beyond-white-hot

When a pressing — really, one side of a pressing in most cases — goes FAR beyond anything we’d ever heard for the title, we used to award it Four Pluses. In the interests of consistency, we no longer use that grade. These listings are offered as examples of breakthroughs that came our way in the past.

Elton John / Honky Chateau – Salvation Is a Great Test

More of the Music of Elton John

Reviews and Commentaries for Honky Chateau

More Records that Are Good for Testing Big, Clear and Lively Choruses

We award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus. [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.)

When I hear a record with a side this phenomenally good, with the stereo tuned-up and tweaked within an inch of its life to reproduce the album at the highest level I can manage, I will sometimes sit my wife down and play her a track or two. I did it for a Four Plus Deja Vu earlier this year [2016] as a matter of fact, playing Country Girl: Whiskey Boot Hill on side two, with that crazy HUGE organ blasting out of the right speaker — what a thrill!

For this record I played her Salvation, with one huge chorus following another, like powerful waves crashing on the shore, until Elton takes a deep breath and belts out the final, biggest chorus, hitting his peak an octave higher and taking the song to a level neither one of us had ever experienced. We followed it up with the lovely Mona Lisas and Mad Hatters, and that was about as much Elton John live in my listening room at practically concert hall levels we could take in one sitting.

Hearing Elton with such energy, standing right in front of use, with instruments and singers encircling him from wall to wall and floor to ceiling, was so powerful and immersive it left us both with tears in our eyes.

That’s what gets you a Fourth Plus around these parts. (more…)

Chabrier / Orchestral Music – Our Four Plus Shootout Winner

More of the music of Emmanual Chabrier (1841-1894) 

Reviews and Commentaries for Chabrier’s Orchestral Music

The Espana side earned our rare and coveted Four Plus A++++ grade, which is strictly limited to pressings (really, individual sides of pressings) that take a given recording to a level we’ve never experienced before and had no idea could even exist. We estimate that about one per cent of the Hot Stamper pressings we come across in our shootouts earn this grade. You can’t get much more rare than that.

Wow! Monstrous size and dynamic power thanks to the brilliant Decca engineering of Roy Wallace. Without a doubt the most spectacular sound we’ve ever heard from CS 6438.

This Beyond White Hot Stamper London pressing has some of the loveliest orchestral music reproduction we’ve ever heard. Man, this copy sure has it going on: it’s super clean and clear, tonally correct from top to bottom, with all of the weight of the orchestra down low on side one which is very, very hard to come by on this record!

And all that weight and energy down low is what really makes Espana magical. You won’t believe the sound!  (more…)

Paul McCartney / Wings at the Speed of Sound – In 2016 We Had to Raise the Bar

More of the Music of Paul McCartney

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries Like This One

Okay, we are not too proud to admit it. We Was Wrong about Wings at the Speed of Sound as a recording.

Yes, that kind of thing happens when you regularly play thousands and thousands of records year after year. The right pressing can show you that your understanding of a given recording was, shall we say, incomplete.

The great thing about our business is that, whenever we have new data that serves to corrects a previously mistaken judgment, the result is that we are then able to offer even better sounding pressings to our customers.

That way everybody wins. We’ve never pretended to know it all, and there’s no reason to start now.

Back to Wings at the Speed of Sound. Previously we had written:

I can’t even begin to convey to you what a rough shootout this was. Copy after copy bored us to tears and most of them were too noisy. It was one of those shootouts that almost defeated us, but we persevered and managed to find a few Hot Stampers. They didn’t do miracles and turn Speed Of Sound into a stunning Demo Disc, but they sounded musical, correct and enjoyable, and that seems to be all you can ask for on this album. 

This is not true. We played a copy that earned our very special grade of Four Pluses (on one side, two sides would have been too much to ask for) because it showed us an At the Speed of Sound that we had no idea could possibly exist, this after having played dozens of imports and domestic pressings over the previous twenty years or so.

It was DRAMATICALLY bigger and more transparent, with no sacrifice in richness or smoothness. Here was a Wings at the Speed of Sound we had no idea could possibly exist, simply because we had never managed to clean and play a copy with the right stampers that could show us the kind of sound that must be on the master tape.

Before we did this shootout, we had no idea how high to set the bar. Which leads us to:

This Key Takeaway 

In that respect we were in exactly the same place as every record loving audiophile on the face of the Earth.

How good can the record sound? How high is up?

We discussed this all-too-common mystery [1] in a listing we wrote for an amazing sounding copy of Heart’s Little Queen album we discovered many years ago, linked here.

In our old listing, we noted: Now that we know what stampers to look for, future pressings are likely to be very, very good sounding, if everything goes the way we hope it will.

[Things did go our way, with plenty of Shootout Winning White Hot copies having been found since we made that breakthrough all the way back in 2016. The right stampers are about five times more rare than the wrong ones, but they can be found. You just have to know what to look for.] 


[1]  What is the synonym of mystery?

Mirriam-Webster answers:

“Some common synonyms of mystery are enigma, problem, puzzle, and riddle.
While all these words mean “something which baffles or perplexes,” mystery applies to what cannot be fully understood by reason or less strictly to whatever resists or defies explanation.”

Welcome to the mysterious world of records!

We had written about the subject many years ago under the heading: Graham Nash’s Wild Tales and Their Mysteries Many and Deep. A relevant excerpt from that commentary:

What hurts so many pressings of this album is a lifeless, compressed quality and a lack of presence.

Were the stampers a bit worn for those copies, or was it bad vinyl that couldn’t hold the energy of the stamper, or perhaps some stampers just weren’t cut right?

These are mysteries, and they are mysteries that will always be mysteries, if for no other reason than that the number of production variables hopelessly intertwined at the moment of creation can never be teased apart no matter how hard one tries.

As we never get tired of saying, thinking is really not much help with regard to finding better sounding records.

Not surprisingly, we’ve found that cleaning them and playing them seems to work the best.

Those two things work the best because nothing else works at all.


The Three / Self-Titled (45 RPM) – Our Four Plus Copy from 2013

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

Hot Stamper Pressings of The Three Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for The Three

We had six (yes, six!) of these 45 RPM pressings (and five Inner City’s and a couple of Eastwind 33’s — it was a big shootout), and this side one had the most ENERGY of any of them. This is a quality no one seems to be writing about, other than us of course, but what could possibly be more important? On this record, it took the performances of the players to a level beyond all expectations.

More background on our Four Plus (A++++) pressings.

Folks, you are looking at the BEST SOUNDING RECORD we have ever played here at Better Records, and the good news for you dear reader, whether you’re a true believer, a skeptic, or fall somewhere in between, is that it can be yours. There was a time when a record like this would go directly into my collection. If I wanted to impress someone, audiophile or otherwise, with the You-Are-There illusion that only Big Speakers in a dedicated room playing a LIVE recording can create, this would be the clear choice, possibly the only choice. There is simply nothing like it on vinyl in my experience. (more…)

Pink Floyd – Way Back in 2007 We Discovered the Hottest Stampers of Them All

Reviews and Commentaries for Meddle

Reviews and Commentaries for Pink Floyd

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

Want to find your own shootout winner? Scroll to the bottom to see our advice on doing just that.

This review from 2007 describes our experience of having stumbled upon the right stampers for Meddle. To this day, only precisely these stampers have won the many shootouts we’ve done for the album over the ensuing years, perhaps as many as a dozen shootouts or more. These stampers are also very hard to find, which is why you have not seen a copy of Meddle hit the site in a while.

To see more albums with one set of stampers that consistently win shootouts, click here.

This Harvest Green Label British Import pressing has a side one that goes FAR beyond anything we’ve ever heard for this album. We had no choice but to award this side one the very rare A with FOUR pluses A++++. We’ve never given any side of any other Pink Floyd record such a high grade, so you can be sure that you’ve never heard them sound this amazing!

We’ve been buying up every clean copy we can find with good stampers since we found our last White Hot Meddle back in March. Unfortunately, most of them left us a bit cold. Most copies just don’t have the kind of magic that we know is on the tape. Beyond that, many of them are too noisy to sell — even the minty looking ones. 

The Best Side One Ever

Side one here is OFF THE CHARTS, OUT OF THIS WORLD, DEMO DISC QUALITY. Everything you’ve ever wanted in a Pink Floyd album is here in generous quantities — transparency, breathy vocals, HUGE bass, warmth, richness, ambience, and depth to the soundfield. A copy like this allows you to hear INTO the music in a way that would never be possible with a lesser pressing. The presence and immediacy are staggering, and the bass is going to blow your mind. There’s TONS of life and energy, and the highs are silky beyond belief. This is tubey magical analog at its best, folks — it’s an A++++ side without doubt. (more…)

Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers – It Took Us Until 2011 to Resolve the Studio Ambience

More of the Music of Tom Petty

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Tom Petty

This commentary was written way back in 2011 after playing the best sounding copy of the album we had ever heard up to that point.

For those who may be interested, we offer some unsolicited audio advice toward the end of our review regarding what kind of stereo is not appropriate for Tom Petty’s albums.

Our story from 2011:

This Minty looking Shelter original LP has THE TWO BEST SOUNDING SIDES we have ever heard for this album! It’s a freak in the world of Tom Petty records, which tend to have NO good sounding sides.

And this is the band’s MASTERPIECE to boot, with four or five of their best and Hardest Rockin’ songs.

Both sides come flyin’ out of the gate with straight ahead rockers that have the Big Sound we go crazy for here at Better Records.

Side one was so unbelievable that we had to award it the rare Four Plus (A++++) rating.

Of course the sound is punchy and alive — with Hot Stampers, what else would they be? — but where did all that studio ambience come from?

Simple: the best copies have the RESOLUTION that’s missing from the average pressing. You know the kind of run-of-the-mill LP I’m talking about: punchy but crude and just a bit too aggressive to really enjoy.

Oh, but not this bad boy. Sweetly textured guitars, breathy vocals — all the subtleties of a Top Quality Recording are here, along with prodigious amounts of bass and powerful dynamics. (Check out that drum sound!)

If you can play this one good and loud you will be shocked at how good it sounds.

I’ve paraphrased a bit of commentary from Aja for this listing where we discussed the kind of changes we needed to go through here at Better Records to make it possible to play a hard-drivin’ rock record like this one and get it to sound the way we always wanted it to.

We Now Return to The Revolution, Which Is Already in Progress

As audiophiles we all know that when it sounds this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more. We had to make quite a few improvements in the system before that reality hit home. The third pair of Hallographs and the new EAR 324P phono stage we brought on board since the last shootout made a HUGE difference in the sound. Aja is now without a doubt a real DEMO DISC, and I wouldn’t want to live without it. It’s a THRILL to finally hear this album sound the way it should have sounded, but for various and sundry reasons never quite did.

A World of Sound Awaits You

That’s what the Recent Revolutionary Changes in Audio link (seen at left) is all about. If you haven’t taken advantage of all the new technologies that make LP playback dramatically better than it was even five years ago, Aja won’t do what it’s supposed to do. Trust me, there’s a world of sound lurkng in the grooves of the best Aja’s that simply cannot be revealed without Disc Doctor cleaning fluids, Aurios, Hallographs, top quality front ends, big speakers and all the rest. Our playback system is designed to play records like Aja with all the size, weight and power of the real thing. We live for this kind of Big Rock sound here at Better Records. We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to play records like this with Maximum Fidelity, secure in the knowledge that a system that can play Aja can play ANYTHING.

Substitute You’re Gonna Get It! for the word Aja in the paragraphs above and you will get what I’m driving at.

Any system that can’t play a good Tom Petty album has no business being owned by anyone, let alone an audiophile.

That meaty bottom end, those perfectly distorted guitars — find equipment that can play that stuff right and buy it.

Don’t settle for some wimpy audiophile bullshit system.

Get a system that lets you play the music YOU love, not the music your stereo dealer likes to play in his showroom.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Revolutions in Audio, Anyone?

Why Petty’s You’re Gonna Get It Won’t Sound Right on Any System that Looks Like This

Making Audio Progress 

Blondie / Parallel Lines – We Broke Through in 2016

More New Wave Recordings

Reviews and Commentaries for Parallel Lines

Can this kind of music get any better? This album is a MASTERPIECE of Pure Pop, ranking right up there with The Cars first album. I can’t think of many albums from the era with the perfect blend of writing, production and musicianship Blondie achieved with Parallel Lines.

As expected, if you clean and play enough copies of a standard domestic major label album like this one, sooner or later you will stumble upon The One, and boy did we ever.

This side two had OFF THE CHARTS with presence, breathy vocals, and punchy drums. It was positively swimming in studio ambience, with every instrument occupying its own space in the mix and surrounded by air.

There was not a trace of grain, just the silky sweet highs we’ve come to expect from analog done right. 

Gone is the compressed muck of the MOFI (and most domestic pressings, to be fair). In its place is the kind of clarity, transparency and pure ROCK AND ROLL POWER previous pressings only hinted at. I became a giant fan of this album the moment I heard it back in 1978, but the sound always left much to be desired.

So many copies were thick and compressed; the music was cookin’ but the sound seemed to be holding it back.

But there are good sounding pressings, and we know which ones they are.


FURTHER READING

More Breakthrough Pressing Discoveries

New to the Blog? Start Here

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments 

Herrmann – Bernard Herrmann Conducts Jane Eyre And Other Film Scores

Hot Stamper Phase 4 Recordings Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for Phase 4 Recordings

This Beyond White Hot Stamper Side Two completely blew our minds with Bernard Herrmann orchestral MAGIC. Side two is just OUT OF THIS WORLD. Since side two is where the Three Worlds of Gulliver suite is found — the very same superbly recorded music that is on Harry’s Super Disc List — you can be sure that is this is some of the best sounding Bernard Herrmann music you will ever have the opportunity to hear, if not THE best. The sound is DEMONSTRATION QUALITY of the HIGHEST ORDER. 

When it comes to this side two what we have here is a record that sounds so good, with the needle hits the groove you will feel like you’ve just threaded up the master tape and hit play. The effect is that you’re so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience you forget you’re listening to a record. You’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians intended it to sound. You can’t ask for more than that. (more…)

Back in 2014 This Was the Best Sounding Tom Petty Record We’d Ever Played

More of the Music of Tom Petty

Damn the Torpedoes is the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Credit must go to SHELLY YAKUS, someone who we freely admit, now with a sense of embarrassment, has never been one of our favorite engineers. After hearing this beyond-White Hot Stamper side two and a killer copy of Animal Notes we realize that we have seriously underestimated the man, and for that we deeply apologize.

If your Damn the Torpedoes doesn’t sound good (and it probably doesn’t), you sure can’t blame him — the master tape is mind-boggling in its size, weight, power and rock n’ roll energy.

Our 2014 better than White Hot Stamper copy had the kind of sound we never expected to hear on Damn The Torpedoes, an album that’s typically bright, thin, pinched and transistory — radio friendly but not especially audiophile friendly.

Well folks, all that’s changed, and by “all” I don’t necessarily mean all to include the records themselves. This may very well be a record that sounded gritty and pinched before it was cleaned. And our stereo has come a long way in the last five or ten years, as I hope yours has too.

One sign that you’re making progress in this hobby is that at least some of the records you’ve played recently, records that had never sounded especially good before, are now sounding very good indeed. In our case Damn the Torpedoes is one of those records. It’s the best sounding Tom Petty album we have ever played.

Mindblowing On Both Sides

Side two is OFF THE CHARTS! It’s big and rich with excellent presence and tons of energy. I could go on and on here but all you have to know is that it is BY FAR the best sounding side two we have ever heard.

Side one is almost as good, with lots of space around all of the instruments, tons of energy and less congestion than the average copy. The sound is positively jumpin’ out of the speakers.

Note that we no longer give out the A++++ Beyond White Hot Stamper grade for the kinds of pressings that blew our minds, with sound so far superior to any copy we had ever heard that they actually broke our grading scale.

Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

More of the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

More Commentaries for the Music of Blood, Sweat and Tears

More Outlier Pressings We’ve Discovered

Please note that as a matter of policy we no longer give Four Pluses to any record.

That doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve that grade from time to time, but nowadays those mind-blowing copies are just called 3+, White Hot, for purposes of consistency and credibility.

No more moving the goalposts here at Better Records! On to our story.

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?

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 out now 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 understanding itself. 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.

(more…)