Led Zeppelin III Tones Down the "Heavy"

(Ed. note: "Sample 1" is Bernie Grundman's cut for Classic Records)

The third Led Zeppelin album has its heavy moments as on the banshee scream opener "Immigrant Song" but most often the pace is faster, the grooves lighter and at times it's downright celebratory.

The group's folk roots show on "Gallows Pole" side two's opener, while the blues base is evident on "Since I've Been Loving You" and the closer "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper". Parts of "Out on the Tiles" could be an outtake from Jeff Beck's Truth album while "Friends" signals what the band had in store for Physical Graffiti. One can easily imagine Jack White listening to "Bron-Y-Aur Stomp" and being inspired to launch a career.

Side two is almost all acoustic folkie-based with "Tangerine" pointing the way towards "Stairway to Heaven". The first two album's bombast and heavy, almost cartoonish rhythmic jerks are mostly MIA while Page's nimble acoustic guitar forays produce luxurious listening.

The whimsical cover art telegraphs well what's found in the grooves. I can't recall how the album was originally received by either the press or the public in 1970 but in 2014 Led Zeppelin III holds up very well.

Analogplanet.com readers are most interested in how this reissue compares to other versions so i spent a good deal of time comparing it to an original Atlantic mastered at Mastercraft by "RR" with "So Mote Be It" handwritten in the lead out groove area, with a later German orange/green pressing and with Classic's Bernie Grundman cut from a decade ago.

First of all, the original is pretty awful compared to any of the others. It's dynamically limited and frequency limited as well. It's just plain muddy. And the UK "plum label" Atlantic was pressed using another Mastercraft lacquer so while the plating and pressing quality are probably somewhat better the sound is most likely equally mediocre.

The German reissue (ATL 50 002) I have which says ©1973 but probably is a later issue sounds far better than the American original and is overall pretty good but the Classic reissue cut by Bernie Grundman is far superior being far more dynamic and transparent with better bass response.

This time Grundman holds off the upper frequency extension so obvious on the first and second Led Zep Classic reissues to provide a far better overall frequency balance. If anything he's punched up the bass slightly compared to the Page supervised reissue, though overall the tonal balance is close though the Classic sounds more lush in the mids and the digitally mastered reissue sounds slightly recessed. It emphasizes the initial acoustic guitar transient pluck over the wooden body sustain. The Classic is more about the sustain and a bit softer and more luxurious on the transient attack.

Overall the tonal balance is close between the Classic and Page supervised digital remaster but what's not is the textural balance and dimensionality. The Page reissue has a slightly gritty quality to all of the transients. It's something you only hear in a direct comparison, which shows that the Classic reissue has a silkier yet no less precise attack. What you also hear in a direct comparison is that the Classic reissue is noticeably more transparent, definitely more dynamic and the sustain and decay are more generous. The Classic is also far more three dimensional. The digital remaster is spatially flatter.

The final track "Hats Off To (Roy) Harper features a "tearing" vocal sound effect. When I played the digitally remastered version I noted it. When I played the Classic version I jumped, worrying that it had damaged my speakers.

What you hear and how you react will to a certain degree be personal taste and system-dependent but here are two short samples, one from the Classic reissue and one from the digitally remastered reissue.

Sample 1

Sample 2

Overall I'd say the new digitally sourced reissue is certainly way better than the original American and UK pressings and equal to but different than the Classic reissue. Given a choice I'd opt for the Classic but given what those are going for, this new one, well-pressed at Pallas will surely do for most fans, especially those with the original pressing.

I'm not identifying which sample is which for now. Please give us your preference in the comments section. As for the second disc in the deluxe edition, most of it is alternative mixes or versions without vocals so Karaoke away! There are tracks here not on the actual release and vice-versa. I'd say it's only for Led Zep completists.

Music Direct Buy It Now

Joe Crowe's picture

Would be curious to hear how Tom Port would respond (or perhaps not). Don't have 3 re-issue but recently downloaded IV (96/24) and would comment that much here applies there as well. Very clean and sharp above the lower mid, crisp for want of a better adjective. However, seems like whatever disagreement Page and Plant had with Jones is still in high gear. If your favorite Zeppelin memories consist of the top range of Plants' voice or Pages' B-bender or Bonzo tapping the tops of cymbals for that cow bell effect you will absolutely love this. On the other hand while you can't totally hide a kick drum without removing it completely the bottom end of this is so devoid of weight it is much like Whitney Houston covering Koko Taylor. Imagine am AM car radio with "perfect' sound in its' bandwidth and an extended high end and you would get the picture. Don't have any original material in fit condition to compare so this is just a one off observation.

pkf2's picture

Sample 2 sounds much better to me.

analogkid14's picture

These reissues are welcome, simply because a good original pressing is becoming out of reach for the budget vinyl aficionado. Had to exchange once due to side two being off-center, the replacement plays fine. I have never actually heard a good vinyl pressing of this record, so thank goodness we have this

storym's picture

Just had to tell you, love your XTC picture, one of my fav.bands . Also agree, nice to have this reissue, since I have a US late 70s or early 80s.

MrRom92's picture

The 200g LZIII is the only Classic LZ I have. I never liked how Immigrant Song sounded on that pressing but Bernie really nailed the rest of that album perfectly. Top notch, couldn't imagine listening to it any other way. original pressings for the rest - while the I and IV classics are good too, I prefer the originals, and there's no substitute for a minty RL II...

Michael Fremer's picture
"Immigrant Song" cannot sound good no matter who masters. It's a not very good recording, particularly the kick drum and bottom end generally... The "minty" RL II is of course the bomb. I've heard but don't have. However the plum label UK pressing is damn good too.
Martin's picture

Factual and focused on the sound. A change. I miss the emotion laden reminisces though.
I have an original US first press of Led Zep III and the Classic reissue. If I was going to play Led Zep III I would always put on the Classic, so much better than the original. Though of course I had no idea why and can't express it.
In fact for all of the first four except No. II, I think the Classic reissues sound the best. In the case of II, the RL cut is easily the best, with the Classic and the UK plum being equal for what I like, though they sound different. The Classic has better definition, but the UK plus has that special something. It's just nicely balanced all round. And it's not as in-your-face-loud like the RL. They are all great and eminently playable.
Unlike the US original of Led Zepp III compared with the Classic.

atomlow's picture

This was actually quite difficult to say which was the Classic. I can pick the Classic pressing Zep I without a doubt. I'd say after listening on somewhat low quality in ear headphones that The first track is the Classic pressing. I'd rather buy #1. It's good to know the reissue is comparable to the Classic. I bought the reissue when it came out, I'll have to pull it back out and give it a spin.

atomlow's picture

For some reason I still feel #1 is the classic, but #2 sounds better. The bass seems distorted in #1 and much smoother in #2.

tlat.com's picture

Both samples close but I heard more natural strumming from track two so I would bet it's the Classic version. Only hearing thru head phones on my lap top so it's a toss up.
Thanks for another great review and fun home work.

azmoon's picture

..sounds best to me. Also think this is the best 35 seconds of the album!

Bigrasshopper's picture

Just last night I traded in my LZ III Box, along with Mothership and my Beatles Stereo Box and other "questionable" tests and unplayed odds and ends at my local record shop for store credit.
They were very happy to have LZIII Box and I was happy for them, I know I could have gotten more, (I kept the hires card) but I like supporting them after their recent expansion, and especially since their now finally stocking a lot from the Analog Productions label and the new RCA's. I like supporting Acoustic Sounds too, online, but it aggravated me that their plant was just three hours drive and "the" major shop in K.C. didn't carry them. Problem solved.
Since I kept the Stereo Box Book they weren't interested, until I said just take them as individual albums and I'll throw in the box and keep the 5 1/4" of shelf space for the Monos.
I agree with Michael's comparison between the digital vinyl and the Classic. I haven't played them recently but I clearly remember listening first to the latest reissue, I was fairly satisfied, then, putting on the BG just put everything into a space that can actually be entered into with ease, like an invitation. I really crave those acoustic moments when I feel I'm being carried aloft. I'm not really a true LZ hard rock fan, but even in those blazing rifts, if I turn it up and surrender myself to the onslaught, there is an elasticity even there that powers the native distortion and makes the hybrid version harder, even though the Classic is more penetrating in its aggression.
Of course I had pay dearly to be able to make that comparison. Which is unfortunate because it needn't have been so.
On the album box sets, if anyone was actually contemplating buying all nine, it would be a far better thing from were I'm sitting, to spend your $1000 plus dollars acquiring as many Classic's as that might afford you. Despite the "presentation value" of the book, the soundstage of the all analog Classic album is just better illustrated.

samman's picture

I don't have it in front of me to look at the label, but my Canadian pressing of Led Zep III kicks ass. Warm and smooth throughout.

David Andrews's picture

I shouldn't give this away, but, having grown up near Buffalo, and gone to Toronto a lot ever since, 1970s Canadian pressings are outstanding, sometimes better than the US. London Records Rolling Stones albums is one case, as are Warners Van Morrison albums - I bought up a lot of both by the early 1980s, at which time the quality dropped. (Any Canadian disc with a barcode on the cover should be scrutinized and auditioned.) Ontario cities and towns are still great places to find quality used pressings, and I've no doubt the other provinces rock for this too.

vinyl_lady's picture

I listened to both 3 times through my crummy Altec Lansing computer speakers using the AudioQuest Dragonfly at work and while they are close, I think sample 2 sounded more detailed, airy, and stronger in the bass. I need to get better speakers for the laptop. Maybe Santa will honor my wish.

I have the Classic Records reissue of I and IV and a slightly noisy RL of II (I didn't take very good care of my records in college)The Classic of I and IV are superior to any other pressing I have heard including an early pressing of I and IV and a Japanese pressing of IV. I bought the new remastered II and it is pretty good, but not in the same league as the RL. I will probably by the new III since I never bought the original.


jez_ford's picture

Ooh, what fun. From what you say about the bass, I'd guess Sample 1 is the Classic and Sample 2 the Page-overseen. I'd pick Sample 2 - lusher guitars in the middle of the sample, less emphasised bass at the end. I thought the new Zep III a far better job than Zep II, where the top-end was opened rather too much and in places revealed over-modded drum tracks.

DJ Huk's picture

Lester Bangs gave it a good review, somewhat rectifying the slagging I and II took when they were released. Here it is:


I bought the Classic Zep III for my birthday this year (I've had Zep I for several years now, when the Classic Zeps were still going for reasonable prices) and I was in awe, definitely the best-sounding record in my collection. So I plunged the needle in and fed the dragon of my vinyl addiction by paying large sums for IV, II, and Houses of the Holy next and they were worth every cent. I figure that those analog tapes were still in reasonably fresh condition when Classic pressed those LPs, so they can only go up in value. After all, people keep telling me I have to think about my retirement, and it sure beats Lawrence Welk.

cement_head's picture

I think you nailed it - these new reissues might not be the best in each case, but they are so very close, and for the money, they just can't be beat.

audiotom's picture

evaluating an lp from a computer sample is always suspect

from my Peachtree Audio Deep Blue (at work)
Sample two is warmer with more full bodied guitars/etc

a bit of vocal track is always welcome

I didn't buy the III Classic, but have a 70s US and the remaster

I have IV HoTH PG and Presence on Classics
IV on plum, HoTH UK RL pecko, PG UK orig
1-IV on the reissues - holding out on HotH till they fix the distortion on the US copy on The Ocean

In my case the originals beat the Classics - more air and liveliness

still - holding on to both

audiotom's picture

evaluating an lp from a computer sample is always suspect

from my Peachtree Audio Deep Blue (at work)
Sample two is warmer with more full bodied guitars/etc

a bit of vocal track is always welcome

I didn't buy the III Classic, but have a 70s US and the remaster

I have IV HoTH PG and Presence on Classics
IV on plum, HoTH UK RL pecko, PG UK orig
1-IV on the reissues - holding out on HotH till they fix the distortion on the US copy on The Ocean

In my case the originals beat the Classics - more air and liveliness

still - holding on to both

mb's picture

I also have an original US, an original plum UK, a red label Atlantic Canadian, and the new release. The Classic pressing of LZ3 just has an unnatural EQ. Too much bump around 3kH-4kH. Lots of detail at first listen, but the magical acoustic guitars lack natural richness. They sound smaller on the Classic than the other pressings.

The Canadian pressing is my favorite of the pressing I have. It just has an energy that the others lack.

emoore44's picture

Gets my vote. Sounds more natural, more analog so I prefer it over sample 2.

steve3049's picture

Listening with K701's the first sample's highs almost sound crytalline. The second sample has some rich warm midrange and is overall more balanced and real. On #2 I can actually hear the the instrumentation of the mandolin rather than merely know it's there behind the percussion and plucking. BTW, through the years this passage has been the most interesting on the album for me. Great chord progressions AND backwards reverb, very nice!

vinylrules's picture

From your description of how the new reissue and the Classic Records compare I will assume that Sample 1 is the Classic and Sample 2 is the new reissue. But regardless of which is which, I prefer Sample 2 because it sounds warmer and less strident than the first clip (you do say the Classic is far more detailed which isn't necessarily such a good thing here). But if what I am preferring is the new LZIII reissue which was cut from digital master I will be twice as impressed. It is definitely a warmer, mellower presentation.

Incidentally I am feeding the headphone out of my MacBook Pro into the newly released and very impressive HiFiMAN EF100 hybrid tube amplifier feeding the equally impressive HiFiMAN HE-560 planar magnetic (open) cans.

Cheers and keep up the good work Mikey!


atomlow's picture

I don't really pay attention to the music rating on your reviews, I'm more concerned about the sound quality number, but how can you not give Zep I-IV a 10? I had to go back and look at your reviews on Zep I and II and noticed they didn't get a 10 either. To each their own but come on these are some of the most influential records of all time. I take it your aren't a big Zep fan? I see a lot of people dogging on Zep because they ripped this and that off, well they did but they made records that no one else has touched. To answer your question I don't think Zeppelin III was well received when it was released the critics hated Zeppelin. Rock it best.

john ryan horse's picture

Great productions but later discovered how much of the material was stolen and blown up with steroids (check Spirit's 'Taurus', Small Faces/Muddy 'You Need Love', Albert King/Free 'The Hunter', Sonny Boy for "Bring it On Home' Jake Holmes 'I'm Confused'; 'Killing Floor' or as they called it 'Lemon Song' for starters; then listen to "Truth". All that acoustic/electric "light and shade" crap Page has been spouting for decades is all there on the Jeff Beck Group's 1968 disc, but especially note Ken Scott's production of "Truth" - in particular the 2006 UK CD remaster which is truly a thrilling discovery (really, and I've had various editions of the album since '71), way better than any US/UK lp/cd Truths, but to the point it is structurally and in terms of sonic wetness and room-depth a blueprint for LZ1. 'Good Times' is practically 'Shapes of Things', plus the shorter 'You Shook Me' (more meat less bloat on JBG), the finale 'Ain't Superstitious' which in the final buildup was "adapted" by Page on 'How Many More Times', or 'Ol' Man River' or 'Greensleeves' for a richer-than Babe I'm Gonna Leave/Black Mountain' break from the fireworks. Oh, and Page didn't write "Beck's Bolero' either! (BTW I am a LZ fan of sorts - splashy kinetic fun).

rosiemaxx's picture

First album was amazingly good. Sacrilege.

bmilwee's picture

I did not buy the deluxe versions of the 1st 3 LP's but did get the LZ IV with the companion disk. The songs on the 2nd record are noticeably more lively and detailed, like they are better recordings than the ones on the actual album. Do you think this would be due to the bonus tracks being from tapes that have been rarely played as opposed to the time-word album masters? In the case of LZ IV I am happy to have the companion disk with what sounds like fresh masters.

egsp's picture

Your playback system sounds fabulous! What did you use for these samples

Michael Fremer's picture
Continuum Caliburn, Cobra arm, Castellon Stand with Minus-K insert, Lyra Atlas cartridge, Ypsilon MC-10L SUT, Ypsilon VPS-100 phono preamp, Ayre QA-9 A/D converter. It had better sound "fabulous". At retail it costs more than my first house!
Denis Combet's picture

My Canadian first pressing Led Zeppelin III (red label) is very good. So are the first pressing Led Zeppelin I and II. I have a first U.K (Plum orange) Led Zeppelin II: a punch in your nose, a violent nirvana… The new 2014 pressings are enjoyable, but lack the passion of the early pressings. They are very good and better than the Classics to me. I had the Classics Led Zeppelin I, II, III and Houses of the Holy, but even very good, I never found them extraordinary (perhaps my hearing or my stereo). I am new to this site and not an expert. My next question is perhaps not appropriate, but are the Led Zeppelin Classics analogue or digital?

skil's picture

Like most of you, I have multiple copies of every Zeppelin LP. Other than the RL II, Classic Records kills damn near everything else. I will admit I have not heard the Canadian version that others are espousing to.

Regarding Immigrant Song, I have only found one version I like, it's a 45 rpm single from Japan. Up front in your face attach, with better bottom end and kick drum. But even that version lacks what this song could have been.

On the topic of Classic Records, what the hell happened to them? Maybe Fremer can give us his spiel on what he knows. I've heard numerous stories about their demise but they remain stories.

Anyway, spend the money and get the Classics version. It's worth every cent.

Bernd's picture

I am listening to these samples alternatively via my excellent Beyerdynamic T1 and my old AKG 501 headphone, but only played through my computer and an old Sony stereo system.
To my ears both versions sound good. However, especially using the T1, sample 1 appears to be slightly bright, the guitar strings as well as the tambourine in the right-hand side channel sound somewhat harsh and artificial. Sample 2 sounds more natural and a bit more mellow, which fits the mood of the song well.

booker's picture

Sample 1 is obviously Classic Records and Sample 2 is 2014 reissue. To be honest neither is satisfactory to me. Classic is too treblish which makes Jimmy's guitar and Robert's voice sounding rather harsh and unnatural. Reissue is more truthful but again a little bit woolly with no high extension for my ear. My early UK Plum Label copy rules here and is the winner all the way. And this is where I disagree with Michael. Maybe early stampers make a difference. BTW I think that the channels are switched on the samples at least in comparison to all my copies of this album.

egsp's picture

The selections were surprisingly close. Using the ABX program I was able to tell them apart but only after a lot of listening. Record number one is slightly distorted, this is most clearly audible around 28-30 seconds. It may be record-wear? I The second recording was a bit clearer, if a little bit more treble and very slight honking quality, relative to sample 1

egsp's picture

Now, this is an interesting dilemma. Up to now I had not heard anything analog that might be better than a good 24/96, and this is not even a very good recording. Accordingly, I was starting the process of digitizing all my LPs, with the goal of eventually getting rid of them. This could throw a spanner in the middle of my digitizing project!

Listening to the samples, I was impressed with the "air" around the recording, the texture of the strings, and the sense of "blackness" ( quietness) behind the recording. The cartridge setup to me seems boosted in the upper treble, though this may be the recording.

Pat0903's picture

They're both good, but sample 2 seems to have more depth and clearer, more defined instrumentation. Sample 1 is nice, but I thought the bass was a bit muddy.

Tullman's picture

Sample 1 is the Classic and sample 2 is the digital version. I prefer 1.

Tullman's picture

Daughter and Hubby. Melissa says 2 is analog but preferred 1. Mike says 1 is analog and prefers 1.

rockinroni's picture

Hello for me I compared the LZ 3 to a Canadian press and the Classic records 200 gram reissue First let me say I enjoyed the companion disc. I found it to sound really good as opposed to the other lp in the 2 lp set. Of course the classic records reissue killed the 2014 reissue and the more I listened to the 2014 reissue the more it hurt my ears like a cd. In fact I did not know it was digital sourced until I listened to it for the first time. I could not believe what I was hearing. I had just read the info on music direct that said from the original master tape when I purchased the record, but that is not what I was hearing. I was hearing Digital and the BAD part of digital. So i went on line and sure enough there I read
Technical note: The new remasters were created from 192 kHz/24 bit digital transfers of the original analogue tapes. Dough!! What were they thinking what an opportunity lost we had the vault of the led zeppelin and we dogitiged it. yeck! Atlantic could have made an even better reissue than that start up company funded by pre orders Classic records but they chose not to. For me the 2014 reissue just sound like a CD perod.

Tullman's picture

When are you going to tell us which is which?

Tullman's picture

Is this BS?

Michael Fremer's picture
Sorry....Bernie Grundman's was File 1.
Tullman's picture

I guess I passed another blind listening test!

john ryan horse's picture

I don't have all these different editions of LZ catalog, but I do agree the Classics (have 'em all except the horrible live soundtrack) are the way to go with one exception: my Japanese edition w/cardboard-cover replica, of LZII (Atlantic AMCY 2432) is a blast! Hot, detailed, wide-and-deep production (I do stand by my earlier post comparing "Truth" to the first LZ album) thanks to Page and whoever remastered. My Japanese "Fragile" by Yes (also with an AMCY serial number) credits a Japanese engineer for the remaster (which beats the Gastwirt gold disc, and my first pressing Atlantic US lp), but the LZ has no English language credits. Needless to say also superior to the '93 CD, but it may be from that source as the Japanese-language notes sign off w/ the date 9/1995.
Besides the mastering, what else might lead to such a palpable difference in sound? For me Classic did a fine job on I, III, IV, PG, & Presence - each recording has its own sonic identity, and in the case of PG I have never been able to enjoy the four sides all the way through. It tires me, both the mix and the uneven material and flawed structure. As for the bonus discs of unissued material Page has released to bait fans, hardly a finished outtake (song) anywhere. I hear they're saving the good stuff for the 3-disc Coda

simply me's picture

Is your first U.S. pressing from the first lacquer cut and pressed at Presswell? It may make a difference. I just bought one, haven't received it yet, will report on SQ when I play it.

frito's picture

I've seen people thrash the 200 gram Classics version over the 180 gram edition. Is there anything to this? I've been enjoying this 2014 edition but finally caved and ordered me up a Classics ed 200 grammer.

Macman007's picture

I own/have owned a lot of Zeppelin on LP. Classics early 2000's treatments on 180 and 200 gram, all their albums again as either on original US presses or early'70's represses. More US represses from the '80's and '90s. The version of LZIII that sounds best overall to me is the '74 US repress, followed by Classics treatment of III and the latest release from digital files.

People generally run hot and cold over III, love it or hate it, it's got charm and the material ages well. It took me many copies to find one I really dig. The '74 US sounds to me the best of the bunch. It brings everything to the game, many versions of this album lack bass, have too much bass (Since I've Been Loving You), are very flat on top, have too much mid boost, or all three together. The '74 hits it on the head, other than Immigrant Song, and you can't make that song sound good no matter what you do. Bernie Grundman took things a bit far from where I'm listening, the mids and highs sound excessively boosted as does the bass. Still it's a good listen, just a little too hot for my tastes.

The latest Jimmy Page supervised version of III is very good considering the source files are from the digital realm. I get the whole "sounds like listening to a CD" thing, and I think its because the vinyl is so quiet and the tracks sound different than people are used to hearing them. If you are used to listening to vinyl thats clean clear and quiet, with the tracks in good condition, not worn out, you won't feel like this sounds like a CD. When I play LP's from anyone that are in great condition and A/B them with the best quality CD or digital files, the overall sound is very good and very close. But still not as good as the LP versions for all the reasons people have been posting since CD came out and more. I'm a vinyl guy, but some digital is OK too. For the listener who doesn't have a huge budget or access to the best original pressings or can't afford the Classic Records version, the Jimmy Page supervised version are an excellent alternative. Good quality quiet vinyl and excellent sounding tracks all in one package. No need to play the pressing game and buy multiple versions to find a good one you like. Paying 20$ to buy brand new high quality Zeppelin pressings in 2019 that's a bargain. I've seen individuals and shops asking the same $$ for blown out beat up '80's represses not even in the same league as these new version. Hell, buy them all while you still can.

Sinsonido's picture

My original US press Mastercraft says PR in the dead wax, which stands for Paul Richmond, who was the mastering engineer for MasterCraft before Howard Craft. Apparently the muddy sound may be due to the quality of the 3&4-step stampers used in those days.

Mr. Fremer said his copy says 'RR' in the dead wax. I wonder what RR stands for?