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Tell Us More About "Hot Stampers"

Straight Answers to Your Questions


Many of the basic questions concerning Hot Stampers, including our grading system, 2-packs, coupons, the mailing list, as well as more general ordering and payment information, can be found in the original FAQ.

We recommend that you read it before continuing on with this one. The Hot Stamper FAQ below deals specifically with the kinds of issues that potential customers, as well as skeptics and forum posters (god bless 'em!), have raised with us over the years.

We think sitting down to listen to a Hot Stamper pressing is the best way to appreciate its superior sound, in the same way that hearing a vintage LP played back on a top quality system is the best way to appreciate the superiority of analog. Short of getting you to try one of our records -- 100% guaranteed, no questions asked -- we hope these comments will be of value.


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If you have any further questions feel free to contact me at tom@better-records.com. I will do my best to answer them.


FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS


Are Hot Stampers just original pressings?

Do I already have some Hot Stamper records in my collection?

Are all your Hot Stampers especially good sounding records?

What makes you guys think you know it all?

What if I like the pressing I already own as much as the one you send me?

How can common rock records be worth as much as you are charging?

Why don't you give out the stamper numbers?


Are Hot Stampers just original pressings?

They certainly can be, but quite often are not, which shouldn't come as a surprise to any serious record collector, and definitely not to any member of our listening crew. Reissues come out on top in our record shootouts fairly regularly.

Yes, most of the time the original will beat the reissue, but most of the time is far from always, and since we have to play a big pile of copies anyway (and always with the person doing the sound grading kept in the dark about the pressing being auditioned), why not evaluate both the originals and the reissues at the same time, and do so strictly on the merits?

But this discussion bypasses an important question: What IS an original? Is a record with a 1A stamper an original and a record with a 1B stamper not an original, or slightly less original? Is every copy on the original label an original, and only the copies with the later labels reissues?

To be honest, laying down strict rules about what constitutes an original is a fool's errand, an audiophile parlor game we never cared to play.

There is a simple reason for this: We are not the least bit interested in how original a pressing may be. On this site we are only interested in one thing, the answer to the question: Which copy of the record sounds the best? (Also: In what way? So I guess that's really two things we are interested in.) The rest of it we leave to our record collecting brethren.

Click on this link to read more about one of the thorniest questions in all of audio: Which have the best sound, Originals vs. Reissues?


Do I already have some Hot Stamper records in my collection?

If you have a good sized collection of LPs, mastered and pressed from the '50s to the '80s, you surely do. In fact you must have at least some. The problem is, how can you possibly know which records are Hot Stampers and which aren't?

Familiarity with the conventional wisdom regarding which labels and stampers are supposed to have better sound is really not much help in this regard, despite what you may have heard, and is often misleading when not outright erroneous.

The only way to recognize a Hot Stamper pressing for certain is through the shootout process. If you've done shootouts for your favorite albums on your own (or with friends), pitting five or ten cleaned copies of the same record against one another, then you definitely have Hot Stampers in your collection, and you know exactly which ones they are -- they're the ones that won the shootout.

How hot they are relative to the records we sell is a much more difficult question to answer, and can really only be answered by pitting our copy against yours, head to head. Needless to say, we welcome the challenge!

This letter from a good customer discusses some of the work that goes into doing a serious shootout. There are many more entries in our Conducting Your Own Shootouts series which can help you find the Hot Stampers hiding in your own collection.


Are all your Hot Stampers especially good sounding records?

Not necessarily. What makes a Hot Stamper hot is reasonably good sound coupled with the fact that the Hot Stamper pressing will clearly sounds better than the typical pressing. Not every album was well-recorded; the records made from those recordings will display most of the limitations that are baked into the master tape. A good engineer can fix an awful lot of problems in mastering, but, to mix a few metaphors, making a silk purse out of a sow's ear is rarely if ever in the cards.

Records are graded on a curve. In our shootouts we must compare apples to other apples; there is no other practical way to do it. We find the best sounding pressings we can out of the pile of audition copies we have available to us. We're confident that the record we call a Hot Stamper will beat any pressing you have ever heard, or that you currently own, and if it doesn't you get your money back.

We also guarantee that no half-speed mastered record or heavy vinyl LP sounds as good as any of the Hot Stampers we offer. We've played too many of these so-called audiophile pressings to worry about them being competitive with the records on our site. It is our strongly held conviction that the better your system gets the worse, or at the very least the more artificial those records will sound. This link will take you to hundreds of audiophile record reviews where we examine their shortcomings.


What makes you guys think you know it all?

We definitely don’t know it all. In fact nothing could be further from the truth. If we knew it all we couldn't learn anything from the piles and piles of records we listen to every day. With practically every shootout we learn something new about our favorite records. That, more than anything else, is what makes the kind of tedious, time-consuming, mentally exhausting work we do fun.

Case in point: a Columbia Pressing we played not long ago.

It should be said that most audiophiles, at least the ones I know well, do not have the patience to critically analyze ten different copies of the same record for hours on end. For me (and everybody else who sits in the listening chair) it's all in a day's work.

I learned to critically listen for extended periods of time back in the early '80s. I got heavily into -- obsessed with might be more accurate -- tweaking my table setup, system components, wires, vibration controlling devices and the like.

Listening for differences in interconnects and listening for differences in pressings calls upon precisely the same set of skills. If you can do it all day, if you actually like tweaking and analyzing the sound of your stereo for hours and hours, you will undoubtedly end up with a much better sounding system, as well as one helluva high quality collection of records (not to mention very finely honed listening skills). Here's a good way to chart your progress.

What if I like the pressing I already own as much as the one you send me?

You get your money back, no questions asked.

Even if you actually like our copy better than yours, but don't think the difference in sound quality justifies the price, the same policy applies: you get your money back. If you simply don't like the music or have issues with the recording itself, you get your money back. If the record plays noisier for you than it did for us, you get your money back.

Part of the fun of having auditioned so many records over the course of so many years is that we've run into scores of amazingly well recorded albums, albums that most audiophiles don't know well or may have never even heard of.

We love it when our customers are willing to try these kinds of albums on no more than our say so, and here again, we insist that you be 100% satisfied with the music and the sound if you are going to keep the record. If you aren't just send it back to us and we will -- wait for it -- give you your money back.

Bottom line: our policy is that for any reason under the sun, real or imagined, you get your money back. (With a return rate of about 1% this is not nearly as expensive a policy as it might appear to be.)

How can common rock records be worth as much as you are charging?

We freely admit that we paid south of twenty bucks each at local stores for most of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most rock records are priced from five to twenty bucks.

Unfortunately the cost of the records you see on the site is only a small part of the cost of that finished "product." The reality of our business is that it costs almost as much to find a Carly Simon or Gino Vannelli Hot Stamper that sells for a hundred dollars as it does to find a Neil Young or Yes Hot Stamper that sells for five times that.

With six people on staff, keeping the records playing, the listings going up on the site and the mailers going out to our customers runs about a thousand dollars a day. The cost of the records -- the "raw material" of our business -- is rarely more than 20% of that.

Someone has to drive to a record store, dig through the bins for hour upon hour, have them all cleaned, file them and then wait anywhere from six months to two years for the pile of copies on the shelf to get big enough to do a proper shootout.

Shootouts are a two man job: one person plays the record and someone else (who rarely has any idea what pressing is on the table) listens for as long as it takes to accurately and fairly critique the first side of every copy. Then we start the whole process over again for side two.

This is a huge commitment of labor, with the amount of time and effort going into a shootout obviously the same for every title regardless of its popularity or eventual value. Naturally we would like to be able to streamline the process and cut costs in order to lower our prices and sell more records. We just don't think it's possible. Every record must be carefully evaluated and that process is time-consuming.

No matter how skilled or efficient the musicians may be, from now until the end of time it will take at least an hour to perform Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Shootouts are like that, they simply can't be rushed. It's rare to get one done in under an hour, and some can even take two, which limits the number of titles that we can do on any given day.

The math is simple: $1000 in labor and materials divided by the number of saleable records we end up with (those with Hot Stamper sound and reasonably quiet surfaces). I don't know if we actually lose money on records that sell for under a hundred dollars, but we sure as hell don't make much, not with costs like these. If you know of a better way to do it please drop us a line.

We encourage the audiophile public to do their own shootouts; they're the best way to learn about records and their reproduction. Doing one will also help you see how much work it entails. (If you do them right they entail plenty of work. If you have just a few pressings on hand and don't bother to clean them rigorously we don't consider that a real shootout. You probably won't learn much and you are unlikely to find a top copy that way, although you may be tempted to pretend otherwise.)

Here's what one writer had to say after his first attempt at a serious shootout, tackling a big stack of Neil Young's brilliant 1975 release, Zuma.


Why don't you give out stamper numbers?

There are actually a number of reasons we don't do this, and the subject is dealt with in some detail in our commentary called "The Book Of Hot Stampers" which we highly recommend you read.
 

 

 


       

 

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