Our lengthy commentary entitled Outliers & Out-of-This-World Sound talks about how rare these kinds of pressings are and how to go about finding them.
We no longer give Four Pluses out as a matter of policy, but that doesn’t mean we don’t come across records that deserve them from time to time.
Side two earned the rare Four Plus (A++++) grade (making it the first copy of Houses ever to do so, I believe) with an insane combination of clarity, presence, size, richness, transparency, bottom end punch and more. Side one is not quite in the same heady league but is certainly very strong with a Double Plus grade. You’re going to have a ridiculously hard time finding another copy that can hold its own against this one. Frankly, I don’t think it can be done without the kind of operation we have here!
Seriously… Four Plus sound for Dancing Days, No Quarter, D’yer Mak’er and The Ocean? Don’t be the guy who lets this one pass by and regrets it forever!
Things Are Tough All Over
It’s getting tougher and tougher to find copies like this — with clean copies selling on eBay for up to fifty bucks these days (with no guarantee of good sound of course, the idea is ludicrous to begin with), we just hadn’t been able to get a proper shootout going for quite some time. We were forced to open up our wallets and pay big bucks to bring in a big enough stack of clean copies, but it hurts a bit less after finding a few good copies.
And while Houses needs to rock, it certainly doesn’t need to beat you over the head while doing it. This Hot Stamper copy has a RELAXED quality to the sound that keeps it from wearing you out. The album can really assault the ears at the loud levels it demands. With this copy the fatigue factor was practically non-existent. (The fatigue factor with Classic Records and CDs and the like is one of the things that most annoys me about them. At low levels you can play them all day. Turn them up and you are beat after twenty minutes of listening. That should tell you something.)
Bass? Oh Yeah.
And what would a Zep record be without bass? Not much, yet this is precisely the area where so many copies fail. Not so here. The bottom end is big and meaty with superb definition, allowing the record to ROCK, just the way you know Zep wanted you to.
The vocals too are Right On The Money. None of the phony upper-midrange boost that the Classic suffers from is evident whatsoever. The louder Robert Plant screams the better he sounds and the more I like it. The Classic makes me wince.
The Best Acoustic Guitars
As we’ve noted before, the two Zep albums in which the acoustic guitars are out of this world are this one and III. They are every bit as rich, tubey, sweet, delicate and harmonically correct as the guitars on Tea For the Tillerman, The Best of Bread, or any of the other magical recordings we rave about on the site. (Our Top 100 is full of others if you want to check them out.)
Of course, without the right pressing, hopefully this one, you would never know that. Later copies, Classic copies, typical domestic and import copies — none of them are going to sound like this! We guarantee it.
Jimmy Page, Production Genius
When you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found here, you really gain a deeper understanding of just what a production genius Jimmy Page must have been.
To take just one example, listen to how clearly the multi-tracked guitars can be heard in the different layers and areas of the soundstage. On some songs you will have no trouble picking out three, four and even more guitars playing, each with its own unique timbre and character. This clarity allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each of those guitars makes to the finished song.
Ultimately the ability to hear into the music at this level is what gives you, the listener, the ability to UNDERSTAND and APPRECIATE it. One reason these commentaries tend to be overly enthusiastic is that once you’ve heard a pressing that sounds as good as the best copies can, you find yourself much more emotionally involved in the music.
When the sound gets better it’s the music that REALLY gets better. That’s Audio 101, the raison d’etre for all the expensive equipment we all own.
When the sound gets to the highest levels, when the sound gets that good, the music practically becomes a drug. Want to take a trip? Drop the needle at the start of The Rain Song or No Quarter on a top copy. You won’t be coming back to earth for about six minutes. See you then.