How much would you pay for an original photocopy of The Beatles’ Abbey Road ? If you shop at Better Records, the answer is spate: $650. Other staples from the heydayof vinyl command evenly astronomical rates. Fleetwood Mac’s eponymous LP: $500. The Police’s Synchronicity : $350. Even kitsches like The B-5 2s is a sticker shocker at $220.
And that’s the cheap material. Prices for wish list titles like The Who’s Tommy , Pink Floyd’s The Wall , and The Beatles’ White Album would make a military contractor blush: $1,000.
Price gouging? Not according to Better Records owner Tom Port. He anticipates hundreds of thousands of bucks is a bargain to hear a classic rock-and-roll opus audio better than you’ve ever heard it sound before–stoned or sober.
” I’d like to accuse $1,500, because that’s what I envisage these records are worth ,” he mentions.” But I don’t, because the customers balk .”
This is what passes for fiscal restraint in the field covered by high-end audio: drawing the line at three figures for mass-produced accounts that sold in the millions, the same dormitory room relics found in milk boxes at tag sales. But Port insists that his meticulously curated discs are special. Unlike many record dealers, he doesn’t peddle the usual dreck pocked with scratchings and jackpot resin. He traffics strictly in” hot stampers ,” the very best of the best.
Hundreds of factors influence what a vintage record will sound like, from the chain of ownership and whether it’s been properly stored to the purity of the vinyl stock and the high quality of its equipment that produced it. One factor many serious evidence collectors fixate on is the quality of the stampers, the well-grooved metal plates allows one to press a clod of hot vinyl into a record album. Like any metal succumb, these molds have a finite lifespan. The accumulation of scratches, flaws, and other injury resulting from the tremendous mechanical stress a stamper be subordinated to — 100 tons of pressure during a make run–leads to a gradual loss of audio fidelity in the finished accounts. To ensure the best sound quality, some shop companies that press heavy vinyl today limit their stampers to 1,000 pressings. In contrast, during the course of its pinnacle of the vinyl boom, major labels churned out as many as 10,000 prints on a single stamper. It’s preferable to have a record pressed early in a production drain, before the metal exhibits signs of wear, rather than toward the end, right before a fresh stamper is slapped on.
Tom Port feels a thousand bucks is a bargain to hear a classic rock opus music better than you’ve ever heard it sound beforestoned or sober.
Nab anearly pressing of an iconic title produced under principle circumstances, take really( truly) good care of it for 40 times, and maybe it’ll be judged a hot stamper worthfour figures.
Scott Hull, a recording engineer who owns Masterdisk, one of the world’s premiermastering facilities, compares used to produce vinyl account to making wine-coloured.” Each pressing of the grape, and each pressing of the disc, is unique ,” Hull mentions.” Hundreds of subtle things contribute to each pressing being different. Everything topics, from plating the lacquers to various molding issues to the quality of the vinyl pellets .”
Selling these artifacts at these rates necessitates more than a roll of patrons with too much disposable income. It takes hard work, chutzpa and catalog imitate that kindles neural brushing fires in the amygdala.
Consider these tasting notes for the Rolling Stones’ Emotional Rescue ($ 230 ):” A executioner pressing serious perforates down low, superb lucidity, all the expansion up top and a HUGE open sound land you’ll have a hard time acquiring any Stones be reported that clangs this good date !” Confirmation bias? Probably. Porthad me at” killer pressing .”
Although Better Records gives jazz, blue-bloodeds, classical, and the occasional genre originality( faux-Polynesian exotica is a recurring guilty amusement ), invariably it’s nostalgic classic rock albums like that Stones semi-classic from 1980 that become hot stampers.
But observing such pristine and aurally transcendent records isn’t easy.
Hot or Not?
The painstaking process begins by scouring the used market–from Salvation Army bins to eBay–for a dozen or more clean two copies of an album. Next comes the obligatory spa regimen: a three-step enzyme cleanse followed by a deep groove vacuuming with two record clean machines, one of them an $8,000 Odyssey RCM MKV, relevant instruments the size of an airline liquor go-cart handcrafted by persnickety Germans.
Grunt work completed, the red-hot stamper ruler and his minions encounter in the Better Records listening room for a round of tests dubbed a “Shootout.”
By the standards of your stereotypical tube-loving, power-junkie audiophile, the amp Port applies as the hub of his Shootout machine is shockingly ordinary: a 1970 s Japanese integrated transistor amp rated at a feeble 30 watts per channel, a typical thrift-store acquisition.” I use a low-power, solid state amp because it doesn’t color the music ,” he explains.” Tubes attain everything tone warm and add aberration. That can sound nice, but I requirement accuracy .”
The other ingredients are much more upscale. The Legacy Focus speakers have been modded with Townshend Super Tweeters, for example, and the turntable sports a Tri-Planar Precision Tonearm and a Dynavector 17 D3 cartridge. Everything has been carefully selected for sonic neutrality. This isn’t about invoking mega-bass or shimmering high-flowns. The objective is flat frequency response, get as close as possible to the clang on the original master tape. Nothing added or subtracted. The total rate for Port’s shootout rig was necessary to $35,000.
When the shootout ultimately gets underway, lights are dimmed, eyelids fall and ears pinnacle. With each slashed sampled, the usual things are carefully pondered: existence, frequency extension, clarity, soundstage, texture, tonal correctness, and an elusive oddity called ” tubey sorcery”( seriously ). Every element is scrutinized in granular detail. If opinions diverge or recollections miscarry, reference prints are pulled from the archive to check benchmarks. It’s laborious job. Choosing whether Side B of Emotional Rescue is a “Mint Minus Minus”( 7 on a magnitude of 1-10 ), or a” Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus” (8 -9 ), expects devotion, staman and intense focus. When the grades are tabulated, a sonic pecking order rises 😛 TAGEND
Hot stampers( great tone/ expensive)
Super hot stampers( very well prepared tone/ really expensive)
White hot stampers( insanely great sound/ insanely expensive)
It’s seducing to dismiss hot stampers as pseudoscience, like cryogenically treated orator cables, power amp fuses zapped with Tesla coils, and every other confidence scheme devised to mark affluent middle-aged audiophiles from the contents of their purses. Talk to enough studio technologists and register flower technicians, though, and it becomes apparent that theaural disparity between registers that Tom Port prattles on about actually does exist.
Industry experts agree that two copies of the same album can, and often do, seem different; sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. Not merely from facsimile to imitate, and from back A to back B, but from track to track, and, yes, even within the same track. In reality, vinyl accounts shaped on the same stamper, over the same product drain likewise can vary in sound character. Other transcripts, enduring different account labels, pressed in different countries, applying different equipment and personnel, will impart their own sonic flavor, which only muddles the questions further.
” There’s actually little is why any two discs should clang the same ,” supposes Masterdisk’s Scott Hull.” A grading system based on the differences among significant factors establishes feel: surface noise, relative distortion during playback, and things like hop-skips and major pops .” Before this becomesa hot stamper endorsement, Hull lowers the boom:” Supposing one disc is incorrect and another is right is very controversial. Merely the producer, the mastering, and cutting engineers genuinely know what that record “re supposed to” sound like .”
Most members of hobbyist web meetings who discuss vinyl records are vehemently anti-hot stamper. It’s the exorbitant markup, of course, that provokes all the anger.
The textbook example of good mastering gone bad is the 1969 Atlantic Records release of Led Zeppelin II . The first pressing, mastered by a young Bob Ludwig, beats every other pressing and reissue by a wide margin. This account is readily identified by searching the matrix, a product code located in the run-out area next to the label. There, inscribed in the dead wax are the letters “RL/SS,” shorthand for Robert Ludwig/ Sterling Sound. Known among pushers as the” red-hot mixture ,” ithas such vigour and dynamic assortment that when it was released it made the needles on inexpensive record player to literally jump out of the grooves. This happens if Ahmet Ertegun, the president of Atlantic Records, delivered a copy dwelling to his daughter. Judging the record defective, he instantly ordered a brand-new pressing with the signal dialed down and compressed. Ludwig would afterwards lament that the matter is version” sounded puny and aghh !”
Still, like everything else having to do with manufacturing vinyl registers, there are no principles or absolutes. A desirable matrix isn’t foolproof. It’s only a good omen. A random hot mingle of Led Zeppelin II may sound fantastic, but some of the 200,000 “RL/SS” imitates “thats been” pressed seem better than others. “Its what” keeps Better Records in the enterprises and earns Tom Port a comfortable six-figure income. A Led Zeppelin II white red-hot stamper is $1,000.
If there is one question that needs to be asked at this phase, it is this: Who actually buys these things?
Although there are currently 117 testimonials posted on the Better Records website, the success of this bold endeavor hinges on 20 to 30″ preferred clients” who expend as much as $100,000 a year on red-hot stampers. These patrons are wealthy audiophiles with a fondnes for classic rock-and-roll who like nothing better than to sit in an overstuffed wing chair sipping Ptrus and reading Tom Port’s vivid descriptions of the most recent shootout winners.
Bill Pascoe, a full-time political consultant and part-time audiophile, is one such customer. Like all hot stamper junkies, he was initially skeptical. The gateway LP for him was Steely Dan’s Aja . Port’s notes boasted that it mashed the lavishly praised Cisco 180 -gram Aja reissue. Pascoe was dubious. But as a Washington power broker, he could certainly afford $130 to find out.
If you’re going to spend tens of thousands of dollars on hardware, why wouldn’t you fee a few hundred for the application? Hot stamper collector Roger Lawry
” After the first line, I mentioned,’ My God, there’s something to this! ‘” That was eight years ago. Today, Pascoe owns more than 100 hot stampers.” I’m not a recording technologist ,” he supposes.” All I know is that Tom’s accounts sound better .”
Roger Lawry, a biomedical technologist in California, was hooked by a red-hot stamper of Blood Sweat& Tears‘ self-titled LP, the title Port deems” best available voicing pop or rock-and-roll album ever recorded .” Lawry has accumulated about 150 hot stampers since then. Adapted for inflation, that’s the equivalent of buying a brand-new Mercedes E-Class. The only difference is that one has an excellent resale value.
Lawry declares this pricy vinyl won’t pad his investment portfolio, but he has no repents.” If you’re going to invest tens of thousands of dollars on hardware, why wouldn’t you fee a few hundred for the application ?” he asks. A recent salary slash, however, has forced Lawry to curb his vinyl excess. Still, if the right red-hot stamper came along, he says he wouldn’t hesitate pulling the trigger:” I’d be willing to pay $ 500 for best available print of Aja .”
Not merely are these original vinyl facsimiles shiny and minty fresh, Port will tell you they also seem better than any of those $30 reissues” sourced from the original master tapes” currently in fashion. Port has particular dislike for these premium, heavy vinyl registers, with their bonus ways and glossy liner notes.
” Those registers voice horrendous ,” he growls.” A flea market copy of Sweet Baby James will seem better than any new 180 -gram version .” Surely, there must be some notable reissues of other pop albums? The 60 -year-old California native delays.” If there are, I haven’t heard them .”
This outright dismissal of an entire industry has shaped Port a pariah in most audiophile cliques. It’s an emotional subject. Jonathan Weiss, the owner of Oswalds Mill Audio, a hi-fi sanctuary in Brooklyn known for its outstandinghorn orators, barely contains his disdain.” This person is the poster offspring for everything that’s wrong with the business ,” he mentions.” He caters to the worst anxieties and anxieties of audiophile victims. It’s really laughable .” Weiss finishes by calling Port a couple of names we can’t print.
To truly understand the horrors and nervousness of vinyl aficionados, follow the impassioned weaves that undo on the hobbyist web meetings. Although Port has advocates, they’re a minority. Most members of locates like audiokarma and audioasylum who discuss vinyl records are vehemently anti-hot stamper. It’s the exorbitant markup, of course, that provokes the outrage.
Port discovers the criticism amusing. On his website, he taunts these people where it hurts: By blaming their obsessive-compulsive adore for bachelor-at-arms pad hi-fi gear from the Boogie Nights era.” Pioneer turntables? In this day and age? What time warp did these guys fall through anyway? It’s as if the last thirty years of audio never happened .”( Never mind the apparent hypocrisy of his usinga 40 -year-old amp to rate his registers .)
He also relishes ripping their precious 180 -gram LPsto shreds and stomping on them.” Heavy vinyl is just a gimmick, like gold plated CDs ,” he says.
To Port’s dismay, record labels have doubled down on the surging vinyl market, promising even higher fidelity by pushing a new format: the 45 -RPM, doubled LP. Remastered at half-speed, these limited edition evidences, if properly grown and fabricated, have the capability to outperform single 33 -RPM discs because the stylus expends more time in the grooves retrieving data. Reviewers gush about greater dynamic scope and improved transient response.
Predictably, Tom Port isn’t a fan. Here’s his review of Metallica’s Ride The Lightning , a Warner Brother 45 -RPM album remastered at MoFi from the original analog tape:” Constricted, sucked-out mids , no deep bass and blurred mid-bass, the mastering of this album is an absolute tragedy on all levels .” He laughter when asked how many business relationships have soured over the years due to unpopular opinions like this.” I ignite all my bridges ,” he says.” I crave good-for-nothing to do with any of these people .”
Stereophile columnist Michael Fremer falls into this category. InOctober, the audio reviewer conducted an opinion poll on his blog, Analog Planet, relating to the hot stamper vs. heavy vinyl debate. The substance chosen for this audio competition was RCA’s 1960″ Living Stereo” recording of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade , a symphonic poem give consideration to audiophiles to be one of the greatest performances ever captured on vinyl.
In one corner was the prohibitive favourite: Analogue Productions’ 200 -gram, 33 -RPM reissue, a record that prominent reviewers, including Fremer( he called it “transformative” ), argued was better than the original. The challenger was a vintage RCA pressing of Scheherazade that Port had personally selected from his hot stamper hoard. The registers were transferred to hi-res 24 chip/ 96 KHz files–well above standard CD quality–and posted on Fremer’s blog for readers to sample. When the voting rights were tallied, the brand-new Analogue Productions version was proclaimed the win by a 6percent margin.
Port dismisses the results as meaningless, accusing his hot stamper’s poor presenting on flawed methodology.” Fremer labeled one of the files’ AP, ‘” he mentions incredulously.” Voters knew that was Analogue Productions. So, the experiment was biased from the beginning! When it was corrected, we caught up fast .”
He could have left it at that, but the believed to be smoldering bridges provokes Port too much. Convinced that the industry high priestsare aligned against him, he flogs out:” Michael Fremer once said he had six copies of Aja , and they all voiced the same. That’s impossible on a good structure! Is he deaf ?”
Fremer has since conducted several live listening discussions using the same two Scheherazade pressings. In each case, research results were, in Fremer’s words,” pretty much 50 -5 0.” Which would seem to indicate, at least in this instance, that heavy vinyl and hot stampers are more about personal penchant than one account actually sounding better than the other.
” If you are able to render it, I consider Tom supplies a good product ,” Fremer supposes diplomatically.” Although, I don’t always agree with him on everything .”