Sometimes, but not always. And first pressing from what country? What pressing plant? On Zep 1, for example, my go-to is the US Piros ’74 era recut with the ’CC’ nomenclature in the deadwax, pressed at the Monarch factory, a cut that has been rightly touted and discussed at length on the Hoffman forum; also very good is a 3d Japanese press of the album which I happened into from a seller there. I own an early UK plum (but not the Turquoise lettered cover which was the earliest and is the most collectible), have listened to various US first pressings from different plants on my system by comparison, also have the Classic 33 and Classic 45 of Zep 1, and several other copies.
Zep II- the early US ’RL’ is the one everyone favors b/c of its punch- it was recut shortly after release and commands a fairly high price for one in fine, unmolested playing condition. But the early UK plum is comparable in different ways and the Canadian Red Label marked TG in the deadwax is also very good- cheaper, but harder to find.
Zep III- I really like the first UK plum A5/B5- earliest had Peter Grant credit on the label, but the Canadian Red Label (TG in deadwax) is an equally fine listen. None of the Zep records are "audiophile" quality so you are looking for something that shines, considering the starting point.
I did a shoot-out of Tull’s Aqualung and preferred the early US pressings to the first UK, but then, I also found that Steve Wilson’s remix (from a digitized copy of the multitrack tapes) was an essential listen-cheap, new, and readily available.
Skynyrd’s first album- my shoot-out among first on SOS label, MoFi and a couple others yielded best sound from a later, nondescript MCA "rainbow" reissue circa 1980.
Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy a Thrilll- I like the sound of the 2nd US press (orange target label) better than the first US press (black label). The Speakers Corner reissue is pretty good.
And so on. I think you really have to listen and do the comparisons- sometimes, one particular cutting will have strengths in one area and weaknesses in another. Or the magic is lost because of track to track variability of SQ on the record.
Some of this is shadings and some is listener preference and system bias- the way a mastering is EQ’d may be complementary to your system.
At the same time, I own an awful lot of first pressings, and quite a few early WLPs because they can be sonically better but it is case by case. Unfortunately given the cost of some older collectible records, it’s not easy or cheap to do the comparisons yourself. Leaving aside the "condition" problem. And it takes time. You thus rely on anecdotal reports from others. So, I’ll underscore what I said in the preceding paragraph- apart from collectability, on SQ, it is often differences, rather than one handily "beats" another. Though there is that, too, and usually you’ll find consensus among people on those, e.g. the "RL" cut of LZ II, though I’d still be just as happy with a UK plum. I have come to the conclusion that the quest for the best sounding pressing is just a variation on audiophilia- doing it with records, rather than gear. But it is fun, if you don’t mind spending the time and having 10 copies of the same damn record!
I like RL mastering quality, but I also like UK for lower noise and better instrument clarity. I also know that it's very tough to properly record Jimmy Page and Britts did it slightly better in their 1st release :-)
Generally speaking, you want the original pressing from the country in which the recording was made.
This is because there is usually a feedback mechanism between the artist and the LP pressing plant where a test pressing is produced which is then approved or rejected by the artist/producer. This insures the sound that was intended. This mechanism usually does not exist in the same way in other countries- for example a British recording being released in the US with a US pressing.
I have the Led Zepp II album ( 588198 with A2/B2. It is really interesting reading everybody else's experiences and knowledge on this subject. When I get this copy I shall have a good listen and report back what I think. Although I don't have another copy to compare it to. However I did choose this version to the current one they are selling in the shops on the local high street. I guess it's also the idea of having a first pressing that is nice from a collectors point of view, from an audiophile angle I shall let you know in due course. I probably won't be getting to many first pressings as can be quiet costly.
Agreed with the RL mastered version of LZ II. Many original Robert Ludwig Sterling and Masterdisk mastered first pressings are the ones to get.
As a general rule, first pressings are best, and I generally dislike reissues, particularly the half-speed ones that sound phasey, thin, and compressed. They often use equalization through RLC circuits that add phase distortions. Later masterings usually fail due to degraded master tapes and/or loss of mastering techniques that were superior originally.
Getting a pressing from the country of the artist often works but there are many that don't follow that rule as far as the best pressing. I think a better way is to look on Discogs and learn the parent record company, as the highest generation master tape usually stays in the country of the parent company for mastering, while lower generation tapes are sent overseas for mastering in that country. I learned this when a US A&M pressing of Cat Stevens Tea for the Tillerman significantly beat a UK pink Island pressing. Obviously the highest generation master tape was done by A&M, probably by Bernie Grundman.
Sometimes a second or third pressing can beat an original, but I usually look for the mastering house in the trailout. If it comes from RL, Sterling, Masterdisk, Kendun, Precision, Bernie Grundman, The Mastering Lab, and other independent mastering houses, these are usually sonically superior.
RLawry- at the time Tea was released, Island Records was still an independent company in the UK and had no U.S. counterpart till a short time later, so US territory would have been llcensed. I had to look it up (because I just can’t keep all this stuff in my head), but the UK firsts were mastered by Lee Hulko, who if memory serves, founded Sterling. It wasn’t unusual for Island UK to use a US mastering facility. I’m not commenting on your preference for the A&M over the UK pink (label presumably, not a pink rim); just questioning whether we can construct rules that predict sonic outcomes and how your rule applies in the case you cited. My rule: listen to it! I do agree that the sign-off of one or another of the legendary mastering engineers in the deadwax is a telltale for good sound. Not trying to be a prickly, just seeking clarification of your example.
whart, thanks for the info. So Island was the parent company but A&M either did a better mastering job, as they were wont to do, or received a higher generation master. I agree that there are no hard and fast rules and many exceptions, but I stand on my argument that finding the parent record company is a much better predictor of optimal sonics than the country of the artist, based on, yes, listening. Just listen to ELP for instance. The UK Island pressings sound best except for the first album, for which I found a Cotillion that sounds far better. There are also pressing variations within the same matrix, so sometimes this will lead to exceptions. A good example is ELO. There is no rhyme or reason for which pressing sounds best. Sometimes US, sometimes UK. Of course, we could argue all day what we think is best :-).
^^ I find the Pink Island of ELP's first LP to more lively than the Cotillion, smoother and more detailed at the same time. I've had several copies of each over the years and this comparison has been consistent. FWIW though the Cotillion issue is quite good.
Generally, a first pressing assures you of getting the earliest stampers made from the 'Mother' master stamper. Logic would indicate that this will be the best stamping. However, 1st pressings do not assure you that you are getting the 1st stampers as each stamper only can output a finite number of records before it is worn out so 1st pressings can also contain 2nd and 3rd stampers etc. depending on how many initial copies were to be pressed for sale. Therefore to get the closest to the Master you should look for the 1st STAMPER which may or may not be included in the matrix info on the 'dead-wax'. To go a bit further, not all pressings from the 1st ( or any ) stamper means that you are getting the best possible sound. Various factors influence the sound quality such as the quality of the vinyl used for each 'batch', the temperature of the stamper during that particular pressing, how clean the stamper was at the time of the individual LP's pressing (those pressed right after a cleaning will sound better than those pressed at the end of the cycle before the next cleaning), etc. There are many variables involved and I have heard many examples of much later pressings sounding better than early pressings based on where in the life-cycle of the stamper that particular LP was made. This is why 'Hot Stampers' demand such a premium - each LP must be LISTENED to and compared to others in order to evaluate which LP sounds best - and the 'stamper' numbers become relatively meaningless. For example, I have listened/compared probably over 50 copies of 'Casino Royale' and most are very good sounding. But the excellent ones are all over the place as far which stamper was used. And even among the best ones there are many sonic differences between Bass, imaging, naturalness of vocals and instruments etc. In closing, if you seek the best sounding LP's you can take 1 of 2 paths. Buy multiple copies of each LP, clean them, listen to each and note the qualities/shortcomings of each LP and do a process of elimination to get to the best one. Or pay the price for the Hot Stamper which is nothing more than having someone else do all the work and incur all the cost of buying the LP's and putting in the time to do the culling for you. There is no magic 'Matrix' numbers that will assure you of a great sounding copy. And unless you are very lucky, you will only find that elusive LP by doing the work yourself or paying someone the high price of having already done this for you.
xlh1- I don’t disagree with your observations about matrix information, but sometimes, there are multiple cuts made simultaneously, to supply several different pressing plants when a record is a high volume one. I know there is information about various Columbia plants pressing for Warners/Reprise and the "1" did not necessarily signify a first, although if memory serves, I think it was associated with the Santa Maria plant, which had very good output. (The "2’s" and "3’s" were cut at the same time, but went to different plants).
The Tom Port thing always stirs up controversy- I’m not going to wade into that other than to say that for a common record, I’ll often have multiple copies of the same record as well as different masterings. It does take time, though. And the pressing to pressing variations of identical records-- my suspicion is, most people are going to look for anecdotal comments (which to be meaningful, contain comparisons) to find a general consensus on "best pressing" and go with that. You must have been borderline nuts after listening to Casino Royale 50 times. I do dig Dusty, though.
PS: also agree that sometimes, a later mastering sounds better, see a couple examples I mentioned above, none of which were "audiophile" re-do's, just later, garden variety commercial pressings.
Well my 1st pressing of Led Zepp II has arrived and am very pleased with the quality. I don't have a recent Copy of the same album to compare it to, but can say there is definatly a real rich sound quality to it. I can however compare it sonically to a new copy of Physical graffiti . By comparison the remastered copy sound a tad more hollow .
Anyway just thought I would share my opinion on the matter .