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All About Better Records
An Introductory Guide

  (Item #: BR_help) 


New to the site? Let this be your first stop in understanding the unique approach to analog we've developed here at Better Records over our 31 years in the record business.

Our staff of ten is dedicated to cleaning, playing and evaluating the best sounding pressing money can buy. To that end, we are proud to cater exclusively to audiophiles who want to hear their favorite music with the highest quality analog sound possible.

Thinking About Hot Stampers


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Sonic Grades and Vinyl Playgrades

  (Item #: grading) 


A quick overview:
  • Every record you see on the site has been put through our unique cleaning process.
  • Once cleaned, it is evaluated against other pressings and our Reference LPs in what we call a "shootout," with each side receiving a grade for its sound.
  • Each side's sound quality is rated independently on a Three Plus scale. Pluses are only awarded to the sides that clearly sound better than average.
  • The average pressing will not receive a Plus Rating for sound, and the same is true for most of the Heavy Vinyl and Audiophile Pressings we have auditioned. (Our distaste for them can best be appreciated by clicking here.)

Read below to learn about our Rating System for Hot Stampers, as well as info on our vinyl playgrades.


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How To Search Our Site

  (Item #: search-guide) 


Here is what you'll find when you visit our Site Search page. Click on the search tips image to the left to find out more about doing searches for your favorite records on our site.



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Record Cleaning Advice

  (Item #: cleaning_2014) 


Walker Audio Prelude is the only fluid we recommend for serious SOUND ENHANCEMENT and cleaning of your LPs. You have never heard what's really in the grooves of your records until you've cleaned them using Walker's system. There is nothing in our experience that works as well.

We've tried many fluids over the years and a not insignificant portion of them actually made our records sound worse (most often by rolling off the high end). It's not a good idea to assume the record cleaning fluid you use is doing its job properly. Many do not, including some that are very popular.

More Audio Advice


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Hot Stamper Shootouts

The Four Pillars of Success

  (Item #: shootout_1) 


Finding Hot Stampers is all about doing shootouts with as many copies of the same title as you can get your hands on. There are basically four steps in this process and you have to be successful with all four if you are going to be any good at discovering and evaluating your own Hot Stampers.

We discuss each and every one of them in scores of commentaries and listings on this very site. Although none of it will come as news to anyone who has spent much time reading our stuff, we cobbled together this commentary to help formalize the process and hopefully make it easier to understand and follow.

Thinking About Hot Stampers


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Becoming an Expert Listener

Challenging Yourself Can Really Pay Off

  (Item #: expert) 


Scientific American joins forces with Better Records (or is it the other way around?) to share a few ideas, which turn out to have much in common.

For years we've been writing commentaries about the sound of specific records we've auditioned in order to put them up for sale on the site. 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 do right, and how you can recognize sound that is right .

More Shootout Advice


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The "Book" of Hot Stampers

  (Item #: book) 


I received this email a while back: "Hi Tom, could you please recommend a book which would give the stamper numbers associated with the different pressings of a particular record."

Let me take this opportunity to give a more comprehensive answer, since the concept of Hot Stampers is not especially well understood by the audiophile community outside of our admittedly rather small customer base. Only those who have spent a great deal of time reading the reviews and commentary on the site are likely to understand the importance of stampers. This is partly my fault, as this issue of stamper variability and quality is spread out all over the place, exactly where, no one really knows.

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

Are all Hot Stampers exceptionally good sounding records?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_good_sounding) 



Not necessarily. What makes a Hot Stamper hot is reasonably good sound. At the very least a Hot Stamper should sound quite a bit better than any other pressing you have heard.

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 going to be in the cards.

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

Are Hot Stamper pressings quiet?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_quiet) 



They're about as quiet as vintage LPs ever are. Some surface noise is always going to be audible on an old record. We believe we sell the quietest vintage pressings in the world, but they are certainly not silent. Lately we've been adding this text to our listings to clarify our position on surface noise:

Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus is about as quiet as any original pressing will play, and since only the right originals have any hope of sounding amazing on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

Are Hot Stampers a good investment?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_investment) 



Hot Stampers sure sound better than other records, but do they have any real "collector" value?

Not really. On the surface they look just like any other pressing, so their market value cannot be established or verified in any meaningful way. The value of a Hot Stamper pressing is almost purely subjective: they exist only to provide listening pleasure to their owner. Yes, a Pink Label Island pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King is worth big bucks, but is it worth the $850 we charged recently if you were to try and resell it? Probably not.

I understand why a record collector would be confused by this notion of subjective and limited value. Collecting records is mostly about buying, selling and owning various kinds of records.

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

Aren't Hot Stampers just original pressings?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_original_pressings) 



They certainly can be, but quite often they 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?

More Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

How can your records possibly be worth these prices?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_prices) 



We freely admit that we paid south of thirty bucks each at local stores for many of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most good rock records are priced from ten to thirty bucks these days.

Unfortunately for us, the price we paid for the records you see on the site is only a small part of the cost of the 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.

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

How much better will a Hot Stamper sound on my system?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_sound) 



That's a tough question, because it involves two things I can't know: how good your stereo is, and how critically you listen to it. Really, the only way to find out is to try a record or two and see if the sound quality justifies the price to you. Which is why we offer a 100% money back guarantee: the record has to perform to your satisfaction or we give you all your money back.
Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

What if I like the copy I own as much as the Hot Stamper?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_money_back) 



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.

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

What makes you guys think you know it all?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_know) 



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.

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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A Frequently Asked Question

Why don't you give out the stampers of your "Hot Stampers"?

  (Item #: hot_stampers_faq_stampers) 



When it comes to stampers, labels, mastering credits, country of origin and the like, we make a point of rarely revealing any of this information on the site, for a number of good reasons we discuss in some depth HERE.

The idea that the stampers are entirely responsible for the quality of any given record's sound is a MYTH, and a rather convenient one too, once you stop to think about it. Audiophiles, like most everybody else on this planet, want answers. (Continued below.)

Straight Answers to Your Hot Stamper Questions


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My-Fi Versus Hi-Fi

  (Item #: fidelity) 


We went wild recently over a marvelous copy of the Ted Heath record you see pictured. Talk about Tubey Magic, the liquidity of the sound was positively uncanny. This was vintage analog at its best, so full-bodied and relaxed you'll wonder how it ever came to be that anyone seriously contemplated trying to improve upon it.

This is our kind of sound. It's also important to keep in mind that our stereo seemed to love the record. (Stereos do that.) Let's talk about why that might be the case.

Our system is fast, accurate and uncolored. We like to think of our speakers as the audiophile equivalent of studio monitors, showing us exactly what is on the record, with nothing added and (hopefully) nothing taken away.

More Audio Advice


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Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound

  (Item #: bloodblood_outlier) 


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 followed by 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?
Thinking About Hot Stampers


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The Science of Hot Stampers

Incomplete, Imperfect, and (Gulp!) Provisional

  (Item #: wrong_) 



We have a section on the website you may have seen called Live and Learn. This section (50+ strong!) is devoted to the discussion of records we think we got, uh, wrong.

Oh yes, it's true. But it’s not really a problem for us here at Better Records. We see no need to cover up our mistakes. The process of learning involves recognizing and correcting previous errors. Approached scientifically, all knowledge — in any field, not just record collecting or music reproduction — is incomplete, imperfect, and must be considered provisional.

What seems true today might easily be proven false tomorrow.

See more entries in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series


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Audiophilia 101

What Kind of Audio Fool Was I?

  (Item #: audiophile101) 



Today’s audiophile seems to be making the same mistakes I was making as a budding audiophile more than thirty years ago. Heavy Viny, the 45 RPM 2 LP pressing, the Half-Speed Limited Edition -- aren’t these all just the latest audiophile fads, each with a track record progressively more dismal than the next?
See more commentaries on Record Collecting


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Heavy Vinyl Production

And the Unpredictability of Random Processes

  (Item #: stochastic) 



Those in the business of producing the highest quality remastered recordings on LP are crashing smack into a problem fundamentally unavoidable in the manufacturing of the vinyl record -- randomness.

Record producers can control many of the processes (variables) that go into the making of a high quality record. But they cannot control all of them. The word for such a situation, one with random, uncontrollable aspects, is "stochastic."

See more entries in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series


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Stravinsky / The Firebird

What We Say and What We Almost Never Say About the Sound

  (Item #: stravfireb_90226_learn) 



Another entry in our Thinking About Hot Stampers series.

For our recent shootout of The Firebird we had three minty, potentially hot copies of the Mercury with Dorati, as well as our noisy ref. (We have a noisy reference copy for just about every major title by now. We have been doing these shootouts for a very long time. After thirty years in the record business we have accumulated a World Class collection of great sounding records that are just too noisy to sell.)

More of the music of Igor Stravinsky (1882-1971)


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Conducting Your Own Shootouts

How Novel Patterns Emerge

  (Item #: ambroambro_2014) 


When you sit down to play ten or twelve copies of an album, one right after the other, patterns in the sound are going to emerge from that experience, patterns which would be very likely to pass unnoticed when playing one copy against another or two over the course of the twenty or thirty minutes it would take to do it.

In the case of this album, the pattern we perceived was simply this: About one or two out of that dozen or so will have punchy, solid, rich, deep bass. (There is a huge amount of bass on the recording, so recognizing those special copies is not the least bit difficult if you have a full-range speaker and a properly treated room.)

More Shootout Advice


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Our Playback System ...

And Why You Shouldn’t Care

  (Item #: stereo) 


Below you will find a list of most of the equipment we use to carry out our pressing evaluations, also known as Hot Stamper shootouts. Of course the old 80/20 Rule comes into play here -- 80% (probably more like 90 or 95%, truth be told) of the sound is what you do with your audio system, 20% (or 10 or 5%) of the sound is the result of the components you own.

We like to say it’s not about the audio you have, it’s about the audio you do: how you set up your system, what you’ve done to treat your room, how good your electricity is and all the rest of it. Our current system is described below.

More on The Stereo


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The Dirty Little Secret of the Record Biz

  (Item #: nevermind) 


The dirty little secret of the audiophile record biz is that record dealers can’t possibly know for certain what the sound quality is for any sealed record they sell, audiophile vinyl or otherwise. They turn a blind eye to the fact that some copies are simply not going to measure up to the sound of the review copy that they might have auditioned and described.

But wait a minute. That’s giving much too much credit to audiophile record dealers.

Thinking About Hot Stampers


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