Better Records — Right Concept, Wrong Implementation
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.
27 thoughts on “Better Records — Right Concept, Wrong Implementation”
finally expose the conmen, thank YOU!
Thanks for the post Mark.
Beyond any question of vinyl’s sound quality is the much bigger picture of honesty and integrity in the High Fidelity industry. Heck due to things like rarity, condition, etc; it’s not unusual for collector items in other areas to carry greatly inflated $ values. Thousand dollars records is small potatoes in the shadows of the promotion of things like $6k power cords, the varying sound of digital stream carrying cables, USB magic widgets, I won’t go on. 🙂
As a recording engineer I hope you get the amount of respect due for your accomplishments, I think you do from most. But we on the other side of the console – The Audiophiles (it almost makes me cringe to say the word) have become the laughing stock of sane, common sense, technically minded people. Get into a conversation with a group of educated outsiders and have the talk come around to something of possible real value like HDA, once you start to talk on the subject as a person with some real knowledge on the subject, you’re very libel to get that look. (oh your one of them LOL). Then someone else will ask you with a smirk about a story he read in The New Yorker?, a reviewer discussing the varying sounds from using different materials of $1k a set of cable risers to keep his $5000 speaker wires off the carpet. SIC
There are always unscrupulous people in every industry. But a major portion of High Fidelity’s insiders has completely run off the tracks when it comes to having anyone in the main stream reporting facts with near any level of integrity and truthfulness. From the manufacturers and their sudo-science claims to the magazine reviewers, to website masters selling advertisements and looking for hit numbers. There’s very little a layman can trust any more.
It’s a sad state of affairs.
Thanks for all you do to keep the industry from completely drowning in it’s BS
No two copies of a record sound the same.
Gosh says it all! The fact that records pressed in different countries, the thickness of one to another varied enough to stuff most peoples VTA settings on the tone arm turned me right off vinyl let alone all the other problems.
Anyway guess these guys are just taken advantage of the resurgence in vinyl. Most users of vinyl would not know the difference anyway, they are over the moon hearing those mostly bad old analogue recordings played again on a turntable and rubbishing all things digital.
It would beg the comment ” Only in America”. But then how did Trump manage it, probably the ultimate salesman. If you can sell it why not.
People just want to believe what they are told regardless of the facts or evidence.
So have you ever heard one of his white hot stampers?
Have you ever thought of doing what companies like Mo-Fi do? As in, re-mastering a classic album for CD or Hi-Rez release? I know you’ve mentioned that making new recordings has become cost prohibitive lately. Companies like Mo-Fi seem to be able to make a business model out of what they do and I believe I would trust a classic re-master coming from you over what I’ve heard from some other companies that do this.
I have considered licensing and remastering classic albums. However, the real deal would be to remix the classics in surround and stereo like Steve Wilson does. I’ll have to take another look when the book is finished (coming soon).
What can you say? I mean really?
It’s 2016 and people are “still ” paying a premium for antiquated technology. But why? No one with ears could possibly audition both formats and say: “Yep…that’s what I want ” to the vinyl offering. It’s ridiculous!
I can only conclude that “payola” is alive and well……and why am I surprised?
The bean counters are in control. It’s hilarious to watch them all taking it in turns to share the one brain cell.
Apologies for my rant Mark, but it turns my stomach.
I’m just astounded that a company would have the arrogance to buy used vinyl LPs and then crank up the price to match their financial needs. The records are not 150 times better than others.
Without ever having done any type of comparison with any of these “Super Hot Stampers,” because I have bought cars that cost less than what some of these are selling for, I would venture to guess that “Hot’ = loud, and as most that read this site know, loud ≠ better.
Yep, I think they’re looking for louder, less clicks and pops, lower surface noise, less bass collapse etc. All things that improve with PCM digital…huh?
I bought a whole bunch of this stuff at a garage sale several years ago. I paid less than 10 cents apiece, $10 for two boxes containing 110 LPs, many of them seemingly unplayed or played only a few times. There were some Fleetwood Mac records and many of their ilk among them. These are not the kind of recordings I’d pay money for. I’ve never heard more than even a quarter of them but they didn’t seem to wind up in my basement with the other 3000 vinyls. We figured at worst we could use them as cake plates if we decide to gift someone a cake.
M. Fremer once compared an original Living Stereo “Scheherazade” (which he received for this comparison from Tom Port of Better Records) with a re-issue.
I read the article. Mr. Fremer says that pressings can be “all over the map” and he’s right…but even the best ones fall far short of being worth hundreds of dollars.
Think of Better Records as a concierge service for record collectors looking for the best sounding vinyl pressings. Their prices reflect the value of the time they invest into acquiring, evaluating and marketing their inventory. They charge more than I’d be willing to spend, but I have well-off audiophile friends who appreciate this service and are willing to pay for it.
Of course, people can spend money on anything they want — and they do. But they’re getting ripped off if better fidelity is what they’re after. The same album transferred to high-resolution PCM digital and acquired from HDtracks would have superior sound and save them a ton of money. The fixation with vinyl LPs is irrational.
A person should trust blindly a single person they don’t know, with ears unknown, stereo playback system unknown, everything unknown and pay them $600.00 to $800.00 for the privilege of selling them a crapshoot “best pressing” album that they probably already have in their collection in the first place? Who would do that?
Apparently, enough people with stupid money to keep these guys in business.
So I went and looked at the top 100 the company lists and I have well over half of them from when they were released. I never got rid of my albums from back in the day. I wonder how many of mine are stampers??
So did Ambrosia ever record their rendition of “Duke of Earl” that you are aware of? I heard them perform it live one time, then saw them a few months later and yelled for it from the crowd only to have them say “someone has seen us before”. They didn’t perform it that second time and I have not seen them since.
Ambrosia…now that brings back some memories. I worked at the studio where they recorded their hits and were managed. They were a great band.
Prior to this blog, I had vaguely heard of this operation without understanding exactly what it did. So thanks for the enlightenment Mark.
I really need to say nothing about the scandalous nature of this business. However I’m also inclined to think that anyone falling for this rather extreme line in BS probably deserves to be ripped off. Talk about having more money than sense.
All of us who have collected vinyl know how variable pressing quality can be, so my overriding feeling when reading your blog was why don’t people stop dropping silly amounts of cash chasing rainbows when they can buy a quality dac from Benchmark (my favorite), put on some CDs/hi-res files and never worry about quality consistency again, far exceeding the capabilities of an old and flawed format. Then, if money’s still burning a hole in their pockets, give it to a worthwhile charity or invest it. But for goodness sake don’t keep these charlatans at BetterRecords a reason to stay operational.
Just when you think the audio industry couldn’t stop lower, along come more con artists to prove you wrong.
I is indeed unfortunate that the high-end audio business is full of dishonesty and snake oil sales people. The Better Records things is just blatant that I had to comment.
At the moment they offer a White Hot Stamper of “The Wall” by Pink Floyd with TRIPLE PLUS (A+++) SOUND FOR ALL FOUR SIDES OF THE WALL! for the “bargain” price of $999,99.
first of all a record recorded 60 yrs ago in analog is not going to sound better being kicked to digital then mastered for hd tracks,,,, go ahead get that 60 yr old master tape and do a 96kh 24 bit digital transfer and guaranteed a nm og pressing will rip that digital file to pieces ,it wont even be close , but lets say you want a radiohead album that was recorded with pro tools, and you do a new remaster 96 /24 that vinyl record that you buy at zia or amoeba for 32.50 wont stand a chance,, the hd file will smoke it,,,,,,, digital music can sound really great but lets be realistic
Sorry I didn’t get to your comment sooner. I have to disagree with your assertion that a good transfer from a 60-year old master tape to 96/24 PCM digital using a high-end ADC will lack fidelity vs a new pressing. An analog pressing or even a straight copy to another analog tape will lose fidelity — the digital copy will not. It will sound indistinguishable from the analog tape master.
I was floored when I read this. It reminds me of the old saying that there is a sucker born every minute. There was a old audio cartoon that basically said that the audiophile was drawn to vinyl due to the extra cost and inconvenience.
I wanted to share with you a recent discovery I made with digital playback. I ‘ve been looking for a digital transport, as mine are getting a bit long in the tooth. I stumbled across the Sony UPB-X1000/X-1100 units. They play all formats, and what is even better, for those of us who still like two channel, they have a feature that doubles the sample rate of CD/DVD by a factor of two (44.1 and 48 KHz to 88.2 and 96 KHz). It does make a noticeable improvement with CD’s, and I would argue that the sound quality from this is better than the majority of streaming services. The units also support streaming apps such as You Tube music. There is a lot of current classical recordings that have excellent sonic playback, and this doubling of the sampling frequency also works with the streaming that is 44.1 or 48 KHz as well.
It also allows conversion of SACD to PCM, which outputs a PCM of 176.4 KHz. While I understand your issues with SACD, I would argue that the SACD discs still provide a measure of improvement over standard CD playback.
In summary, these players provide a measure of hi-res playback capability. I found these to work better as a transport than my Oppo BDP-105, which is saying something.
Thanks Keith. I wouldn’t disagree with you assessment of the SACDs sounding better than a traditional CD. But so much depends on the fidelity of the production methods and not the recording format.