Better Records Hot Stampers: Or, how I learned to stop collecting and love listening

We are witnessing an absolute explosion in vinyl. It’s thrilling, but it has also become frankly overwhelming. What matters? The experience of listening, of course. But, how do we know, I mean, how do we really know, what listening experiences are going to be sublime? Too often, collectability becomes our proxy for listening. We’ve all done it - chasing a near mint early pressing, a Japanese or German pressing, a re-press from a label we trust. We all end up with multiple copies of our favorite records, but only listen to one or two of them. And whether we sell them or not, it brings us some comfort to see their going rates on Discogs continue to climb. For me at least, FOMO was a strange driver of my buying habits. I regretted records I *didn’t* purchase, far more often than I regretted purchases I did make, even as I have about a year’s worth of listening in records still sealed on the shelf. I’m even afraid to open some of them because I can see their value is rising. Isn’t that silly? 

I love records. Listening to them, curating a collection, is a joyful hobby. It gets at some need I can't quite name. But, of course, records shouldn't be only for collecting. They are for the pleasure of listening. My philosophy was pretty off-base. I didn’t even perceive it that way, and here’s what got me to realize it, and get out of it. 

Last summer, I came across an original mono pressing of Mingus Ah Um in one of my local shops. It was labelled as a “top copy” and the surface looked pretty good. The price was a little absurd, and considering I had the OneStep and the Classic Records pressings, I wasn’t sure I needed it. But, this is an album I loved, even as a kid, even on digital, and a first pressing held a lot of allure. I took some time to think about it, do some online comparison shopping, and by the time I got back to the shop, it was gone. In a fit of pique, I bought the copy Better Records was selling. It was listed as a Super Hot Stamper, and it was slightly cheaper than the copy the shop was selling. With a 30-day no-questions-asked return policy, it seemed a safe bet.

Well, you can imagine my disappointment when it arrived a few days later. Nicely boxed for shipping, I unsleeved what was clearly a later pressing. My disappointment magnified when the needle dropped and the first thing I heard was surface noise. I’ve been conditioned by the heavy vinyl renaissance to equate surface noise with a bad-sounding record. 

But then, the instruments kicked in, and from the first notes I could tell I was listening to something really different. It was clear, forward, and dynamic. Nothing harsh, even in the horns, but so much more engaging and rich than I was used to. It was the drum solo partway through the first track that convinced me I was hearing something special in this pressing. I sat and listened to the entire record without doing anything else, and for me, something that holds my attention to where I don’t want to grab my phone or a book is part of what defines a peak listening experience. 

What next? They also had a Super Hot Stamper of Abraxas listed. Owning the Mofi one step, along with a few other pressings, and this being another album I’ve loved for years, I decided to take the challenge that Better Records makes, and see if their copy could unseat my others. The presentation of the hot stamper and the onestep are really different. The hot stamper reaches out and grabs you. The percussion is forward, hitting you right in the chest. The onestep is huger, it fills the room with a massive soundstage. The instruments on the onestep are less differentiated, except (on my system, at least, which tends to be bright) for the chimes and hi hat hits, which absolutely stand out on the onestep. The onestep has some tape hiss I don’t hear on the hot stamper early pressing. I love a black background, which my tube preamp doesn’t really have in the first place, so I find that tape hiss a little objectionable, since it further compromises a weak spot in my system. My thirteen year old prefers the mofi; I prefer the hot stamper. At this point, the hot stamper is bound to be a lot cheaper than you'd pay for the mofi, and you can consider it a toss-up between the two - they have different attributes.

I’m an empiricist, so naturally I looked up the matrix numbers on Discogs. For $30 I purchased a copy that had matching matrix numbers, at least as close as I could get them. (You feel kinda stupid when you send a discogs seller three messages saying, “but would you say that’s a faint N or a faint Z scrawled in the deadwax?” Enough already. Just buy the stupid thing.) The discogs copy had a family resemblance to my hot stamper in terms of its sound, and it was also in near mint condition with no evident listening damage. But, the experience is different. The hot stamper simply sounds more real and immediate. I recognize what I’m describing is the complete opposite of A/B double-blind testing, but which is the copy I keep putting on, feeling engrossed and enlivened by with spin after spin? (The miniscule writing in the dead wax was indeed not identical, so the experiment wasn’t perfect, but it was enough for me to have trust that hot stampers are a good value proposition for me. It sure beats buying a stack of copies at $5-$25 and picking out your favorite from them.) 

Now I’m now ten Hot Stampers in, and planning to cool it, at least for a little while. I’ve been able to get many of my favorites (Stardust, Rumors, Mahavishnu, some Zeppelin, some Ella, some Beatles) in Hot Stamper format. That’s good enough for me while I start thinking about a speaker upgrade. I can say this has been true in my experience - no matter how many other pressings of a title you have, if you buy a Better Records Hot Stamper, you can play it in a “shootout” style against the rest of your stack of that title, and you will find that either it bests them all, or at very least, it gives you a different presentation that you will value and want to hold on to. For me, this has been true for ten of the eleven purchases I’ve made. Try it sometime. Even if you start with the regular hot stampers, you’ll hear they are different.

So, although I have a very collectable collection that I hope and expect will hold its value over the years to come, it is with joy, relief, and a sense of relaxation that I shift my record-buying focus now to listenability rather than collectability. As we cope with the ever-growing onslaught of new pressings and inflation in the prices we’re seeing on discogs, listenability is a great way to cut through the noise and put your record-buying money where it matters. 

It is really hard to buy for listenability anywhere other than on Better Records. Maybe if you have a friend who wants to sell you some of his records, you could do it. But, if you’re buying on Discogs or ebay, you’re not buying for how things sound. Occasionally, you can hear listening descriptions as part of the seller’s grading, but those are not comparisons to other pressings of the same title. And, as much as I like to support my local record stores, when it comes to listening first as a basis for buying, you can basically forget about it.

I’ve been formulating these thoughts for a while, but not sure why I’d want to post them. I mean, who wants to drive more customers to this guy when I still want to buy his merchandise, and some titles already sell out within seconds of listing, before I can even make up my mind? But, here you have it. Merry Christmas, I guess. Add my voice to the choir - you can buy better records hot stampers with confidence.


Great post. Really.

but not sure why I’d want to post them. I mean, who wants to drive more customers to this guy when I still want to buy his merchandise, and some titles already sell out within seconds of listing, before I can even make up my mind?

Now, where have I heard this before? Oh yeah:

I heard about Better Records from a guy here about 2 years ago. Bought quite a few since and was thinking probably about a dozen but just had a look and no, 2 dozen! 

You hit all the key points. They are used, sometimes noisy, but they have a live you are there master tape quality that grabs your attention like nothing else. They are expensive but they start expensive, so it is not like they're going to appreciate because there never was any collectibility factor. The whole point is to enjoy listening to them, and at that they are damn hard to beat.

Your hot wax story is funny. I have an original Rumours and it is identical to my White Hot Stamper right down to the hot wax. Rumours was my first purchase and I scrutinized that copy with a microscope trying to figure out what the hell is going on. They are absolutely identical, no way anyone could ever tell them apart- except by playing, then there is no comparison. I've demo'd this with a friend who this is one of his reference tracks and he was floored. 

We compared it with the limited release 45 which is my second best sounding copy, and it is quiet but that's about it. The music just isn't there. I have a bunch of these now and a lot of other very good sounding pressings. I don't collect them, I buy only because I like the music and will listen to it often. There are a lot of very good sounding records on the shelf, it is easy to come over and hear them and say what do you mean, better than this? That is what my friend said after hearing the 45. "That is gonna be hard to beat." Then the WHS positively creams it.

It is a very unique business model. Not for everyone. But for those of us who crave the very best in you are there sound quality, without taking the plunge to open reel, it is awfully hard to beat Better Records.

Gotta say--after some good/bad experiences with Discogs--what a crap shoot--i went to Better Records--i've only bought 2--one Hot and one White Hot--and honestly i couldn't tell the difference between those two classifications but both were absolutely spectacular!!  When i have a record i want to replace (i lost some 800 albums in a Houston flood) i will only go to them, but i will be judicious

Been buying from Tom (better records) for three years now, it's no joke. Yes, expensive, but to me and my ears, worth it. 

I'll have to give it a try.  I've stayed away because of the higher prices, but Discogs is a joke.

Hi millercarbon! I saw your original thread, and I agreed with everything you said there, along with a few others. It helped me feel confident diving in to Better Records, so thank you for that. By the way, I posted a condensed version of this post on your thread, but after a week or so, no pickups or responses, so a buddy of mine suggested I just start a new thread. 

Wyoboy and audioguy, thanks for sharing your experiences. It's nice to hear from other people who give it a try and become repeat customers. 

Wow! So far a love-fest for Better Records! Go figure.

Any of you who have been to know where I stand on Hot Stampers. They do sound wonderful, and they get even better as your system gets better at playing them. I think this is a point never made and one that needs to be fully appreciated by those of us analog audiophiles  who are SERIOUS about great sound.

I've had the pleasure of hearing a Whit Hot Tea For The Tillerman on Tom's system in Thousand Oaks and, let me tell, it is a thing to behold! I have a very good copy myself and it doesn't sound like that on my system. Not yet at least!

I'd also like to add that Hot Stampers are not only outstanding for the listening experience they offer, but they are an indispensable resource for TT set up. Want to learn about tweaking your tracking weight, azimuth, anti-skate and arm height? Get a few hot stampers and stop using that heavy vinyl reissue.

Hot stampers are also the way to go when demoing gear. If an amp, cables or a pair if speakers you're considering doesn't make your hot stamper sound better than it already does on your current system then that piece of gear is not the the right direction to go in. Guaranteed!

As MC put it, you cannot beat Hot Stampers for "you are there sound quality." And the more your system brings out that quality the more satisfying this crazy hobby becomes, 

Thanks, and thanks for persevering and starting a new discussion. Another really neat thing about Better Records that often goes unmentioned in the rush to get the sound quality message out, is the quality of the album cover. They are not always perfect of course but I am constantly amazed at how well preserved they all are.

You know how some of us back in the day would carefully slice the shrink wrap with a razor blade? I have a couple of them like this, they are like beyond mint! Yes the shrink wrap is still on there! Maybe even more impressive are the ones where the shrink wrap was removed and yet the album still looks like new!

The LP is of course in a brand new sleeve, but the original is also included. This is all inside a larger heavy duty vinyl sleeve. So what I do is keep everything in that thick sleeve. The LP itself goes in and out of the sleeve, it never goes back in the original cover, and this way it can be pulled out and played a lot and still never put any wear on the album cover.

Except every once in a while when it is so nice to be able to pull one out and think just how incredibly rare a thing it is to have such a high level of music and art so well preserved. Truly amazing.

A few years ago I bought an A++ copy of The Doors and I paid a pretty penny for it. When it arrived the jacket was not in good condition at all. Of course, most of the jackets for early pressings of The Doors are not in good condition, but nevertheless I was a little disappointed.

No matter, I went on Discogs and found another copy for a great price that had a nice jacket. I swapped that jacket for my Hot Stamper and ended up selling that copy for more money than I paid for it!

so as far as better records is concerned, do yourself a favor, get acquainted with what is in the deadwax.  Not all records are made or mastered the same.  Some pressing plants are better than others.  Learn the symbols, then you will have BETTER RECORDS!

tzh21y, I really wish it was that simple! I'd have been able to save so much money. A couple times now I've directly compared a Better Records hot stamper to a similar/identical copy, in terms of the deadwax. The hot stamper bested it. I've even started to clean them using the Walker system, and the hot stamper still beats the same pressing. I really think it's true that you have to listen to 10-20 copies, they will all sound different, and then you pick the winner. No shortcuts. Hence I hire a company to do that work for me. Sometimes, the difference is subtle, but the hot stamper has always been better. When I crank up the volume, those subtle differences can become more pronounced. 

millercarbon and brokenrecord, I agree about the covers! As a kid, I'd grip the cover while listening to the record. Sometimes reading the lyric sheet, sometimes just looking at the picture. Now, I find I'm doing that again. Vinyl is such a multisensory experience, not just aural but also tactile. A good cover is part of the joy. 

One of my white hots is Ella Fitzgerald's Clap Hands Here Comes Charlie. It's got tons of spindle marks - this was clearly a well-played and well-loved record. The cover is still in shrink, with really minimal corner dings and bending. Who knows if this record has always been with this cover, but I'm glad they are paired now. It adds up to a wonderful experience. (In comparison, my Classic Records copy has a nicely reproduced cover and cleaner-sounding vinyl. But, it just doesn't put Ella in the room with you.) 

It’s the holidays. I humbly suggest that if you are into analog go buy at least one better record. You deserve it.

‘Try to buy one that you have in your collection that you really like and consider demo quality. This will give you a standard to judge other records. Remember you might have some Hot Stampers in your collection.

Better Records also does a phenomenal cleaning of the records. So make sure you clean your existing records the best you can.

 I have about 20+ Hot Stampers and White Hot Stampers. Haven’t got a bad one yet. Also having the Better Records, I realized I also have some very good sounding albums. Would be considered White Hot Stamper.

joe nies

That's what I did. Started with one I knew well and already had 3 good copies- original vintage and two remasters, including a half speed and a 45. The White Hot Stamper creamed them all, and I mean not even close.

Better Records even improved my playback of all records. First by Tom turning me on to his preferred Walker Enzyme cleaning solutions, which are indeed better than the Disc Doctor I had been using, and secondly by getting me more into a better higher quality listening session routine. Before Better Records I would occasionally do things like demagnetize and anti-static. Now I am much more consistent, and this has paid off both in higher sound quality as well as improved listening skills. It simply is harder to get good without developing routines. That would be like a racing driver checking tire pressure only every once in a while. Yes, I learned about that at autocross. Professionals have routines for a reason. We should too.

I'd echo Joe on his comment. Owning and listening to Hot Stampers has helped me understand what makes a record truly sound great, and this has helped me discover the gems (and the duds!) in my collection.

Yet ONE MORE benefit of the Hot Stamper!

Those of you who enjoy Hot Stampers, I wonder if you use high-sensitivity speakers and low-powered amps? Or do you use the high-powered amp / low-efficiency speaker combination that seem to be more popular these days? 

I'm currently in the low-sensitivity camp, but considering a switch to high-sensitivity speakers.


Moab, 98dB, 20W Raven Blackhawk. Switching to high sensitivity speakers like Tekton, or even higher sensitivity than that, is a huge step in the right direction that will greatly, vastly improve your odds of reaching a really high level system. Why? Simply because it is so much easier to find really amazing sounding amps under 20 watts than 100 watts or more. 

You can for example get a $1800 Decware amp that will be hard to beat for any amount of money- but only when paired with 102dB speakers. This drives some people crazy, but it's the truth. 

This also is very much in line with the whole Hot Stamper philosophy. Not efficiency per se, but the idea of extracting as much fine inner detail from the original tape as possible. You just don't get that kind of magic with high power. And the volume you want can't be had from low power amps without high sensitivity speakers. They were made for each other.

Why would a low power amp be capable of greater detail than a higher power amp?

I'd like to hear from others on this matter, thecarpathian, but from what I've learned, it's about the quality of the signal. Along these lines, consider Nelson Pass's First Watt project:

I am guessing that dollar for dollar it's easier to get good signal quality at 20W if the amp doesn't have to go up to 500W.

OP Trash / distortion  like out of phase cone breakup or mechanical amplification aka lenses, horns, compression drivers and series wired sources all count as output aka sensitivity…. the price of a pistonic driver is more power , like all things it’s a tradeoff.  But in general far easier to get lower distortion out of an active gain device than a transducer…. Otherwise ALL of us would be using the 300 B and musical instrument speakers…sure some do and are happy…. :-) How is your extensive and comprehensive hot stamper collection coming along ?

also, a careful look at my systems will reveal ten ( or more ) different speakers and amplifiers. A decent sample size including high efficiency. ;-)

Best to you on your musical journey, each one is different.


also a serious student of Nelson would consider also psychoacoustic and what kinds and amounts of distortion people finds intoxicating for short periods and obnoxious over longer durations. Many of us who are student's of Nelson and other greats like Roger Modjeski ( see Burning amp ) have built variable THD amplifiers…. 

By the way, with the hot , you are level matching…right ? Thought so. Louder is always better…

tomic, I’m trying to parse all that. Sounds like you’re saying that to get a driver that acts like a piston (which minimizes coloration and distortion) you’ve got to drive it with a lot of power. And it sounds like you’re saying to make sure my amp’s adding no distortion. Some types of distortion can make an amp sound good when you demo it, but it fatigues after a while. Like when the TV on display at Best Buy is set on high-contrast. Once you get it home you’ve got to turn that down. Am I catching the points you’re making?

And, as regards my hot stampers, I’ve got to cool it for a while. I’m back to my local used shop, but with a newfound appreciation for all of those 70s and 80s reissues that just sat on peoples’ shelves and are in good condition, sound great, and cost $5. I like this WAY more than overbuying new pressings that end up sounding cleaner but lackluster. 

As for matching sound levels, I try to do that a little when I do shootouts. Just using an spl app on my phone. But, one way to differentiate a hot stamper is when you turn up the volume. Grain and groove wear and bad mastering become easier to notice at louder volumes. The shortcomings are most salient when you go beyond normal listening volumes, but I think they are still having some effect at any volume. 

Hey hot stamper aficionados, I'm wondering which of your hot stampers give you the biggest improvement relative to your other copies of the same album.

From my stack of hot stampers, it's Rumours (beats my Steve Hoffman 45), and Mingus Ah Um (beats my onestep.)

How about you?

it is that simple.  many times during the course of an albums history they are remastered and so on so you have to know the engineers.  It makes a big difference.  there may be a better pressing from plant to plant but I doubt there is that much variation to justify hundreds of dollars.