Top Artists – Led Zeppelin

Led Zeppelin / Presence – Classic Records Reviewed

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

More Led Zeppelin on Classic Records Reviewed

Sonic Grade: D

This was one of only three Classic Records 180 gram (later 200 gram) titles that I used to recommend back in the day.

Now when I play the heavy vinyl pressing, I find the subtleties of both the music and the sound that I expect to hear have simply gone missing.

It may be tonally correct, which for a Led Zeppelin pressing on the Classic Records label is unusual in our experience (II and Houses being ridiculously bright), but it, like Physical Graffiti and some others, badly lacks resolution compared to the real thing, the real thing being a run-of-the-mill early pressing.

You can adjust the VTA of your rig until you’re blue in the face, you’ll never get the Classic to sound better than passable.

The average original pressing is better, and that means Classic’s version deserves a sub-standard grade of D. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / Presence – We Was Wrong

Hot Stamper Pressings of Led Zeppelin’s Albums Available Now

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Led Zeppelin

In our listings for Presence from about fifteen years ago we noted:

By the way, Royal Orleans (at the end of side one) never sounds good; it’s always grainy. Same story with the intro to Nobody’s Fault But Mine. It sounds like groove damage, but since it’s on every last one of our domestic copies (the only ones that have the potential to sound amazing in our experience) we know it has to be a pressing problem and not a problem with the individual copies. It’s a shame, but the rest of the songs here all sound amazing.

This is no longer true, or at least the part about Nobody’s Fault But Mine being grainy or distorted isn’t, since I didn’t test Royal Orleans this time around.

I had just put in a fresh Dynavector 17d3 two days before and spent almost three hours getting the setup dialed in. In fact, it was so right when I was done that I spent the next three or four hours experimenting with room treatments. When I was done the changes seemed to have opened up the sound and increased the transparency even further. (I went a little too far and had to dial it back a bit, but that’s not at all unusual in my experience.)

So now I’m reading about the problems we used to encounter with Nobody’s Fault and thinking to myself, “Wait a minute. I didn’t hear any grain or distortion. Not on the good copies anyway.”

Of course the reason I hadn’t heard those problems is that over the last year or so we fixed them.

How I don’t really know.

Maybe the main improvements happened just last week with the cartridge being dialed in better. Or maybe it was that in combination with the few new room tweaks. Or maybe those changes built upon other changes that had happened earlier; there’s really no way to know.

You have to get around to doing the annual shootout for any given record in order to find out how far you’ve come, or if you’ve come any way at all. Fortunately for us the improvements, regardless of what they might be or when they might have occurred, were incontrovertible. The album was now playing at a higher level.

It’s yet more evidence supporting the importance of making real progress in this hobby by taking full advantage of the Revolutions in Audio of the last twenty or more years. Follow our lead and you too will have the records you like to play sounding better than ever.

It’s natural to blame sonic shortcomings on the recording; everyone does it. But in this case We Was Wrong. The grain and distortion we mentioned are no longer a problem on the best copies. We’ve worked diligently on every aspect of record cleaning and reproduction, and now there’s no doubt that we can get Presence to play much better than we could before. This is why we keep experimenting, and why we encourage you to do the same.

Hey Man, Turn It Up!

Here’s hoping this copy ends up in the hands of someone who will play it good and loud, because that’s the way it was meant to be heard. It’s the only way the mix works, which is a sure sign that that is clearly how the artists intended their music to be played. Turn up the volume and play the midsection of For Your Life on side one or the entire Nobody’s Fault But Mine on side two to hear Zep really rockin’ out in their prime.

Nobody did it better than these four guys. If you have Hot Stampers of their albums, you have some of the best sounding rock and roll records ever made, records that sound the way Zep wanted you to hear them when you play them loud.

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What Are the Best Stampers for Led Zeppelin’s Albums?

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Led Zeppelin

As if we would tell you!

This is a reworked excerpt from a much longer piece entitled Record Collecting for Audiophiles – The Limits of Expert Advice

In it we discussed the various stampers for some of Led Zeppelin’s albums and what role they play in our Hot Stamper shootouts.

Please to enjoy.

There is no way to know whether a record is any good without playing it, early stamper, late stamper or any other stamper. First pressings (A, 1A, A1) don’t always win shootouts. If they did we would simply buy only first pressings with those early stampers and only sell copies with those early stampers, since they are the best.

But this ignores the inconvenient fact that a great many other things go into the production of a record that have nothing to do with how early the stamper is.

A single copy of an album with stampers numbered (or lettered) A, when compared to B, when compared to C, has no definitive meaning for stampers A, B, C, or any others, because of the tremendous variation in the sound of all the pressings with A, B,C and other stampers.

Example Number One

There is a hot stamper for a certain Zep album that always wins the shootouts, [redacted].

It beats the hell out of the early stampers, A and B. In fact, we don’t even go after A and B anymore because they are expensive and rarely sound good enough to recoup our investment of all the time and money we would spend buying, cleaning and auditioning them in a shootout.

A and B can be good, but why pay top dollar for them when they have never been any better than “good?”

We’re looking for “great” so that we can charge a premium price for them. This accomplishes three things that are obviously extremely important to any business:

  1. It pleases the hell out of our customers.
  2. It pays the bills.
  3. And it lets us pay our staff good wages and bonuses for their hard work, skill and knowledge.

A good staff is essential to any business. No business can be successful without a highly skilled staff that does the work from day to day.

It is hard to imagine that any other retail record business could possibly have a staff with more than a small fraction of the talent of ours. The key members responsible for shootouts know something that few (if any) audiophiles on the face of the earth can rightfully claim to know: the sound of thousands upon thousands of pressings.

Most of our staff of ten has been with us for a very long time. They now run the business since I have retired and they are doing an amazing job. Without them there would be no Hot Stampers.

Back to Zeppelin

As we say, on a certain title, A and B can be good. Some of the hottest stampers for other Zeps, the stampers that win shootouts, are D, E and F.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t buy A, B and C on those titles because they can still be pretty good, say Two Pluses. When you’ve played these kinds of records by the dozens over the course of twenty odd years you learn things empirically that no one who hasn’t done this kind of work can know.

That is why we do things the way we do them: because it works. Customers are very happy these days, and what could be more important than that?

The trick is to listen to plenty of copies of the same title, the more the better. That’s when you hear how different they all sound.

If anyone was doing this kind of thing in a serious way twenty years ago when I started (with the exception of my friend, Robert Pincus, who coined the term “Hot Stampers” in the first place), I have yet to find any evidence of it.

And no one is really doing it at scale other than us. Because it’s expensive, hard and time consuming.

Some of our customers have done the work. They’ve undertaken their own multi-pressing shootouts, and kudos to them for rolling up their sleeves and doing what the vast majority of audiophiles cannot be bothered to do.

That’s how we learned everything we know about records, and anyone who follows our approach will learn more from doing their own shootouts, for themselves, on their own time, on their own stereos, than they will from all the reviews, all the blogs and all the youtube channels combined.

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Letter of the Week – “Just curious as to why you never point out a Bob Ludwig “RL” pressing?”

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

I am an avid vinyl cat and have been all of my life. I am super curious about your vinyl. I have a pretty good ear myself for top-shelf LP’s but I am just curious as to why you never point out a Bob Ludwig “RL” pressing? Or maybe you have and I just have not noticed?

Thanks so much for a response and much respect for what you are doing and selling…

Dana

Dana, we explained it here, in a little commentary we like to call The Book of Hot Stampers.

We give out little in the way of stamper numbers, no information about cutting engineers as a rule, although we do break that rule from time to time. Here is an excerpt of a listing for Rock of Ages from way back when:

What We Thought We Knew

In 2006 we put up a copy with with what we implied were Hot Stampers (before we were using the term consistently) on at least one side:

Side One sounds tonally right on the money! This is as good as it gets… Robert Ludwig mastered all of the originals of these albums, but some of them have bad vinyl and don’t sound correct.

I only played side one of the album, so I can’t speak for the other sides, but what I heard was sound about as good as I think this album can have.

There are some truths along with some half-truths in the above comments, and let’s just say we would be quite a bit more careful in our language were we writing about that copy today.

One side is no indication whatsoever as to the quality of the other three, and without the kind of cleaning technologies we have available to us today, I wouldn’t want to make a “definitive” sonic assessment for any of them.

When you play uncleaned or poorly cleaned records you’re hearing a lot of garbage that has nothing to do with the sound of the actual vinyl. (Note that we are joking above: there is no such thing as a definitive sonic assessment of a record, from us or anybody else.)

Ludwig cut many bad sounding records. Roxy Music Avalon original domestic pressings are RL. They’re made from dubs and sound like it.  Same with Dire Straits’ Alchemy.

Some RL Houses of the Holy sound amazing and some only decent. It’s the nature of the beast. (more…)

Letter of the Week – “[Zep II] …may be the best sounding record you’ve ever sold me.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he purchased recently:

Hey Tom, 

Thanks for sending the Righteous Brothers to me so quickly. I have a copy I’ve had for years that didn’t give me much satisfaction on side one. I played yours, and it blew mine away. Just stunning. Your side two was somewhat flat and mediocre, but who cares since the great cut is on side one.

Nonetheless, I played my old copy and my side two was nearly as good as your side one. Thanks for everything. The ‘wall of sound’ is alive and well.

By the way, The Zep II that I purchased from you last month may be the best sounding record you’ve ever sold me. A bargain at $750. [The last top copy sold in 2022 for exactly $2000 more by the way.] Now if I could only find a Dark Side Of The Moon that plays at that level.

Phil 

Phil,

Thanks for your letter. I’m pretty sure you have one of our Dark Sides by now.

No Dark Side will ever have the bass that Zep II has, but it can do pretty much everything else as well, or better. Imagine that!

Pink Floyd Hot Stamper Pressings Available Now

Led Zeppelin / Self-Titled

More Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin I

  • A truly excellent import of Zep’s amazing debut with outstanding sound from first note to last – quiet vinyl too
  • Arguably the biggest, clearest and most Tubey Magical Zeppelin album ever recorded, thanks to the engineering genius of Glyn Johns (and production genius of Jimmy Page, who paid for the whole thing out of his own pocket)
  • Just look at the track list – the lucky owner of this LP will be hearing those songs come to life like never before
  • The band’s first album is a permanent member of our Top 100 and a Big Speaker Demo Disc like you will not believe
  • 5 stars: “Taking the heavy, distorted electric blues of Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, and Cream to an extreme… But the key to the group’s attack was subtlety: it wasn’t just an onslaught of guitar noise, it was shaded and textured, filled with alternating dynamics and tempos.”

For the real Led Zep magic, you just can’t do much better than their debut — and here’s a copy that really shows you why. From the opening chords of “Good Times Bad Times” to the wild ending of “How Many More Times” (“times” start the album and end it, too, it seems) this copy will have you rockin’ out!

Both sides have THE BIG ZEP SOUND. Right from the start we noticed how clean the cymbals sounded and how well-defined the bass was, after hearing way too many copies with smeared cymbals and blubbery bass.

When you have a tight, punchy copy like this one, “Good Times Bad Times” does what it is supposed to do — it REALLY ROCKS! With this much life, it’s lightyears ahead of the typically dull, dead, boring copy. The drum sound is PERFECTION.

Drop the needle on “Babe I’m Gonna Leave You” to hear how amazing Robert Plant’s voice sounds. It’s breathy and full-bodied with in-the-room presence. The overall sound is warm, rich, sweet, and very analog, with energy to spare. “Dazed and Confused” sounds JUST RIGHT — you’re gonna flip out over all the ambience!

Communication Breakdown is crazy good — the sound of Jimmy Page’s guitar during the solo is so good.

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Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

More Led Zeppelin

More Rock Classics

  • Outstanding Double Plus (A++) sound or close to it on all FOUR sides of this killer double album
  • Transparency, the ability to see into the mix, and the other side of the Vintage Analog Richness coin, is key to the better pressings of this album, as well as many of our other favorite demo discs
  • Of course the main attributes that set the best copies apart from the also-rans are size, energy, weight, vocal presence and an overall freedom from grit and grain, and we guarantee that this copy will do better in all of these areas than any you have ever heard (particularly on sides one, two, and four)
  • Marks in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these Classic Rock records – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you
  • 5 stars: ” Physical Graffiti captures the whole experience of Led Zeppelin at the top of their game better than any of their other albums.”

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame and another in the long list of recordings that really comes alive when you Turn Up Your Volume .

If you’ve been waiting for a seriously powerful Kashmir Experience, today is your lucky day. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / II – Gee, I Seem to Have No Trouble At All Playing This Record

tablewithzep2sMore of the Music of Led Zeppelin

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

Reviews and Commentaries for Albums Mastered by Robert Ludwig

I expect that pretty much everyone knows the famous story by now.

Robert Ludwig’s “Hot Mix” (a complete misnomer, mostly propagated by those with a poor understanding of what is involved in making records – the mix never changed, only the mastering) of Zep II was causing the needle to jump the groove when Ahmet Ertegun’s daughter tried to play it on her cheap turntable, so they recut the record with more compression and cut the bass. (The recut, if you have never heard one, may take the cake for the worst sounding pressing of the album ever made.)

Our Triplanar Mark 6 / Dynavector 17dx combination seems to play the original just fine. Amazingly well in fact.

Here’s a challenge for all the Heavy Vinyl fans in the world: name all the Heavy Vinyl records that sound as good or better than RL’s cutting of Zep II.

Modern engineers tell us they can cut records better now than ever before, with all the bass and dynamics that previous engineers were supposedly forced to limit for the cheap tables and carts of the past.

So where are these so-called New and Improved records, the ones with better bass and dynamics?

I have yet to hear one. Perhaps someone can point me in the right direction.

Send your list to tom@better-records.com

[This commentary has been up for many years and we have yet to hear of a single example. Which is exactly what we would have expected, because there is almost no chance that any such records exist., regardless of what you may have read elsewhere.]

(more…)

Letter of the Week – “For the next three hours, I spun disc after disc, to their delight.”

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

Reviews and Commentaries for Deja Vu

One of our good customers had this to say about some Hot Stampers he played for friends recently:

  Hey Tom, 

Story for you — last Saturday evening, a designer of a new world-famous tonearm, the owner of an elite high-end audio salon in California and I met for dinner with a well-known reviewer for one of the big audiophile rags, then went back to one of their houses to listen to records I had been asked to bring.

About 90% of the two dozen records I had selected were White Hot Stamper versions of classic rock staples.

For the next three hours, I spun disc after disc, to their delight.

Particular faves included Elvis Costello’s “My Aim Is True,” Led Zeppelin II, 10CC’s “The Original Soundtrack,” CSNY’s “Deja Vu,” and Chicago’s first LP.

Bill

Bill,

That sounds like a great way to spend an evening, playing killer copies of world class Demo Disc recordings! Would loved to have been there.

Without exception, these are five of our most beloved records, records we have been obsessed with since we first heard them growing up all those years ago. (The links you see have extensive commentaries for all five.)

And of course we will never read a word about Hot Stampers, from this or any other demonstration, in a big audiophile rag. We are bad for their business. Their record selling advertisers would throw a fit. They know what we have to say about their shoddy products.

I guess there is something attractive about having the best sounding records and keeping it amongst the few music loving audiophiles who are “in the know.”

Thanks for your letter!

TP


Reviews and Commentaries for Chicago Transit Authority

Reviews and Commentaries for The Original Soundtrack

Reviews and Commentaries for My Aim Is True

Led Zeppelin – Led Zeppelin IV

More Led Zeppelin

A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

  • Insane Rock and Roll ENERGY like nothing you have ever heard – the sound is exceptionally full-bodied, smooth and solid, making it possible to get the volume up good and high where it belongs
  • Here are the Rock and Roll Classics that reign supreme to this very day – Black Dog, Rock & Roll, Stairway to Heaven, When the Levee Breaks, every one sounding better than you’ve ever heard them or your money back
  • 5 stars: “Encompassing heavy metal, folk, pure rock & roll, and blues, Led Zeppelin’s untitled fourth album is a monolithic record, defining not only Led Zeppelin but the sound and style of ’70s hard rock.”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1971 is clearly one of their best, and one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1971 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

It is a positive THRILL to hear this record rock the way it was meant to. If you have big speakers and the power to drive them, your neighbors are going to be very upset with you when you play this copy at the listening levels it was meant to be heard at.

You’d better be ready to rock, because this copy has the ENERGY and WHOMP that will make you want to. Zep IV demands loud levels, but practically any copy will punish you mercilessly if you try to play it at anything even approaching live levels.

I never met John Bonham, and it’s probably too late now, but I imagine he would feel more than a little disrespected if he found out people were playing his music at the polite listening levels many audiophiles prefer. The term “hi-fidelity” loses its meaning if the instruments are playing at impossibly low levels. If the instruments could never be heard that way live, where exactly is the fidelity?

How on earth is a speaker system like this one going to reproduce the 22 inch (or more!) kick drum of John Bonham?

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