Top Artists – Led Zeppelin

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

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We all know the famous story by now. Robert Ludwig’s “Hot Mix” (a complete misnomer, mostly propagated by those with an apparently poor understanding of what goes into the sound of a record – 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.

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

Here’s a question 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 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 more 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

Led Zeppelin / III – Bright and Harsh on Classic Records Heavy Vinyl

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Classic Records LP debunked.

Ridiculously bright and harsh, nothing like the good pressings we sell (German don’t you know).

We are proud to say this was one of the Classic Zep releases that we never carried on the site (along with II and Houses, both of which stink).

You will find very few critics of the Classic Zep LPs outside of those who write for this very website, and even we used to recommend three of the Zep titles on Classic: Led Zeppelin I, IV and Presence.

Wrong on all counts. 

Since then we’ve made it a point to create debunking commentaries for some of the Classic Zeps, a public service of Better Records. We don’t actually like any of them now, although the first album is by far the best of the bunch.

Led Zeppelin – Presence – Our Shootout Winner from 2012

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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.

A STUNNING side two (where Nobody’s Fault But Mine can be found, one of the best Zep rockers of all time and the best reason to own this album), with MASSIVE room-filling size and rock ENERGY like you will not believe. How did they manage to get such rock and roll power into these grooves, the way they did on Zep II and IV? We can’t even imagine, but it’s there all right.

We heard it for ourselves. (Yes, we had the volume cranked and yes, it was a THRILL.)

We just finished a big shootout for this album and were reminded just how hard this album rocks. Achilles Last Stand, For Your Life and Nobody’s Fault But Mine are all KILLER on a White Hot copy like this one. This copy has TONS of energy, surprising dynamics, lots of WHOMP down low and big punchy drums throughout. That’s EXACTLY the kind of sound we love here at Better Records. (more…)

Today’s Heavy Vinyl Disaster from Classic Records… Zep IV

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The Classic 200 Gram Pressing — Dead as a Doornail

It wasn’t that long ago that I thought the Classic 200 gram pressing was the king on this title. In late 2006 I wrote: “You can hear how much cleaner and more correct the mastering is right away…” Folks, I must have been out of my mind.

I wasn’t out of my mind. I just hadn’t gotten my system to the place where it needed to be to allow the better original pressings to sound their best. (more…)

Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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You really get an understanding of just how much of a production genius Jimmy Page was when you listen to a copy of Houses with the kind of resolution and transparency found on our best copies. To take just one example, just 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 character.

This clarity allows you to recognize — perhaps for the first time — the special contribution each makes to the finished song.

In-Depth Track Commentary

Side One

The Song Remains the Same
The Rain Song

Check out the guitars — the sound should be warm, sweet and delicate. There are some dead quiet passages in this song that are almost always going to have some surface noise. Most copies start out a bit noisy but almost always get quieter as the music goes along.

Over the Hills and Far Away

This is a great test track for side one. It starts with lovely acoustic guitars before the Monster Zep Rock Chords come crashing in. If both parts of the song sound correct and balanced, you more than likely have a winner. And the bigger the dynamic contrast between the parts the better.

Turn your volume up good and high in order to get the full effect, then stand back and let the boys have at it.

The Crunge (more…)

Led Zeppelin – In Through The Out Door – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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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.

SUPERB A+++ SOUND! We play dozens of these each year, and almost never find one that sounds amazing and plays this quietly. When a copy sounds this good, the music REALLY works — we had fun with this one. It’s rich, full-bodied, and ALIVE like you wouldn’t believe.

Both sides here are As Good As It Gets! The sound is very rich and full-bodied with lots of extension up top. The bass is deep and well-defined, and the piano sounds just right. On a super transparent, super low distortion copy like this one, all the subtleties really come to life. Too many copies we played were a bit grainy — you could really hear it on the cymbal crashes. This copy is as smooth and sweet as you could ever ask for. It’s open and spacious, and the vocals are Right On The Money. The bottom end is SUPERB here, with deep, well-defined bass and an exceptionally punchy kick drum sound that really takes the music to another level. There’s lots of extension up top and a silky quality to the vocals and cymbals. The presence is staggering — the guitar solo on All My Love positively JUMPS out of the speakers. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy – Our 4 Plus Shootout Winner from 2010

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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. 

A TRULY STUNNING COPY of this classic album! Both sides here are rich, warm and full-bodied with tons of energy and presence. It just doesn’t get much better than this, folks! We gave side two a Four Plus grade — note that we don’t even have a graphic for that! — and side one was also very strong.

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! (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Coda – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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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.

TWO GREAT SIDES and QUIET VINYL on this Swan Song pressing, one of the few good sounding copies we’ve ever played. We just sat down with the dozen-plus copies of Coda that made it through our preliminary round and only found a few that were worth writing home around. Most copies are too dry, grainy, and/or dull to get excited about, but this one is a MONSTER.

The best material on here — We’re Gonna Groove, Poor Tom, and the great live take of I Can’t Quit You Baby, just to name a few of our favorites — sounds darn good.

Of course, this probably isn’t — and shouldn’t be — anyone’s favorite Zep album. That doesn’t mean it’s not worth your time. Drop the needle on the smoldering version of I Can’t Quit You Baby and I’m pretty sure you’ll be a happy man. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – IV – With This Copy You Better Be Ready to Rock

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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.

We did a massive shootout in 2012 for Zep’s beloved fourth album and this British pressing earned a nearly perfect score with some of the BIGGEST, BOLDEST, HARDEST Rockin’ sound we have ever heard on the album. Without a doubt this is the best sounding IV side two we’ve ever played, with the biggest bottom of them all.

When the Levee Breaks, a problematical track on even the best copies, finally sounds the way you’ve always heard it in your head — relentless and so powerful it’s downright scary.

But the best copies are so good, and so much fun, that it was definitely worth the trouble. Because the best copies ROCK, and 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.

Let’s get right to why this copy is SO DAMN GOOD.

Side Two

The biggest, boldest, most dynamic, punchiest and liveliest of them all. Zero smear, live-in-your-listening-room presence, with a beautifully extended and amazingly natural and correct top end, nothing could touch this one.

Note that the vocals for the first track are always somewhat edgy on even the best copies. After playing scores and scores of copies, having adjusted the VTA every which way we could, no copy did not have at least some edge on Plant’s vocal. We’re pretty sure by now it’s that way on the tape. Our job is to find the copy that reproduces it as accurately as possible. (more…)

Led Zeppelin – III – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock Hall of Fame.

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. (more…)