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Positive Feedback ISSUE 68
Ray Hey, I'm a doctor too Chowkwanyun, Crazed Head of the Positive Feedback Office of Crazed Albeit Scientific Research
For years now, Tom Port has been selling Hot Stampers©. He painstakingly listens to many copies of the same recording to find the few great sounding ones which he calls Hot Stampers (the website is Better Records, not Hot Stampers). When you pay $100 for a copy of Who's Next the left side of the brain says, "Hey, you could pick that up for a quarter at the used record store. Are you out of your freakin' mind?" So, is it Kool Aid or is it the Real Thing as Cole Porter would ask?
The needle hit the groove. I had places to go and things to do. I didn't go anywhere. The things remained undone. I was riveted to the spot by the sound of the Hot Stamper of Who's Next (side one) pouring out from my speakers (stacked Eminent Technology 8B's and Hsu 12 inch subs). It was the very definition of involving. Nay, addicting is more like it. All is as Tom & Crew described it. I was drinking the Kool Aid now and I quote:
But what the Classic is missing is what the best Tracks have in spades: weight and whomp. There's a POWER to the sound that the Classic only hints at. The crashing guitar chords that are the hallmark of The Who Sound in general and Who's Next in particular lack the weight of the real thing; they don't punch you in the gut the way Townsend no doubt wanted them to. (And Glyn Johns too, one of our favorite engineers of all time). Moon's drums don't blast away like cannons on the Classic. Folks, this is The Who's sound. Everybody who's ever seen them live knows it. (I saw them back in the day when Moon was still behind his kit and I'll never forget it.)
I guess you can say that Classic did the best they could, but when you hear a good Track copy like this, one that can REALLY ROCK, there's no going back. Playing the Classic you would never suspect that you're missing very much of the Who Sound, but of course, in the world of records, everything is relative. You can't know what you're missing until the right record shows it to you. This is why we play so many copies of the same record—we're looking for the one that has the sound we've never heard before.
I'm A Reissue
The other problem with the Classic is that, as good as it is, it has that "I'm A Reissue" sound all through the mids and highs. It can't hold a candle to the good Brits in terms of sweetness, smoothness, spaciousness, richness, presence, life, texture and all the other things we talk about endlessly on our site.
Tubey Magical Acoustic Guitars? Not gonna happen on the Classic. British Track LP only. Multiply that times every instrument on the album and you have a list of what's better about the Track.
You Want to Turn The Volume DOWN? Are You Out of Your Mind?
Now if you want to play this record at 70dB, little of this discussion will make sense. There are some dumb ideas floating out there in Audiophile land, but this has to be one of the dumbest. Anybody who plays a record like Who's Next at moderate levels should be taken out and hosed down. How do you think Townsend went deaf, by playing his music too softly? He played his music LOUD because that's the way he wanted you to hear it. Moon beats the hell out of his drums because he likes the sound of drums beaten HARD. If you don't have the stereo to play this record right, don't make excuses and DON'T make up bizarre theories about volume levels in the home. You're not fooling anybody with those kinds of rationalizations. If your speaker distorts that's your problem, pal. Don't lay that trip on me.
Some of us have done our homework and take pride in what we've managed to accomplish. We've been challenging ourselves and our systems with records like Who's Next and Aqualung for thirty years. We know how good these records can sound on systems that have what it takes to play them. If you're not going to turn up the volume, don't waste your money on a good Track pressing. Buy the Classic; at 70 db it will probably sound good enough. Spend the money you save on wine and cigars—an audiophile cliché of course, but one that tends to hold true in my experience for those who play their records quietly.
Geez, Tom, don't hold back. Tell us what you really think. (Classic is the Classic Records re-issue. Track is the British Track pressing.)
Herewith, mine own comments on the Hot Stamper of Who's Next (Side One graded A++). The Hot Stamper is better because it is so relaxed. The tonal balance is just right, natural and transparent. From the first notes of Baba O'Riley, the synth notes dance between the speakers. The Moon Man's cymbals come crashing through. Daltrey's voice growls Out here in the fields. The aforementioned crashing flamenco guitar chords. You can almost see the blood on the strings. The synth notes hanging in the air. The Ox burrowing down in his subterranean explorations. The Moon Man unleashed on the tubs.
This is the Who Sound—thoroughly working class in the best sense of that phrase. Have you seen the clip of them playing at the Concert for New York? Check it out.
Typical of the Who, they didn't hesitate when invited. They didn't make up some maudlin rubbish on the spot about towers burning. No, they played Who Are You, Baba O'Riley, Behind Blue Eyes and Won't Get Fooled Again. The classic songs. The songs the audience wanted to hear. Needed to hear with the horror of 911 barely a month old (see the fist pumping enthusiasm.) When offered a policeman's hat Roger Daltry declines saying, "I'm not worthy." The spirit of the Who is just so right. We are honoured to be here quoth Pete Townshend. It's not about them. It's about standing up for Western Civ. And how great is it to see Zak Starkey behind the tubs? A real passing of the torch.
I came to Hot Stamperism via a route completely independently of Tom. I'd known in an intellectual sense that all pressings of the same record weren't the same. I'd heard about the quest for an S1 Pines. (The RCA company used to very considerately put the stamper number at the end of their records so S1 would indicate a pressing made from the first stamper.) Then I bought a used copy of Linda Rondstadt's of Livin' in the USA which sounded great except that it had the mother of all warps. My Benz cartridge tracked it like a champ but still the optic of watching it do the high jump was disturbing. No problemo. Just go down to the friendly local used record store and pick up a flat copy, right? I cleaned it up and played it. Houston, we have a problem. It did not sound like the warped pressing. It was closed in and a veil had been drawn across the music. So I buy two more copies and none of them sound as good as the warped copy that I started with. That's when it dawns that different pressings can sound very different and the good ones are few and far between. There I let it rest for many years till I stumbled on the Better Records website.
You don't have to get your hot stampers from Tom & Company. You could go down to your local friendly used record store to try to pick up some cheap copies of the target album. If you're lucky there'll be more than one copy in stock. Then you'd have to play each of them to see if your luck holds out and one of the copies you bought turns out to be a Barn Burner ©. If you have the time, you could try to duplicate what Tom & Company do.
It's a matter of personal choice. I personally am grateful to Tom & Co. for doing all the heavy lifting for what I guess works out to be sub minimum wages. Takes a lotta time to play all those albums. Not to mention mental burnout from hearing the same tracks over and over.
I'm sure Tom wouldn't approve of my system. He has a regrettable tendency to blame your system for being outdated if you say his Hot Stampers are not so hot. What would he make of the System that Time Forgot ™? I used to think it was pretty simple until I sat down to draw a block diagram. Most of the components are no longer made. Still I like to think the presence of a Studer B62 signals audio seriousness.
The one, the only, the stupendous Benz LP cartridge starts us off in the best possible fashion. It rides in a nine inch VPI JPW arm. The LP's ride on a VPI TNT with aluminum platter. Yeah, the one, the only, the original TNT. It's not called the System that Time Forgot for nothing. A Lukaschek interconnect lovingly transports the delicate signals from the Benz to an MFA Lumi Bravo One Charlie running flat out. The four alphanumeric characters SIX SIERRA NOVEMBER SEVEN will send tubeophile pulses racing only to go into overdrive at the presence of KILO TANGO SEVEN SEVEN tubes in the Manley 440 tube amps which drive the speaker tweeter and midrange. Another Manley 440 running KT90's drives the bass. The subs are driven by Manley 500's also running KT90's. Tube power, man!
(There is a Manley Wave preamp between the Lumi and the power amps.)
So you think planars can't rock? The Eminent Technology 8B's will make your pants legs flap. How much so? Loud enough to earn a midnight visit from the City's Finest with a polite request to turn the music down. But I could tell he wasn't, y'know, serious. He was a Whovian fer sure. He understood. You can't play Who's Next at ordinary sound levels. Makes no sense.
Remember this: Doug Sax must be stopped! And your mileage will vary.