A classic example of Live and Learn.
In 2008 we simply had not done our homework well enough.
Sure, we had auditioned plenty of the pressings that we thought were the most likely to sound good: the original and later domestic pressings, the early and later British LPs, some early German pressings, maybe a Japanese import or two. In other words, the usual suspects.
We already knew the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl was unbelievably bad; no need to put that in a shootout. It earned an “F” right out of the gate.
The result? We were in the same position as the vast majority of audiophiles. We had auditioned a number pressings of the album and thought we knew what we were talking about.
But of course, like most audiophiles judging records with an insufficiently large sample size, we turned out to be completely wrong.
We hadn’t stumbled upon the best pressings because we hadn’t put enough effort into the only approach that can possibly work.
Logic hadn’t worked: the originals turned out to be the wrong answer.
It’s trial and error.
We hadn’t made the breakthrough we needed to make in order to know just how good the album could sound.
It is INCREDIBLY difficult to find knockout copies of Zep III — of the dozen-plus copies we auditioned, this British Import Plum & Orange pressing was the only one with two superb sides, with an AGAIG A+++ side two and a side one that’s just half a step behind at A++ – A+++. Folks, when I tell you that it is no mean feat to find a decent copy of this album, I am not joking around.
Side one here is STUNNING. It’s really full-bodied with substantial weight to the bottom end. The bass is tight, punchy, and easier to follow than on any other copy we’ve heard. Just listen to John Paul Jones tearing it up during Immigrant Song — on most copies he’s just a deep rumble, but here you can appreciate the notes he is playing. It really kicks up the excitement factor of one of the hardest-rockin’ songs these guys ever did.
The overall sound is unbelievably lively — we’ve never heard a copy that rocked so hard! It’s just a bit on the bright side at times, but that little bit of extra top end seems to give this copy the ENERGY and PRESENCE that were missing from almost every other pressing we played. Drop the needle on Since I’ve Been Loving You and turn it up loud. Zep will be right there between your speakers, and your jaw will be on the floor!
Side two is EVEN MORE AMAZING — in fact, it’s OUT OF THIS WORLD! You are not going to believe how lively and dynamic it is. Drop the needle on Tangerine for a taste of rich, sweet, Master Tape Sound. The acoustic guitars are lush and delicate, the bass is deep and well-defined, and the vocals are completely natural and free from any bad mastering or phony EQ.
I don’t think you could find a better side two no matter what you do. The bottom end is meaty and punchy, the highs are silky sweet, and the midrange is Right On The Money. We rate side two A+++ — it’s As Good As It Gets.
Imports — No Surprise, A Mixed Bag
I have numerous original pressings from England and Germany and, of course, no two of them sound the same. This Brit copy absolutely destroyed any we had heard before it.
One Tough Ticket
Having played scores of copies of this record over the years, I can tell you that finding really good side ones is five times harder than finding side twos with excellent sound. The material on side one tends to be more aggressive, and I’m sure it has given its share of headaches to numerous mastering engineers over the years.