How to find the good CD recordings?

I'm new to high end audio but have a decent system. One of the things I've noticed with this new (old) system, is that some of my CDs which I used to think sounded fine just don't sound all that good anymore while some of them sound great. A lot of these CDs are 30 years old and came from CD clubs (remember those?) and typical record stores.

I've noticed in particular that some of my Led Zep CDs just sound a little flat and a little shallow while some of the Pink Floyd and Rush CDs sound quite good. 

Is this just a matter of Floyd and Rush having higher production quality from the beginning? 

Would later "remastered" Zep CDs sound better? Is "remastered" always an indication of better or superior quality? Is it just marketing hype sometimes?

Anyway, with this new system I am inclined to buy the best quality recordings of any newer music I buy and possible replace some of my old favorites.

So is there a place on the internet where one can go to get reviews of the actual recording quality and not just the music itself. I don't see iTunes or Amazon as particularly useful here. At this point I am not interested in pursuing vinyl or high end audio files. I'm still just getting my feet wet and CDs seem like a cheap way to do that.

Any assistance much appreciated,

One of the best websites for info on CD quality from experts and users is to Google the Steve Hoffman forums.

And as far as remastering of rock bands goes, the originals are almost always better. If you own a high quality, revealing CDP or transport/ DAC, the data extracted from the early Redbook disks can reproduce astounding music. Led Zep and Pink Floyd especially. Remasters will remove tape hiss but at the cost of compressing the dynamics.

I have hunted down the early LZ releases and often the German pressings are superior. The Japan issues are also very good. Once in awhile, an early US CD may sound the best. On my system these CDs have low noise, good tonal quality and excellent 3D imaging. The telltale sign of good digital LZ is if Bonham’s drum kit has good separation and the kick drum cuts thru the mix.
I also have a collection of Pink Floyd CDs from different periods. I like the Japanese releases. I must say that the 2011 Floyd remasters are very good.

I use Discogs .com as a reference to find every version of a recording.

If a CD sounds very flat or with poor detail, you can try reversing the speaker leads. Many recordings have been mastered out of phase or polarity.
I’m just starting to take CD seriously, and for the first time, installed some digital equipment in my main system. The difference in sound among different CDs of the same album is as dramatic as the differences in vinyl LP pressings of the same record. I don’t know that there is any rule of thumb--
I agree that some of the early CDs sound very good-- I got a copy of a Japan for US Tumbleweed Connection out of curiosity- for $1.91 on E-Bay. (I was the only bidder).
I have several early DJM pressings of the record on vinyl and that one was recommended on the Hoffman forum as ’close’ to the sound of the early DJM vinyl pressings (which if you get a good one, can have unbelievable bass, impact and spaciousness). I know that there’s a ’thing’ about the Target CDs- I presume it’s because they were early, German, and some were flat transfers.
As to Zep on CD, I haven’t a clue but you might poke around the Hoffman forum, as suggested. (I have a pretty deep shelf of older Zep LP pressings, along with a few reissues and every one is noticeably different in sound).
If you look at older threads on Hoffman, you’ll see some deeper comparisons rather than simply unequivocal statements about which one is ’best.’ I have not done that b/c most of the reason I’m chasing CD now is for rare and obscure stuff that is crazy money as an original LP pressing and hasn’t gotten a decent vinyl reissue. Thus, there are only a handful of choices for the deep archive stuff. As for the standard ’classic rock’ repertoire, Hoffman forum is probably your best resource for anecdotal information on the sonics of different releases, but use it as a guide-  it is still no substitute for listening and making your own evaluations.
I'm probably not the type to want a bunch of different CDs of the same album. I realize that this would be the best, and really the only way, to find what sounds best to me, I'm just not into this enough, yet, to put the legwork and money into it. 

So I will be relying on reviews to a large extent. Thanks for the references.

lowrider, my CD player is an Arcam CD92. It got good reviews in its day and supposedly the DAC was something special then. That's all I know about it.

I'll spend some time with my Zep CDs tonight and see what I can hear.

And I guess the practice of comparing a Pink Floyd CD vs a Zep CD is probably not the best approach.

The Dynamic Range Database site is a good reference for researching dynamic range. For older recording with multiple releases/masterings over the years it is interesting to watch the DR sucked right out of the recordings on the newer issues.
Between DR DB, Discogs and Hoffman forums you can almost find everything you want to know.
Since you will be playing CDs, or any form of digital music, you need to learn about "The Loudness Wars."

There’s also another period in CD history; for a short time when CDs were being introduced, some masters were not transferred at the proper specs for a digital disk, so they suffered from poor quality. Many were recalled or thrown away, so it’s unlikely to find one.

Your Arcam may be a fine player, but the rest of chain is also important for revealing good SQ from music recordings.

Start buying some used CDs or "sale" items and see how they sound. If you have a decent system you’ll be able to hear the disks that suffer from overcompression. They have limited dynamics, most noticable in the bass. It’s not deep or tight and the bassline usually blends into the rest of the instruments. There may be a wide soundstage, but there won’t be much of a 3D image.

I just took a quick cruise through some of the Hoffman threads on Zep and there appear to be three major eras: the ’originals’, which I gather were mastered by Barry Diament; the ’90s era George Marino remasters and the John Davis remasters that were done at the time the Zep catalog was reissued on vinyl in the last several years. There does not appear to be a consensus (shocking).
When those new vinyl issues came out, I bought the first three albums on LP, just out of curiosity, and though they were clean, quiet, had deep bass and were very ’clear’ sounding, they didn’t convey the same immediacy and punch of some of the better vinyl pressings, e.g., the US RL mastering of II, which may be the best sounding Zep record extant. It has a freight train delivery.
None of the Zep albums are in my view of audiophile quality-- it is somewhat sad, given the significance of the band, that they weren’t able to put together better quality recordings.
That said, I bought the recent vinyl reissue of How the West Was Won, which was also mastered by John Davis, and it sounds surprisingly good for a live recording.
I’m sure there are outliers out there too-- for example, my best sounding copy of LZ1 on LP (and I have quite a few different pressings, some rare or expensive) is a Japanese pressing done in the early ’70s on Warner-Pioneer. That’s the reason why I suggested you take a listen for yourself. I am a fan of the early Zep (my favorite album is still the debut which is a poor recording in my view) and spent a fair amount of time and money buying multiple copies (mostly older pressings) to find the ones I thought sounded best. That said, it was a somewhat expensive, time consuming endeavor. I suspect you could do the same with the CDs, and it probably wouldn’t cost as much, but it would be time consuming. And, even with that, different ’pressings’ or masterings are often strong in one area and lacking in another. So, you wind up picking the versions that best match your listening preference and system strengths/weaknesses.
Now you’re gonna get me to start evaluating these things on CD!
PS: I just took a quick look on Discogs and the Diament mastering of LZ 1 seems to cost about 3 bucks! (Granted, most are a little more expensive, but if that is reflective of the cost of most of the CDs, you could do these evaluations yourself pretty cheaply, at least compared to sussing out the vinyl LPs). Good luck, and have fun, part of the enjoyment of this is the hunt. 
lowrider, interesting that you mention the loudness wars. I don't think loudness and volume are the same thing but certain CDs are definitely louder at a given volume than others. A new CD I purchased recently by a new glam band, The Struts, is noticeably louder than most of my other CDs. The quality seems fine, but they're not really a sit and listen type band. (Going to see them in October. They're nothing earth shaking but they are a breath of fresh air in an otherwise pretty stagnant rock landscape.

lowrider, my system is an AR LS16 tubed pre-amp and a Madrigal Proceed HPA2 (Levinson) amp with Aerial Acoustics 7b speakers. Totally inherited, I had nothing to do with their selection. Not sure how it stacks up but is leaps and bounds better than anything I've ever had.

I look forward to looking into the sources you guys have provided.
whart wrote:

None of the Zep albums are in my view of audiophile quality-- it is somewhat sad, given the significance of the band, that they weren’t able to put together better quality recordings.

I came late to LZ (1978-ish) and even though never an audiophile I kind of got that impression even back then. They seemed to have other priorities than production value whereas with Rush, Floyd and others, production seemed to be very important to the band.
You may also want to peruse The Absolute Sound's Super Disc list.  It is a quite extensive listing of superior recordings of both the symphonic, jazz and popular categories.
I’m not a big fan of Geddie Lee’s voice, but I know there are lots of discussions over the merits of various pressings and I have a couple of the records here somewhere. And Floyd- well, Wish You Were Here and Dark Side are obvious favorites, the latter having been done with Alan Parsons. Back to your original question about production values, I’d say yes-- those bands probably have better sounding recordings than Zep did. I think the Stones (and I’m not a great fan of theirs either, though I liked the Mick Taylor era best) had some really awful sounding recordings when they were at their peak. Sticky Fingers, Exile, etc. I have an early stereo UK pressing of Let it Bleed that sounds great, though.
Thing is, a lot of the standard Redbook is pretty much bargain basement pricing and going down, while SACDs and some of the fancier CD issues command money. I think you could spend wisely and buy a whole lotta CDs for your money these days. I bought a bag full at one of the local stores- not necessarily knowing what all of them would sound like, sonically. They were cheap enough-- 3-5 bucks a pop that it was worth just grabbing them. For those that suck, I can simply sell them back to the store for a buck or whatever --
FWIW, the "loudness wars" is all about having everything at '11'-- it's a certain style of recording/production/mastering- so there is no dynamic range, i.e., contrast between loud and soft. As a result, what you hear is very flat in a dimensional sense, with little life-- kinda dead sounding, b/c everything is brought up (or down) to the same levels through the use of compression. 
whart, I also like the older Zep and lean strongly toward their blues based songs. So strongly in fact that I've gotten into the blues that inspired them and have collected many of the blues songs they, well, ripped off. Unfortunately all of these blues songs I collected via iTunes which I only recently learned and now recognize are of fairly poor quality.

I really, really don't want to go down the rabbit hole of collecting blues 45s (or earlier) so I'm not even sure how to go about getting quality recordings of that music......which was as often as not produced on old equipment and with fairly poor quality.

I have enjoyed going to Clarksdale, Mississippi (where the fabled crossroads are) for their spring blues festival. There are stencils of Robert Plant's face spray painted all over Clarksdale.
A lot of the older rock recordings are not very good.  I am a huge Zepplin fan and I was always surprised by the poor quality of their recordings.  A lot of it is due to the compression of the dynamics which sucks the life out of recordings.  Even current groups don't get it and still use way too much compression.  You can only do so much with re-mastering and really have to get back to the original mix.  That being said some of the latter recordings of Bonnie Raitt, Rosanne Cash, Patty Griffin, Wailin' Jennys, etc. are well done.  I always look for the recording engineer as a hope of a good recording. 
That’s why it’s called Loudness Wars. Because when they overly compress the CD dynamic range they can make it louder. So a clue that a given CD has been overly compressed is often that you have to turn the volume down. Whereas for CDs with relatively high dynamic range you might find you have to turn the volume up.
@n80- I too am a big fan of blues, both the old rural stuff (I buy transcriptions, I don’t play 78s) as well as the electric era (from Chicago ’50s era to British blues revival). If you like crushing blues rock, try Barbed Wire Sandwich by Black Cat Bones- it was sort of a crude precursor to Free, without the vocal quality of Paul Rodgers, but it’s a killer. (I have a couple CDs of it, the original vinyl pressing is pretty big money- I’ll try and figure out which one I have that sounds better). Free’s first album, Tons of Sobs, is also a great, great blues rock record- Guy Stevens at Island had a very loose hand, and the band didn’t sound very "produced." Not sure about CD versions of that, but before they morphed into that ’Bad Company’ sound, they were first a monster hard rock/blues act.
That’s cool that you go to Clarksdale (ville). We passed through a couple years ago on our way down to Greenwood, Miss. Despite the bleak history of the Delta, it was surprisingly lush and beautiful- and people couldn’t have been nicer. I did have to ask what ’come-back sauce’ was. :)
PS: the Barbed Wire Sandwich CD that sounds better than the other one I bought is BGOCD916, allegedly mastered from the tapes. Not too pricey. Check Discogs for the BGO copy, circa 2010, i think. That may lead you to Leaf Hound, Growers of Mushroom, which has a very Zep 1.5 sound. The original vinyl record goes for astronomical money. I think the See for Miles CD was made from the tape. I can check.

I lean toward the delta blues but like it all. I'm not an expert by any means. 

I lived in Clarksdale as a child and we have good friends in Greenwood. He is an engineer and worked on the BB King museum in Indianola and he met BB many times. The delta is a fascinating place culturally. So much art and literature came out of it. I love going back. Their is a great blues record store there, Cat Head music. The guy who owns it pretty much runs the blues festival. It is amazing how many Europeans come to it. They seem to appreciate the blues more in Europe than we do here. Most of the acts at the blues festival tour in Europe often but not much here in the states.

Anyway, my Zep 1-4 CDs were mastered by Diament. I've listened again tonight and they are not as bad as I first thought they were. 

Have not listened to much Free except for their one big hit. Will look into that. And thanks for the reference to Black Cat Bones.

If you haven't looked into Gary Clark, Jr you should. He is very talented and has some blues based stuff mixed in with heavy guitar work and even some R&B.

Get a subscription or a trial to Tidal. Tidal have the recent Led Zeppelin “Deluxe” remasters from 2014. This is the best on digital. The drums are much cleaner than anything else. Really exceptional sounding compared to anything else.

I love the delta blues. There is plenty of great stuff out there. Again Tidal is quite good.

Check out Omar and the howlers - Big Delta CD and if you like Led Zep then check The Small Faces and Stan Webb Chickenshack as well as Peter Green’s Fleetwood Mac.

Early Rush is heavily influenced by Led Zep. Unfortunately I have never found anything exceptional sounding by Rush except Power Windows. They are of course a great band.

Check this out (the original drummer could really groove and plays ahead of the beat unlike Peart who is an exceptional technician and time keeper and plays on the beat) Stylistically this drum style serves the song better....

The 2014 LZ remasters are quite good,  The drums are clean with good separation. What they don't reveal that a good original CD does is the decay of Bonzo's large drums and the ambience of the studio. The best pressings reveal "air" around his kit.

And Barry Diamond mastered every CD except IV (Joe Sidore, uncredited).
shadorne, it is my understanding that for Tidal to be meaningful from a quality standpoint would require me to buy more equipment (DAC) etc and I'm not ready to go that route yet. It all sounds complicated and expensive. But I will check out the 2014  LZ masters.

lowrider, I did notice that IV had no credit for mastering.
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I have found that on eBay and Amazon it can be hard to get specific info about any given disc. I'm assuming I can take the i.d. number of the disc and look it up on some of the sites you guys have recommended.
Amazon is probably the least granular in terms of specific issue information and if it is a third party seller, I'm not sure how easy it is to communicate with them. I have gotten a few surprises via Amazon though- buying reissued vinyl, used and getting valuable original pressings. Crazy. The seller simply didn't know what they had.
Ebay- I have bought a lot of old vinyl over the years and almost always verify precise pressing, matrices, mastering inscriptions, etc. by communication with the seller. It also helps separate the seller who is clueless from the ones who are knowledgeable (though I've bought rare, valuable records from people who really didn't know the details but were willing to verify them for me).
Discogs is highly granular in terms of listings for each pressing and variation (to the extent it is in the database- remember it is crowd-sourced). But, I still verify. Some one will be lazy and stick their copy of whatever in the first tranche they see, and it has no correlation with the specific pressing or issue listed. If you go to Discogs, you'll see a drop down for almost every item with the various issues over the years. I use it sometimes to cross-check matrices, but even then it isn't foolproof. 
Cool that you lived there. What history! I saw the road for Parchman Farm but figured I really didn't belong there. - 

All you need is a DAC as you no doubt already own a computer. I would expect most people here own one if not several. Take the plunge! You won’t regret it. You can get a Mytek or Benchmark on 30 day return and a trial subscription to Tidal...

I play a lot of LZ (drums) with my band. So I really like the more forward drum mix of the 2014 masters. I find a tube preamp helps a lot with the hi-hat too - must be added harmonics as the hi-hat often gets buried in the mix on most pop rock.
@shadorne , I can understand your take on the RM drums. It’s the first thing I noticed when playing the new Zep. Excellent work by Jimmy Page. I bought all the remasters on vinyl to replace my worn out records (started playing them when I was a teenager). I learned many of Bonzo’s licks when playing drums in my youth.

As my digital rig surpassed my vinyl, I went a quest to find the best quality CDs. It’s a mix of US, German, and Japanese...and the 2 Targets.
The most amazing sound comes from a LZ II pressed at Teldec.

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From what I can tell from the Dynamic Range Database the most dynamic range compression occurs for the 2014 remasters. It is possible that aggressive compression buys you something although I can’t imagine what.

Well you can check the Steve Hoffman forums and most folks agree - 2014 remaster are the best digital so the very slightly higher compression is not a factor. I expect tidal is the high resolution version but all digital versions are good.


A really nice thread here.  I can't say that I really like the Zep stuff on Tidal. A great example would be something like the MQA of Led Zeppelin's "Down by the Seaside" A great song, with endless possibilities if it would have been recorded like Dylan's 1989 release of "the Man in the long black coat."   The Dylan song is full, rich and presents a wide and detailed separation of the instruments and is on their normal hifi quality. The Zeppelin track is right at you and tinny. IMO no amount of money spent on fancy equipment or so called hi-res tracks can change the original recording. You can put perfume on a pig but it's still a pig.  And as has already been said here, I am referring to the actual process that took place in the studio by the engineers, and producer and later the mixer and mastering.

I have pretty much given up on trying to make my beloved classic rock sound better. That's mainly why I was in the midst of a system overhaul, and now, because of some tweaking and all the new recordings I have discovered in different genres, I am really enjoying instrumental music or acoustic and live stuff.
I do find that the Pink Floyd stuff is very well produced, at least from DSOTM onward. Rush also. I got rid of my Yes cassettes and albums years ago. I need to look for some of their CDs.
Ah, only for the last 50 years. 😛
 In order to get Tidal, you need 20 bucks a month and a streamer of some sort.  You can get one for as cheap as Google Chromecast and a couple add ons and it will work from your phone to control Tidal.  There are lots of tutorials how to do it if you don't want to spend the cash, or run it right out of your computer or phone plugged into a $25 cable in the back of your amp. The DACs on the phones and computer are not the worst things out there.  

Or you could spend $500 on Amazon and in half an hour you could be listening to quality tunes on Tidal if you buy the Bluesound Node2.  I got one this weekend and love it.  Plug it into your router and then to your amp and you are done.  It comes with all the cables as well. Download their app, get signed up for three months of free Tidal and voila.  And, the sound quality is at least as good as my CD player, and you have thousands of them to choose from instead of the 250 I have. You also get internet radio for kicks as well.  You can even have the app open on lots of devices in the same house and play rotating Dj.  Great fun. Now my wife is finally into a bit of hifi.
n80,  One way to learn about blues recordings is by reading.  Much has been written about the blues and which are the best examples of different subgenres such as delta blues, Piedmont blues, Chicago blues, Texas blues, etc. 

The thing is, many blues lovers don't care about sound quality.  Performance is considered much more important by many writers.  But there is enough writing around, both on the net and in print, that you should be able to find the cds you want to add to your collection.

Here is just one place to start for country blues:
Big fan of the Compact Disc since 1987 here. Most of the CDs produced in the 1980's are flat transfers in comparison to the LP (vinyl) counterpart.I rather enjoy these titles, especially, for Classic Rock/Hard Rock from the 60's and 70's.  In eBay listings these are referred to "original" pressings.The CDs from Japan as imports are very sweet as well.
Starting in 1994, the first major overhaul of rock/pop titles, were "remastered".  You can expect a brighter sound and presentation, better details/clarity as well. Around the year 2000 the second major overhaul of pop/rock titles were "remastered " again. You will see the term HDCD for alot of artists, bands, catalog. Also, the SACD entered the scene as early as 1997 through 1999 respectively. 2002 and 2003 were big years a key events as we music lovers received The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan on SACD respectively. Throughout the rest of the 2000's into 2010-2018, catalog after catalog, genre after genre, received another "remastered" treatment.

Referring to Led Zep the 1990 boxed set (4-CD) would be the 1st time those tracks received the remastered treatment. The LZ boxed set 2 a few years after had tracks that were remastered for the 1st time.
Pink Floyd 's "Shine On" boxed set would be the 1st remastered job for this band. I am a big RUSH fan and suggest the original Mercury "atomic" CDs from West Germany. Rod Stewart on Mercury also comes to mind.For artists/bands on the A&M label, seek out the discs that have AM+ on theback of the jewel case-The Police catalog and Bryan Adams titles are outstanding!

Barry Diament and George Marino did an excellent job for their respective works.  Have fun with your search.
Happy Listening!

I’m a little confused about some previous comments: in my opinion Jimmy Page has done a great job of producing LZ; the vinyl was amazing and dynamic from the first release forward, and hearing the super deluxe dvd audio HD versions of any of the first 4 albums will make a believer out of the crustiest skeptic. Bonham’s drums have to be heard to be believed. I have Conrad Johnson tubes, Klipschorns, and a Modwright tubed oppo disc player to listen through, and the the K-horns reveal everything!
If sound quality is your thing, pure Blu-ray audio will not disappoint anything but your budget. The new Sargeant Pepper Blu-ray disc, to me, is the best jaw-dropping state-of-the-art experience out there.
It takes some searching, but Amazon typically features reviews from people like us who care about sound and remastering quality. I typically go to the “latest reviews” link (sometimes at the bottom of the first page of reviews) and nearly always find at least one comment about the remastered sound quality. Tip: look at the “format” listed....mp3 purchasers obviously will not comment on this subject.
Good luck!
chemman, every one says it is easy but I can't seem to figure it out.

First scenario: Tidal on computer, computer into back of pre-amp with a 1/4 jack to RCA. And you say sound quality is okay-ish with that set up? If so, that's what I need to try first.

Second scenario: Node2. So Node2 to router then router to pre-amp. It is the router to pre-amp that hangs me up. What type of cable? My pre-amp has only RCA and XLR inputs and the router is in a different room.

Thanks for the recommendations.
jafant, thanks for that info.

tomcy6, Robert Palmer's book (not that Robert Palmer) called Deep Blues has been on my Amazon wish list for a while. 

I have to agree about the quality issue with the older blues. It simply isn't going to be there and, if you go to some blues festivals it is not always about some level of instrumental or vocal virtuosity (although it is often there). It is much more of an emotional and expressive experience.

The festivals are a great place to experience the blues. Many of the local blues greats have children and grandchildren who are in the business now. Cedric Burnside, grandson of R. L. Burnside has a number of albums out (they are technically hill country blues, not delta, but play a lot in the delta). Junior Kimbrough has family members who play as well.

Cedric Burnside is a great live performer.
@rettrussell- Welcome to Audiogon since it appears that was your first post. The recent LZ reissues on vinyl are fine and probably better than trashed old copies found in most used record bins. But, if you compare the reissue to an RL of II (or the UK plum), or to a UK first press of III (or the Canadian TG), you’ll hear a difference. Whether that’s worth the price of admission is another question since the copies I mentioned are expensive if you want to find a clean unmolested player. (the Canadian III isn’t super expensive just not as many of them around with the right deadwax).
I really stop after the first album but listen to the others occasionally. The first album was the toughest for me to find a good sounding copy. The Piros 74 remaster that is the ’fav’ on Hoffman is around and close to great for what it is- market is probably just under $100 for a mint- copy pressed at Monarch. The RL of HOTH is cheap and gettable. The other copies I have are all over the place, some Classic 45s, some Classic 33s, various UK and US pressings from the era when the records were released or remasters done shortly thereafter.
Let me underscore that none of this relates to the CDs- I simply haven’t listened to them. Sorry if that’s a diversion, but to the extent I was contributing to the confusion, that’s my take. The new records are fine, unless you want something better at a price. And, for the most part, you are in collector territory and dealing with condition issues.

You have good ears! What Daniel Lanois did on Oh Mercy is absolute magic. I think LZ Deluxe sounds tinny until you crank it! When you crank it you realize it was mastered to be played louder than average. Finally the LZ catalog is highly variable even within the same album - individual songs are great sounding while others on the same album are poor.

For classic rock I recommend a tube preamp to get the most out of it.

Try Nils Lofgren Keith Don’t go live for superb sound. 

Led Zeppelin would sound good on a boom box.
This is way off topic, but have you Zep fans seen Greta Van Fleet? To me they almost seem like a LZ parody but I think there is some talent in there. I think they need to take a year off, listen to zero LZ and only listen to the blues then come back and write some songs.
Off topic again, but I'm listening to Led Zeppelin I on vinyl right now. I got it about 1980. It does not look too good and there are some clicks and pops here and there but it sounds pretty good on an old and only middling turn table and a $50 phono pre-amp. Maybe as good as the CD I have. I'm impressed.
George, As far as a guide to cds goes, I don’t think Deep Blues will help much.

I see that All Music is still doing a print version Guide to the Blues (as recently as 2003 anyway):,204,203,200_QL40_&dpSrc=srch

I don’t think that they will get into the sound quality of different releases much, but it will probably help you identify albums to research sound quality for. As others have said, the Steve Hoffman Music Forums are probably the place most devoted to sound quality. It could take some work to find blues discussions there, but there are some. You can sometimes get sound quality info from Amazon reviews too.

A quick recommendation: Robert Johnson The Complete Recordings (The Centennial Collection)
The one with the brown booklet and j card, not the black one.

No, Deep Blues is more of a guide to who's who and what their history is. Not a buying guide. 

I had a Robert Johnson collection on vinyl years ago. Will look into the CD you mentioned above. I do not have a collection of blues music. Mostly just scattered singles from iTunes or southern music CD compilations (Oxford American some of which are quite good). I need to put together a collection of the basics.

Next time I'm in Clarksdale, possibly this fall, but definitely in April for the blues festival, I will spend some time and money at Cat Head music. The owner Roger Stolle (nice guy) who runs the festival teams up with Jeff Konkel who runs Broke and Hungry Records to do some documentaries on delta and hill country blues as well as a video series called Moonshine and Mojo hands (worth a watch). Broke and Hungry Records records a lot of the local musicians in an economically as possible way. I'll let Roger spend my money in his shop.
For the Node, you plug your the ethernet cable to the Node into the router.  Then your RCA out from the Node into the preamp. Both cables are included. I think I use AV the port, but that part is not important you just need an open channel.  The Node initially will do a firmware update and blink red to green for a few minutes (that's not in the instructions) After that, download the app for free to computer, tablet or phone or all.  Use the app to sign in to Tidal and you are done.

For direct to computer/phone to Preamp you need something like this:
If you want to get a cheap DAC they sell that Dragonfly and it is a MQA renderer and plugs into your USB port. (same cord to Pre)   I personally think the sound quality out of the Dragonfly Black is not worth the $100 bucks.  Half the time I just plug that evergreen into the headphone out and don't hear any difference.

I wanted to not use a computer for music anymore so that's why I got the Node2. I've had it four days, and it's easily the best source I've owned. Mainly because of the convenience.  The internal DAC is decent and sound quality is very good. I have read many review that discuss adding an external DAC from the Node, and you can easily.  The increase in sound quality can be had, but the results vary widely.
Dude, we are on the same wavelength.  I just discovered the Nils Acoustic live about two weeks ago. Try Ray LaMontagne live.
Regarding finding the best Zep CD, it’s kind of a crapshoot.
I’m listening to LZ IV today and all 3 releases are different. The US (1987) has little detail and poor imaging; there is no separation between vocals and drums.
Germany (1987) is holographic. A wide and deep detailed image, and great separation with drums in the background with a clear bassline. It’s outstanding.
Germany Target release (1984) is transparent with good detail and a 3D image. Drums have space behind the vocals.
And sometimes there is no difference in SQ between a first issue and a later release.

With all the different CD releases I own, the best sound comes from a pressing with a low noise floor. The pressing plants may get the same master, but like pressing vinyl, each facility is different and the QC is different. Pressing a CD is a physical process where the playing side of a disk is actually pressed into a very accurate formation.

Another example, I have a very clean copy of LZ I, but it will never equal the SQ of the later albums due to the noise in the recording. The master tape was recorded over many times during the mixing session, the source reels had many hours rewinding/FF on the ATR’s. And due to the tape wear there is noise and even bleed through.

I’ve discovered that finding quality CDs is no different than looking for the best vinyl release. It takes some research and buying several copies.

And then there's the issue of reversed channels on LZ releases. On Steve Hoffman there's a very long discussion about the matrix numbers and which issues have the correct L,R channels.