I can't speak to modern digital recordings, but if we are referring to the analogue rock genre, I own 3 to 5 pressings of the same CD. I was on a quest to find the best pressings of my favorite artists from the analogue days. These are original issues from 1984, 85, 86, not remasters . This means they were pressed in Germany and Japan. My issues from the US are usually 1987.
My findings are that first releases and early releases almost always have superior SQ over later releases and reissues. Finding the best CD is very similar to searching for the best record pressing. A first release doesn’t guarantee that it’s the best quality; there may have been a thousand discs pressed before yours. Your copy may have been pressed at the end of the production run.
I find the early pressings from Germany and Japan are typically superior to US production, but there are always exceptions. Also, a German Target release from 1984, 85 may have very similar sonics to a 1986 German 1st release. But IME, Targets are guaranteed to have excellent sonics.
A reissue may sound just as good as the 1st pressings. Unfortunately, there's no way to tell ahead of time since the original master had to be taken from the archive and duped again. Sometimes the original master wasnt available or was missing, so a 2nd generation protection copy was used. The process is the same; a new lacquer was cut for the reissue.
What makes a CD similar to a "hot stamper?" All the best pressings will have a very low noise floor, imaging with separation of instruments in 3 dimensions and a soundstage where you can almost see the performance. However, the early Japanese have an extended top-end compared to the German and US. I believe it may be related to their cutting process.
Most of my research was done on Discogs which lists all worldwide releases and matrix numbers. Steve Hoffman’s forum has the most valuable info regarding SQ and user reviews to back up the research.
One important item I learned on the forum was that an early pressing on the original record label usually bests releases from a major label that has taken over distribution.
Is there a digital (CD) equivalent of a so called “hot stamper”?
Its not "so called". Hot Stamper is an actual product name. Tom Port runs Better Records where they sell Hot Stampers. They are even graded: Hot Stamper (A+), Super Hot Stamper (A++) and White Hot Stamper (A+++).
So you can lose the scare quotes ("hot stamper") because its a proper name, and proper names are capitalized: Hot Stamper.
Now as to the idea there are (were) individual stampers responsible for some pressings sounding incredibly far better than average, that's at best only partly true. Its true in the sense there are some stampers from which more pressings tend to be crap, and others from which more pressings came out really good. But its a crap shoot.
Full disclosure, I've bought about half a dozen Hot Stampers ranging from Super Hot to White Hot this year. In addition to a good deal of time searching and reading up on the subject. And, direct correspondence with Tom Port. With whom I have no business interest beyond wanting to get my hands on as many Hot Stampers as I can. Which incidentally is at odds with informing people, since the more people know the more people buy which drives up price and worsens an already scarce supply situation making it harder for me to get more. Oh well. Truth uber alles.
So back to the stampers. You just can't go by the stampers. Very first one I got, Fleetwood Mac Fleetwood Mac, first thing I did was scrutinize and compare with my own original copy. They were and are identical. Exact same scribbles in the wax. They came from the same stamper.
But they did not sound even nearly the same! The Super Hot Stamper is just leagues better, in exactly all the ways Better Records says, which I will not repeat because if you really care about this at all you will go and read about it yourself.
The point in explaining all this is to dispel the nonsense that all you have to do is track down a source (CD or LP stamper) and buy whatever came off that source. This is wrong. This is a waste of time. This will not work.
You aren't even asking the right question!
The question to be asking is: Does every copy of a CD sound the same as every other copy?
The only way to answer that question is what Tom has done: play them side by side in a shoot-off and see.
Thank you for the lesson in grammar, Mr. (or Ms.) Millercarbon! I am aware of Mr. Port's business which prompted me to ask the question. I was referring to a "hot stamper" in the generic sense and not in reference to this particular business venture.
Do you know if the term "Hot Stamper" has been copyrighted or trademarked? Please, in the immortal words of one Dr. Hannibal Lecter, "Thrall me with your acumen!"
Okay. Except the more you write the more its clear its not clear to you at all. Because in spite of being aware of Mr. Port's business, and even after reading my post, you still don't get that there is no such thing as a hot stamper, generic or otherwise. There are no "hot stampers". There are only Hot Stampers.
I’m very aware of Hot Stampers as I think many of us are. I know the term is used by Better Records but didnt know it’s exclusive to them.
In answering the OP’s question regarding CDs, I explained, as you have, that even though a record may have the same matrix or production run number, ie, A -1, B -1, the early pressings are most likely to be of the highest quality. Thousands of records are pressed from one stamper. An early record or CD from the 4th run may sound better than a late 1st pressing because a fresh stamper is being used.
And, as stated, the only way to know which has the best SQ is a listening test. On Ebay you’ll see many records and CDs listed as 1st releases...highest quality possible, that have not been listened to or compared to other copies. So, it’s buyer beware. There are dealers like Better Records who have put in the time to review each copy and give it a rating.
I have purchased a couple of 1st release CDs from an Ebay seller (can't remember his name) who specializes in "hot stamper" CDs (he doesn't use this term). But he does test each CD and provides a description of the SQ.
By searching Google, Discogs, and Ebay, it is possible to find the highest quality CDs. Although, It does take some time.