audiophile vinyl

George Harrison – Somewhere in England

More George Harrison

More Beatles

  • This domestically pressed Dark Horse LP boasts very good Hot Stamper sound or BETTER throughout – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Dramatically richer, fuller and with more presence than the average copy, and that’s especially true for whatever godawful Heavy Vinyl pressing is currently being foisted on an unsuspecting record buying public
  • “Harrison’s first album since 1979 is one of his finest, featuring his moving tribute to Lennon, All Those Years Ago. Harrison’s signatures – crystal-clear production, buoyant backup and chimelike guitar runs are all here. This record is both entertainment and a musical giant’s defiant tribute to the value of life.” (Author unknown)
  • If you’re a George Harrison fan, this title from 1981 is surely a Must Own

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801 – Clarity Was Never the Point

More of the Music of Brian Eno

Reviews and Commentaries for 801 Live

Some audiophiles get worked up listening for details in their favorite recordings. Is that where the music is – in the details? Lots of details come out when one copy is brighter than another.

Brighter ain’t necessarily better. Most of the time it’s just brighter. 

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a live Rock and Roll concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured in performance.

Next time you try out some audiophile wire or a new tweak, play this record to make sure you haven’t lost the essential weight and power of the sound. This album doesn’t care about your love of detail. It wants you to feel those bass notes going right through you. If the new wire can’t get that right, it’s got to go.

Our Hot Stamper Commentary for 801 Live Circa 2007

This is a one of my All Time Favorite records — a Desert Island Disc if there ever was one. I treasure this album. And I just now finally figured out how to tell the good ones from the not-so-good ones. I confess I was listening for the wrong things in the shootouts I was doing over the last few years, and in that I have the feeling I was not alone. I think this is a fairly common Major Audiophile Pitfall that we all get stuck in on occasion.

In this case I was trying to find a more transparent copy, one with more shimmer to the cymbals and air around the instruments. The first track is a little opaque and I wanted to be able to hear into the music better. I tried many import and domestic copies, but none of them seemed to have the particular qualities I was looking for. They all sounded different, but I could not for the life of me find one that sounded clearly better.

That was my mistake. I was guilty of Bad Audiophile Thinking.

This album isn’t about clarity. It’s about the sound of a live Rock and Roll concert. It’s about the raw power of one of the most phenomenal rhythm sections ever captured on tape.

I discovered that fact only a few days ago (03/07), [yes, this is a very old commentary, but it still holds up!] even though I have been listening to this album for 30 years. (It started when a college buddy played me the wildly original Tomorrow Never Knows from the album and asked me to name the tune. It’s so different from The Beatles version I confess it took me until the vocals came in and I recognized the lyrics.)

Having recently acquired another nice import, I cleaned it up and threw it on, just checking for condition and really not intending to get too involved in the sound. Immediately I was struck by how beefy the bass was. (The Legacy Focus’ speakers I currently audition with have three 12″ woofers that can really pump it out down low.)

I hadn’t played the record recently, not since the latest round of improvements, and I was hearing a solid bottom end that I never knew this record had. Was it a Hot Stamper? A magical copy?

Separating the Men from the Boys

I had to know, so it was shootout time. I won’t bore you with the details, but at some point I realized that what separates the men from the boys on this LP is bass. The copies with the most powerful, deepest bass, the stuff under 50 cycles, seem to get everything else right too. The bass is the foundation to the sound, and without it the guitars and voices don’t sound right. They sound relatively thin.

The bass-heavy copies are more dynamic too. They communicate the power of the music in a way that the leaner copies simply do not. With the leaner copies it’s a good album. With the bass-heavy copies YOU ARE THERE. (That’s assuming you play this record at the levels necessary for the suspension of disbelief effect to take hold, i.e., loud.)

I stumbled upon the secret to this album by accident. With all my training and all my effort over the years, I still wasn’t able to focus on the key elements in the music that needed to be reproduced properly for the music to work.

It was nothing less than a Milestone Event in the History of Better Records.


The Eagles / The Long Run – The True Test for Side One

More of the Music of The Eagles

More Records that Are Good for Testing Grit and Grain

Most copies have a smeary, veiled, stuck-in-the-speaker quality that makes for some painful listening. Cardboard drums. Non-existent ambience. No energy. (Unless you get one of the hard, edgy, thin ones — we’re not sure which is worse.)

This one is a whole different story, with the kind of big, punchy, full-bodied sound this music absolutely demands.

What’s Bill Szymczyk’s problem anyway, you might ask. Can’t the guy record an album any better than this after being in the studio for all these years?

Yes he can. Don’t make the mistake of judging his work by the typical bad pressing of it, the kind that Elektra was churning out by the millions back in the day.

Believe me, the master tape must be AWESOME if the sound of some of the records we played is any indication (which of course it is).

What We Listen For on The Long Run

Less grit – smoother and sweeter sound, something that is not easy to come by on The Long Run.

A bigger presentation – more size, more space, more room for all the instruments and voices to occupy. The bigger the speakers you have to play this record the better.

More bass and tighter bass. This is fundamentally a pure rock record. It needs weight down low to rock the way Bill Szymczyk wanted it to.

Present, breathy vocals. A veiled midrange is the rule, not the exception.

Good top-end extension to reproduce the harmonics of the instruments and details of the recording including the studio ambience.

Last but not least, balance. All the elements from top to bottom should be heard in harmony with each other. Take our word for it, assuming you haven’t played a pile of these yourself, balance is not that easy to find.

Our best copies will have it though, of that there is no doubt.

The True Test for Side One

Want to know if you have a good side one on your copy? Here’s an easy test. Timothy B Schmit’s vocal on I Can’t Tell You Why rarely sounds right. Most of the time he’s muffled, pretty far back in the soundstage, and the booth he’s in has practically no ambience. On the good copies, he’s not exactly jumping out of the speakers, but he’s clear, focused, and his voice is breathy and full of emotional subtleties that make the song the heartbreaking powerhouse it is.

This is why you need a Hot Stamper. Most copies don’t let you FEEL the song.

And the rest of the band is cookin’ here as well. From the big, full-bodied bass to the fat, punchy snare, this side is doing practically everything we want it to.

TRACK LISTING

Side One

The Long Run
I Can’t Tell You Why
In the City
The Disco Strangler
King of Hollywood

Side Two

Heartache Tonight
Those Shoes
Teenage Jail
The Greeks Don’t Want No Freaks
The Sad Café

Rolling Stone

By Timothy White
November 15, 1979

By day, the stardom-obsessed City of Angels depicted on the Eagles’ The Long Run is a dreary land of blank vistas and empty promises, baking slowly under an unsentimental sun. But when the night comes, the landscape is suddenly infested with mad shadows: inky, menacing configurations that provide an ominous depth. Unbridled by reality, this is the time when desperate dreams emerge from their lairs. Such dreams stalk the back streets, bistros, board rooms and bedrooms where the deals for success are struck — and then metamorphose into nightmares.

The Long Run, the Eagles first album in three years, is a chilling and altogether brilliant evocation of Hollywood’s nightly Witching Hour, that nocturnal feeding frenzy first detailed by Warren Zevon on his haunting Asylum debut (Warren Zevon, 1976) and the equally powerful Excitable Boy. Both Zevon and the Eagles have employed the desperado and the ghoul as antiromantic symbols of the star caught in the devil’s bargain. And both eventually came to realize that they had to give up the guise of observers and confess their roles as participants.

The Eagles live and thrive in a town where rock & roll is the foremost fame machine. Commercially, they’ve risen as high as a band possibly can, and yet, as individuals, they still have trouble getting in touch with a girlfriend, with any true comfort or satisfaction, with their own dreams. Their backyard is a thicket of fast cars, witchy women, outrageous parties and wasted time, so their perspective on the maw is doubtlessly an informed one.

Since their first LP in 1972, the Eagles have been adept at portraying the dark side of stardom, the sordid milieu of its beneficiaries and the various modus operandi used to secure notoriety. From Eagles’ “Chug All Night,” “Most of Us Are Sad” and “Take the Devil,” through all of Desperado, to “James Dean” and “Good Day in Hell” on On the Border and the title tracks of One of These Nights and Hotel California, the themes of evil exhilaration, dissolution and despair that attend tinseled glory were relentlessly hammered home. These recurring themes finally reached their apex in the song whose title has since become synonymous with high living and self-destruction: “Life in the Fast Lane.”

On first listening, The Long Run seems a modest, flawed project that’s virtually devoid of the gloss, catchy hooks and flashy invention that typified earlier Eagles records. The title tune sets an unambitious tone: the group lopes along in a familiar country-rock framework, singing about youthful hopes and the virtues of tenacity. But it slowly becomes apparent that the “long run” is a metaphor for a host of secret concerns and passions that are either career- or relationship-oriented. What starts out as a mildly encouraging number about hanging in there ends up a grim homily on the solitary pleasures of flirting with the precipice.

Letter of the Week – “Oh man, what a difference. Huge sound – really alive – the way you remember this sound should be like.”

More of the Music of Van Halen

Reviews and Commentaries for Van Halen

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

Hey Tom,  

I just got a super hot stamper Van Halen and immediately got out my DCC version – which is a record I’ve had no complaints about – compared to most of the heavy vinyl remaster crap – but, oh man, what a difference. Huge sound – really alive – the way you remember this sound should be like – I saw these boys when they first hit – one of my first rock concerts. Thanks again – this was money well spent – and on this one, I can even ebay away the DCC and more than break even (I almost feel guilty about that!).

Richard

Hi Richard,

Isn’t it funny how a record that doesn’t sound “bad” in any way — the DCC – falls so far short of what it really should have sounded like? How will the audiophile record collectors of the world ever get better sound when they already think they have it?

Anyway, glad to hear you liked our Hot Stamper as much as we did!

Best, TP

PS

Back in 1998 we were still selling Heavy Vinyl (mea culpa as always), and this title was one we were offering to our customers at that time, although I don’t recall ever having anything nice to say about it. Our review can be found here.

Smetana and Dvorak – Bohemian Rhapsody

More of the Music of Smetana

More Orchestral Spectaculars

  • We can honestly say we have never heard these wonderfully melodic works played with more verve and skill
  • Nor have we heard any performances with better sound – this may be a budget Decca reissue, but as some of you Hot Stamper fans have discovered, it is not unusual for these later Deccas to beat the originals
  • And note that this pressing is no spring chicken — it’s almost 50 years old
  • This copy has many condition issues — if it didn’t sound as amazing as it does we wouldn’t bother listing it, but it does!
  • The original Decca and London pressings are rare and expensive, but if you one, you really owe it to yourself to hear just how good this pressing sounds
  • “The performances of The Bartered Bride extracts have all of the necessary sparkle and verve, while Kertesz’s credentials as a Dvorák conductor are second to none.”
  • Another Must Own Title from 1962. Other recommended titles from 1962 can be found here.

Sometimes the copy with the best sound is not the copy with the quietest vinyl. The best-sounding copy is always going to win the shootout, the condition of its vinyl notwithstanding. If you can tolerate the problems on this pressing you are in for some amazing Grateful Dead music and sound. If for any reason you are not happy with the sound or condition of the album we are of course happy to take it back for a full refund, including the domestic return postage.


This record shows off vintage Decca sound at its best. The full range of colors of the orchestra are here presented with remarkable clarity, dynamic contrast, spaciousness, sweetness, and timbral accuracy.

If you want to demonstrate to a novice listener why modern recordings are so consistently unsatisfactory, all you have to do is play this record for them. No CD ever sounded like this.

The richness of the strings, a signature sound for Decca in the Fifties and Sixties, is on display here for fans of the classical Golden Age. It’s practically impossible to hear that kind of string sound on any recording made in the last thirty years (and this of course includes practically everything pressed on Heavy Vinyl).

It may be a lost art but as long as we have these wonderful vintage pressings to play it’s an art that is not lost on us. I don’t think the Decca engineers could have cut this record much better — it has all the orchestral magic one could ask for, as well as the clarity and presence that are missing from so many other vintage Golden Age records. (more…)

Thoughts on Becoming an Expert Listener

More Basic Concepts and Realities Explained 

This commentary was written around 2006, about two years after we started to put Hot Stampers on our website. Most of these kinds of commentaries from our old site can now be found on the blog you are reading. Here is an early one that got the ball rolling.

For years we’ve been writing commentaries about the sound of specific records we’ve auditioned in order to put them up for sale. By now there are literally hundreds of pages of commentary in which we’ve tried to explain, often in great detail, exactly what we listened for and exactly what we heard when playing these pressings. We’ve tried to be as clear as possible about precisely which qualities separate the better sounding LPs from their competitors — what they were doing right, and how we were able to recognize those qualities.

As we’ve gained a better understanding of records and their playback, we’ve made every effort to share with our readers what we’ve learned. Although the vast majority of these records sold long ago, almost all of the commentary remains available on the blog, to act as a resource for the audiophile who owns or might want to consider buying a copy of the record discussed.

Over the years, one thing has continued to bother me (I almost wrote “vex me”) about this hobby and those who pursue it. I’m frankly still shocked at how unskilled most listeners are. How else to explain all the bad sounding 180 gram pressings so many audiophiles embrace?

Add to the above bad half-speeds, bad Japanese pressings, bad Classic Records, bad 45s and all the rest, and you have a lot of bad sounding records that people don’t seem to have noticed sound bad. How can that be?

Finally, after years of scratching my head over this conundrum, Scientific American has come to the rescue with an article by Philip E. Ross in the August 2006 issue entitled The Expert Mind. Its subtitle explains:

Studies of the mental processes of chess grandmasters have revealed clues to how people become experts in other fields as well.

The studies have a number of significant findings which go a long way toward explaining the expertise, or lack of it, in listeners. It concludes that experts are made, not born, which means that virtually anyone can acquire the skills to become an expert listener.

But more importantly, the efforts required to reach that expert level explain why many audiophiles have not managed to acquire the necessary skills.

These studies show that two requirements must be met. The first is ten years of hard work. This means full time — not weekends, not a few hours after work to relax, but full time: forty, fifty, sixty hours a week, for years and years.

That amount of effort for that amount of time is “necessary but not sufficient,” as the logicians like to say. You can play golf all day every day and never become a scratch golfer. If you want to play at that level you have to work at it. You have to challenge yourself to play better, by whatever means necessary. You must actively approach the game with the intention to improve, not passively approach the game with the goal of enjoyment. That fundamental difference in attitude and effort results in very different skill levels over time.

As you can probably guess by now, I started to see something of myself in these findings. I’ve been listening critically to records full time for well over a decade, close to two at this point [now three and counting]. And many others who work here do the same — play lots of records and listen to them critically.

Let’s face it, we don’t play records all day because we want to. We play them because we have to. It’s how we make our living. Life would be a lot easier if we could just be one of those record dealers who throws a title up on his site with a visual grade and a high price. We can’t do that. Audiophiles come to us for superior sounding pressings, and there’s only one way to find those — by playing the records.

What’s more, you have to compare any given pressing to others you may have on hand, to see what it’s doing right and wrong, where its strengths and weaknesses lay. It’s a lot of work. This is how we’ve learned about records. We can’t imagine any other way of doing it.

After reading this article, I went back through some of my audio commentary and found this little gem from 2005.

A good record is an education for me too. This is not only how I’ve managed to learn about the pressing in question; it’s the same process that allows me to make improvements in the sound of the stereo. It’s learning how to identify what is right and what is wrong with the sound of any pressing — the same process that helps me recognize whether any change to the stereo makes it sound better or worse, and to try and figure out by how much and in what way.

And the best part is, like the practice of any skill, the more you do it, the better you get at it. I do it all day, every day. Not because I’m noble or dedicated. I do it because I enjoy it. It’s fun. It’s the most fun part of this job. Discovering great sounding recordings is a THRILL. It’s what this hobby is all about — music that sounds better than you ever thought it could.

The study corroborated what we already knew to be true. Improving your Critical Listening Skills requires the expenditure of effort, and lots of it.

The second finding of the study was corroborated in the next few paragraphs, wherein I exhorted the reader to challenge himself, to test his skills using records he already owns:

Of course, as I’ve stated elsewhere on the site, you learn almost nothing from the same record played back on the same equipment. What you must do is learn to listen for differences in the sound, and differences only come about as the result of a change. You have to CHANGE something in the system to develop these critical listening skills.

How about this example: the difference in sound between any two sides of a record. The only change there involves flipping the record over. No new equipment, no tweaks, no shootouts with dozens of alternate pressings. Just flip the record. Almost no record has the same sound on both sides, not the records we sell anyway. Where else have you ever read such a thing? Nowhere else, at least to my knowledge. Because not enough audiophiles and almost no record dealers make the effort to listen critically.

If you can’t hear the difference on at least some of your records, it has to be one or both of the following. Either your system is not good enough to resolve these differences, which is sometimes the case, or, much more likely, you simply haven’t trained your ears to listen for them. Not listening for pleasure. Listening like it’s a job. Critically. Analytically. Try to listen for one quality by itself. Listen for grain, or top end extension, or bass dynamics — anything, the list is endless. Focus in on that single quality, recognize it, appreciate it, then flip the record over and judge that quality for side two.

Although we make plenty of mistakes, we think of ourselves as experts when it comes to evaluating the sound of records and stereo equipment. (Experts make mistakes; they just make fewer of them.) The studies alluded to above make it clear that anyone can.

But the practical consequences of these findings are that few audiophiles can ever hope to achieve expert critical listening skills. It takes too much time and it takes too much work. Most people are in this hobby for fun. They already have a job. They don’t need another one.

Perhaps there’s another, better way to look at it. Most people are not going to become scratch golfers, but they can still get better at the game. There is a balance to be achieved between working hard to improve your skills and having fun at the same time.

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Grateful Dead – Self-Titled “Skull and Roses”

More of the Grateful Dead

More Live Recordings of Interest

  • An early WB Green Label pressing of the 2 LP “Skull & Roses” live album with seriously good Double Plus (A++) sound or BETTER on all FOUR sides
  • We guarantee there is dramatically more space, richness, presence, and performance energy on this copy than others you’ve heard or you get your money back – it’s as simple as that
  • 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
  • 4 stars: “Coming off of the quantum-leap success of the studio country-rock efforts Workingman’s Dead (1969) and American Beauty, Grateful Dead offers up a pair of new Jerry Garcia/Robert Hunter compositions – ‘Bertha’ and ‘Wharf Rat’ – both of which garnered a permanent place within the band’s live catalog. However, ‘The Other One’ – joined in progress just as Billy Kreutzmann fires up a blazing percussion solo – sprawls as the album’s centerpiece.
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this classic from 1971 belongs in your collection.

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Where Can I Find Your Hot Stamper Beatles Pressings in Mono?

Hot Stamper Pressings of Rubber Soul

Reviews and Commentaries for Rubber Soul

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

I notice you don’t mention whether the Beatles recordings are stereo or mono. The rubber soul that just arrived is stereo. I’m guessing that the one I reordered is also stereo.

Do you guys stock the mono versions? Do you say on the site when something is mono. Let me know, as I like mono versions too.

I was close with Geoff Emerick and he always stressed to me that they spent tons of time on the mono mixes and not much on the stereos (up through Revolver). So let me know if/when you have mono for Rubber Soul and Revolver and perhaps I can snatch them up.

Brian

Brian,

All our records are stereo unless we specifically mention otherwise, as are our Beatles records.

We never sell Beatles records in mono, ever. Here is a little something I wrote about it:

Revolver in Disgraceful Mono

They spent time on the mono mixes because getting the levels right for all the elements in a recording is ten times harder than deciding whether an instrument or voice should be placed in the left, middle or right of the soundstage.

And they didn’t even do the stereo mixes right some of the time, IMHO.

But wall to wall beats all stacked up in the middle any day of the week in my book.

If you like mono Beatles records you will have to do your own shootouts, sorry!

Best, TP

  Hey Tom, 

Very interesting info on the Mono Beatles. I’ve never had the opportunity to play any early stereo pressings against the monos. Thanks for the opinion. I looked over the versions of the Beatles albums I bought that you are replacing for me and I noticed that they are 4th or 5th pressings.

Do you find that era better than first or second pressings (in general) or is it just a price and condition thing. Just curious. I’m new to higher end collecting and looking for an expert opinion (which clearly you are!). I’m excited to hear the better versions you’re sending me.

Brian

Brian,

Some of the best pressings, but not all the best pressings, were cut by Harry Moss in the ’70s, on much better transistor mastering equipment than they had in the ’60s, and that is part of the reason why some of them sound so much better than most of the earlier pressings. (The same thing happened at Columbia for Kind of Blue and a small number of other albums.)

But plenty of what Moss cut does not sound good, so searching out his versions may be helpful but not as helpful as most people think.

It’s what scientists and historians refer to as “the illusion of knowledge.” It prevents you from understanding what is really going on with records.

This accounts for virtually every internet thread and every comment section that audiophiles can be found on. These are people who think they know a lot more than they do, and therefore have no need to find out more, because they already know it.

A Mr Dunning and a Mr Kruger wrote about it here, and it should be well worth your time to read.

Best, TP


FURTHER READING

Mono, Stereo, Reprocessed Stereo, We’ve Played Them All!

Mono or Stereo? Both Can Be Good

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Mono

Mono or Stereo? Stick with Stereo

Mono Reprocessed into Stereo – Good and Bad

New to the Blog? Start Here

Listening in Depth to Romantic Warrior

Romantic Warrior is my favorite JAZZ/ROCK FUSION album of all time. As good as the music is, the sound is even better. This is the Jazz/Rock Demo Disc that stands head and shoulders above the rest. In my experience, no record of this kind is more DYNAMIC or has better BASS. Not one. Demo Disc doesn’t begin to do this kind of sound justice.

Simply put, not only is this one of the greatest musical statements of all time, it’s one of the great recording statements. Few albums in the history of the world can lay claim to this kind of POWER and ENERGY.

But the Super Sound has a purpose, a raison d’etre. This is the kind of music that requires it; better yet, DEMANDS it. In truth, the sound is not only up to the challenge of expressing the life of the music on this album, it positively ENHANCES it.

Those monster Lenny White drum rolls that run across the soundstage from wall to wall may be a recording studio trick, but they’re there to draw your attention to his amazing powers, and it works! The drums are EVERYWHERE on this album, constantly jumping out of the soundfield and taking the music into the stratosphere where it belongs.

TRACK LISTING and COMMENTARY

Side One

Medieval Overture

The grandiose opening of this record serves as an important sonic checkpoint, as well as a tipoff for the pyrotechnics to come. On the better copies Corea’s multi-layered, swirling synths occupy their own space, clearly separated from each other, not blurred and inarticulate as they are on the poorer pressings.

Also notice how much attack Lenny White’s drums have, especially in the more exposed sections. The transients are breathtakingly immediate. Run-of-the-mill copies tend to flatten Mr White, making his acrobatic playing seem two-dimensional and less-than-inspired. The best copies prove that nothing could be further from the truth.

Sorceress

This groove-oriented track is a testament to RTF’s diversity, as well as the mastery of Messrs. Clarke and White as a rhythm section. This is a real test for bottom end. Even though the bass goes unbelievably deep, the best copies manage to exhibit plenty of control while still allowing you to FEEL the bass rising up through the floorboards and into your chair. There is so much deep bass at the opening of this track that at any sort of serious levels I would immediately run out of the wattage needed to sustain them. It was either back off the volume or distort like crazy. You need some serious juice to play this track, or a very efficient speaker, or both.

All the members of this All-Star cast are showcased in the improv section, highlighted by Corea’s brilliant piano solo in the middle, one of my personal favorite solos of all time. Corea is a musician’s musician. There is nothing he or his bandmates are not capable of on this recording. This is more than mere fusion. On this album the whole world of jazz can be heard.

The Romantic Warrior

Side Two

Majestic Dance

The blistering opening track for side two is the quintessence of guitar-driven prog rock, a heads up for what’s to come. Most copies lack the top end extension that allows the hottest copies to open up and come alive. With the right top to bottom mastering and pressing this track is Gold! Demo Disc Quality all the way and then some.

The Magician

Duel of the Jester and the Tyrant

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