Vinyl Fidelity Shootout: Led Zeppelin III
Led Zeppelin has been the go-to classic rock group since my middle school years, and their third album, fittingly titled Led Zeppelin III, is the record I find myself reaching for more often than any other in their celebrated discography. It was a departure from their hard-hitting, bluesy rock sound that fans came to expect after their first two releases. Faced with the task of following up the universally acclaimed Led Zeppelin II, the foursome took their time with this one, recording it at a remote cottage in Wales - the end result was an acoustically focused, progressive folk and blues gem. It's shocking to think how LZIII was widely viewed as a disappointment in 1970, but it has aged like a fine Napa cab and sounds as fresh today as it must have back then.
The 2014 reissue received above-average reviews, so when I came across a copy, I grabbed it without hesitation. I always thought it sounded good, but when my local shop had a 70s UK press for under $10, I couldn't resist. For that price, there were a couple marks that I suspected would cause audible pops, but with the median Discogs market sitting north of $50, I could live with whatever imperfections it had. Luckily, none of the scuffs were too deep, and it wound up being a strong VG grade.
I recently sat down for a critical listening session to compare the two presses. Here are my findings.
First up is the vintage UK pressing. I decided to just listen to side B, as it's arguably one of the best four song runs in Zeppelin's entire catalog.
I had high expectations when dropping the needle on "Gallows Pole" and immediately felt the smooth delivery of Page's acoustic guitar. Every instrument had fantastic clarity and a vast soundstage was evident throughout. Bonham's drums and cymbals came through the speakers with authority and were very forward in the mix, as were Plant's powerful vocals. Besides the imperfections from being a used, well-played record, the surface noise was low and didn't intrude at any point. Relative to most of my collection, this UK press was cut quieter, but the sound only seemed to get better the more I cranked the volume knob. Overall, this version rewards listeners with a natural, dynamic presentation that is engaging and fun.
Label: Atlantic - R1-535341
Format: Vinyl, LP, Reissue, Remastered, 180 Gram
Country: USA & Canada
Released: June 2014
Having spun the 2014 reissue a handful of times, I know its intricacies well. It has always been an enjoyable listen, however, this was the first time it immediately followed its much older, English predecessor.
Right from the get-go, that signature Led Zeppelin punch was obvious. The highs and vocals sang with clarity and detail. It didn't quite have the toe-tapping, engaging sound of the '72 UK, but it was still a very good, albeit alternate, mix. The soundstage left something to be desired and was one of the most noticeable differences between the two. Also, the mastering was relatively hot/loud, and as a result, I suffered from listener fatigue after a few songs.
Most people will be more than satisfied with this readily available reissue, but if you ever stumble upon an early UK press, pick it up with confidence.