Acoustic Sounds
By: Michael Fremer

September 16th, 2023



Exclusive! "AJA" UHQR Preview

the Steely Dan "crown jewel" gets a platinum setting

Even Steely Dan deniers admit that Aja is a masterwork of composition and studio production. It's the "crown jewel" in the rich catalog and the one that Analogue Productions had to get 110% correct. Bernie Grundman cut the original pressing and he cut this UHQR reissue too. He knew his way around the recording.

A full review will appear when the finished LP arrives but based on this test pressing, Bernie and Chad knocked this one out of the park and into the adjacent stadium. I don't care if you prefer the AA or the AB or the Cisco or a Japanese pressing, or whatever, this one is the best you will ever hear—it's almost worth the money just for the timbral and textural presentation of Wayne Shorter's sax solo. it was an all new experience.

In the "I heard things I never before heard" department, this UHQR edition is crowded with them. Familiar items sound more present and accounted for with no spotlighting. The timbral balance is ideal, the dynamics fully present and the stage picture better than it's ever been presented.

Any concerns you might have about this being sourced from a copy tape because the original is no longer present and accounted for (and it wasn't lost in the Universal fire), will vanish within a few minutes of "Black Cow".

That's all for now. A strong "buy"! Full review coming when the finished product is available.


  • 2023-09-16 06:24:31 PM

    Silk Dome Mid wrote:

    A numbered, limited edition of 30,000. That's interesting.

    • 2023-09-16 06:58:57 PM

      bwb wrote:

      indeed...So if I get the 29,999th copy, what sort of difference if any should I expect from this test pressing? I normally don't worry about such things, but when you are paying a stiff premium for something you expect it to be perfect. Color me curious

      • 2023-10-09 05:26:31 PM

        Michael Fremer wrote:

        I'm pretty sure they simultaneously cut and plated sufficient metal parts....

  • 2023-09-16 09:24:49 PM

    Kevin Jones wrote:

    I hope whoever gets #29,999 or 30,000 chimes in.

    • 2023-10-12 01:47:46 AM

      Robert Terry wrote:

      30,000...when and if that happens, take note of the date of that post. Like the Cisco in 2007 (I thought "that" was "the one"...?), I'm kind of thinking we'll have all moved on to the "next" Aja revelation. How much will that one cost, I wonder, $499.95?

  • 2023-09-16 11:11:23 PM

    Come on wrote:

    So great! I look forward to mine arriving! I guessed that there will be a test pressing preview. For Chad to be sure what MF thinks and also to avoid too much caution of customers before ordering the next release after Pretzel.

    I’m happy the series continues like the first two!

  • 2023-09-16 11:27:30 PM

    WJ Wicks wrote:

    Mikey has not steered me wrong yet. I own a lot of albums based on his recommendations. Glad I pre-ordered my copy of Chad's Aja. Looking forward to A/B'ing it with my OG first and second pressings.

  • 2023-09-17 04:04:51 AM

    Jake wrote:

    Michael, Type Y if you were under duress writing this review.

    • 2023-09-17 07:15:20 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      No duress whatsoever!

  • 2023-09-17 06:12:53 AM

    Ivan Bacon wrote:

    I might pay $150.00 for a record if you caught me at the right moment but will not pay that and 40.00+ to ship it to Alaska. AP will not use USPS (reasonable) and fedx-ups to Ak is crazy. (unreasonable) Free shipping to the lower 48 but not Ak and Hi.

    • 2024-01-06 04:09:45 AM

      Kevin Jones wrote:

      Acoustic sounds doesn’t free ship this anywhere

  • 2023-09-17 07:03:37 AM

    DAVID CLAPP wrote:

    Aja is the crown jewel? Hmm...Gaucho might have something to say about that. I have only original pressings of both, and for my money Gaucho beats Aja hands down. The supporting vocals (insult to call them 'background') on Gaucho might be the best I've ever heard. Production values top notch... 'Everything must Go' and 'Two Against Nature' are just as good musically. Just my two cents.

    • 2023-09-17 07:15:59 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      You mean you might have something to say about that! And you did...

    • 2023-09-18 02:46:41 PM

      David wrote:

      +1 Gaucho is definitely equal to Aja or superior. Have had all SDs on order since 2022, but as the wonderful new audiophile reissue series from new players like Craft, Rhino, OJC, Deutsche Grammophon, have come out and definitely proven worthy, I've passed/canceled all but Goucho and Aja. It's a great time for audiophile vinyl enthusiasts!

    • 2023-09-20 09:22:34 AM

      oldlistener2222 wrote:

      You gotta be joking. Everything must Go and Two Against Nature were amusical exercises in posturing. No true Dan fan would mention them in the same breath as Aja and Gaucho. :D

      • 2023-09-23 09:46:37 PM

        Jack Hill wrote:

        Any true “Dan Fan” who knew anything about music would. Oops, did I say that! Sorry…

  • 2023-09-17 07:26:07 AM

    Anton wrote:

    Don’t get me wrong, I loves me my vinyl….

    But, do you ever get the feeling that we are the turnip?

  • 2023-09-17 12:21:13 PM

    Gary Saluti wrote:

    I just don't get it. I've loved Steely Dan from day one. Saw them live in concert back around 1970. Have all the originals LP's and sprung for the most recent $150 reissue. The thing is I simply do not feel that any of Steely Dan's recordings are good enough to be considered "Demo Quality" and yet they are often the first thing pulled out when auditioning a system. They're very good studio recordings from the time but are still just compressed multi-track productions stitched together on a mixing board. Give me some jazz re-issues from the late '50's on Blue Note any day. Now they will reveal exactly what your system is capable of. Anyone agree?

    • 2023-09-17 07:01:47 PM

      bwb wrote:

      yes. ... Many of the recordings from this period were not created with the production values required to make an audiophile recording. I have the first 2 Steely Dan and the consensus seems to be that while not great, it is as good as they can be. They have their moments but for $150 + shipping that's not going to cut it for me anymore. I'm getting off the UHQR, Mofi , Craft, Impex One Step wagon .. I understand that for some people $150 is like $1.50 is to me, but I'm going to take my limited budget and buy 4-5 records instead of the single "audiophile" release.

    • 2023-09-17 07:19:02 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Few rock recordings are ultimate demo quality but if you are mostly or exclusively a "rocker" "Aja" is up there with the best of the genre...if you consider it "rock"....

      • 2023-09-18 02:29:04 PM

        Roscoe wrote:

        Yeah, it’s barely rock. Leans more towards fusion, not that there’s anything wrong with that. I categorize alongside of say, Tom Scott and the L.A. Express. Just my opinion.

      • 2023-09-21 08:24:24 PM

        Anton wrote:

        Interesting, to me: This may now be yacht rock, but when it was all coming out, it was rather subversive. Steel Dan was stoner music when I was a kid, with some decent sneaky drug references, etc. Their album covers were as popular as Zep covers for use as a stable surface for preparing certain plant and paper material for 'aerosol' consumption. Now, the songs show up in the same circles as Captain and Tennille, Rupert Holmes, and Bertie Higgins. I blame Michael McDonald for this, and the ruination of the Doobie Brothers. ;-D

    • 2023-09-18 02:51:10 PM

      David wrote:

      I somewhat agree and SD is an all time FAV of mine too. Actually spent 6-7 hours jamming to my hi-rez copies of five of their albums at near concert levels. Was great.

  • 2023-09-17 01:20:56 PM

    Todd wrote:

    One of my favorite albums. I just don’t think I can justify $150. I have a moderate priced system. What am I going to hear vs the 33rpm version? I really don’t want to miss the boat but seems like it will sit on a shelf like a trophy.

  • 2023-09-17 08:11:16 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    Thanks, Michael--You've Got The News! I loved the first 2 UHQRs, but cancelled my preorders for the remainder of the series after the Pretzel Logic debacle. Your review of PL was accurate, though kinder than mine would have been. So I'm psyched for this good news, and have now ordered Aja for the second time

  • 2023-09-18 05:41:35 AM

    Dave McNair wrote:

    I need this.

  • 2023-09-18 02:26:01 PM

    Roscoe wrote:

    IMO, Aja is not the “crown Jewel” in their catalog. Personally I prefer Can’t Buy A thrill and Katy Lied.

  • 2023-09-18 03:52:13 PM

    Jim Shue wrote:

    Glad I pre-ordered Aja! Several of my audiophile/record collector friends had been on the fence but this preview from THE MOST TRUSTED SOURCE IN THE COMMUNITY! (as opposed to the tiresome barrage of no-nothings and Dizzy bloviators on YouTube) got them off the fence and ordering from Chad :-)

    Thanks Michael for all your efforts - TrackingAngle Rocks!

  • 2023-09-19 03:08:28 AM

    Rudy wrote:

    To quote a crustacean television character: "Spongebob! Yer spendin' all me MONEY!" 😁 I've been hoping this would be a top notch release and it looks like I need to preorder this before it sells out. All I have left aside from a few digital versions are an "AA" ABC pressing, and the weird-sounding MoFi (purchased new when it was released).

  • 2023-09-19 04:39:17 PM

    David wrote:

    Michael, are all the UHQR test pressings on black vinyl? You would think with the fact that the clarity vinyl is superior and makes for a quieter listening experience, that even more "WOW" moments could be heard or......maybe not heard

  • 2023-09-20 02:59:07 PM

    thomoz wrote:

    coincidentally to this release I was at the Atlanta Hifi Buys last week and we used a copy of Aja as the demo disc post cart-alignment. Well, the cymbals sounded pretty bad (splat, splat, no sustain or ring on "Black Cow") and the vocal was mashed into the instruments, lacking its own space. After pulling a couple other records, the salesperson and I reckoned they unfortunately had one an icky, later example of 'Aja' and I said "next time I'm in I'll bring my 1977-79 ABC copies for a pressing comparison/shootout".

    Good idea, we were curious, and that shootout took place yesterday. We both loved the AB (numbers) stamper, REALLY loved the A-A(scratched out B)(numbers) cut, AND after looking at the deadwax we realized the icky one was . . . THE CISCO! I told to the staff that that Cisco was the EXPENSIVE copy, and they all shook their heads.

  • 2023-09-20 10:27:22 PM

    Rashers wrote:

    I’m delighted by this review. I thought that the CBOT UHQR sounded phenomenal (compared with my other versions), CTE was ok but not great and PL was so bland sounding that it sounded like soft rock lounge music. I’ll put it down as a sink cost if AJA is as good as expected. I’m surprised that the test pressing is on black vinyl.

  • 2023-10-01 09:16:14 PM

    andy wrote:

    I'm not wealthy so will be sticking with my excellent sounding, Japanese AJA NM pressing I picked up in Tokyo last April. Also as recent Dan fan (last 5 years or so) I've a completely different ranking than most it seems, the early "Rock" albums don't interest me at all apart from 1 or 2 songs, they only became Steely Dan for me with Katy Lied. So for me the ranking is from top to bottom:

    Gaucho The Royal Scam Katy Lied Aja Two Against Nature Everything Must Go

  • 2023-10-12 01:45:06 PM

    Scott Dalzell wrote:

    I hope someone will report on a comparison of the new versions to the original and the 1980 MFSL. I have an early pressing of the original and the MFSL and preferred them both to the Cisco.

    • 2023-10-23 07:22:27 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      MFSL: too much bass.