My bull#&*t detector doesn't allow for the "hot stampers".
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I have also had excellent experiences with Tom at Better Records. I have bought around 3 dozen hot stampers and found some great-sounding versions of many of my favorite titles, some astoundingly so. I will tell you what my BS detector has found. That many of these overpriced, overhyped "audiophile" records such as MFSL, Nautilus, Classic, Kevin Gray half-speeds aren't sonically worth the vinyl they are stamped from. I just bought a hot stamper of Michael Jackson Thriller and compared it to the CBS half speed, which is a JOKE. After hearing bass transients on the hot stamper that aren't even hinted at on other pressings of this record I had, there is no going back. For those who have a problem in paying for the hot stampers, let me ask how much you pay for amps, preamps, speakers, cables, turntables, CD players, and so on. If I can pay big bucks for these, why would I not want to pay for a recording that makes it sound as if I spent big bucks on some hardware component to make a recording sound better? Frankly, I am glad you are being closed-minded and not helping to drive up the price of these records. It leaves more for me.
I still undecided on the "hot stamper" thing. I've bought several. Some are amazing, two are ok. What better records has done is inspire me to search out the fascinating correlation between matrix numbers and "better" sounding copies. Truly fascinating. Vinyl reporduction is an art and it makes sense to me that sound can depend on the artist.
If aHot Stamper isthe Storeowners view that this or that record is really a great pressing then why not call any of the good onesa "Stamper"..I supposedly got awhole boxset of such records Bernstein's recordings of the Beethoven 9 symphonies with the NY Philharmonic.Made for the "producers" yea right.I can say they do sound very good but not appreciably better than other good recordings I have that are not labeled hot or cold. My question is does this refer to the actual temperature of the stamping master, if it cools off to the point that it no longer makes shallow deteriorated impressions of the grooves which in return yield gad awful sonics why risk destroying the image of your marque. That would be sheer idiocy although examples of that are abundant. What's the point to bum people out and produce waste. Clearly that cut disc "stamper" is kept hot. If it is not I just patented the rights to the idea ,how ridiculous.
Mariasplunge: My father was a session player for Capitol Records in the golden years (played with everyone from Sinatra to Rawls). I personally collect albums he played on and can tell you that there are can be significant and subtle differences between individual records. I know what he sounds like and I have heard him get buried in the mix too often on dead sounding albums. Pristine records are rare and I have worked 25 years to find a complete and sonically correct album collection of his work. Almost in all cases, the original pressing date and stampers is the best. Within that press run, I find that there is indeed a correlation between stamper numbers with some of the copies I own. Around the issue of quality, each usually has a slightly different soundstage and instrument emphasis, especially with the horns. Each record took 45 seconds to produce and I think the albums that had significant runs to meet the "hit" demand (shipped in excess of 100,000 copies) seem to be more problematic.
I agree with Rlawdry. Seperate from the high prices he charges, Tom Port is one of the few retailers that does a good job at pointing out the substandard copies of 180 and 200 gram vinyl that is being sold as audiophile products that are a poor imitation of the original master tapes. Chad at Acoutic Sounds will give you opinions on problematic issues by phone when you grill him, but I never see him not offering them up as inventory when there are known problems, especially with Classic Records.
Like Ghosthouse above, I myself have never bought a "hot stamper." I have been able to find other albums that are in great condition within this site without paying the hundreds of dollars price for his best product. Tom tends to focus on and offer up the "known" 60s and 70s albums by the popular bands of the era ("Dark Side", "Aja"). You can find some buried treasure in his inventory that is reasonably priced around lessor artists and titles. I recently got a mint unplayed 2 record set album from Paul Kelly, Australia's Bob Dylan, for $10, that just smokes.
Absolutely, you can go to used record stores just like Tom does, buy a bunch of pressings of a title, go home and clean them, and listen to see if there is a "hot stamper" in the bunch. I have done just this with Heart Dreamboat Annie, some Cat Stevens titles, and others. If you have the time and patience to do this, you can approximate what Tom does. And if he lists a hot stamper, it gives you hope that some do indeed exist. However, as a record dealer for many years, I am sure Tom is a lot more familiar with which pressings sound best, and furthermore, I don't have the time to do this often. I just pay him to do this for me. I have never bought his really expensive hot stampers, just the ones listed for between $50 and $200. I figure I am getting darn close to his best anyway. I can tell you that I tried for years to find a better-sounding pressing of Steely Dan Katy Lied to no avail and thought such a thing didn't exist. I loved this record but hated the bland and mediocre sound. When I reluctantly bought one of Tom's hot stampers I couldn't believe it. It sounded like a completely different recording, so much so that I thought it had come from a different master or recording session, or that somehow Tom was treating the records in some way. Not all of the HS pressings are that dramatically better, but on certain recordings it makes a serious improvement in the sound.
I agree. ABC Dunhill put out some incredibly bad copies of Steely Dan. Along with RCA and Bowie, I can't tell you how many poor copies I have heard.
I am personal friends with Skunk Baxter and he told me that their albums rarely approximated the level of playing in the studio. I have heard copies of the masters at his home and they are exceptional. I am glad to hear you have a great copy--I seem to only find the less than great ones. I have a Platinum Plus reissue that is the best one (probably B+) in my possession but I keep believing that there must be better copies out there. It appears one lies in your collection!!!:)
Bongo...If you don't mind exposing that info, who is you dad? Also, thanks for the encouragement.
Like Rlawry I too do not have the quite the time Tom does, so I would only do such a thing for certian special albums that I adore. There are artists that I value having great sound with but just have not found that copy that says "oh yeah!!" Like Dylan for example. He is someone who I might consider spending money on to let Tom fnd the ones that sound "just right" Something that so far has availed me.
Maria: he was a crack alto sax man who died in 2004. He started playing in 1943 in NYC with Glen Miller, came West with Nelson Riddle and Sinatra, played on many seminal Jazz albums in the 1950's, then transferred over to live TV in the 1960's, and was active until the day he died at 78. You can probably put two and two together. Because I have his last name, I prefer to remain anonymous.
PS: none of his three sons inherited his gift. I have had a very successful event and staging career to stay close to live music. Like you, I have love to dig. Don't buy the hype--it is very hard to find great recordings with vinyl. Best to trust your ears and make friends. My album collection averages $4 per record and I have many West Coast store owners who know my tastes and set aside nice product.
I just wanted to say that I am not at all closed minded. Some pressings always sound better than others. The information to determine this is generally available to everyone and is right there in the dead wax on the records. All of the major mastering houses put their logotypes in the dead wax. TML for The Mastering Lab, Van Gelder for Rudy Van Gelder, etc. Often the mastering engineers initials, or signature, is there as well. RL for Bob Ludwig, GK for Gilbert Kong, Bilbo for Denis Blackham, etc. Additionally, most records also encode the matrix number there as well. What irks me is not that I do not believe that some pressings are better than others, but that Tom has mystified the process and created this nebulous marketing term, "hot stamper" that has no real meaning beyond whatever he wants it to have. It plays on the ignorance of his buyers and does a disservice to the community by confusing rather than illuminating.
Viridian, I agree that Tom makes it sound as if he has the market cornered on the best-sounding pressings of a title. I sometimes wonder if he is treating records in some way to enhance their sonics. It just seems strange that he finds these great-sounding copies of records that have absolutely wretched sonics, but I have proof that he has done so. I remember going to several used record stores and buying a bunch of Heart Dreamboat Annie LP's. One of them, which appreared to be an original pressing based on writings in the trail-out, had bass extension and dynamics not found on other copies. Later I found a white label promo with the same stamper numbers and was surprised to find it sounded rather ordinary. Who knows why one record sounds better than another? Another thing that irks me about Tom is that he pushed DCC big-time until he had a falling-out with Steve Hoffman, and now of course, DCC is sonic garbage and killed by his hot stampers. Still, all in all, I have been impressed with most of the hot stampers.
Once again, my simple-minded thread beginning has uncovered a wealth of information from you all who know far more than I. I really appreciate Bongo, Maria, and Viridian's comments re. "Hot Stampers". Even if I did have the money, my middle class roots wouldn't allow me to spend 400 on a record, Hot Stamper or not! I agree with Bongo--some of my best sounding records were 5-10 dollar lucky finds. A pass through the Nitty Gritty and you've got a gem! I'll stand by my original statement, though, that Better Records is good for just basic records, and they have good customer service.
Here's my 2 cents in random order. I have never bought a "hot stamper" from Tom (and don't intend to, as I do the hunting myself) - though I have bought a few other lp's and accessories from him:
1. I have spoken to him on the phone and he seems genuinely interested, knowledgeable, and customer service was excellent.
2. His musings in the descriptions of lp's on his website have much useful info worth reading through.
3. That being said, he IS a master of "marketing" bordering on hype - a la Sharper Image, or the DAK catalog (remember Drew A. Kaplan - yuk! gag!)
4. "Hot stampers" are real - but of course "Hot" is in the ear of the beholder and how the sonics fit your particular system too. I have done many stamper shootouts myself (which drives my wife nuts), and there's no question that some are way better than others.
5. Doing stamper shootouts is not quick or cheap. You have to first Find and Buy the lp's, then Clean the lp's, then listen to them over and over and over. Then, in Tom's case, he has to write a blurb, take photos, post to the website, etc. Having done all this myself, I don't think Tom's prices on Hot Stampers are quite as ridiculous as they look. He is performing a service and deserves reasonable compensation. In CA, our cleaning woman gets $20 an hour and up - so what's reasonable markup for a hot stamper??? There are probably lots of rich guys out there to whom time is worth infinitely more than money and they just want the best sounding copy of The Doobie Brothers Greatest Hits that exists - WhAtEVeR!!!...... it's a big world, and hats off to Tom for finding this niche, and making a living doing something he enjoys.
6. THAT being said, IMO, his prices for "ordinary" lp's, Direct Disk lp's and similar are waaaaaaay high. He's got the right to charge what he wants, but I find them kind of an insult - so it's really a disincentive for me to look at his inventory. But again, like the Audiogon auctions prove - there are obviously lp buyers who are not plugged in to Ebay nor aware of "real world" pricing and availability - and probably they don't want to be and don't care. They don't have time to chatter on Audiogon, they just want good lp's. And capitalism will allocate resources toward those buyers.
7. One thing that turned me off to Better Records is the constant hyping of Disk Doctor cleaning supplies, which he is a dealer for. I use DD, and have used the others, and also mix my own. There is nothing so magical about DD, but Tom's hype level re: the stuff rings alarm bells for me - that, giving the benefit of the doubt, he may have a vivid imagination - I'll leave it at that.
8. In short, it's a mixed bag for me personally - but there's certainly nothing immoral about charging high prices after you've done the work to develop a completely new market as Tom has.
Maria and Ghosthouse
I find a lot of great vinyl at Equator Books in Venice, CA (they recently secured access to 30,000 records from one of the best estates in LA) and Jive Time Records in Seattle.
Maria: I have seen some great Dylan product in recent months; in fact, the best copy of Nashville Skyline I have ever heard was playing over the store PA the last time I was in Equator. I always find five or six pristine albums at Jive Time and the instore staff always point out gems. Just got some superb Faces there. Sometimes I feel like I am a character out of Nic Hornsby's "High Fidelity."
I have found that Ameoba Records in Hollywood and SF are hit and miss. The bins are constantly being scoured and a lot of the vinyl is pretty beat up. The East Bay store seems to get better Jazz records.