Definitive Cut: Led Zeppelin (Self-Titled)
The search for high fidelity can be an arduous journey, filled with very pricey original pressings and claims that toe the line of snake oil. Because of this, I never allow myself to wander too far down the rabbit hole.
We recently detailed why the "RL loud cut" for Led Zeppelin II is pure, sonic gold, which got us wondering if anything else in their storied discography has a version where the mastering is the stuff of legend. After some extensive research, their stellar debut appeared to have one such pressing, which surprisingly, is an unassuming mid-70s repress by engineer George Piros.
It's hard to believe that this cut is better than an original UK plum label or Classic Records 200g reissue, both of which go for $100s on the secondary market, but multiple online forums swear an “AT/GP” LZI approaches the fabled “RL” LZII. And with the recent uptick in the value of used vinyl, possibly the best thing is that the Piros version is significantly less expensive than its counterparts.
After being armed with this information, I was eager to test my luck in the used bins around Denver. Unfortunately, after a few weeks of coming up empty-handed, impatience and Discogs got the best of me, and just like that, a VG+ copy was en route to my house. I was anxious to see what all the hoopla was about but honestly didn’t expect to be that impressed by the reissue.
Boy, was I wrong - it was obvious from the first kick drum on “Good Times Bad Times” that this was indeed a special pressing. Admittedly, I didn’t have any other version to compare it to, but George Piros’ mastering magic blew me away - maybe not quite as dynamic as the “RL” LZII, but was just as exciting and is hands down the best I’ve heard this album sound. Every song absolutely smoked, with serious low end and texture. It was like a freight train coming out of the speakers, with very revealing, punchy notes, which were almost delicate but allowed the volume knob to be cranked. Where people say the UK plum label gets “mushy” at times or the Classic Records 200g is overly bright and compressed, the Piros cut had none of that - everything was just right.
OK, let's just stop there, because I'm almost on the verge of selling snake oil now. And if you're interested in tracking down an "AT/GP" copy online or are lucky enough to come across one in the wild, here's exactly what to look for, courtesy of the Steve Hoffman Music Forums:
"The 'best sounding' cut is the AT/GP cut with deadwax matrices ending in "C" or "CC".
The Monarch pressing has "CC" (an additional C) in the deadwax
ST-A-681461CC - REPL AT/GP
ST-A-681462CC - REPL AT/GP
plus a stamped "MR" in a circle and another handwitten number preceded by a delta symbol in the deadwax.
...and "MO" follows the catalog number on the label.
The copies I have are SD8216 with 75 Rockefeller labels with the WB symbol. The innersleeve has pictures of mid 1970s Atlantic albums (Alice Cooper, Bad Company, ELP, Yes, Bette Midler).
Also, apparently Atlantic did not update the address on the album jackets much in the 1970s, so it is very common to see a 75 Rockefeller LP in an 1841 Broadway jacket."