Would it be criminal to charge $250 for a copy of Get the Knack? Welcome to Tom Port’s store, Better Records. Port and his team in Thousand Oaks, CA scour the world of vintage vinyl to find the very best classic rock pressings, as well as jazz and classical titles. Now, I love The Knack and am dismayed that their blockbuster debut is often found in the bargain bin in most record stores. But $250?
Industry experts and serious collectors agree that different copies of the same album can, and often do, differ in quality. Even vinyl records made with the same stamp, during the same production run can vary in sonic character. Records pressed by different labels or in other countries can also sound significantly different (witness the Japanese import craze of the 1980s).
Port believes strongly, not only that these differences are discernible, but that he and his team can find these needles in the vinyl haystack. Better Records has a process that includes deep cleaning and extensive comparative listening (called Shootouts). Their signature listening notes sound much like descriptions of fine wine. Of a copy of Neil Young’s Harvest they say, “Side one is rich and full-bodied with an extended top end.”
Port’s prices reflect the confidence he has in his opinions, and collectors seem willing to pay beyond top-dollar for these “hot stampers.” The aforementioned copy of Harvest (a “super hot” stamper) lists for $179.99. Anything under $100 is a “great price,” and you can find a copy of The Beatles’ White Album for $1,000.
Port definitely has the courage of his convictions. In a recent Wired magazine article, he commented on the fashion for 45 rpm and heavy-vinyl reissues saying, “If there are [notable reissues out there], I haven’t heard them.” In the same article he boasted of his pariah status in the hifi subculture, “I burn all my bridges. I want nothing to do with any of these people.”
I’d love to hear for myself. Maybe I need to scoop up their copy of the Grateful Dead’s Terrapin Station, a “white hot” stamper on sale for $299.99. “fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to most LPs.” Indeed.