Ok, here's my quick review of the HDTracks download of Led Zeppelin's second album "spinning" at 96 kHz / 24-bit resolution: it rocks rather righteously!
Now on to the rest of the story...
Overall the sound is really nice and full, with great drum sounds on tracks like "The Lemon Song" and the demo-worthy intro to "Thank You." You get plenty of cowbell on "Moby Dick" as if John Bonham was stepping out from between your speakers with a cow bell in hand rocking it in your face. Seriously, if you want to hear great sounding drums in high resolution, this is your demo track with Bonham's solo presented in all its rock-god-to-be majesty.
The high end is a bit on the shimmery side, clearly riding that fine borderline where (I'm assuming its the) digital processing can make the sparkly peaks sound a bit crispy crunchy.
I could go on effectively splitting hairs on this one but I'd rather discuss a point that is really important to acknowledge.
The key thing I'm picking up while listening here is not so much the revelatory nature of the remastered recordings but more how they sound fairly true to the original LP as I remember hearing them as a kid. This is a big deal for a lot of fans who don't want their favorite albums altered and remixed -- they just want it sounding as good as it can possibly sound.
Doing a quick A/B with my stock copy, decidedly not-first-generation-but-good-condition original Atlantic Records US pressing, the fidelity is comparable, if a bit clearer at obvious points such as where the grooves get tighter toward the center of the disc. Thus, its a testament to the power of the original recordings that those old LPs sound as good as they do even after decades of play on a variety of turntables....
The bonus tracks on the HDTracks download of Led Zeppelin II are fascinating, such as the rough mix of "Whole Lotta Love" which starts out dry and you hear the engineer increasing the reverb a bit as it goes along as they fine tune the ambiance of the album. It is really interesting to hear the rough track without all the psychedelic overdubs in place. It is also particularly lovely to hear the backing track to "Thank You" where you can more readily make out John Paul Jones' lush organ parts.
Bet ya never thought you'd read the words "lush" and "lovely" in a Led Zeppelin album review, eh?
Most curious is the previously unreleased song "La La" which sounds and feels nothing like a Led Zeppelin track despite Jimmy Page's bravado guitar solo on it. If anything, the direction this track was going in sounds more akin to Todd Rundgren's instrumental "Breathless" (from his classic album Something/Anything), so its is pretty obvious why it was left off the album. Still its a pretty cool tune and nice to hear that the band had a pop sensibility brewing beneath all the bluesy heavy metal bravado.
Ok, so as with Led Zeppelin I, my conclusion here is exceedingly similar: the HDTracks download is a good option for many of us who already have halfway decent vinyl pressings but would like to hear the new Jimmy Page remasters without taking up loads more space in our collections. You don't get any special liner notes or even the original cover art in a PDF (you get the new art for the bonus tracks, a sort of photo negative acid trip version of the cover) but other than that it is a pretty bare bones affair.
Still, if you just want the music, this is your ticket.
Next up: Led Zeppelin III...
Mark Smotroff is a freelance writer and avid music collector who has worked for many years in marketing communications for the consumer electronics, pro audio and video games industries, serving clients including DTS, Sega, Sony, Sharp, AT&T and many others. www.smotroff.com Mark has written for EQ Magazine, Mix Magazine, Goldmine/DISCoveries Magazine, BigPictureBigSound.com, Sound+Vision Magazine and HomeTechTell.com. He is also a musician / composer whose songs have been used in TV shows such as Smallville and Men In Trees as well as films and documentaries. www.ingdom.com Mark is currently rolling out a new musical he's written: www.dialthemusical.com.