[This commentary is from circa 2010]
A while back one of our good customers wrote to tell us how much he liked his Century Direct to Disc recording of the Glenn Miller big band, one of the few really amazing sounding direct discs that contains music actually worth listening to. Which brought me to the subject of Hot Stampers.
Hot Stamper pressings are almost always going to be studio multi-track recordings, not live Direct to Discs. They will invariably suffer many compromises compared to the purist approach of an audiophile label trying to eliminate sources of distortion in the pursuit of the highest fidelity.
But when they do that, they almost always FAIL. How many Direct Discs sound like that Glenn Miller? A dozen at most. The vast majority are just plain AWFUL. I know, I’ve played practically every one ever made. For more than a decade that was my job.
Thankfully that is no longer the case, although we do have a handful of direct discs that we still shootout, such as The Three, Glenn Miller, Straight from the Heart and the odd Sheffield.
What we do play is those very special, albeit COMPROMISED, mass-produced pressings. The right Londons and Shaded Dogs. Columbia and Contemporary jazz. Brewer and Shipley. Sergio Mendes. The Beatles. The Doobie Brothers for Pete’s sake!
Why? Because those pressings actually communicate the MUSIC. They allow you to forget about the recording and just LISTEN. You can’t do that very often with the CD of the album. You can’t even do it with most of the vinyl pressings you run into. You certainly can’t do it with the vast majority of 180 gram LPs being made today, not in our experience anyway.
You have to have the right pressing. That’s what a Hot Stamper is: It’s the Right Pressing.
It’s the one that really lets the music come through, regardless of whatever compromises were made along the way.
Doobies – We Make an Exception
Good example: What Once Were Vices…, a Hot Stamper that had never made it to the site [at the time but since has]. A very good customer saw I had an unpriced copy up and wanted to know what it sounded like, how quiet it was and how much it would cost. Normally I just can’t take the time to do the work necessary to answer those questions, to really understand the sound of an unfamiliar title (especially in this case, not being a fan of early era Doobies). It typically requires cleaning and playing lots of copies and listening to them critically, trying to find the tracks that tell the story of the sound. This is very time consuming, as I’m sure you can imagine. But we have to do it; it’s our bread and butter here at Better Records. We just can’t do it NOW, because there are dozens of other albums we’re in the middle of investigating and adding a 25th causes me to be even testier than I usually am.
But for some reason in this case I made an exception to that policy. I guess I was curious about the album, one I hadn’t played in twenty years. The grooves looked good. It was very clean. Already Disc Doctored. Why not throw it on the table?
So I did, and it must have been a good stereo day, the electricity must have been cooking, because it sounded FABULOUS. Much better than I expected. Just right in fact.
So now I had to know how other copies would sound. Maybe they’re all good. Playback technology has come a long way in the last twenty years; maybe the Doobies were making great records all along and we just couldn’t play them until now.
Alas, none of the other copies sounded like this one. (The Japanese pressing I had put away for a rainy day shootout got about ten seconds of play time before I recognized it had a bad case of spitty, grainy, Japanese pressing sound. It went right in the trade pile.)
The good one had LIFE. The others sounded fairly dead in comparison. Probably made from a sub-generation EQ’d dub, which is what would be used to master most copies. Sad but true.
What did I hear on this hot copy? The usual things we talk about around here. I won’t bore you by repeating them. More importantly, much more importantly, is the fact that I found myself really ENJOYING the music. Really liking the SONGS. Singing along, (off key of course). Thinking, “Hey, these old Doobie Brothers are pretty talented! This is a good album. I’m really getting into this.” (It even motivated me to do a survey of their other releases to see if there were more undiscovered gems sitting on my shelf. Watch for future listings.)
And this is precisely my point. The right LP will communicate the music so well that you’ll forget about the stereo, you’ll forget about the recording, you’ll just find yourself enjoying the music. The majority of LPs won’t let you do that, audiophile labels included. It all comes down to two words: Musical Satisfaction.
Living and Breathing
The best classical recordings of the ’50s and ’60s, compromised in every imaginable way, are sonically and musically head and shoulders above virtually anything that came after them. The music lives and breathes on those old LPs. Playing them, you find yourself in the Living Presence of the musicians. You become lost in their performance. Whatever the limitations of the medium, such limitations seem to fade quickly from consciousness. What remains is the rapture of the purely musical experience.
That’s what happens when a good record meets a good turntable. And that includes a good Doobie Brothers record.
We live for records like these. It’s the reason we all get up in the morning and come to work, to find and play good records. It’s what this site is all about — offering the audiophile music lover recordings that provide real musical satisfaction.
It’s hard work — so hard nobody else seems to want to do it — but the payoff makes it all worthwhile. To us anyway. Hope you feel the same. Based on our testimonials I’m glad to see that many of you do.