I received this email a while back: "Hi Tom, could you please recommend a book which would give the stamper numbers associated with the different pressings of a particular record."
Let me take this opportunity to give a more comprehensive answer, since the concept of Hot Stampers is not especially well understood by the audiophile community outside of our admittedly rather small customer base. Only those who have spent a great deal of time reading the reviews and commentary on the site are likely to understand the importance of stampers. This is partly my fault, as this issue of stamper variability and quality is spread out all over the place, exactly where, no one really knows.
I regret to say there is no such book and probably never will be. To my knowledge, we are the only guys on the planet selling records who know much about the subject. In fact, we pioneered the very concept, starting about fifteen years ago.
Back in the early '90s I complained that the TAS Super Disc List didn't list the "correct" stampers: the stampers (or matrix numbers if you prefer) being the individual markings associated with the actual pressing HP was awarding the status of Super Disc. Without knowing those stampers almost any pressing one might acquire would be different from the one on the list, and quite possibly inferior (or superior; in any event, different sounding).
The catalog number or label -- practically all that could be gleaned from his writings -- serves as a very poor guide in this respect. Occasionally one might read a review which mentioned stampers, but any such mentions were few and infrequent. To do much good they would have had to be much more systematic, and that never happened (mostly because the reviewers making these pronouncements were of course not very systematic and never pretended to be).
So, since we do not have the time or the intention to write such a book, and no one else to my knowledge has the necessary expertise, one will probably never be written. There are at least two good reasons for not even attempting such an endeavor, however. One is selfish, one is not.
First off, when we discover hot stampers, they become the equivalent of trade secrets -- we never reveal them to anyone. Over the last twenty five years of collecting we have bought hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of records and spent tens of thousands of hours of our time deciphering those arcane little squiggles in the dead wax that correlate, however imperfectly, with both the good records and the bad ones. Why would we want to give that hard-earned information away? It's priceless, to us anyway.
Secondly, and every bit as importantly, they change, and frequently. We find new and better pressings all the time. This very subject is discussed in the commentary for David Crosby's first album. we note in our review that we used to like a different stamper. Now, with better equipment and better ears, we prefer a new one. And tomorrow we might like still another!
The Best Sound
As we see it, our job is to get you the best sounding records we can find. That's how we would like to think we make our living. Knowing the right stampers helps us do it, but that is only part of the process. The right stampers only sound right some of the time. The vinyl plays a big part in the sound, and we're not talking about condition here, we're talking about the quality of the vinyl compound itself. This unpleasant fact is the bane of our existence. So many potentially great records that we buy just don't sound the way we know they should, even after an expensive and time-consuming cleaning.
No one can know precisely why some pressings come up short. But the ears know. Playing records is the only reliable test we've discovered to date. Imperfectly reliable to be sure, but markedly more reliable than any other.
Right Stampers, Wrong Sound
We could rattle off all sorts of stamper numbers that should sound amazing. We have hundreds of them memorized, so that when we go to a record store we know what to buy and what to avoid. But the LP you find on your own with the "right" stamper numbers might sound dreadful, or no better than mediocre. Naturally, you would conclude we were to blame for recommending such a bad pressing. But our copy and your copy, both with the same stampers, don't sound the same. In fact, if our experience is any guide, they can never sound the same. Similar maybe, virtually identical even, but like two snowflakes or two grains of sand on the beach, not truly identical. And, based on our experience, probably not even close.
So, with all that in mind, we have decided to take a different approach to the task of helping you acquire the best sounding LPs. We find them for you, clean them up, play them, and make sure they sound good before you buy them. This way, we do all the work, and you get to spend more time listening to good records and less time finding, cleaning and evaluating bad ones.
Hey, Maybe You Should Write It!
Of course, if you want to do the work yourself, more power to you. Let's be clear: There is absolutely nothing we do in a shootout that you can't do yourself. All it takes is time and money. LOTS of time and LOTS of money. I personally have been at it for thirty-five years. These days I would guess we drop the needle on at least a few hundred records a week. Sometimes we spend hours and hours playing piles of copies of an album and get nowhere. Other times we find a Hot Stamper that is too noisy to sell. It's a lot of work to do it right, and we don't want to do it unless we can do it right. It's easy to be wrong, and we hate being wrong when it comes to the sound of records.
Maybe after you have cleaned and played thousands and thousands of records you will want to write a book about the best sounding pressings you have discovered. We would love to read it. We're all for the sharing of knowledge. Until then, we're going to stick with our approach. It seems to be working, as many Hot Stamper pressings sell within a day or two of posting, oftentimes within hours. A glance at our Testimonials page tells the same story.
To me there is nothing more thrilling in audio than hearing a favorite, familiar recording sound better than I ever thought it could. If that's the kind of thrill you are looking for, I recommend you visit the site as often as you can. Something of interest is sure to pop up. It can't be found in a book. It can only be found right here -- as far as I know -- at Better Records.
The idea that the stampers are the be-all and end-all of a record's sound is a myth, and a rather convenient one too when you stop to think about it.
Here are some commentaries on a subject near and dear to all of us, namely Record Collecting.
The entries linked under the heading of Thinking About Hot Stampers should help you gain a better understanding of the issues surrounding them.
And finally we'll throw in this old warhorse discussing How to Become an Expert Listener, subtitled Hard Work and Challenges Can Really Pay Off.
Because in audio, much like the rest of life, hard work and challenges really do pay off.