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Hot Stampers: The Ultimate Analog LP

Audio Commentary  >  Helpful Vinyl Links  >  Hot Stampers: The Ultimate Analog LP

What exactly are Hot Stampers?

Hot Stampers are pressings with sound quality that goes far beyond that of the typical LP. Discovering these extraordinary records and making them available to the audiophile public is currently the main focus of our efforts here at Better Records.

The term "Hot Stampers" derives from the metal parts, called stampers, which press down and flatten the vinyl "puck" which is placed in a record press, thereby producing a record. We also use the term "hot stamper" to refer to our favorite stamper numbers (also known as "matrix numbers") for albums we know well. These are simply the numbers you see etched into the dead wax of records, accompanied on occasion by the initials of the cutting engineer, or the name of the cutting house that mastered the record.

The stamper numbers tell a part of the story, but it's only a part. There is a great deal more to the sound of a record than its stamper number. The term Hot Stamper is simply shorthand for a host of factors that all come together in order to produce a high quality LP.

Record Mastering Is an Art

Record mastering is best understood as an art, not a science. One engineer's cutting will almost always sound substantially different from another's, due to differences in their mastering chains, the quality of the tapes available to them, as well as the artistic judgment of both men. There are also a number of things that can affect the sound of the finished product after the acetate is cut. There's no need to go into all of them here, and truth be told no one really knows what they all are. Suffice to say that when a record sounds good, lots and lots of things had to have gone very right.

The upshot of all this is that no two pressings of the same album are ever going to sound the same. On a highly-resolving modern stereo system records that look identical in every way are simply going to sound different. If you're listening critically and know the material well, two records with exactly the same stamper numbers will be noticeably different sounding, often dramatically so.

Stamper numbers are a guide. They provide important clues to the sound of an LP, but their utility is limited. The only meaningful way to know how a given record is going to sound is to clean it up and play it, preferably head to head against other pressings, and always on the highest quality system you have available to you. It sounds simple, and in many ways it is. Clean 'em, play 'em, and listen to them carefully. It pretty much sums up what we do around here all day.

Seemingly Identical Pressings with Very Different Sound

Other record dealers may choose to ignore all this -- virtually none acknowledge the validity of the concept -- but we've embraced the idea and created a niche for ourselves, cataloguing and clarifying the remarkably wide variation in vinyl pressings that we encounter.
The idea might seem surprising to many, but there's no denying how different seemingly identical copies of the same record can sound when you actually sit down and listen to them. Some audiophiles are aware of this fact and prefer to do their own limited shootouts. We've taken it to another level, devoting the kinds of resources that no single audiophile can hope to match. Let's face it, most people have jobs. Playing records all day is our job.

That kind of scale is key to the success of our approach. We find, clean, and play dozens, sometimes scores, of pressings of the same album, and we usually do shootouts of albums that we know from experience are well-recorded. Since we've been doing this for a very long time, decades in fact, we have a sizable head start in terms of knowing which recordings, which pressings and which stamper numbers have the potential -- and it can never be anything more than that, a potential -- to achieve Sonic Greatness. The winners of our shootouts we call Hot Stampers. It's as simple as that.

We Get Letters

You may enjoy reading our Testimonials section. It's full of letters from customers who were thrilled and even a bit shocked at how much better our Hot Stamper LP sounded in a head to head comparison with the one or more pressings they already owned (especially if it was an audiophile pressing; those are surprisingly easy to beat, truth be told).

We discuss our approach to cleaning and playing records, along with lots of other subjects that touch on playback issues, in an ongoing commentary called Revolutionary Changes in Audio.

Note that we guarantee every Hot Stamper 100% -- if you buy one that doesn't sound amazing to you, return it and we'll refund your purchase price. We can make this offer as our rate of return on Hot Stamper pressings is currently running less than 2% of sales. And, more importantly, we want you to be happy with any record you buy from us that we've recommended to you. We stake our reputation on every Hot Stamper we sell. If you're not happy, we're not happy. You're going to get your money back, no ifs, ands or buts.

About This Page

We've compiled most of what we consider to be our best commentaries about Hot Stampers below. Those visiting the site for the first time are encouraged to read these three for starters: The Book of Hot Stampers , The Four Pillars of Success and The Science of Hot Stamper Shootouts. Every shootout affords us the opportunity to discuss the important discoveries we make on a regular basis concerning these wonderful analog LPs -- the technology that refuses to die! -- from mastering to playback and everything in-between. For a ringside seat we highly recommend you get on our mailing list .

White Hot Stampers are the best of the best, suitable for even the most demanding audiophiles. These records will have at least one side that rates Triple Plus, which means we don't think you can find a better sounding pressing. Our Super Hot Stampers (with at least one Double Plus side) are nearly as good and usually much more affordable. Our lowest grade for a Hot Stamper pressing will have a Single Plus on both sides. Like all the records we sell, they offer a substantial improvement in sound over whatever pressing you may own, or your money back.

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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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Advances in Playback Technology

More Than Blind Faith

  (Item #: blindblind_advances) 

In a 2007 commentary for the Hot Stamper pressing of Blind Faith we noted that

When it finally all comes together for such a famously compromised recording, it’s nothing less than a THRILL. More than anything else, the sound is RIGHT. Like Layla or Surrealistic Pillow, this is no demo disc by any stretch of the imagination, but that should hardly keep us from enjoying the music. And now we have the record that lets us do it.

More Blind Faith

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Building a Store of Knowledge

One Record at a Time

  (Item #: knowledge) 

We recently ran across the commentary below in a reply to a Hot Stamper testimonial for Honky Cat. Based on our own experience, we give a quick and dirty primer on how one can build up one’s knowledge of records, stampers, labels, pressing variations and the like.

We don’t really give out much in the way of specific information about any of those things; we just tell you how it can be done. It’s your job to go out and do it. It's simple; just follow our lead. How tough can it be?

See more commentaries on Record Collecting

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Cognitive Dissonance, or
I Just Paid $600 for This LP

Is That Too Much?

  (Item #: cogdis_2014) 

Don, our letter writer this week [the year was 2006 or 2007 if memory serves], applauds us for being able to convince our customers to pay forty times the going rate for some of the records we sell -- and like it!

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Which One's Pink?

And What Do All Those Numbers Mean?

  (Item #: stampers) 

An erstwhile customer sent us an email a while back asking this question: "What is the FULL stamper matrix for this record... all the way around the dead wax?"

I replied that we never give out stamper numbers for the records we sell. The only way to find out the stampers for our records is to buy them. And while we're on the subject, you might enjoy reading this commentary I wrote a while back pointing out how misleading the matrix numbers can be: The Book of Hot Stampers.

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