Just where to start with Led Zeppelin? And, where to end? As one of, if not the, best rock bands of all time, the band's recorded output is immense and varied, providing classic track after classic track – many of which have proven to be great fodder for testing a hi-fi system's talents, albeit some proving better than others.
If the eleven songs we've included here aren't quite enough, check out our 19 best British rock test tracks (or our wider hi-fi system test track lists) for our thoughts on When The Levee Breaks. Now, sit yourself down in your favourite listening position or clamp on your best pair of headphones, and listen to our pick of Zeppelin tracks that are sure to provide a stairway to hi-fi heaven.
Good Times Bad Times (Led Zeppelin)
What a way to start. Album one, track one, and Page, Plant, Bonham and Jones come out of the gate fully formed as hands-down the greatest-ever rock band. Quite simply, this is what happens when four incredible musicians get together – and that gives us, as hi-fi fans, a lot to appreciate through the right kit.
John Paul Jones plays, by his own admission, one of the trickiest basslines he ever came up with, which should punch out clearly and distinctly. John Bonham displays an awesome kick drum technique here, and this and his multiple fills and transitions should all sound meaty, beaty, big and bouncy. Robert Plant quickly stakes his claim as the best rock vocalist of all time, and his voice should test the clarity of your system. Jimmy Page's distorted guitar, meanwhile, would come to define rock for decades – and accordingly a good hi-fi system will have no trouble maintaining a good tonal balance wherever he goes on the fretboard.
In short, the best kit should track the song's rhythms with precision, map its varied textures accurately but, most importantly, allow you to just sit back and enjoy the genius at work here.
Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin II)
One of the many enduring qualities of Led Zeppelin's recordings is that, experimental as Jimmy Page was, he also liked to leave in little mistakes too – giving even their most thoughtful recordings a warmer, human quality. One of 7" single-eschewing Zeppelin's most famous songs in the UK, thanks to being the theme tune to Top Of The Pops (with extra jazz flute! And Pan's People dance troupe!), Whole Lotta Love is based around a simple, tasty guitar and bass riff, with multiple overdubs such as that 'airplane passing overhead' descending guitar slide before "gotta whole lotta love". The main riff should sound tight and together through a good system, even as Page throws in more techniques and recording trickery, such as backwards echo and stereo panning.
There's a cough right at the start, and listen carefully at around the 4:00 mark and you can hear bleedthrough from a previous vocal track that couldn't be removed from the tape. So Page and producer Eddie Kramer duly cranked up the reverb and left it in, a happy mistake. Top marks then to an analytical hi-fi set-up, but let's not forget that groove – if your system can't dance, the infectious riff and bouncing bass just won't sound so much fun.
The Ocean (Houses Of The Holy)
By the time Zeppelin recorded their fifth album, the band were so big, so confident and possibly so arrogant they were hopping styles and pastiching other genres in a way that could have veered dangerously close to corny in the hands of lesser talent. James Brown-parodying The Crunge and the cod-reggae of D'Yer Maker were hardly their best work, but the similarly tongue-in-cheek The Ocean remains one of their finest grooves.
This is a great test of your system's detail resolution, not least because of the band's desire that the listener should hear everything going on in the recording. In a 2015 interview with Uncut magazine, Page said of The Ocean's recording: "You can hear detail on it because that's what you're supposed to do. It was supposed to be something whereby you could hear everything that was going on." Through a good system then you should clearly hear Bonham counting the band in at the start, and be able to pick out distinct voices in the a cappella section and the "doo-wops" when the track switches to a bouncy doo-wop boogie.
Then there's that guitar riff – the one sampled by the Beastie Boys on She's Crafty. The interplay between the guitars and drums here is both raw and tricky, as the time signature swaps between one bar of 4/4 time and one in 7/8, making it a good test of your system's timing too.
Out on the Tiles (Led Zeppelin III)
Once upon a time, before digital plug-ins and producers were able to 'fix' everything later, recording was all about the room. For much of their output, Led Zeppelin tracked together with the simple three-mic recording technique perfected by production legend Glyn Johns, and here used by Glyn's younger brother Andy – producer of Zeps III and IV. Page is said to have taken things further with an additional microphone some distance from the guitar amp to capture natural room ambience to add texture to the sound, something he'd picked up on during his days as a session player.
If your system's up to scratch when it comes to transparency, you should be able to 'hear the room'; beyond the leading edges of the guitar riff, you can hear some ambient reflection from the room itself – a note-long time lag that adds texture to the guitar part, that would otherwise sound a little more sterile with that natural reverb removed.
No Quarter (Houses Of The Holy)
This live favourite saw the band employ synths and Mellotron to psychedelically creative effect, but it's the space within this evocative masterpiece that will be a great test of your system. Notes should be rendered precisely or the overall intentionally 'muggy' effect will be taken beyond ominously foreboding and become rather more dirgy. Page down-tuned the entire track by a semi-tone by slowing it, to give the recording its ethereal quality, with Plant's vocals given a more haunting eeriness as a result. Page's fuzzy lead guitar riff gives its main section a drive and urgency that your system will need to render with gusto, while it should be equally happy to sit back for the quieter sections to allow that incredibly atmospheric soundscape to raise the hairs on the back of your neck.
Achilles Last Stand (Presence)
One of the band's most complex, epic and hard-charging songs. There's a lot going on here, not least with Page's multiple guitar overdubs, and to avoid the track sounding messy, your hi-fi should be able to pick apart and organise all the different strands to the point where you may just hear something new with every listen, while crucially keeping everything locked in. It's a fast and furious ride, driven by Bonham's powerful drumming and Jones' galloping bassline, with a feel not unlike the (much shorter) Immigrant Song. Here though Jones uses a pick to create a harder, more defined edge to the bass note transients (important in defining all those rapid, galloping string plucks) – and listen carefully and through a hi-fi talented in separating the sonic registers you can pick out a second, more 'regular' and deeper bassline, added to balance out the slightly brighter main riff.
Plant's dextrous eastern-influenced vocal wails will keep your midrange busy, and if your listening position is just right, the soundstage created by all these potentially competing elements will sound nicely composed. Any good hi-fi system will have no trouble conveying the track's excitement for the duration of a song that does not feel as long as its ten-minute running time would suggest.
Tangerine (Led Zeppelin III)
It wasn't often that Plant shared vocals in Led Zeppelin (Sandy Denny on Battle Of Evermore aside), but he manages a beautiful duet on Tangerine – with himself. His double-tracked vocals perfectly complement the rich orchestration here. Provided your set-up is capable when it comes to transparency, Tangerine will chime beautifully as a whole, while any hi-fi that can organise all the different strands and make each and every one sing will be a keeper.
Page played a six- and twelve-string acoustic guitar, which were mixed together as one; Jones provides some beautiful complementary mandolin work before he and Bonham join in with a straight-ahead but effective rhythm track – and good dynamics are key here to appreciating the poignant shifts between gentle verses and punchier choruses. Finally, Page's wah-wah bolstered pedal steel is beautifully plaintive, and will test the upper-midrange like a baby's cry.
Trampled Under Foot (Physical Graffiti)
In 1975, Zep got 'The Funk' with this song about naughty love. As commercial a hit as Zep ever had, you'd really have to credit Stevie Wonder as this song's biggest influence. Jones rolls out a clavinet for this one; an electric keyboard that was favoured in the ’70s for making 'guitar-like' sounds, as Stevie used to great effect on Superstition. This track needs to dance; it's underpinned by a relentless beat from Bonham that rarely breaks for a fill, and that plus the distinctive down-and-dirty guitar riff will be a good test of your system's rhythmic drive and timing. Again, guitar overdubs splash broad paint strokes across the track's sonic canvas and you'll want a system that can pick out all the different elements and organise them neatly, even as the track gets more chaotic toward the end.
Fool in the Rain (In Through The Out Door)
This later period Zep banger will favour a system that likes to have fun above all else. Inspired by the samba beats that could be heard reverberating around the stadiums of 1978's Argentina World Cup (there's even a football whistle here!), Fool In The Rain is a fine test of your hi-fi's rhythmic abilities and way with dynamics. It's mostly about the rhythms, actually, and Bonham is the undoubted star here – his percussion and samba-inspired beats in the track's crazier sections should be tracked with care by your system as they speed up manically, before dropping back into the cultured version of the famous Purdie shuffle Bonzo plays in the main verses. His drums have a resonant quality, and you should be able to hear and enjoy the sympathetic ringing from the kit that makes a great drum track feel 'real'. As a side note, his drumming here directly influenced Toto's Rosanna groove. Yeah, he really was that good.
Dazed and Confused (Led Zeppelin)
One of the first tracks brought to the newly formed Led Zeppelin by Page, who had recorded a version with the Yardbirds, this set the band's stall out for heavy-ass blues rock and proves a great test for your system's ability to define the 'colours' in a sonic picture. JPJ's low, deep bassline is played with both precision and feel, while Page's mournful guitar effects and use of a violin bow across his guitar create a call and response with Bonham's sparing drums that soon gives way to righteous anger by way of a fast, pounding middle section. But it's Plant's incredible, emotive vocals that steal the show ultimately (blues guys did love to have a good whinge about their women treating them badly), and are best heard through a system that can render vocals with the skill required to keep all the power of his delivery, and the sadness behind it, intact to the very last 'waaah'.
Stairway to Heaven (Led Zeppelin IV)
How could we not? As a test of dynamics, Zep's most famous track offers up so many flavours it is sure to give your stereo a demanding but also fair test of its talents. In the opening section, Page's famous finger-picked arpeggio'd guitar should feel crisp and clear, and through a sufficiently talented system you'll hear his fingers move on the fretboard, while the soothing recorder parts sing gently below it. When the drums come in, your hi-fi should render the extra textures elegantly while losing none of the frequencies or muddying any of the instrumental strands from the gentler opening section. By the time the band go 'full rock', with Plant's powerful almost-falsetto vocals laying the rock blueprint from everyone from Dio to, well, other bands with Dio in them, you're carried along with the tune's power and momentum – something a good system will facilitate.
Stairway may seem like an obvious choice, but if delivered with authority through a good hi-fi system, there are few better musical experiences.
See all our test track lists! The best test tracks to trial your hi-fi system