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TSRTS Vinyl Review

The Song Remains the Same 180 gram Vinyl 4-LP Set Review (2008 Issue)

Sorry it took so long to get this written! This audio review is based upon the subject review in BLACK vinyl only (no way am I playing my white vinyl!). I visually compared the white and the black vinyl issues. They appear to be stamped from the same stampers - the dead wax writing is identical. I have a postal scale and I weighed each version. The scale isn't super accurate and doesn't read in grams. The black vinyl weighed in at 6.8 ounces (192.7 grams) and the white vinyl weighed in at 6.5 ounces (184.3 grams). If my copies are typical, a person might be able to tell the difference between a sealed white vinyl copy versus a sealed black vinyl copy - the white set would be about 30 grams lighter. In my discussions with folks who have both colors of vinyl, there is NO consistent way of telling which color you have based on observation of the sealed packages.

Most websites and sources call this a "re-mastered" album. This usually means that a mixed 2-channel source was "cleaned up" and re-issued. However, since they went back to the multitrack tapes and actually re-mixed, this should be called a "re-mixed" album. Re-mixing gives far more control. The sticker on the front of the box set says "Remastering supervised by Jimmy Page." I think that the statement on the back of the box "Mixed by Kevin Shirley" makes a bigger impact to my mind (and ears). When the album was mixed the first time (by Eddie Kramer), Kevin was barely old enough to drive.

Let me state up front, TSRTS is my least favorite Led Zeppelin album - but that statement is loaded! When TSRTS came out, I played it over and over (and saw the movie about 20 times in the first month - no kidding), but about a year later, I discovered bootlegs, and I soon enjoyed the variety that I could have by picking different years, etc. TSRTS was actually the only Zep vinyl album that I didn't wear out as a teenager (at least not to the point of buying a replacement - like I have for all the other Zep LPs). So my point is, I don't have a good reference of what TSRTS used to sound like in my head. My old vinyl version probably has a bunch of wear. So I won't compare them.

Very first impression: WOW, what a quiet disc! Not a sign of any tics or pops - not one!! Side one is the most quietest album sides that I own, hands down! Some of the other sides had a bit of tics (especially the NQ side), but overall, a very very quiet album. Quieter than any of the the 200g QSV Zeppelin re-issues.

I really like the re-insertion of the originally missing tracks - the continuity is much better, especially for us folks who are used to listening to full-shows (boots), and know the setlists pretty well. I can imagine, back in the day, the agony the band must have felt trying to decide what songs to keep for the original 2-LP set. Realizing that they only got about 80 minutes (~20 min per side times 4 sides) to represent a Led Zeppelin concert - that’s not even half a show! (add to that the fact that one of the 4 sides must be saved for D&C!). Now I can work off my beer belly by getting up off the couch 8 times to play a full Zep show!

The bass is *really* great sounding - very pronounced yet tight, in part due to the half-speed mastering, no doubt. The bass on the first side of D&C is sooo tight! (yes D&C takes up more than one side!). The overall sound is very well balanced, in fact, possibly too well balanced and perfect for a live show. Every decibel seems to be in place. I would have liked a rawer, looser sound to it all. It might be just my lack of remembering the original issue, but this version seems to have Page turned down just a tad. I originally thought that, but then I'll change that statement to perhaps Jones and Bonham are a little more turned up. But not for the bad - don't get me wrong! The balance and sound is so good, that you can very easily concentrate on one member versus another. My memory is that the original mix was more of the "70's Rock & Roll Guitar Band" sound.

But now we get to my pet peeve: Oh why oh why did they have to convert to the digital domain??????? I know the answers: total control and manipulation down to the millisecond, lower noise, no generation loss, automation, dynamic range, etc etc. But don't they know that most of the folks that are going to play this 180 gram vinyl are folks with great equipment and educated ears? I mean, just think of it this way: You start in analog, you convert to digital, then you convert back to analog, just to stick it back on an LP? Analog is where it's at baby, why did you have to digitize? I could hear within a couple of minutes of my first needle drop - that digital "sterile" sound, though certainly this album is warmer and not as strident as a CD. For people that don't know what I'm talking about here (and/or think I'm nuts), its very hard to explain. There are just certain aspects of analog that sound better than digital (and the opposite can be said, as well). There is a very subtle "digital" sound that can be heard. Don't get me wrong - I'm not one of those snob analog purists, I like both. There is definitely a place for CDs. But for me, reverting back to a great sounding album is like sipping brandy by the fire with my love. Its warm, and it's sound stage forms a mood. When I listen hard to a CD, I can't get to that place. Okay.....I digress.......

As expected, Kevin Shirley and Jimmy Page did a fantastic job. You guys couldn't have done a better job (except for my digital nit-pick). The sound is massive and perfect. The thing about Zep is that they NEVER get old - it was great as a teenager, and it's just as great now. I can't wait for the vinyl version of Mothership! I'm told that there IS some stuff on there that doesn't have analog in the chain! I will have fun trying to pick out the AAA versus the ADA!

Bruce Deerhake
August 15, 2008