Top Engineers – George Chkiantz

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

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Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

A classic case of Live and Learn

Back in the day I thought the Classic 180 and then 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.

No, that’s not quite fair. 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 right original pressings to show me how much better they can sound.

Our EAR 324 phono stage and constantly evolving tweaks to both the system and room are entirely responsible for our ability to reproduce this album correctly. If your equipment, cleaning regimen, room treatments and the like are mostly “old school” in any way, getting the album to sound right will be all but impossible. Without the myriad audio advances of the last decade or so you are just plain out of luck with a Nearly Impossible to Reproduce album such as this.

All of the above are courtesy of the phenomenal Revolutions in Audio that have come about over the last twenty years or so. It’s what progress in audio in all about.

The exact same 200 gram review copy now [this was written about ten years ago] sounds every bit as tonally correct as it used to, and fairly clean too, as described above, but where is the magic?

You can adjust your VTA until you’re blue in the face, nothing will bring this dead-as-a-doornail Classic LP to life.

Relatively speaking, of course. For twenty eight bucks (when it was in print) could you buy something better? Probably not. (Now it’s $100 to $400 on ebay and at that price you are definitely not getting your money’s worth.)

The average IV is really a piece of junk. And if you don’t have at least $10k in your front end (with phono), forget it. It takes top quality equipment to bring this album to life, and you better be prepared to go through a large number of copies to find a good one.


Led Zeppelin – Physical Graffiti

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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 – Led Zeppelin IV

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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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Led Zeppelin – Houses of the Holy

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More Top 100 Titles

  • Wall to wall, floor to ceiling Led Zeppelin power – this copy delivers like you will not believe, or your money back
  • A Better Records Top 100 album (along with 4 other Zep titles), 5 Stars in AMG and a True Zeppelin Must Own Classic
  • The Tubey Magical acoustic guitars heard here should be a wake up call to every audiophile that trying to remaster this album is just not in the cards
  • 5 stars: “Jimmy Page’s riffs rely on ringing, folky hooks as much as they do on thundering blues-rock, giving the album a lighter, more open atmosphere…”
  • If you’re a fan of the band, this title from 1973 is clearly one of their best, and inarguably one of their best sounding
  • The complete list of titles from 1973 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

This copy has the kind of BIG, BOLD ROCK SOUND that takes this music to places you’ve only dreamed it could go. The HUGE drums on this copy are going to blow your mind — and probably your neighbors’ minds as well.

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 it to.

The vocals too are tonally correct. None of the phony upper-midrange boost that the Classic Records reissue suffers from is evident on this copy. The louder Robert Plant screams the better he sounds and the more I like it. The Classic makes me wince. (more…)

Led Zeppelin / II – Back to the Stone Age

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another MoFi LP reviewed.

Yes, it’s yet another record perfectly suited to the Stone Age Stereos of the Past.

This version of Zep’s sophomore release from 1969 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.

If you’re in the market for a Hot Stamper pressing of Led Zeppelin II, we can help you, but prices these days are steep and show no sign of coming down. We typically pay $1000+ or more for the used copies we buy if that tells you anything about what to expect a Hot Stamper pressing will cost you.

Records are getting awfully expensive these days, and it’s not just our Hot Stampers that seem priced for perfection.

If you are still buying these modern remastered pressings, making the same mistakes that I was making before I knew better, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your copy. of the album.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.

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Listening in Depth to Led Zeppelin IV

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A Member of the Prestigious “None Rocks Harder” Club

Letters and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin IV

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of RLJ.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

We always have a great time doing Zep IV shootouts. It’s one of those all-too-rare cases where amazing music and amazing sonics coexist on the same slab of vinyl. You just need to find the right slab, a proposition that turns out to be much harder than it sounds.

You probably know by now just how tough it is to find audiophile quality sonics on this album. Far too many copies just leave us cold, but the best pressings, whether British or domestic, are so good, and so much fun at the loud volumes we employ, that it ends up being worth all the time, trouble and expense it takes to wade through the vinyl dreck to find them.

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.

Side One

Black Dog

The key to both of the first two tracks is to find a copy with a solid bottom end. Next look for an extended top end, easily heard on all the splashing cymbals.

Now listen for a tonally correct Robert Plant. The copies with lots of top will typically have him sounding too bright. The copies with little in the way of high frequency extension will have him sounding veiled and dull.

One out of ten copies (with potentially good stampers) will get all three right: the top, the bottom and his voice. When you hear it you know it immediately, but you sure do have to go through a lot of copies before you have much of a chance of hearing it!

Rock and Roll

“[Rock and Roll] was a little tough to record because with the hi-hat being so open and [Bonham] hitting it that hard it was difficult to control. But I managed somehow or another.”

Andy Johns

“The best copies prove once and for all that these are some of most up-front, lively and above all real sounding rock cymbals ever put on tape.”

Tom Port

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Led Zeppelin / Led Zeppelin II

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A Top Ten Title

  • This pressing may be the QUIETEST Robert Ludwig pressing we have ever played, with no marks and no Inner Groove Damage (which is almost always present on “Thank You”)
  • The seller charged us a pretty penny for this copy, and he was right to do so — we just never find them with audiophile surfaces such as these
  • Years ago we gave up on everything but these killer RL (and SS) pressings, because nothing else can hold a candle to them
  • With copies selling for $1000+ on ebay, sometimes $3000+, we’re forced to pay big bucks for Zep II these days, but if any album is worth it, it’s this one

At least 80% of the copies we buy these days — for many, many hundreds of dollars each I might add, more than a grand on occasion — go right back to the seller. The biggest problem we run into besides obvious scratches that play and worn out grooves is easy to spot: just play the song “Thank You” at the end of side one. Most of the time there is inner groove damage so bad that the track becomes virtually unlistenable.

It’s become a common dealbreaker for the records we buy on the internet. We get them in, we play that track, we hear it distort and we pack the record up and send it back to the seller.

But this copy plays clean all the way to the end on both sides — assuming you have a highly-tweaked, high-performance front end of course.

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Listening in Depth to Houses of the Holy

More of the Music of Led Zeppelin

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, 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. The clarity of the better copies 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…)

The Rolling Stones – It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll

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  • A KILLER early pressing of this Rolling Stones classic of Stripped Down Rock and Roll, with Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) sound on both sides
  • What earned this pressing Top Grades was its extraordinarily textured, practically grain- and grit-free midrange – the bad copies tend to be smeary and gritty in the midrange (where the music is) and that’s just not our sound
  • The superbly talented Andy Johns engineered, so you can be sure that this is the sound the Stones were aiming for
  • “Throughout, the Stones wear their title as the “World’s Greatest Rock & Roll Band” with a defiant smirk, which makes the bitter cynicism of “If You Can’t Rock Me” and the title track all the more striking, and the reggae experimentation… all the more enjoyable.”

It’s Only Rock ‘N’ Roll is a consistently good, straight-ahead, no-frills rock album from the Stones with Mick Taylor still in the band. It was the last of its kind for a while; their next release was the reggae-influenced Black and Blue. The sound can be a bit gritty and grainy at times, but you gotta believe that that’s precisely the sound the Stones heard in the booth and were totally cool with. Andy Johns engineered and he’s made as many super-tubey, super-rich and super-smooth recordings as anybody this side of Bill Porter.

The Stones didn’t want that sound this time around. The Stones wanted this sound.

This album may have some of the best The Rolling Stones music, but those looking for top quality sonics for the Stones should head in the direction of Beggars Banquet, Sticky Fingers, or Let It Bleed. They’re simply more audiophile-friendly recordings. (more…)

Led Zeppelin II on Classic Records – Seriously, What Could Be Sadder?

Reviews and Commentaries for Led Zeppelin II

More Led Zeppelin on Classic Records Reviewed

An absolute DISASTER — ridiculously bright and ridiculously crude. In short, a completely unlistenable piece of garbage.

Over the years we have done many Led Zeppelin shootouts, often including the Classic Heavy Vinyl Pressings as a “reference.” After all, the Classic pressings are considered by many — if not most — audiophiles as superior to other pressings. What could be sadder?

In fact. you will find very few critics of the Classic Zep LPs outside of those of us (me and the rat in my pocket) 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 review most of the Classic Zeps, a public service of Better Records. We don’t actually like any of them now, although the first album is still by far the best of the bunch.

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