We Get Letters

The Book of Hot Stampers

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I received this email a while back: “Hi Tom, could you please recommend a book which would give the stamper numbers associated with the different pressings of a particular record.”

Let me take this opportunity to give a more comprehensive answer, since the concept of Hot Stampers is not especially well understood by the audiophile community outside of our admittedly rather small customer base. Only those who have spent a great deal of time reading the reviews and commentary on the site are likely to understand the importance of stampers. This is partly my fault, as this issue of stamper variability and quality is spread out all over the place, exactly where, no one really knows.
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This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Want to Do It Right

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Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and much good. This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, it takes “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am aiming at.

Rick here no doubt heard the sound he was looking for on our Hot Stamper McCartney album, and then some, judging by his letter.
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Derek Discusses Dark Side of the Moon

Yet another album we are clearly obsessed with

Click on the link below to pull up the many reviews and commentaries we’ve written, as well as Hot Stamper copies that are currently available on the site.

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DSOTM

I wanted to comment on the discussion as to the validity of the ‘Better Records’ business model and offerings to audiophiles. As a backgrounder, I am an electrical engineer that grew up in the 60s and 70s listening first hand to many of the classic LPs that Better Records now offers for sale. I was also a musician with perfect pitch (playing French Horn in the Symphony and keyboards in various bands), I had a killer stereo and spent a lot of time in recording studios that produced some of the top acts and albums of the era so I certainly had exposure to the best equipment and listening environments back in the day.

I went on to being a CEO of various telecom/mobile software companies and somewhat lost touch with my musical purist roots. But I had 3 boys and one of them turned out to have the same music bug I had and he has gone on to pursuing a career as a recording engineer, re-introducing me to analog vinyl LPs, pushing me to re-engage in my greatest love, which I eventually did in spades: I tossed out my electrostatics and full digital sound chain and I built a set of Altec 604 monitors driven by a 300B tube amp and a killer turntable, and I went about spending about $30,000 on 1st pressing vinyl from around the world, cleaning them with an ultrasonic platform, and I learned a great deal during that process.

For one, I fell back in love with high efficiency speaker systems, for another I realized that I was spending an average of $200-300 per LP to get what I wanted and in some cases, over $1000 in total (buying 7 different DSOTM pressings and travelling to the UK multiple times to find the best pressings), and I found out that Better Records was on to something: I got burned more than once myself when I was buying clean, never played 1st pressings of some of the top LPs and ending not feeling the love for the results. I appreciate the complexities of the old school vinyl pressing sound chain and its infinite variables, and more times than not I was back sourcing additional copies of the same LP looking for that ‘magical pressing’. I eventually got a stunning DSOTM 2nd pressing (A3/B3) and bought another only to find that the 1st one was way ahead of the 2nd so it shows that even the same pressings can be highly variable – in sound quality/feel/depth/clarity/warmth, but also noise floor. So, yes, there are magical ‘Hot Stampers’ out there, but to find them takes patience and lots of $ and effort. (more…)

If you think this Neil Young record sounds good…

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Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Some reviewers loved it, we of course hated it, so what else is new? If you think this record sounds good, one thing is certain: you don’t own many good sounding Neil Young records! You might not own any, but don’t feel bad; not many audiophiles do, if the experience of my audiophile friends is any guide.
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Building a World Class Record Collection…

One Customer’s Story

Dear Tom,

I want to thank you once again…

Quite a few years ago now I contacted you and talked about this concept called “hot stampers”…It ended up both saving me a lot of misdirection and foolishly trying to rebuild my vinyl collection with new vinyl re-releases often called “audiophile”  and “half-speed” issues.

After a few confirmations of what you said I quickly sold all those copies and began building a real world class collection of vinyl “original” hot stamper level records. A good number cam from your business and I also made a hobby of trying to do what you do in finding “hot stampers”.  Fortunately Philadelphia has a reasonable number of used record stores but unfortunately, as you well know, this is a rigorous and costly endeavor…..but it can be rewarding at times and at other times requires that I rely on you.  

So today I’m snowed in here so I fired up the rig and decided to do some small scale shoot outs and find the true great copies from my already culled collection. Put on several Hall and Oates and focused on “She’s Gone”… one was just clearly dynamic, clear and present…..then put on several Dire Straits “Love over Gold” and ended up with 3 killer copies (such a good lp).. I then put on about 5 copies of Phil Collins “Face Value” with “If Leaving Me is Hard”….What a great love song….and narrowed it to 2.

Yes my rig is really awesome for close up intimate listening at any level. It is something I have worked on for decades to become resolving, dynamic, harmonic, dimensional transparent, and involving. I can listen loud and close without distortion.  When I suddenly find that “hot stamper” Phil Collins is in the room where I hear his voice articulate and rich with background singers just as good and the band perfectly balanced to his vocal. 

And it is then I think of your contribution to all of this and want to tell you. So that is what I am doing. I know what three stars means…..I can’t afford many of them as I would assume some wealthy customers can but I really appreciate them and their unfortunate rarity….. and I appreciate all the work you have done to make this possible,

Sincerely,

Ed Z	


 

Making Audio Progress – Step One: Weed Out the Heavy Vinyl

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In his latest letter Dan tells us of his disappointment with the new reissues he’s been trying:

… And thanks again for that amazing “Who’s Next” record. It was startling to hear the difference between that and the Classic – and that was one of the better modern audiophile records!I can’t tell you how many modern reissues I’ve bought over the past couple months that have lost, and lost badly, to just my one single original or early pressing of an album. Reissues by AC/DC, The Who, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones, and Patti Smith have all failed miserably against my merely average sounding originals.
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The Doobie Brothers – Livin’ On The Fault Line

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

WHITE HOT STAMPERS for this overlooked and underrated Doobies album from 1977! Not a lot of hits but a lot of good Sophisticated Soulful Pop songs — the first four tracks on side one are some of the best of the Michael McDonald era, with Nothin’ But a Heartache and There’s a Light on side two making six SUPERB tracks all told.

I’m not even sure you could make the case that Minute By Minute has six tracks of this quality, and I would still find these six superior even if you tried. The consistency may not be as high as MBM, but the high points reach higher, and go deeper emotionally. (Yes, I’m being completely serious.)

More Doobie Brothers

And with Hot Stamper sound now you can actually enjoy the album as an audiophile quality recording. Who in his right mind thought this record could sound this good? Not us! We’ve been buying copies with different stampers for years with virtually nothing to show for it. That’s why you haven’t seen a Hot Stamper hit the site, ever.

That shrunken, flat, two-dimensional, lifeless, compressed, murky, dark sound you’re so used to hearing on Doobies Brothers albums may be the rule, but this pressing is the exception. The average copy of this record is such a letdown, it’s hard to imagine that too many audiophiles would have taken it seriously over the years. They should — the band cooks on practically every track, with strong songwriting that holds up to this day.

Why go to all the trouble to find great sounding copies? Because this is a good album! Side one is strong from start to finish, and side two has its own share of top quality material and musicianship. If you don’t know the album this is your chance to rectify that oversight.

A RECENT LETTER FROM A GOOD CUSTOMER TELLS HIS STORY WITH THE ALBUM

The Doobie Brothers album “Livin’ on the Fault Line” has been my favorite album from one of my favorite bands of all time. It is full of great songs, phenomenal musicianship, and Michael McDonald at his best. As a retiree who has very modest means today I have “shot out” more than a dozen copies of this lp and have a very good copy and backup. So last week Tom put up a double sided Triple Plus White Hot Stamper of “Livin’ on the Fault Line”. Could it be THAT much better than my best copy considering that my copy was the best of over a dozen and when played really sounds great? AND the Better Records copy would be almost 100 times the cost of my used record store “finds”.

But I couldn’t resist so I pushed the button and the Better Records White Hot copy arrived yesterday. I couldn’t wait to play it. It was in minty condition. I heated up the rig and sat down and laid my Jan Allearts “needle” (economy model $3000 cartridge with its Fritz Geiger stylus, ruby cantilever and hand wound gold coils that extract just about everything a record groove contains) on the band of the song “Little Darlin”. Suddenly Michael McDonald was in the room in front of me. The sound was simply amazing! TOTALLY transparent. Dynamics were fantastic…..harmonics were great without losing the high end or low end to the midrange. I was listening to the master tapes!

Now this record was not one of the Doobies biggies. It’s a sleeper… a lot were made but you can find them easily and the used prices in bins are dirt cheap. Your average copy sounds pretty good and a good one sounds great BUT this White Hot Stamper just put ALL of them to shame! This makes it a RARE find and Tom has alluded to how he hasn’t found many that sound this good. And that brings me to the thing that is most disturbing about collecting vinyl (forget cd’s)…..WHY could the record companies do such a really poor job shipping a majority of poor to good records when they also shipped a minority of fantastic Hot Stamper LP’s. I could say it’s the 80/20 rule where 20% of anything is great and 80% of everything is much less to awful. Like you want your car mechanic or your brain surgeon to be in the 20%! Then with vinyl you have to find the small percentage of the 20% that survived stems, twigs, coke, and horrible record players that destroyed most of all the records ever produced including the 20%.

But hey… there’s Tom Port and Better Records to do the hard work of finding a tiny percentage of a tiny percentage. Are they expensive? Sure. But from all my attempts, I personally know just how much money and work it takes to produce these “finds”. It’s a LOT. Can I afford many? NO! But I have my small collection of Better Records Hot Stampers and it is separate from my main “excellent” collection of vinyl. It’s separate because I can hardly ever top a top Stamper from Better Records…..especially a Triple Plus from that rarified air of BR!

ED Z

This Is Not a Cheap Hobby If You Want to Do It Right

mccarmccar_1408s_0210

Rick sent us a letter recently after having played his first Hot Stamper, the first record he ever bought from us. At $300 it wasn’t cheap, but the best things in life never are, and certainly there is little in the world of audio that’s cheap and much good. This is not a cheap hobby if you want to do it right, and even tons of money doesn’t guarantee you will get good sound. It’s far more complicated than that. To quote Winston Churchill, it takes “blood, toil, tears and sweat.”

Churchill went on to say “You ask, what is our aim? I can answer in one word: Victory. Victory at all costs… Victory, however long and hard the road may be…”

Now, he wasn’t talking about audio, but he could have been, and I certainly am. It takes resources — money and labor — to get the sound you want. That is the victory I am aiming at.

Rick here no doubt heard the sound he was looking for on our Hot Stamper McCartney album, and then some, judging by his letter.
(more…)