Led Zeppelin / II – Jimmy Page Remasters a Classic

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

The more appropriate title for this commentary might be The Two Game, in honor of The Blue Game we created way back in 2007.

That year was indeed a watershed in the history of Better Records. It was the year we officially gave up on Heavy Vinyl, having come to the conclusion that the modern remastered LP was a lost cause. One thick slab of vinyl after another was ordered up and placed on our turntable, where it lay half-dead until someone took it off and relieved us of our misery.

Signs of improvement were nowhere to be found. A slough of dubious pressings released in the fifteen years since then have only confirmed the wisdom of our decision. It seems we got out just in time!

Fittingly, it was actually Blue that finally tipped the scales.

Geoff Edgers, the writer for the Washington Post investigating the world of audiophiles, visited me in 2021 to hear what this crazy Hot Stamper thing was all about. [1]

He brought with him a number of records to hear on our reference system, including the 2014 remaster of Led Zeppelin II (excellent), the remaster of Brothers in Arms that Chris Bellman cut, released in 2021 (also excellent, review to come), and last and definitely least, the pricey Craft Recordings remaster by Bernie Grundman of Lush Life (astonishingly bad, review coming).

That last one will cost you a couple of hundred dollars minimum, but you should save your money. It’s not worth a plugged nickel if good sound is what you are after. If you like being the only one on your block with a limited edition pressing, then I suppose you can tell your audiophile friends you own one and that it looks nice on the shelf. Whatever you do, don’t play it.

Retirement Changed My Plans

I’ve been meaning to write about Page’s version of the second Zeppelin album for more than a year. The more times I played the album, and the longer I thought about it, the more remarkable the sound of the record seemed to me, remarkable in the sense that some very interesting things were going on in the sound that would be worth writing about for the benefit of our customers and readers.

But then I retired and had lots of other things to do in order to get out of California. The review would have to wait.

In 2021 and for some time thereafter, I was so impressed with the sound that I considered buying a dozen, cleaning them up and doing a shootout with them. The sound was good enough to qualify as a Hot Stamper, probably One Plus or even a bit better.

I actually did buy a second copy, had it cleaned and played it against the first one we bought. It sounded virtually identical. Whatever the differences, they were minor, although if I’d bought ten copies, I suspect that the differences between the best and the worst would have been significant, but that’s really only a guess.

(Many years ago, back in 2008 I think, we had done a shootout using a Heavy Vinyl title, Sting’s Mercury Falling. We have not done many since, for the simple reason that we know of no Heavy Vinyl pressings with sound good enough to be considered Hot Stampers.)

The guys who do the listening now and I all agreed about what the new version was doing, right and wrong. [2]

I wanted to talk about the good and the bad in depth because I thought I knew what was going on with the sound that nobody else would outside of our little group of three. I felt I had unlocked its secrets, secrets no one, to my knowledge, had discussed or examined. (If you know of a good review, please send it my way. I have yet to read a good one.)

The Hot Stamper Remaster

We don’t list albums with One Plus grades anymore, but in this case we could make the argument — and back it up! — that the best pressings of Page’s version are better than any reissue ever made. No audiophile version is any good, that’s for sure. We’ve played them and reviewed them and put them where they belong, in our Audiophile Hall of Shame. [3]

Our latest thinking is that we will give one of the Page remasters to our customers for free when they buy one of our Hot Stamper pressings, so that they can compare the two for themselves. This is currently our policy.

As part of the deal, I would avoid saying in advance what I thought the Page LP was doing, right or wrong. I would instead let the person who had The Real Thing (our Hot Stamper) in his possession compare the sound of the two pressings for himself, doing his best to figure out what the differences were without “knowing the answers” so to speak. (I don’t want to imply my take is the only right one, although of course I have to think it is because it’s what I do for a living, and experience is by far the best teacher when it comes to understanding the sound of records.)

Which leaves us in an interesting place.

I offered The Blue Game as a way to help other audiophiles learn more about what it takes to do the kind of work we do. (Nobody took me up on my offer to coach them, which was a bit surprising, but nevertheless the offer was the point, not whether anyone took us up on it.)

I want to do the same for Page’s Zep II. Buy one or two, they’re surprisingly cheap. Clean them up as well as you can. Play them against whatever other pressings you own, especially if you own an original RL cutting.

Take notes of what you hear. Try to figure out what approach Page and his engineer took when mastering the record.

Then let me know what you think is going on so that we can discuss it.

Consider These Areas

Some key aspects of the sound to think about when evaluating the album are these:

  • Midrange tonality.
  • Midrange presence.
  • Overall tonality, top to bottom.
  • Frequency extension on both ends.
  • Compression.
  • Dynamics.
  • Tubey Magic.

The areas where the new one is most different from the best you have, and the areas where it is more similar.

And if you are lucky enough to own an original, listen for level changes from side to side and song to song.

That’s actually quite a lot. Don’t feel like you have to do all of them.

In fact, listen for whatever you like. No matter what you listen for, you will probably hear a lot and learn even more.

And then just tell me what you think. I would really like to know.

Best, TP

[1] More on Geoff Edgers, including the video he made for his story on the crazy world of audiophiles. When he did the interviews you see, he also recorded footage of a shootout we did for Dire Straits’ first album, but for licensing reasons the shootout was not allowed to be used.

[2] Interestingly, some things that bothered them about the sound of the new pressing didn’t bother me as much at the time, but the more I listened the more I realized the problems they recognized were bigger problems than I had recognized at first.

It’s always helpful to have a second or third perspective. The two guys who do all the shootouts discuss the sound of the records they play and reach a consensus. This insures that the highest standards are consistently met.

[3] The Audiophile Pressing Hall of Shame.

The current membership stands at 274. If I wanted to write the reviews for them, I’m sure I could find another 274 to join the batch we’ve auditioned to date. The world is full of bad sounding records. Every label has been producing them for years, and that includes every audiophile label. Why should they be any different?

Further Reading

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