Top Artists – Fleetwood Mac

Letter of the Week – “I was actually bouncing up and down in my listening chair like a complete idiot.”

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Fleetwood Mac

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

Hey Tom, 

I just wanted to say THANK YOU (!!!!!) a billion times over, for bringing me the most musical pleasure I’ve had in recent memory. I just spun the copy of “Barboletta” you guys sold me, and it’s so jaw-droppingly SPECTACULAR I was actually (literally) weeping (or at least, eyes welling up). SO many micro-details I had NEVER heard before – little tonal shifts in the guitar, ride patterns in the background I’d never been able to previously discern, etc. On “Mirage” I was actually bouncing up and down in my listening chair like a complete idiot – I simply could not resist the incredible groove!!!

I mean, we’re talking MASTER TAPE here. I don’t know how you guys do it – but thank the gods you do!!!!

I can only afford to buy a few LPs from you every couple of years, but I hope ya’ll know that your hard work and labor is SO appreciated by your loyal customers – because you’re opening new musical vistas up to us, through hearing beloved albums the way they were MEANT to be heard.

Steve M.


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

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

More Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

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

Dear Tom,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Different Approach

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Fleetwood Mac – Tusk

More Fleetwood Mac

More Five Star Albums Available Now

  • An amazing copy with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound or close to it on sides one, two, and four, and excellent Double Plus (A++) sound on side three
  • The best sounding tracks are killer here – clear, rich, warm, full-bodied, with all the hallmarks of high-production-value analog throughout
  • These vintage pressings have the MIDRANGE MAGIC that’s surely missing from whatever 180g reissue has been made from the 43 year old tapes (or, to be clear, a modern digital master copy of those tapes)
  • 5 stars: “McVie and Nicks don’t deviate from their established soft rock and folk-rock templates, and all their songs are first-rate… Because of its ambitions, Tusk failed to replicate the success of its two predecessors, yet it earned a dedicated cult audience of fans of twisted, melodic pop.”
  • If you’re a fan of Late-’70s pop, especially the kind with a harder edge, this is a Must Own from 1979 that belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1979 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This is one of the more controversial albums in the history of pop music — some people love it, others despise it, and some still don’t know what to make of it. You may not put it up there with Rumours, but when you hear these songs on a copy this good it’s easy to see why the All Music Guide gave Tusk five big stars!

Tusk suffered from high expectations and disappointed those looking for Rumours II. There is much on this album that compares to the best of Rumours but the weak material somewhat drags the album down as a whole. About three-quarters of Tusk is excellent. I made a 60-minute tape of that material and play it with great pleasure. I could tell you about lots of wonderful qualities the best tracks on the album have, but it would take too long. Sorry!

Sonically, the best sounding material ranks right up there with anything the band ever did, but there are more experimental moments such as What Makes You Think You’re The One that are never going to be tracks you demo your system with.

One high point (musically and sonically) is “Beautiful Child,” quite possibly the best song Stevie Nicks ever wrote. If you listen carefully and give yourself over totally to the sentiment of the song, and your eyes don’t well up, try opening up a vein and letting some ice water pour out. Then try it again. Repeat if necessary. If that doesn’t work just give up and go back to the Diana Krall CD you were playing.


Fleetwood Mac – Beware The Green Manalishi with the Two Prong Crown

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for Fleetwood Mac

Many years ago a copy of this record was returned by one of my customers for poor sound quality, so I threw it back on the turntable to see if I had been mistaken in my judgement of its sound.

I confess that hearing the first track again, The Green Manalishi, was painful — it’s the worst sounding song on the album.

But then Oh Well starts up, and it’s full of midrange magic, ambience and is exceptionally transparent.

The sound varies from track to track after that, but if your stereo can’t find the magic on records like this, you seriously need to look into some better equipment.

This record sounds amazing on our system and it ought to at your house too.

The real test for a stereo is to get difficult to reproduce recordings to sound good, not easy to reproduce recordings.

If you want to test your system after doing some tweaking and tuning, these are the kinds of difficult to reproduce records that will allow you to do it.

When these records start sounding better, there’s a good chance that whatever you did to your system to improve it actually worked.

And if you’re up for a challenge and want to buy some records that can sound great but are difficult to reproduce, these Hot Stamper pressings should do the trick.


Fleetwood Mac – The Original Fleetwood Mac

More Fleetwood Mac

More British Blues Rock

  • This incredible UK import pressing boasts a Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) side two mated to a seriously good Double Plus (A++) side one
  • Most of the time this album sounds like Fleetwood Mac is playing live in the studio, which they probably were, and on big speakers at loud volumes that is a glorious sound
  • 4 stars: “An undeniably strong collection culled primarily from the band’s first incarnation, featuring John McVie, Mick Fleetwood, Peter Green, and Jeremy Spencer.”
  • If you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this Peter Green era title from 1971 is one of their best sounding

The music on this album was recorded when they were still a blues band — tracks left off their early albums for one reason or another.

As is so often the case with unreleased material, these songs do not have that overproduced, too-many-generations-of-tape sound. This sounds like Fleetwood Mac live in the studio most of the time. In other words, awesome.

If the drum sound on the first track isn’t enough to convince you this is an amazing sounding record, I don’t know what would.

These British imports are the only way to go. The domestic copies are definitely made from dub tapes. They can sound good, but they sure never sound this good! (more…)

Fleetwood Mac / Greatest Hits

More Fleetwood Mac

More British Blues Rock

  • An excellent vintage British pressing on the original CBS Solid Orange label with Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last
  • Big, rich, energetic, with tons of Analog Tubey Magic, this original Orange Label UK pressing has exactly the right sound for this music
  • “Oh Well, Parts One and Two,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Man of the World,” and the surprise Number One single “Albatross” are all here and guaranteed to blow your mind
  • Peter Green is hands down our favorite British Blues Guitarist of All Time – play this record and you will surely see why we feel that way
  • We’ve recently compiled a list of records we think every audiophile should get to know, along the lines of “the 1001 records you need to hear before you die,” but with less of an accent on morbidity and more on the joy these amazing audiophile-quality recordings can bring to your life.

If you’re a fan of Fleetwood Mac, this copy is guaranteed to blow your mind. Like all the best vintage British pressings, the sound is smooth, rich and full. This is Old School ANALOG, baby. They don’t make ’em like this anymore because they don’t know how to.


Listening in Depth to Rumours

This is a rock album — it needs to be played LOUD and it needs to be played on a DYNAMIC system.

Case in point: consider how quietly The Chain starts out, and how loud it is by the end. Those kinds of macro-dynamics are very rare on a pop recording. Rumours has the kind of dynamics you just don’t hear anymore, which is why the killer copies are a such a THRILL to play on a big dynamic system fitted with a top-notch turntable.

The best copies exhibited the kind of presence, bass, dynamics and energy found only on the kind of Super Demo Discs we rave about here endlessly: the BS&Ts, Stardusts, Zumas and the like. When you get a good copy of this record, it is a Demo Disc.

Who knew? Who even suspected? Who raves about Rumours but us? Let’s fact it, the audiophile world has no clue how good this record can sound.

Quick Listening Test — Dreams

What do the best copies have that the also-rans don’t? Lots and lots of qualities, far too many to mention here, but there is one you may want to pay special attention to: the sound of the snare. When the snare is fat and solid and present, with a good “slap” to the sound, you have a copy with weight, presence, transparency, energy — all the stuff we ADORE about the sound of the best copies of Rumours.

Next time you are on the hunt to buy new speakers, see which ones can really rock the snare on Dreams. That’s probably going to be the speaker that can do justice to the entire Rumours album, as well as anything by The Beatles, and Neil Young’s Zuma, and lots of our other favorite records, and we expect favorites of yours too.


Letter of the Week – “Your discovery is easily the most amazing thing of all the amazing things this audiophile has come across in 30 years of amazing things.”

More of the Music of Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

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

Hey Tom,   

Friend over recently, played Fleetwood Mac Rumours, 45RPM. He says that’s gonna be awful hard to beat. “With one arm tied behind my back! Watch this!”

Wow, that was more open….!

Your discovery is easily the most amazing thing of all the amazing things this audiophile has come across in 30 years of amazing things.

Keep at it, no one else can, we are counting on you.


Thanks for the kind words. Finding a pressing with amazing sound is our top goal in every shootout we do. It is not hard to beat the 45 RPM 2 disc set that Steve Hoffman mastered. This story has many similarities to the one you recount.

Best, TP

Further Reading

Fleetwood Mac – Rumours

More Fleetwood Mac

Reviews and Commentaries for Rumours

  • With seriously good Double Plus (A++) grades or BETTER from start to finish, this early pressing of Fleetwood Mac’s Magnum Opus will be very hard to beat
  • Tubey Magical Analog – the sound is open, spacious and transparent, with a huge three-dimensional soundfield
  • A Better Records Top 100 title – when you hear it sound as good as it does here, you’ll know why we’ve long considered Rumours an Audiophile Demo Disc
  • If you own the album on two 45 RPM discs (you know the one), allow us to send you a copy that will beat the pants off that modern mediocrity – this one!
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 5 stars: “Each tune, each phrase regains its raw, immediate emotional power—which is why Rumours touched a nerve upon its 1977 release, and has since transcended its era to be one of the greatest, most compelling pop albums of all time.”
  • If you’re a Fleetwood Mac fan, this undeniable classic from 1977 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1977 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here

When you hear a good copy of Rumours, it’s very easy to understand why this is one of the best-selling pop music albums of all time. Just about everyone knows how great these songs are, but I bet you didn’t know they could sound like this!

It’s tough finding Hot Stamper copies of this album. With over 75 sets of stamper numbers for each side, it’s an extremely taxing project, even for us. We know some of the better stampers and have been acquiring them since then in preparation for this shootout. (more…)

Strict Quality Control? We Put That Proposition to the Test


Yet Another Important Lesson We Learned from Record Experiments

Part one of this commentary concerns the random nature of record making processes. It can be found here.

A number of years ago (2011?) the opportunity to crack open two brand new sealed copies of a recently remastered Heavy Vinyl pressing came our way.

At the time, we were told that with this pressing every effort was made to produce the highest quality product and to maintain the utmost in quality control throughout the production process. They were adamant that every copy produced, from first to last, would be indestiguishable from any other. Not just in terms of surfaces, but sound quality too.

To accomplish this feat, the producer used the real master tapes (we were told, no reason to doubt him), had a well known mastering engineer do the mastering at a highly-regarded studio, then had a well-known audiophile pressing plant in Germany make the record, using the finest vinyl compounds available, in presses that meet the highest standards in the industry, operated by skilled individual of the utmost professionalism.

Any stamper would be replaced long before it could possibly be showing any wear.

All the metal mothers and stampers would be made in a way designed to eliminate all variation.

One and only one complete run would be made. If another was needed at some later date the whole process would have to be started over from scratch using the same strict quality controls.

No corners would be cut, nothing left to chance. Each one of the finished records would reflect the exceptional efforts of the most skilled professionals adhering to the highest standards throughout the process.

Every copy would be quiet, the sound would be of the highest audiophile quality, and, more to the point, every copy — from number 001 all the way to number 7,500 — would sound as good as any other.

Our Experience

As you might have guessed by now, our opinion as to the possibility of these results being achievable is that they are not. They are simply impossible.

Bear in mind that this is an opinion supported by the playing of thousands and thousands of records, including sometimes more than a hundred of the same title, and having them all sound different, to one degree or another.

So we proceeded to test the proposition that by exercising maximal control over all the known variables of record production, using the most exacting standards at each and every step, two copies of the same record, chosen at random, would sound the same.

We picked a song, cued it up and listened to it for a minute or so. Then we put the other copy on our table, cued up the same track and let it rip.

Falsified in Fifteen Seconds

Immediately the sound was different and, importantly, quite a bit better. The first big cymbal splash was brighter and more life-like, with more extended high frequencies. The bass was better too: deeper, as well as more solid and easier to follow. All of this was evident within the first fifteen seconds of playing the second copy. So much for controlling the variables.

The random variability inherent in the record making process cannot be overcome by best practices and high standards. The process is complex, not well understood, and surely stochastic; some parts of it can be controlled but not all the parts of it can be controlled, which means that the finished product will have some unavoidable element of randomness.