Led Zeppelin II Shootout
2015 Jimmy Page Remaster vs 2002 Classic Records 200g
It’s really unfortunate that a lot of great classic rock repressing were done in the late 90s and early 2000’s when the market for audiophile quality vinyl re-issues was fairly lean. Many of these have become very valuable collectors items, worth several hundred dollars to the new comers like myself.
So, when Jimmy Page announced the reissue of the Zeppelin catalogue in 2015 there was a great deal of excitement. He promised that they would ‘be better than the original’ and would be pressed on 180g virgin vinyl and include every detail of the original packaging.
Ive been a Zeppelin fan as long as Ive been a music fan. In fact, I played drums in a band that covered Zepp in high school. Sadly no pictures exist of our one and only gig, however there is a recording somewhere we made as ‘The Basement Tapes’ which I will someday sell on eBay to pay for my nonexistent kid’s college tuition. Needless to say when the JP reissues became available for about $25 a pop, I bought several as I wasn't ready yet to pay north of $100 for the touted Classic Records pressing from 2002. I lived with jimmy’s re-issues for a few months.
Because of my commitment to the greatest rock band of all time, I have finally pulled the trigger on a mint Classic Records copy of Led Zeppelin II so I could sleep at night and do the comparison. Here are my thoughts:
The Classic Records pressing is undoubtedly from the master tape of the Atlantic session. After exhausting the forums, nobody can prove the the JP remaster is as well. Combined with the fact that the JP isn’t advertised as such, I think it’s safe to say that the JP remasters came from a high resolution digital file. After listening to both records all the way through and then doing track by track comparisons, the differences become more and more obvious.
I can say the there is a noticeable high frequency boost in the JP remaster across every track. To me, it gives a false sense of detail which leaves Robert Plant’s voice sounding grainy and lean, not god awful but just ever so unnatural. Bonham's drums are recorded a little differently (often very far back in the left channel) on every track of this album and the JP version leaves his already poorly defined cymbal hits sounding like white bursts, his snare lacking depth and the bass drum on the boomy side. The overall mix on this record is tight to begin with, It’s easy to lose Plant’s voice among all the chorus effects and guitar layers which can often sound like a wall of sound. I found myself turning up the volume in a desperate attempt to get more sound staging and separation every time I put this on.
The Classic Records version was quite revealing. While I instantly recognized that it was an order of magnitude better, the more I listened the more I give credit to the JP version for its effort. It gets you 80% of the way there, but here are the differences: Instead of the false sense of detail and harsh highs on the JP cut, the Classic Records just has more body and clarity. On the Classic version the sound staging is significantly better and crisper, the JP gets a little mushy in comparison. Plant’s voice is more present and with the lack of sibilance of the JP, just comes across as more believable and cuts through without being bright and bleached. The cymbals have noticeably longer decay and also the depth of Bonham’s Supraphonic snare is simply just there. During his solo on ‘Moby Dick’ you hear the compression of the drum heads and even sympathetic vibrations of other parts of the kit that aren't present on the JP version. Also, you can actually hear the ceiling of the studio on ‘Thank You’ when Plant is singing without effects which is just awesome. The panning effects on ‘Whole Lotta Love’ are more dramatic on the Classic version and when Jimmy comes in for his solo it’s like he stepped out of the right channel. Overall, its just more fun to listen too than Jimmy’s version, I didn’t find myself straining at all to try and pick up the lyrics or questioning anything I heard, just rocking out with a big smile on my face.
In conclusion, I suppose it’s a question of finances and how just how good your system is. If you don’t have a killer setup, the differences between the two are not going to jump out as dramatically and I’d recommend poping on the $25 Jimmy Page reissue over the Classic Records, which is gonna run you at least $100. The packaging is all there, the 180g is nice and overall it is a decent record that was obviously pressed on solid vinyl and done with care.
But if you want the best, it’s undeniably the Classic Records cut and you assuredly wont be disappointed.