Here is the story of my first encounter with an amazing sounding copy of Zep II back in 1995 or thereabouts.
I had a friend who had come into possession of a White Label Demo pressing of the album and wanted to trade it in to me for the Mobile Fidelity pressing that I had played for him once or twice over the years, and which we both thought was The King on that album.
To my shock and dismay, his stupid American copy KILLED the MoFi. It TROUNCED it in every way. The bass was deeper and punchier. Everything was more dynamic. The vocals were more natural and correct sounding. The highs were sweeter and more extended. The whole pressing was just full of life in a way that the Mobile Fidelity wasn’t.
The Mobile Fidelity didn’t sound Bad. It sounded Not As Good. More importantly, in comparison with the good domestic copy, in many ways it now sounded wrong.
Let me tell you, it was a watershed moment in my growth as a record collector. I had long ago discovered that many MoFi’s weren’t all they were cracked up to be. But this was a MoFi I liked. And it had killed the other copies I’d heard in the past.
So I learned something very important that day. I learned that hearing a better pressing is by far the best way to appreciate what’s wrong with the pressing I thought sounded right.
In this case, I used to like a very bad pressing, the Mobile Fidelity, but I really could not tell what was wrong with it because I had nothing better to compare it to.  (And I had never developed much in the way of critical listening skills.)
More evidence, if any were needed, that the three most important words in the world of audio are Compared to What?
Needless to say, the trade didn’t go through: he kept his copy and I was stuck with mine. But I knew what to look for. I knew what the numbers were in the dead wax. And I started hunting them down.
Our Review of the Mobile Fidelity Zep II
This pressing has to be one of the worst audiophile remastering jobs in the history of the world. There is NOT ONE aspect of the sound that isn’t wrong. Not one!
The highs are boosted, the upper midrange is boosted, the mid-bass is boosted, the low bass is missing — what part of the frequency spectrum is even close to correct on this pressing? The answer: none. For the complete review, please click here.)
I used to sell the Atlantic German import reissue LPs years ago. At the time I thought they we’re pretty good, but then the Japanese Analog Series came out and I thought those were the best.
Boy was I wrong. Those Japanese pressings, I realize now, are way too bright. Surprisingly, the German reissues sound more or less correct to me now. They’re tonally balanced from top to bottom, which is more than you can say for most Zep II’s if you don’t have an RL pressing.
And of course the Classic Records Heavy Vinyl pressing is an absolute DISASTER — a ridiculously bright, ridiculously crude, completely unlistenable piece of garbage.
 In 1995 I had no inkling of the various Revolutionary Changes in Audio about to come along, technologies and discoveries which would change audio in my home (and later in my studio) in unprecedented and practically unimaginable ways.
Without higher quality playback and better cleaning technologies, I had no chance of developing the critical listening skills I would need in order to start doing carefully controlled shootouts, the kind I began to do about ten years later. Looking back now, those are ten years that shook my world.
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- Improving Your Critical Listening Skills