For some time now I’ve been hoping that the Eagles catalog would be receiving the white glove, 180gram vinyl treatment. I still own the American originals plus some of the British and Japanese pressings and a Mofi Hotel California . They’ve always sounded pretty good for their era and would be solid candidates for reissue.
However HD Tracks has already gotten wind of the catalog’s potential because I just sat down and had a listen to six of the Eagles major releases in pristine 24-bit/192kHz resolution. Available as The Studio Albums, 1972-1979, a package download only, it includes the bands eponymous first album of “Take It Easy” Peaceful Easy Feeling” fame, their follow-up, Desperado ,then On the Border, One of These Nights, Hotel California and The Long Run.
The results, in a word (well, two words)–A knockout. More often than not they put to shame my original vinyl with a couple notable exceptions. The sound is very clean, backgrounds much quieter than the mediocre vinyl formulations of the commercial 1970s and most importantly to my ears is a more balanced midrange-rooted tonal balance. Some of the treble EQ, over accented on the LPs has been reduced and this imparts a richer vocal-range expression for whomever was singing lead on a particular track. The Eagles were always a band with a heavy vocal influence. Everyone could sing lead and did. Noted for their multi-part harmonies tracks like “After the Thrill is Gone” really benefit from the high resolution treatment . They are cleaner and smoother and nicely textured and better defined.
My first impulse was not to cue up the mega-seller Hotel California. Rather my choice was Desperado, the Eagles unheralded sophomore effort which never really soared on the charts. Desperado parades its country rock/bluegrass roots proudly. Artistically it’s as distant from the commercial sheen of Hotel California as an album can get. But it has a marvelous acoustic rock authenticity that really rings true sonically. Throughout there is greater separation between electric bass lines and drum rhythms. I found that the reprise of “Doolin-Dalton/Desperado”, the final track on the LP’s second side suffers in comparison to the 24-Bit version. At least part of this is due to the fact that on the vinyl it’s the last few minutes of a twenty minute side and you can hear some constriction creeping in as the grooves approach the final run-out. It sounds tight and dynamically dull. Meisner’s upper harmony during “Take It To The Limit” is vastly improved on the high res, high cymbals are lucid and airy and there’s more body through the midrange. During “Heartache Tonight” from The Long Run, the big ballsy bass drum is a stunner and imparts the ripple of the drum head–concussions nearly swallowing the center stage with slam. It was also on this track that Frey's ripping vocal galvanized the mood of the band and got The Long Run recording sessions really rocking.
The high res HD Tracks allow the singers to shine in a way I haven’t heard before. Only the Mobile Fidelity Hotel California and the British pressing of Desperado came significantly close to the HD Tracks downloads in terms of tonality, spectral a balance and soundstaging. For most of the other albums and tracks, it was HD Tracks all the way. The gap between vinyl and high res only closed during Hotel California. The high res of Hotel California, one of the biggest selling records of all time went up against my Mobile Fidelity LP and in this instance I felt the vinyl held the advantage. Just a little bit more open, perhaps a little heavier on the bottom (maybe even EQ’d that way) but tight and authentically resonant. Again the sweetly layered harmonies of the band come to the fore during “New Kid In Town” and the MoFi does a great job. In fact of all the six albums this was only piece of vinyl that’s I’d say matched in and some instances bettered the HD Tracks offering.
One last historical observation: By the time founding member Bernie Leadon left the band prior to Hotel California the Eagles were already morphing into the more commercial prime time enterprise that would take them to the world’s largest stadiums. The singer/songwriting chops of Glenn Frey and particularly Don Henley were taking the band in a more straight ahead, rock direction But for a minute take a gander at the original album cover for Desperado (above right), from right to left, up front and armed to the teeth is singer/songwriter Bernie Leadon, the former Flying Burrito Bros, a guitar, dobro and banjo maestro known to lean in a harder country/bluegrass direction. He’s followed by bassist and “Take It To The Limit” tenor Randy Meisner. Further to left and slightly behind Meisner is Glenn Frey and with his face nearly covered and holding his fire (for now) is Don Henley. This symbolic alignment of bandmates would soon give way to an emerging power struggle which ultimately left Messrs. Henley and Frey as the last men standing from the original lineup. hdtracks.com