell us what protocols you used to make sure the comparison was a fair one.
  • Tell us how you optimized the playback for each pressing, accounting for the difference in vinyl thickness, playback levels and the like.
  • Tell us what specifically you were listening for.
  • Tell us what tracks you played and what about those tracks made them good for testing.
  • Tell us in as much detail as possible the specific strengths and weaknesses of each of the pressings.

Let’s be honest.

You are never going to tell us all of these things, because you are never going to do what would be required of you to carry out this kind of serious testing.

You are simply going to assert that, since one opinion is as good as any other, no further effort of the kind described above is required.

But it is required if you want your opinion to be taken seriously by other audiophiles, especially by audiophiles like us, the ones who know the importance of doing all of these things and more. (A small group, but a dedicated one to be sure.)

We encourage everyone who is serious about the sound quality of his records to follow our approach and do the kind of work we do. For us, in order to be sure that the records we offer are objectively superior to all others, we have to follow the strictest protocols and do everything according to the highest standards.

Like Consumer Reports, we design and follow protocols and set clear standards in our testing because that is what gives the tests we carry out credibility. Based on tens of thousands of hours of testing, we are convinced that no other approach can possibly work.

If you’re looking for the best sounding pressings, either we can do this kind of work for you, or you can do the work for yourself, but either way, in order to be successful the work we describe must be done.

Pretending that one opinion has just as much validity as any other is the most obvious kind of motivated reasoning, borne out of pure laziness. It doesn’t get you off the hook. In fact, by giving you a license to be lazy, it insures that you will never get very far in this hobby. Examples of poorly-constructed comparisons of multiple pressings, carried out by audiophiles with underdeveloped critical listening skills, have never been in short supply.

Because audio is hard. So is finding good sounding records. Anyone who thinks otherwise is likely not doing it right.

Robert Brook is showing everyone the way. He’s on the right path. I happen to be very familiar with the path he’s on because I myself have been on that same path for a very long time.

Read his stuff and learn from it. Do the work he’s doing and you will benefit from the huge improvements he’s achieved, with the promise of many more to come.

Musical thrills far beyond any that you might get from Heavy Vinyl await you.


The Law of Large Numbers Can Help You Find Better Records

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Roy Orbison

More Commentary on the Remastered Heavy Vinyl LP

Presenting another entry in our series of Big Picture observations concerning records and audio.

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

Hey Tom,   

I’m going out of my frigging mind on this White Hot stamper of Roy Orbison Greatest Hits. What a piece of sh*t is my DCC test pressing.



I used to like the DCC vinyl too.

Then my stereo got a lot better, which I write about under the heading Progress in Audio.

Eventually it became obvious to me what was wrong with practically all of the Heavy Vinyl pressings that were put out by that label.

The good ones can be found in this group, along with other Heavy Vinyl pressings we liked or used to like.

The bad ones can be found in this group.

And those in the middle end up in this group.

Audio and record collecting (they go hand in hand) are hard. If you think either one is easy you are very likely not doing it right,, but what makes our twin hobbies compelling enough to keep us involved over the course of a lifetime is one simple fact, which is this: Although we know so little at the start, and we have so much to learn, the journey itself into the world of music and sound turns out to be both addictive and a great deal of fun.

Every listing in this section is about knowing now what I didn’t know then, and there is enough of that material to fill its own blog if I would simply take the time to write it all down.

Every album shootout we do is a chance to learn something new about records. When you do them all day, every day, you learn things that no one else could possibly know who hasn’t done the work of comparing thousands of pressings with thousands of other pressings.

The Law of large numbers[1] tells us that in the world of records, more is better. We’ve taken that law and turned it into a business.

It’s the only way to find Better Records.

Not the records that you think are better.

No, truly better records are the records that proved themselves to be better empirically, by employing rigorous scientific methodologies that we have laid in detail for anyone to read and follow.

Being willing to make lots of mistakes is part of our secret, and we admit to making a lot of them

Knowing what I know now, and having the system currently that I’ve put together over the course of the last twenty years or so, I guarantee you the DCC Gold CD is dramatically better sounding than their vinyl release. They almost always are.

Steve Hoffmann brilliantly mastered many classic albums for DCC. I much prefer the DCC’s CDs to their records.

DCC’s CDs did not have to fight their way through Kevin Gray’s opaque, airless, low-resolution cutting system, a subject we have discussed on the blog in some depth here.

[1] Wikipedia on the Law of large numbers:


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

New to the Blog? Start Here

What Exactly Are Hot Stamper Pressings?

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

The person that turns over the most rocks wins the game.

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

If you turn over enough of these rocks, you — and you alone — will know.

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

More rocks!

More rocks!

More rocks!


Crosby, Stills and Nash – You Do the Best You Can with What You’ve Got to Work With

More Crosby, Stills and Nash

More CrosbyMore Stills / More Nash

The founding members of CSN chose the Albert brothers to engineer this 1977 reunion.

Their most famous album is Layla. Ever heard a great sounding Layla? Me neither. Can you hear the sound of Layla in your head? That’s more or less what this album sounds like. There are better and worse Layla’s — we’ve done the shootout many times — just as there are better and worse CSNs, but we have never played amazing Demo Disc pressings of either and I doubt we ever will.

The problem with the sound cannot be “fixed” in the mastering, and here’s how we know: on either side some songs have wonderful sound — the midrange magic, the “breath of life” that makes the first Crosby, Stills and Nash album such a special listening experience — and some don’t.

That’s a recording problem.

It sounds like too many generations of tape were used on songs like Shadow Captain and Dark Star, among others.

But Just a Song Before I Go on side two can sound wonderful: rich, sweet, present and surrounded by lovely studio ambience.

So we listen for the qualities of a specific song that help us pinpoint what the best copies do well and the rest do less well and grade them accordingly, on a curve.

Animals will never sound like The Wall. You do the best you can with what you’ve got to work with.

What to Listen for

  1. Many copies have a tendency to sound dry, so look for the ones that are richer and more full-bodied.
  2. Many copies are opaque and flat, so look for pressings with transparency and depth.
  3. Many copies are lean down low and dull up top, so try to find some with more bass and real top end extension.
  4. And of course you need to find a copy that gets the voices right. CSN’s albums live or die by the quality of their vocals, a subject we’ve discussed on the site at length.

This is how we would approach the problem of finding a top quality CSN, and if you follow our advice, there’s a verg good chance you can find one too.