Here are a few tips for getting the best results from your LPs at home:
Warm up your stereo for at least a half hour before doing any critical listening. A full hour is even better. Make sure you have the volume raised; the speaker drivers need to be moving actively so as to loosen them up and get them in the mood to sound their best.
All Hot Stamper pressings have been thoroughly cleaned by us and there is no need to clean them again, at least not for quite a while. (After a dozen or so plays it might be a good time to think about another cleaning, especially if fingerprints or dust are visible or audible. When in doubt clean the record.)
Since many of the record cleaning fluids on the market today actually make records lose fidelity, we encourage you to clean your records only with the one fluid we recommend: The Walker Enzyme Cleaning system.
If you must clean our Hot Stamper pressings with a fluid we do not recommend, our advice would be to listen carefully to the record before recleaning, then again after cleaning, to make sure there is no loss of sound quality. If there is a loss of fidelity we would then strongly advise you to switch to the Walker fluids.
Records that have been properly cleaned actually sound even better after a few plays. After a good cleaning, playing the record helps plow more grunge out of the grooves and also helps the stylus tip to seat itself deeper into the center of the groove.
Every Hot Stamper pressing sold by us has been played through at least once on both sides. Another play or two (or three or four) on your part will help the record sound even better.
Turn off, or better yet, UNPLUG as many electrical devices as you can (appliances, microwaves, air conditioning, lights, etc.) to feed your stereo the best electricity available to you.
We cannot stress this too strongly.
Start with a Familiar Recording
Start your listening session with a record you are familiar with to ensure your stereo is performing at a high level.
We all have bad stereo days. There's no sense in judging a record -- especially if it's a new Hot Stamper pressing -- on a system that's not performing up to par.
It's critically important to demagnetize your speakers and cables at least ten minutes before listening. (We recommend using the Talisman Magnetic Optimizer by Walker Audio.)
The difference in sound before and after is almost shocking. As a practical matter it would be all but impossible to conduct our super-critical shootouts with a system that had not been Talisman'd. (In the old days, before we had the Talisman, shootouts were a lot harder and a much higher percentage of them had to be abandoned. We still give up -- temporarily, there's always another day -- on albums every week that don't make the cut, but hearing what's good in a recording is much easier now than it was just a year or two ago.)
With the Talisman the sound opens up, the extreme bottom and top extend, veils are wiped away, depth improves, soundstaging improves, dynamic contrasts become greater, and last but not least, the overall energy of the system increases substantially.
Adjust the VTA
Carefully set the VTA of your arm by ear until you find the right sound. It may take five minutes or it may take twenty five minutes but having the VTA correctly set for every record you play is absolutely critical to its proper reproduction. Here's more on the subject of VTA, one of the most overlooked aspects of playback in all of audio.
Check the Grades
It is helpful to check our notes and sonic grades for your Hot Stamper before listening to see what we liked (or didn’t like) about the pressing, so you can listen for those specific qualities we discussed in our commentary.
...along these lines can be found below.
We have a large number of entries in our new Listening in Depth series.
You can find your very own Hot Stamper pressings by using the techniques we lay out in Hot Stamper Shootouts -- The Four Pillars of Success.
Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.