I installed a new cartridge on my record player about a month ago. I bought my previous cartridge about six years ago during a visit to Japan, when the yen/dollar exchange rate just happened to have hit bottom. It was my first Ikeda cartridge. Isamu Ikeda is a grand master phono cartridge builder, and some consider him the father of moving coil cartridges in Japan, having founded Fidelity Research in 1964. The Fidelity Research FR64 tonearm, and the FR1 and FR7 cartridges were iconic products, but these were rare birds outside Japan in that era.
Ikeda Sound Labs was established in 2011 and continues to manufacture tonearms and cartridges. The original FR1 and FR7 were cantilever-less designs, similar to the Decca cartridges. This design excels at lifelike dynamics, but the cartridges are very difficult to align and can only be used with well-damped tonearms. The modern Ikeda cartridges all employ a cantilever, and can be matched with many different tonearm models. The orange-colored 9TT is in the middle of the range, with the blue-colored 9TP (called Kai in the export market) at the top, and the green-colored 9TS at the entry level. You should be aware of several issues with these cartridges. They are very heavy, and have a very low output of 0.17mV. (The FET/tube cascode input of my phono preamplifier has no problem coping with the low signal voltage without the need for a transformer.)
During the past six years, I have transferred over 600 LPs to DSD using the 9TT cartridge, as well as enjoying it for day-to-day listening. I recently detected more background noise and distortion when playing LPs, and so I decided to replace it with a new one. I love the sound of the 9TT and I have no desire to change. But it brings up the question: how does one decide on which cartridge to buy, other than by reading reviews or consulting with experts? I doubt many dealers are willing to let customers home-audition cartridges, and the performance of a cartridge very much depends on how it matches with the rest of the record player as well as the phono preamplifier. Rather than take the risk of ending up with something I wouldn’t like, I went and bought another 9TT.
To be honest, I have been listening to tapes more than anything else nowadays, having accumulated more than 200 titles. Most of my tapes are copies of production masters, made for me by mastering engineers who operate or used to operate mastering facilities, and I have also bought commercial titles from The Tape Project, Analogue Productions, Horch House and Reel to Reel Tapes Russia. It is always interesting to compare the LPs and tapes of the same recordings. Having installed the new cartridge, I decided to look through my LP collection and re-evaluate the more interesting titles, some of which I have not heard for years or even decades.
I would like to share my findings with Copper readers as I go through my collection. This is not a “Best LPs” list in the vein of “The Super Disc List” that Harry Pearson began publishing in The Absolute Sound magazine (and which is still published today at various intervals). I find such lists useful in helping me discover new music, but I certainly do not confine myself to “audiophile” recordings. In fact, I almost never buy records unless the music interests me. Some of the recordings on my list rarely appear on the radar screen of audiophiles, but nevertheless have astonished me with their technical excellence. I have chosen the recordings for their sonic merit; I do not feel I am qualified to judge the merit of the musical performances and will therefore only make some passing comments on this aspect.
Why confine the scope of this survey to just analog recordings? One of my previous articles touched on the merits of analog and digital recordings. I was most actively buying records and learning about music at a time when digital recording was still in its infancy, and I have been too busy with the responsibilities of being a working adult and a parent in the past two decades to keep up with new recordings. However, I genuinely believe that most of the great recordings (in the classical repertoire anyway) were made between the early 1950s and the late 1970s. Classical music labels at that time had the financial resources to devote to recording projects, whereas nowadays, music has become a commodity with limited profit potential. During the analog age, recording engineers had to rely on getting everything right during the sessions, whereas it is all too easy nowadays to correct mistakes during post-production, but the result is never optimal. I also find the sonic results of the simple microphone techniques of yesteryear more desirable than that of employing multiple microphones, typical of modern digital recordings. Furthermore, most music nowadays is consumed on headphones, earbuds, car audio systems and computer speakers. There is just not much incentive for record producers to prioritize sound quality.
Readers need to understand that the sound quality of an LP does not necessarily reflect that of the recording itself. It is useful to reiterate the process of making an LP in order to understand the factors that can affect the sound quality. Before the widespread use of multi-track, sessions were recorded onto two-track or three-track tapes. Decca engineers typically used eight to 12 microphones, and mixed the inputs in real time onto two-track tape. At RCA and Mercury, three-track tape was used, and this was mixed into stereo during post-production. This is more desirable, because every extra track adds 3 dB of noise, hence the need to use noise reduction systems in multi-track setups, which are another potential source of signal degradation. If multi-track tape was used, this was usually mixed into stereo before editing.
Some companies might edit the session tapes directly, or make a copy for editing. The edited tape with all the splices is called an edited work part, and will then be transferred with the necessary corrections (frequency response adjustments, added reverb etc.) to create a master. Multiple masters, called safety masters, are often created for backup purposes. Again, 3 dB of additional tape hiss is added every time the tape is copied. A copy made using high-quality, well-maintained and properly aligned professional tape machines has barely-discernible differences from the original.
The studio master is then copied to make production masters, which are sent to mastering facilities in the different markets for LP and cassette production. The lacquer for producing LPs is usually cut directly from this master. The necessary compression, RIAA equalization and so on are usually applied during transfer from the tape to the cutting lathe, although another tape copy incorporating these changes is occasionally made. This is a crucial stage for ensuring the sound quality of the final product, but the engineer is sometimes constrained by commercial and practical considerations. For example, the length of the program might necessitate the use of compression in order to fit onto one side of an LP. While it makes no difference whether a reel of tape has 20 or 30 minutes of music, or even longer if one uses larger flanges, it makes a great deal of difference to an LP. The closer the groove is cut towards the center of the record, the higher the distortion. Groove width needs to be reduced, which means lower dynamic headroom. When faced with these constrains, the skill and experience of the mastering engineer come into play.
Once the lacquer is cut, it is sent to be electroplated with nickel to produce a negative image called the father. The father can be used to stamp records, with a limit of only 1,500 disks, but the sound quality starts to deteriorate long before reaching this number. In order to produce a larger quantity of records, the father is electroplated to create a mother, which in turn is used to create a number of stampers. Each step will result in a little loss in sound quality, which is why some audiophile labels release limited edition LPs (usually 300 to 500 copies) stamped directly from the father.
The quality of an LP therefore depends on the skill of the mastering engineer and the care he took to cut the lacquer. It depends on the quality of the work to create the stampers. It depends on the quality control process and rejecting substandard disks. It depends on the vinyl formulation used, and the age of the stamper used to produce that particular disk. On the second hand market, Decca LPs originally sold in the UK often command a higher price than their London-branded (the Decca trademark belonged to another company in the US) LP counterparts originally sold in the US. However, the Decca and London LPs have the same dead wax markings, meaning the same lacquer was used and the LPs were pressed in the same plants in England. Decca later moved their record production to Holland. Once again, for the same title, the Made in England LPs are usually more valuable, but I find some of the Made in Holland LPs can actually be sonically superior, probably because they were manufactured at a later date with a more advanced process.
On the other hand, to name another example, the Angel LPs sold in the US were made in the US, and are generally inferior to the equivalent Made in England EMI LPs.
For a long time, I had the impression that Decca recordings are far superior overall to EMI recordings. However, after having listened to some EMI master tapes and contemporary reissues, I have to revise my opinion. Decca recordings are still superior, but the margin is not so wide. I can only come to the conclusion that the LP production part of EMI was letting this side of the manufacturing process down.
In general, I find the recent audiophile reissues generally more consistent and are of higher quality than the original issues, since each production run is likely to be far smaller and more care is taken to preserve the best-possible sound quality.
Malcolm Arnold, London Philharmonic Orchestra – English, Scottish and Cornish Dances
Lyrita Recorded Edition SRCS 109
Since Harry Pearson’s Super Disc List has already been mentioned, we might as well start with one of his favorite LPs. I have to thank HP for helping me discover this record label. Lyrita was an independent English music label with a mission to promote British composers. It had released about 100 LPs before closing its doors, reemerging again several years later to market CDs of their catalog. The company did not have its own recording team, and outsourced its projects to Decca. The LPs were initially pressed by Decca, later by Nimbus, and finally by EMI. Many experts consider the Decca and Nimbus pressings superior to those by EMI. The sound quality of these LPs is consistently excellent. Most music lovers are probably familiar with British composers such as Holst, Britten, Elgar, Walton, Vaughan Williams and Arnold, but the Lyrita catalog also contains lesser-known works of these composers, as well as works of more obscure composers not found elsewhere. I bought a bunch of these LPs when the company held a stock clearance before ceasing business activities in the late 1980s.
The music on this LP is very accessible, perhaps a bit lightweight but quite endearing. You might have heard snippets of it on the radio or even on TV adverts if you live in the UK. Hearing it is one of those, “Ahhh, this is where it comes from!” moments. The sound is vintage Decca, with a wide soundstage, good separation, beautiful string tone and great dynamics. Is it “Best of the Bunch” as HP claimed? In my opinion, this LP is not amongst Decca’s highest achievements, and not even the best of the Lyritas. The low end can sometimes sound a bit bloated, which muddles the sound during the more complex passages. The string tone can also sound a bit homogenized at times. It is nevertheless an excellent recording overall. Being awarded “Best of the Bunch” by HP, one would expect this LP to have been reissued a million times. Strangely, it has never been reissued since its initial release. As it remains on the Super LP list, expect to pay three figures for a good copy. Chad, are you paying attention?
Header image: Greg Reierson of Rare Form Mastering. Photo courtesy of Greg Reierson.
24 comments on “Notable Analog Recordings. Part One”
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A great article and thanks for your hard work. I enjoyed my time with my R2Rs and even my cassettes, but now with high bit-rate PCM and DSD/SACD it is hard to go back.
Your honesty about the disadvantages of tape and vinyl are refreshing and, yes, they both can sound wonderful but one must be aware of the mechanical problems with them. As I said in another post, without the advent of tape we would have lost so much music, so for that we should all be grateful.
Now with a tascam DA-3000 under $1K anyone can make great recordings with the right training. It can do DSD and high bitrate PCM as one chooses.
Indeed, the DA-3000 is a great bargain. I have been using it to transfer my LPs and tapes to DSD128, and then Vinyl Studio on a Mac to insert the tracts and titles. It is also very portable and I have been using it for location recording.
Great article, I look forward to the follow up!
For the spectrum of audiophile all analog vinyl reissues and new releases since labels like Acoustic Sounds started in the late 80’s, in all respect for your big knowledge all around, I just want to mention again the “very different truth” to the below cited passage of your text, which a few of todays top mastering engineers and also labels/producers of such recordings confirmed (partly in public forums, partly in person by mail).
No, the vinyl is directly cut/mastered from the session master, which is sent to the engineer, there’s no production master copy used
No, there’s no compression used for such releases, mostly not even gain riding
No, there’s no additional inter master used for such releases
But your description is probably more or less usual for most vintage LP releases, which might be in the focus of your article.
Cited from your article:
“The studio master is then copied to make production masters, which are sent to mastering facilities in the different markets for LP and cassette production. The lacquer for producing LPs is usually cut directly from this master. The necessary compression, RIAA equalization and so on are usually applied during transfer from the tape to the cutting lathe, although another tape copy incorporating these changes is occasionally made. This is a crucial stage for ensuring the sound quality of the final product, but the engineer is sometimes constrained by commercial and practical considerations. For example, the length of the program might necessitate the use of compression in order to fit onto one side of an LP.
You are confusing what was done in the past, when Vinyl was a mainstream medium, with what is being done today at reissue labels.
It was impossible to produce tens or even hundreds of thousands of LPs without making production masters. Imagine trying to produce Dark Side of The Moon by cutting directly from the session master. How long do you think it will take a mastering studio to supply all the demand worldwide ?
I have all the sheets to show the provenance of the production masters that I have, if you are interested, including the DOTM.
EMI, for example, had LPs cut in dozens of different locations around the globe, including Melodiya in Russia. Do you think they will send the session master to all these different places ? The session master would never leave the headquarters.
Maybe one of the reasons the modern reissues sound better (in some cases) is because people like Chad can persuade the record labels to send their session masters. The engineers can then remaster from these tapes to their own liking. Here, we are talking about a production of hundreds or at most thousands of high priced audiophile LPs. Whether this is a good thing or not is arguable. The original mastering by the record producer was done with input from the artists. Some artists, such as Glenn Gould, was very particular about how their recordings should sound. If someone today remaster the recordings the way he wants it, does it still reflect the vision of the artists ? I can agree with remasters of Pink Floyd albums by David Gilmour (Roger Waters might not), or Led Zeppelin albums by Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, but would you agree with someone else redoing those albums ? Even though these audiophile reissues might sound “better”, I would argue that my copies of the original production masters are more genuine.
I had a conversation with Donald “Buck Dharma” Roeser of Blue Öyster Cult once. We were discussing the merits of analog versus digital, and the original LPs versus the remastered versions. We agreed that, regardless of whether any remasters were “better” or “worse,” the original LP is the sound of the recording the way that the artists, producers and record company intended for the public to hear it, so in that sense, it’s the most authentic.
This is not to say that some recordings don’t benefit from remastering. BOC’s Imaginos, an early-digital recording available on vinyl, is pretty much unlistenable. Later re-masterings are much better.
I am suspect of any reissue done without the original artists’ input. Who is to decide whether the reissues are, as Adrian notes, “better?”
Remixes can be even worse. I am disappointed with the remixes of the Genesis catalog that were done a couple of (a few?) years ago. There are sections where key guitar solos are buried, and where other parts are brought to the forefront for seemingly no reason. Actually, “disappointed” is too mild a word.
Were the Genesis remix done with input from the original band members such as Peter Gabriel, Steve Hackett and Phil Collins ? They are still active, so no reason not to involve them.
Some pop and rock albums were produced in a slapdash manner to make a quick buck, and so remixing and remastering might make sense, that is if anyone is still interested in these. In my experience, the revered bands and artists were all very meticulous about their products. The remastering engineers should familiarise themselves with the original masters, and try to get as close as possible while correcting any mistakes and deficiencies. But how does one know if something is a fault or a deficiency, esp. with some progressive and psychedelic rock albums ? And great as the current crop of mastering engineers are, do they have the same amount of experience working with great conductors and recording engineers as those who worked at Decca, RCA, EMI etc. ?
Here’s an extensive thread on the subject, including comments from the remixing engineer. At least a couple of Genesis members had input into the remasters.
There are differences of opinion regarding the effectiveness of the remasters. For me, the Peter Gabriel-era Genesis albums are “sacred ground,” as one commenter put it, and any alterations of the musical balances, flawed though people think the originals might be in spots, strike me as painting the proverbial mustache on the Mona Lisa. Especially when things like guitar solos are pushed into the background to be rendered almost inaudible!
It’s true that some of the original LPs have sonic flaws, such as limited dynamic range and/or low-frequency extension. I have to wonder if these could have been fixed without remixing the albums.
I fully agree Adrian, that’s why I related my comment to current audiophile reissues.
Considering that what’s currently produced as commercial tapes from the masters is quite the same material as reissued as audiophile LP’s, I though that matches the discussion better than comparing the audiophile commercial tapes with standard LP releases. Not many have direct contact to mastering engineers like you to get session masters of standard releases from them.
Regarding “the artists and original mastering engineers intent”, I see this with very limited importance to the sound quality and tonality aspects of the release. Reason is the mostly incalculable preconditions of the monitoring surrounding and quality of the mastering/monitoring equipment.
What does it help if this “intent” was e.g. designed and monitored with the speakers lying below the mastering console (as its told of Eagles/Hotel California (as far as I remember) and similar less extreme situations. Mastering engineers often complain what bad influence the artists opinion on sound related decisions is. Certainly that’s different with mixing decisions and very basic sound related decisions.
An excellent point concerning the other side of the coin! Who is the conductor who famously had his speaker or speaker behind the couch, and thus, his LPs were too bright? I can’t recall.
Yes, the artists intent, or the one of the producer at the time (also given their hearing loss, the gear used at the time or for monitoring) brought us definitely much more inferior than good recordings regarding tonality I think (partly genre dependent).
The best proof is, that live the sound was mostly good and in full agreement of artist and audience. Recorded media changes things as there are too many variables involved for a judgement if not done by pro’s.
Frank, the story I remember was that George Szell had his speakers on their sides on the floor behind a sofa. If he made editing decisions based upon home listening that would explain the poor reputation of his Cleveland recordings.
I think the approach to the current tape reissues differ between different companies. I don’t know the details about Analogue Productions Ultratapes, but Horch House for example does not remix or remaster the tape. They try to correct problems that come with aging tapes, and that is it. I have not compared the original masters of recordings Analogue Productions have reissued as Ultratape, and I don’t want to spend more money than necessary. In any case, I have been very happy with their work. I have the tapes for the RCA/Decca Royal Ballet Gala Performance. It is less bright and less forward sounding than the Classics reissue.
Yes, if we further assume that those tape copies (in contrary to all other release types) are unmastered and that the recordings offered as tapes didn’t need much mastering correction, then especially tapes otherwise just released as e.g. rather questionable Grundman remasterings (with too much fiddling with treble EQ), would be very interesting to hear. Under these preconditions I’d love to hear the tape of e.g. Brubeck/Time Out, Mingus Ah Um, most ORG reissues and certainly all Living Stereo ones (at least if I don’t own the original LP’s which due to the cutting/not mastering effects are told to have the real value even if not being the pure feed).
In case tapes have the same mastering of the other alternative releases or in case tapes are unmastered copies of a master that strongly needed mastering corrections to sound balanced, or if anything in the copy chain was less optimal, I assume, a tape version is of less value.
But I’m sure, that with appropriate effort and money in selecting the right ones and being ok that this hobby will probably just cover several dozens or very few hundreds of music releases, one can have real fun with those best versions on tape. I’d personally need retirement with even more time on hand and for sure a little additional money 😉
All tapes sent for LP or cassette duplication would have been mastered (here, we are talking about the “good ol’ days”). The record producer would not have left such an important task to someone else. The mastering generally occurred when the edited work part was copied to produce the studio master. The mastering engineer in charge of creating the lacquer would only be allowed to add RIAA Eq and perhaps compression if necessary to get the signal onto lacquer.
The workflow for the engineers doing the reissues today would obviously be different. They might request the edited work parts (usually the edited session tapes) and master onto a production master or even directly onto lacquer if they are not allowed to keep a master copy. I know Analogue Productions makes a running master on 1/2″ two track for copying onto 1/4″ Ultratapes for their clients. They are probably only allowed to keep the session master for a brief period of time, not sufficient to produce enough copies to satisfy market demand. In any case, they are most likely not allowed to use the ancient master tape to make multiple runs of copying. I don’t know whether they use the same running master to produce their LPs.
For Decca, the “mastering” happened in realtime during the recording session. The microphones fee into their custom 24-track mixer, and then through an Eq board to the two track tape recorder (also developed in-house). They didn’t use limiter or compression as a rule, but they did gain riding. The two track session master was then edited. I don’t know if they did much mastering post-production, but I suspect not much.
So to answer your question, I would dearly love to get my hands on an “unmastered” master, as you put it, as this would mean an edited session tape. I wouldn’t mind not having the mastering, since I can put it through a Cello Audio Palette and adjust the balance to suit my circumstances. However, it is next to impossible to get hold of such early generation tapes, at least those from the major labels.
Thanks Adrian for getting in the details also from your side, needed to get rid of the apples/oranges phase caused by imo not really balanced previous simplifications of the matter.
I’m with you for the first paragraph.
Regarding the second, the one assumption of you is correct (I know from Acoustic Sounds), that LP’s are mastered directly onto lacquer from the edited session master, while the commercial tapes are a 3rd generation (still unmastered/-altered) copy (by the step of the running master you mentioned) from this edited session master. I guess a similar process is valid for most commercial tapes and in comparison audiophile LP’s.
Regarding your last paragraph, sure, to get the original edited session tape would be great…but with “unmastered” I actually also meant each 1:1 x-generation copy of it (like the commercial tapes are). It’s perfect, having the Cello EQ to compensate for not applied but maybe necessary mastering EQ settings, but you’ll have to admit, that probably not all tape machine owners have this luxury. Purists perhaps don’t even prefer having an add. EQ circuit in the chain, even if it’s the best available. But if the result still is superior to the alternative, it must be worth it.
If we then see that (not speaking of the good occasions of flat transfers) EQ’ing is just one measure mastering engineers apply to make master tapes sound right or better at home…but also using tubes, compensating for or fixing anomalies happening during the recording or on the master tape…then I think it must partly be quite a hit and miss or potential compromise what you get with those 3rd generation copies of the work part “edited session master tape”.
My conclusion for the moment is, that it’s probably most worthwhile to get edited session master tape copies, if they are from vintage recordings where LP pressings we’re done from further generations down of mastered copies of the session master, or if they are from masters which would just need a flat transfer anyway (due to perfectly correct tonality from start).
I wouldn’t be surprised if therefore commercial tapes are quite selective by this criteria (the otherwise flat transfer), which certainly limits variety somewhat.
I think if mastering (in terms of altering EQ and otherwise improving the recording) wouldn’t be necessary or helpful on many occasions, no one would pay experts for it. And in case the artist approved the mastered media and not the session tape, the discussion about the artists intent refreshes.
“Regarding your last paragraph, sure, to get the original edited session tape would be great…but with “unmastered” I actually also meant each 1:1 x-generation copy of it (like the commercial tapes are).”
I am still confused by what you are referring to. Are you referring to a safety master or a production master ? These are generally “mastered”, in other words, with all the corrections to make it acceptable as a final product. The only flat master normally in existence would be the edited session master, but I guess some engineers might make copies of that directly for their own purposes. What are sometimes for sale are the safety and production masters that mastering houses get rid of after all the work is done. These masters are usually one or two generations from the studio master, which itself is a mastered copy of the edited work part. It is very rare to find “unmastered” tapes anywhere except in the vaults of the record companies.
I think we just have a misunderstanding.
I mean the case of audiophile productions or remasters directly cut from the edited session tapes and their commercial tape equivalents.
In this case the LP’s are mastered (during cutting) while the commercial tapes are 3rd generation copies of the “unmastered” but edited session master tape. So those commercial tapes are as “unmastered” as the session tape, just 2 generations down.
Sorry, I see what you mean now. I need to confirm with Chad if any mastering is done with the Ultratapes. I know they start with the 3-track session masters whenever they can. I suspect the Decca titles will need very little manipulation, since the mixing and Eq were done during the recording sessions. I am not sure about the RCAs. The equipment used for making the original Living Stereo LPs probably did impart a lot of “character”. These AP tape transfers are clearly superior in terms of “purity”, but also frequency extension and dynamics. I guess if one wants to have the “character”, one can always use antique tube amps etc.
It would be great if you could find out with Chad, as the one I spoke there was not sure. But as it seems, that at least the mastering engineer of the LP and SACD releases wasn’t involved in the tape production, so it would have been someone else and a different result anyway. I really don’t expect anything was done with the tapes except copying. And this implies, they wouldn’t do a tape project of a session master that strongly needed mastering for various possible reasons. So it will be interesting how he rates the different mastering choices for LP (that are not related to cutting necessities, just sound wise) which were not applied to the tapes. At least the tapes must sound different, except in case of completely flat transfers to LP, too.
Another interesting aspect of the matter is the fact how much better e.g. the Kind of Blue LP directly cut from the 3 track tape sounds compared to one cut from a 2 track copy of that tape.
I see no reason why a 2 track tape made from this 3 track tape should sound worse than the LP cut from that 3 track tape, but anyway that’s confusing.
So we have examples how much difference can exist between 2 tape generations, but we meanwhile also know how much gets lost between a one step pressing and the normal process. So it would be interesting to compare how close or not a one step pressing is to the session master and how close a 3rd gen commercial tape. This would bring us closer to the question, how much difference a tape generation vs. a pressing generation makes, because if I count right, then both are 3.
Again, the original release LPs might not sound good because the equipment for cutting the lacquer, or the care that went into cutting the lacquer, was substandard. The original 3 track tape should sound better than the 2 track production master, since it is of an earlier generation. However, if the machines used for copying, and the equipment used for the mastering, were of good quality and properly maintained, the quality loss should be minimal. I have compared my master tape copies with the original LPs of many releases, and the tapes are almost always significantly superior.
Yes, I don’t doubt this for most original LP’s. I just read (even from a mastering engineer), that e.g. regards Living Stereo, the circumstances of cutting and cutting with the Westrex head gave a magic sound to those original LP’s, which seem to be preferable to the character of the tapes (although more “pure” but maybe not optimal). But that’s nothing I experienced myself, just from reading and hearing multiple times.
Great article, Adrian!
I posted a response about a coincidence I noticed between your submission and Frank’s. Here’s a link to make it easier to find:
Adrian, hopefully with your knowledge you can answer a question I’ve ask elsewhere. But of course without consensus.
Given the reputation among some record collectors for lowest stamper numbers (i.e. Shaded Dogs), how could a high number pressing (say 1,000th) from a low stamper number be better than a low number pressing (say <100) from a high stamper number?
It always seemed to me that one should simply listen to a given record and disregard the stamper number, since, unless with special pressings, we don't have any idea of pressing number.