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.
If you want to make judgments about recordings -- not the pressing you have in your collection, but the actual recording it was made from -- you have to do some work, and you have to do it much more thoroughly than most audiophiles and record collectors think is necessary.
The Four Cornerstones of Hot Stampers
That work is made up of these four steps.
1.) You must have a sufficient number of copies to play in order to find at least one "hot" one.
2.) You must be able to clean your copies properly in order to get them to sound their best.
3.) You must be able to reproduce your copies faithfully.
4.) You must be able to evaluate them critically.
How It Used to Be
It's an open question if even three or four years ago (before 2010, say) we could have done shootouts for many of the albums you've seen come to the site lately. I have my doubts.
But the good news in audio is that things change. It's amazing how many records that used to sound bad now sound pretty darn good. The site is full of commentaries about them. Every one of them is proof that comments about recordings are of limited value.
The recordings don't change. Our ability to find, clean and play the pressings made from them does, and that's what the Hot Stamper Revolution is all about.
You have a choice. You can choose to take the standard audiophile approach, which is to buy the record that is supposed to be the best pressing and consider the case closed. You did the right thing, you played by the rules, you bought the pressing you were told to buy, the one you read the reviews about, the one on the list, the one they said was made from the master tape, the one supposedly pressed on the best vinyl, all that kind of stuff. Cross that title off and move on to the next.
When -- sometimes if but usually when -- the sound of the record doesn't live up to the hype surrounding it, you merely accept the fact that the recording itself must be at fault. Prepare to allot a fair amount of time to complaining about such an unfortunate state of affairs. "If only they had recorded the album better..." you can say to yourself as you toddle off to bed, fatigued and frustrated with a record that doesn't sound as good as you remember.
Try It Our Way
Or you can adopt our approach and hear those very same albums sound dramatically better than you ever thought possible. It happens all the time here at Better Records and it can happen at your house too. Just follow the yellow brick-- uh, scratch that, just follow the four steps.
Our approach has the added benefit of freeing up time that would normally be spent bitching about the bad sound of most records. This in turn makes more time available for pleasurable listening to the Hot Stamper pressing you discovered on your own or the one we found for you. (It's the same process whether you do it yourself or we do it for you.)
You also probably won't feel the need to go on silly audiophile forums to argue the merits of this or that pressing. You will already own the pressing that settles the argument. Keep in mind that your pressing only settles the argument for you -- nobody else will believe it. And why should they? They have never heard your copy. It would take quite a leap of faith on their part to believe that your copy sounds so much better than the one they own, when the one they own looks just like the one you own. It might even have the same catalog number, and the same label, maybe even the same stampers.
But this is precisely what Hot Stampers are all about. Records may look the same but they most assuredly do not sound the same.
What We Offer
Unfortunately most of what is important in audio you have to learn to do for yourself. We can find you the best sounding pressings; that's the easy part. Figuring out how to play them, and learning how to listen to them, well, that's a fair bit harder. That part takes a lifetime, at least.
You'll notice that in this commentary we've been somewhat short on specifics as to exactly how one goes about doing any of this stuff. Down the road we hope to be more helpful. For now you might want to check out these sections:
This hobby is supposed to be fun. If you've been in it for any length of time you know that sometimes it is and sometimes it isn't. But if you enjoy doing it at least some of the time, and you devote the proper resources to it -- time and money -- you will no doubt derive much more pleasure from it, especially if you use our approach. It works for us and it can work for you.
...along these lines can be found below.
Here are more entries in our ongoing Shootout Advice series.
Record shootouts are the fastest and easiest way to hone your listening skills, a subject we discuss often on the site and directly address in this commentary from way back in 2005.