Hot Stampers

Listening in Depth to Little Queen

More of the Music of Heart

Reviews and Commentaries for Little Queen

More Albums with Key Tracks for Critical Listening

This is a recording that I credit with making me a better audiophile. When I first heard a killer Hot Stamper pressing played back through the EAR 324P phono stage at a friend’s house, I immediately called the distributor and ordered one. Compared to the 834P I had been using, the 324P simply took the recording to a level I had no idea existed.

Once I had reached that level, I set about using the album for tweaking and testing, and learned a lot doing it. Along with a substantial number of other records I have come across in my forty plus years as a hobbyist and audiophile record dealer, Little Queen is one that has surely helped me to become a better listener. [1]

Side One

Barracuda

One of the little tricks I used toward the end of my marathon Little Queen tweaking session from many years ago (which lasted more than six hours one Saturday evening, leaving me euphoric but exhausted) was to listen to the ending of Barracuda. Some of the big guitar chords at the end of the song are louder than others, and the more the differences in level among them can be heard, the better the stereo and the room must be at exposing these micro-dynamic changes.

You can’t make the guitarist play some of the notes at the end louder than others, you can only reveal the fact that he indeed must have. This is what is meant by Hi-Fidelity, the higher the better. (more…)

Milt Jackson & Wes Montgomery / Bags Meets Wes!

More Wes Montgomery

More Jazz Recordings Featuring the Guitar

These two guys were made for each other; they have the same musical sensibilities.

Credit must also go to Wynton Kelly; his every solo is a thing of beauty. The three principals here are at the tops of their games and the sound will have you drooling. Good luck finding a more involving and enjoyable jazz record with this kind of sound — they just aren’t out there. That’s why, even with some surface problems, we think you are getting your money’s worth and more with this one.

If you’re a jazz fan, this Must Own Title from 1962 belongs in your collection

The complete list of titles from 1962 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.


This is an Older Jazz Review.

Most of the older reviews you see are for records that did not go through the shootout process, the revolutionary approach to finding better sounding pressings we developed in the early 2000s and have since turned into a fine art.

We found the records you see in these older listings by cleaning and playing a pressing or two of the album, which we then described and priced based on how good the sound and surfaces were. (For out Hot Stamper listings, the Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades are listed separately.)

We were often wrong back in those days, something we have no reason to hide. Audio equipment and record cleaning technologies have come a long way since those darker days, a subject we discuss here.

Currently, 99% (or more!) of the records we sell are cleaned, then auditioned under rigorously controlled conditions, up against a number of other pressings. We award them sonic grades, and then condition check them for surface noise.

As you may imagine, this approach requires a great deal of time, effort and skill, which is why we currently have a highly trained staff of about ten. No individual or business without the aid of such a committed group could possibly dig as deep into the sound of records as we have, and it is unlikely that anyone besides us could ever come along to do the kind of work we do.

The term “Hot Stampers” gets thrown around a lot these days, but to us it means only one thing: a record that has been through the shootout process and found to be of exceptionally high quality.

The result of our labor is the hundreds of titles seen here, every one of which is unique and guaranteed to be the best sounding copy of the album you have ever heard or you get your money back.


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

Helpful Advice on Cleaning Your Records

Helpful Advice on Doing Your Own Shootouts

What We’ve Learned from Record Experiments 

The Beatles – John’s Really Digging a Pony. Are You?

More of the Music of The Beatles

More Reviews and Commentaries for Let It Be

The best copies of Let It Be are Demo Discs for Energy, and here are some others that we’ve discovered are good for testing that quality on vinyl.

What blew our minds about the Shootout Winning side one we played recently was how outrageously big, open and transparent it was on the song Dig a Pony. As the song started up the studio space seemed to expand in every direction, creating more height, width and depth than we’d ever experienced with this song before. 

But there is no studio space; the song was recorded on Apple’s rooftop. The “space” has to be some combination of “air” from the live event and artificial reverb added live or later during mixing. Whatever it is, the copies with more resolution and transparency show you a lot more of “it” than run-of-the-mill pressings do (including the new Heavy Vinyl, which is so airless and compressed we gave it a grade of F and banished it to our Shame Hall).  (more…)

Little Feat / Hoy-Hoy Sampler – A Demo Disc Disc Like No Other

More Rock and Pop Demo Discs

More Little Feat Albums We’ve Reviewed

  • An amazing Triple Plus side two and a Double Plus side one
  • This is the Big Rock Sound we love, huge and punchy with tons of space and a big bottom end
  • Knockout Demo Disc Rock and Roll sound and then some

It may contain only a handful of tracks from the Hoy Hoy album, but folks, stunning sound doesn’t begin to do justice to this EP. I would state categorically that there is not a single rock record on the TAS List that can hold a candle to it in terms of live-rock-in-your-living room blasting power. This is one of the most AMAZING DEMO DISCS of All Time. If it were an album I would put it on a Top Ten Best Sounding Rock and Pop List (if we had such a thing).

It’s really not fair to judge the Harry’s List by records like this, which have never been the man’s forte. We, on the other hand, know these kinds of records about as well as anyone, and to prove it we would love to send you this copy.

And do you know how we discovered it? We had a couple of these promos lying around, and after shooting out the Hot Stamper Hoy-Hoys, we figured what the hell, throw one of them on just for fun. To our shock and dismay, it blew the doors off our BEST Hot Stamper pressings song for song. As good as those album sides sound, the EP took the same material to an ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL of sonic splendor.

This EP may only hold four songs, but each is a Demo Disc Track of the highest order: Gringo (edited version) and Over The Edge for side one; Teenage Nervous Breakdown and Rock and Roll Doctor for side two. (more…)

Steely Dan – A Killer Can’t Buy a Thrill (and Some Lessons We Learned)

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

During our shootouts, when we drop the needle on a copy and don’t hear that “Hot Stamper” sound, we toss that one and move on to the next. The difference between a truly Hot Stamper and most copies is so obvious that we rarely waste time on the pressings that clearly don’t have any real magic in their grooves.

Like we’ve said after some of our other Steely Dan Hot Stamper shootouts, you would never imagine how good this album can sound after playing the average copy, which is grainy, compressed and dead as the proverbial doornail. It’s positively criminal the way this well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP.

And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when you can’t hear it right? The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music through bad sound. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

We Was Wrong About the Sound

Years ago – starting with our first shootout in 2007 for the album as a matter of fact – we had put this warning in our listings:

One thing to note: this isn’t Aja, Pretzel Logic or Gaucho (their three best sounding recordings). We doubt you’ll be using a copy of Can’t Buy A Thrill to demo your stereo.

We happily admit now that we got Can’t Buy a Thrill wrong. It’s actually a very good sounding record – rich, smooth, natural, with an especially unprocessed quality.

In that sense it is superior to most of their catalog; better than Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied, Royal Scam and maybe even Gaucho. You could easily use the album to demo your stereo. (more…)

Tchaikovsky / Violin Concerto / Szeryng – Another Dubious RCA

More of the music of Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)

Our Favorite Performance of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

Reviews and Commentaries for the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto

1S/1S Shaded Dog. Ooh, let the drooling begin. 

Here is our admittedly very old review for exactly the one copy we had on hand to play, although, to be fair, we have played more than one copy of the album over the years, and it never sounded especially good to us.

The violin is very immediate sounding on this recording, maybe too much so.

Either way, the sound of the orchestra is where this record falls short.

It’s congested, thin and shrill in places. The right copy of Heifetz’s performance on LSC 1992 is a much better record overall. Some may prefer Szeryng’s way with this famous piece, which, as a matter of taste, is fine by us of course.

If you’re listening for just the performance and the sound of the violin, you may find this record to be more acceptable.


We have a section for Living Stereo records that, like this one, we were hoping would have better sound, and we call it:

RCA Shaded Dogs with Dubious Sound Quality


FURTHER READING

New to the Blog? Start Here

What to Listen For on Classical Records

(more…)

James Taylor – Self-Titled

More James Taylor

More Debut Recordings of Interest

  • An early UK Apple pressing of James Taylor’s debut LP with excellent sound from start to finish – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • Big, rich and solid on both sides, with a more relaxed, musical quality, as well as the clarity that was missing from most other copies we played
  • Listen for Paul McCartney on bass and an uncredited George Harrison providing backing vocals on “Carolina In My Mind”
  • 4 1/2 stars: “The absolute conviction that runs throughout this music takes the listener into its confidence and with equal measures of wit, candor, and sophistication, James Taylor created a minor masterpiece…”

(more…)

Brahms / Violin Concerto – Is the 1s Pressing Always the Best?

Hot Stamper Pressings that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

Records We’ve Reviewed that Sound Their Best on the Right Reissue

This early Shaded Dog pressing of a 1958 recording has surprisingly good sound on side two. On the second side the sound opens up and is very sweet, with the violin becoming much more present and clear. The whole of side two is transparent with an extended top. Usually the earliest Living Stereo titles suffer from a lack of top end extension, but not this one.

Maybe the 1s is also that way. For some reason audiophiles tend to think that the earliest cuttings are the best, but that’s just another Record Myth in our experience, easily refuted if you’ve played hundreds of these Living Stereo pressings and noted which stampers sound the best and which do not.

The 1s pressings do not win all that many shootouts around here.

Less than half the time, probably closer to a quarter or a third.

Of course, to avoid being biased, the person listening to the record doesn’t know the stamper numbers, and that may help explain why the 1s loses so often.

If you are interested in finding the best sounding pressings, you have to approach the problem scientifically, and that means running Record Experiments.

Practically everything you read on this blog we learned through experimentation.

When we experimented with the Classic Records pressing of LSC 1903, we were none too pleased with what we heard. Our review is reproduced below.

The Classic reissue of LSC 1903 was a disaster: shrill, smeary and unmusical.

(In a recent commentary we went into some detail about Bernie Grundman’s shortcomings as a mastering engineer for those of you who might be less familiar with his more recent work. He was great in the ’70s, but the work he did in the ’90s leaves a lot to be desired.)

The best Heifetz records on Classic were, if memory serves, LSC 2734 (Glazunov), LSC 2603 (Bruch) and LSC 2769 (Rozsa). They aren’t nearly as offensive as the others. If you can pick one up for ten or twenty bucks, you might get your money’s worth depending, I suppose, on how critically you listen to your classical records and how revealing your system is.

My guess is that the CDs are probably better sounding. That’s probably the first place to go, considering Classic’s track record and the fact that CDs are cheap now because nobody wants them anymore. 

If you must have Heifetz’s 1958 performance, our advice is to buy the CD.

We know for a fact that the Living Stereo CD of Reiner’s Scheherazade is dramatically better than the awful Classic Records pressing of it, TAS Super Disc Listing or no TAS Super Disc Listing.

As you may know, Classic is a label which we found very hard to like right from the beginning. We like them even less now. They may have gone out of business but their bad records are still plentiful on ebay and you can actually still buy some their leftover crap right from the world’s biggest retailer of bad sounding audiophile records, Acoustic Sounds.

If you don’t care how bad your records sound, Chad Kassem is your man.


The Rolling Stones – Exile On Main Street

  • This is Exile raw and real the way it should be – full-bodied and punchy with great vocal presence and plenty of grungy rock and roll energy
  • 5 stars: “Few other albums, let alone double albums, have been so rich and masterful as Exile on Main St., and it stands not only as one of the Stones’ best records, but sets a remarkably high standard for all of hard rock.”
  • If you’re a Classic Rock fan, this Must Own Classic from 1972 surely belongs in your collection.
  • The complete list of titles from 1972 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

All four sides here have the kind of bass, energy, and presence that is essential for this music to rock the way it wants to. A copy like this conveys the emotional power of The Stones’ performances in a way that most pressings simply fail to do.

This shootout is always a struggle, an uphill battle all the way. You’d have to find, clean and play a ton of copies to come up with four sides that can do this music justice. We’re sure that Stones fans and Hot Stamper die-hards are going to be very pleased with this copy.

This vintage Artisan mastered pressing (the only ones that have any hope of sounding good) has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records can barely BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn’t showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to “see” the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It’s what vintage all analog recordings are known for — this sound. (more…)

Mingus’s Pre Bird Makes the Case For the Hot Stamper

More of the Music of Charles Mingus

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Charles Mingus

One of our good customers, Robert Brook, writes a blog which he calls

A GUIDE FOR THE BUDDING ANALOG AUDIOPHILE

Below is a link to the review he wrote recently for one of our favorite Mingus records, Pre-Bird.

Mingus’s PRE BIRD Makes the Case For the HOT STAMPER

A few quick thoughts on the album which may be of interest to our readers:

We used to think the early Limelight pressing shown here was so amazing sounding that finding better sound for this recording would simply be impossible, but the original Mercury showed us just how wrong we were – the right Mercury pressing takes the recording to another level, one we never imagined it could reach. (In our experience records do that from time to time. We’ve written about some of the ones we’ve played here.)

Here is a small excerpt from our most recent commentary for the album:

The best copies recreate a live studio space the size of which you will not believe (assuming your room can do a good job of recreating their room). (Here are some of the other recordings we’ve auditioned with exceptional amounts of size and space.

The sound is tonally correct, Tubey Magical and above all natural. The timbre of each and every instrument is right and it doesn’t take a pair of golden ears to hear it — so high-resolution too.

If you love ’50s and ’60s large group jazz you cannot go wrong here. Mingus was a genius and the original music on this record is just one more album supporting the undeniability of that fact.

(more…)