I’ve left the BetterRecords.com website open in my browser for the last several weeks with the intent to write a post about their approach to offering higher fidelity. You can check the site out for yourself but please promise to keep your credit cards in your wallets. The people behind the site have managed to make a living (don’t know if they’re thriving but with outrageous prices I would think so) by shopping for classic vinyl LPs from the used record stores and evaluating them in search of those made from a “Super Hot Stamper”. Once they locate an album that measures up to their rigorous standards, they sell these used records on their site for up to $1000 per record. Is this really a business model that can work?
Their FAQ section talks about their business process and strategy. When asked why the standard commercially available, used vinyl LPs they sell can be worth many hundreds of dollars, they answered: “We freely admit that we paid south of twenty bucks each at local stores for most of the records on our site. We pay what the stores charge, and most rock records are priced from five to twenty bucks.” Then they explain how much money they have to generate each day in order to pay for their operation and work the math backwards to arrive at the cost of the albums. The bottom line is this little company is marking up the records they purchase and evaluate as much as 150 times or more! They have to sell a few discs everyday to meet their costs. Is that really the way to judge fidelity? By how much your operation costs rather than by the quality of the listening experience?
They explain: “No two copies of a record sound the same. That’s the undeniable reality of the analog LP, as well as the driving force that turned what started out as a hobby into a full-fledged livelihood for us. We’re happy that you’ve landed on our site and happier still to tell you about the very special pressings we have to offer.
Many people find the ideas (and the prices!) on this website shocking. Frankly, they would be shocking to us too if we weren’t hearing such dramatic differences in the sound quality of the large numbers of copies we play every day.”
I agree that vinyl LP pressing can sound different. Knowing the production path that a source analog tape recording takes on its way to a retail ready vinyl record, it is possible that the first pressing from a new stamper will sound slightly better than the 1000th pressing. The stampers need to be replaced after a limited number of pressings because as physical pieces of metal, they can wear down. But the difference in fidelity from first to last is not as dramatic as these guys claim — not even close. They difference between a vinyl LP that has been remastered vs. an original pressing might be noticeable. However, there is no such thing as a “white hot stamper” and the measurable difference in dynamic range, frequency response, noise floor, or musicality produced by all stampers associated with a vinyl release is minimal. These guys are ripping unknowing customers off.
A couple of albums caught my attention as I looked through the site. The first is one of the best selling recordings of all time — “Rumours” by Fleetwood Mac. There is a framed copy of this album and 29 platinum CDs in the rear of my building. My friend, and now tenant, Ken Caillat was one of the engineers on that record. I related a story that he shared with me about the last minute transfer of the instrumental and vocal overdubs back to the safety copy of the rhythm tracks because 1700 hours of studio time had reduced the fidelity of the oldest tracks to almost nothing! The sound of Rumours is remarkable good but would you pay $750 for a used copy? There is a collectors edition of the record (including a newly pressed LP, DVD-Audio version, Behind the Scenes DVD, and collectors edition booklet) for much less than that. I can guarantee you that the new pressing will sound better than any used pressing made by an alleged “white hot stamper”.
White Hot Stamper – Fleetwood Mac
Our Price: $749.99
• WOW — just the second Triple Triple Rumours (A+++ on BOTH SIDES) to hit the site the last five years!
• This copy has everything! It’s amazingly huge and full-bodied with tons of presence and energy
• A Better Records Top 100 title, and a truly amazing recording
• A 5 star album in the AMG: “An album that simply exists outside of criticism and outside of its time”.
The second album I noticed is one that I know personally. My first studio job was a Mama Jo’s in North Hollywood, California — the home of David Pack and the rest of Ambrosia. I worked on a couple of their recordings including “One Eighty”. It was recorded on a Stephens 24 track 2″ analog machine and mixed to an MCI 2-track deck running at 30 ips. Another very good sounding record but mastered for commercial radio release. I have several copies of this record in the original shrink wrap. Maybe I should offer them up for $75 per album.
Super Hot Stamper
Ambrosia – One Eighty
Our Price: $99.99
• With two soft rockin’ Double Plus (A++) or better sides, this copy is doing Ambrosia’s fourth album proud
• Prodigious bass, powerful dynamics, analog Tubey Magical richness and choruses that get big and loud are the hallmarks of our Hot Stamper copies
• Exceptionally quiet vinyl, Mint Minus on both sides – we almost never find them this quiet!
• One Eighty has an excellent mix of rockers and softer pop ballads. The last track, “Biggest Part Of Me”, no matter how many times you’ve heard it, on the radio, wherever you happen to be, is unabashed Soft Rock Magic, the way Bread’s big ballads are Soft Rock Magic, and we make no apologies for loving the hell out of them both
The world needs better recordings. I like to think that I’ve contributed to the advancement of the audio engineering art in this record. What we don’t need is paying stupid money for used records from a company like Better-Records.com. You would be much better served by buying a new transfer from the original master tapes to “high-resolution” PCM digital from HDtracks. And think of the money you’d save.