Top Engineers – Keith Harwood

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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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 – 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…)

David Bowie – Diamond Dogs

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  • This UK pressing will show you a Diamond Dogs you had no idea existed, yet here it is – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We shot out a number of other imports and the presence, bass, and dynamics on this incredible copy placed it head and shoulders above the competition
  • It’s ridiculously tough to find even passable sound for this album – we guarantee you have never heard better than these two killer sides
  • Great songs including the title track, “Rebel Rebel,” “1984,” “Sweet Thing,” “Big Brother,” “Rock & Roll With Me” and more

The sound on this UK pressing is Tubey Magical yet still clean, clear and spacious — you’ll need a lot of luck and a good-sized pile of records to find a copy that sounds like this one.

“1984” (a favorite of ours on David Live) sounds great here. In addition to singing, the man handles sax, Mellotron, and Moog duties on the album, and, most surprisingly, plays practically all of the electric guitar parts.

Bowie was one of the handful of artists to produce an immensely enjoyable and meaningful body of work throughout the ’70s and into the ’80s, music that holds up to this day. The music on his albums, often groundbreaking and always multi-layered, will surely reward the listener who takes the time to dive deep into the complex sounds he recorded.

Repeated plays are the order of the day. The more critically you listen, the more you will discover within the exceedingly dense mixes favored by the man, his producers (Tony Visconti among them) and engineers (our favorite being Ken Scott). And the better your stereo gets the more you can appreciate the care and effort that went into the production of his recordings.

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The Rolling Stones – Black and Blue

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  • Glyn Johns engineered, and the better pressings are full-bodied and lively, with solid and present vocals, as well as excellent clarity all around
  • A copy this good lets you appreciate Billy Preston’s contributions on the keys – he’s all over the album, a very good thing indeed
  • “Melody ought to be a tentative experiment with Billy Preston’s jazzy keyboard sound. Instead, it’s a triumph, Jagger’s voice swooping and snaking around Preston’s piano and harmonies.”

This is in fact one of the better sounding “later period” (1976) Stones records we’ve played, that’s if we’re talking about the better copies of course, like this one. The best pressings are big, open, dynamic and full-bodied, with exceptionally lively percussion. As always, credit goes to the recording engineers, Glyn Johns et al., as well as Lee Hulko at Sterling, the original mastering engineer (who’s cut about as many good sounding records as anyone we can think of). (more…)

Led Zeppelin – Presence

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  • This outstanding pressing boasts solid Double Plus (A++) sound on both sides – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Here is a pressing with the power, the dynamic contrasts, the low end whomp, as well as the in-the-room midrange presence (pun only slightly intended) you’ve been waiting for
  • Featuring a stripped down, harder rock sound, Presence really benefits from the killer bottom end found on this early LP
  • “Presence has more majestic epics than its predecessor, opening with the surging, ten-minute Achilles Last Stand and closing with the meandering, nearly ten-minute Tea for One.”

We just finished a massive 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 KILLER on a Hot Stamper pressing like this one. (more…)

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

More Rolling Stones

  • 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 – The Drums and Cymbals Are Key to the Best Pressings

More Demo Discs for Bass

Hot Stamper Pressings of Led Zeppelin’s Albums Available Now

The drum sound on the best copies is punchy and HUGE, with prodigious amounts of studio space swirling around Bonham’s kit. There’s real resonance to the toms, not the standard overdamped sound of a studio kit, which gives them a lively, realistic, natural quality that you rarely hear outside of Zep records.

And the cymbals crash and splash just like real cymbals do, which is yet another sound you rarely hear outside of the best Zep pressings. (The best copies of Zep IV have crashing cymbals on Black Dog and Rock and Roll like few records in the history of rock.) (more…)