Acoustic Sounds

Steely Dan

Pretzel Logic

Music

Sound

Pretzel Logic UHQR

Label: Geffen/Analogue Productions

Produced By: Gary Katz

Engineered By: Roger Nichols

Mixed By: Roger Nichols

Mastered By: Bernie Grundman

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering

By: Michael Fremer

July 26th, 2023

Genre:

Rock Art Rock

Format:

Vinyl

Analogue Productions Gives "Pretzel Logic" a Double 45 AAA UHQR Release

third in the Dan series from Analogue Productions

A perfect black and white frozen New York City cover for an album released February of 1974 when winters there were still really cold and "pretzles" (sic) were 15 cents. The master tape images in the fold out containing Donald Fagen's notes show that the mixes were finalized on February 5th, lacquers cut at The Mastering Lab on the 6th and the record released for sale on the 20th. That's a pretty fast turnaround!

Speaking of fast, compared to the first two Steely Dan albums, the jazz-inflected, melodic songs here are short, orderly, and adhere more closely to commercial pop song structures. The entire album, which begins with a riff (gently) lifted from Horace Silver's "Song For My Father", runs a bit over thirty four minutes. Almost as if it keys off the sweet sentiment of Silver's tribute, many of the songs on Pretzel Logic like "Rikki Don't Lose That Number", and "Any Major Dude Will Tell You"—even acerbic ones like "Barrytown", "Charlie Freak" and "Through With Buzz"—have an uncharacteristic (for Steely Dan) sweetness and empathetic feel.

Fewer things are more hilarious than reading attempts to mine the meanings of Steely Dan songs. According to some, "Barrytown" is "Tarrytown" and about the "Moonies", "Through With Buzz" is an anti-drug song, and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is about a misplaced joint. All nonsense. Barrytown is Barrytown, a small town near Bard College where F&B went to school and the song was written before the "Moonies" set up shop nearby.

I"Through With Buzz" featuring a lovely, Hunky Dory-ish Jimmie Haskell string arrangement—a Steely Dan rarity—is about a bitter breakup between friends and not at all about drugs and "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" is about a besotted Fagen and a girl named Rikki.

The core touring group of Becker, Fagen, Baxter and Dias adds the late Jim Gordon on drums on all but "Night By Night", on which Jeff Porcaro plays, and Wilton Felder and Chuck Rainey on bass. A splendid cast of top L.A. studio musicians including Dean Parks, Plas Johnson, Ernie Watts, Michael Omartian and David Paich add luster to the arrangements. Original drummer Jim Holder relegated to backing vocals here, makes his final appearance.

To prepare for this review, which, after all is about the sound as much as anything, I listened to an original ABC pressing (ABCD 808), a 1978 Japanese reissue (YW-8051-AB), tracks off of the Elliot Scheiner produced, Bob Ludwig mastered Steely Dan/greatest hits (AK-1107/2) double LP and from a friend I obtained two FLAC file tracks pulled via a Sony PlayStation from a 2014 flat transfer from the master tape done for a Japanese SACD.

In his annotation Fagen identifies the odd instrument that opens the record as a "flapamba" played with mallets by the great late percussionist Victor Feldman. That's easy enough to hear since it's a solo, but after that it used to completely disappear from the mix—at least on my systems from 1974 until the mid 1990s when a friend brought over a Peter Mares Connoisseur phono preamplifier (a crazy design hand-wired in "3D" with no circuit board involved). The design was eventually bought by the Stig Bjorge and Jonathan Carr of Lyra cartridge fame and for a short time they made a manufacturable version of it...but my point is that with that unit for the first time since I started playing this record in 1974 I could clearly hear that "flapamba" playing in multiple places on the track. I hate to use the phrase, but the Mares was a "game changer". I only bring this up to point out I've dissected this fine production through the years.

Regarding this UHQR: first, you have to crank it up to get the desired results, but that was true of the previous two. The low UHQR noise floor allows for a relatively quiet cut, which doesn't mean the dynamics are limited, it just means the cut didn't have to be "pushed". But if you don't turn it up it can sound lackluster.

And even when you do turn it up, depending upon your system, the top end can sound somewhat muted and lacking in sparkle and transient "snap", without comparison to anything else, but especially if you do compare it to a clean original pressing made when the tape was fifty years younger, or if you compare it to the flat transfer made nine years ago (which you're not likely to have or be able to get), which though 'digital' sounds far more alive and more like the original record, so honestly I do not know if the sound here is because over the past decade the tape has deteriorated (there's a note on the tape box saying it was 'baked' December 8th 2007—I probably was that day too) or if this "relaxed" top end and generous middle and mid-bass is a purposeful equalization designed to appeal to "audiophiles" or what? The Japanese pressing, obviously cut from a tape copy, sounded most similar to the UHQR.

But the lack of snap and crack and a generally soft high frequency transient response was obvious from the first rim shot on "Rikki...." and the subsequent bell tree strike and especially the snare smacks. The snare too is soft and tubby. If you like this track, you'll like the entire record. If you don't like "Rikki..." you won't like any of the record.

That said, the midrange is full, rich and satisfyingly bold and the bottom powerful. The strings on "Through With Buzz" sound better than I've ever heard them and overall so do the vocals. Understand, right now I've got four arms and cartridges set up on three turntables running through various phono preamps and the results varied somewhat but ultimately had I had but one of these rigs to use—any now of them—the reaction would have been the same.

Not even Analogue Productions can "knock it out of the park" every time. This one gets on base, but it is not a home run. Whether or not you like it depends upon your system's sound and your sonic tastes.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: UHQR 011-45

Pressing Plant: Quality Record Pressings

SPARS Code: AAA

Speed/RPM: 45

Weight: 200 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: original analog master tapes

Presentation: Box Set

Comments

  • 2023-07-27 02:11:57 AM

    Mark wrote:

    In advance of my (cheaper) digital path vinyl arriving today, I had a 'proper sit down and listen' session with my mint OP 1974 Canada ABC/Dunhill Dynaflex a few days ago. It sounded fantastic with a warm balanced sound, lovely separation, and no distractions; it had my full attention. I carefully put the album away reflecting on why I need the new one.

    (Rega P10/Apehlion 2/Naim/PMC 12s)

    • 2023-07-29 08:55:22 AM

      Mark wrote:

      I realise this is a Steely Dan UHQR piece but I'm gonna ignore that :) and tell you about my Geffen 33 1/3 Pretzel which arrived yesterday.

      Let me put it this way - it is such a piece of crap I would not even put it on my turntable. Apart from the fact it is filthy (dust, fingerprints, paper scrapes, bits of paper) it has a large blister about 1cms in diameter on track 1 side 2. Apart from that, and the cheap as chips coarse paper insert, it's great...

      Tossers!

  • 2023-07-27 02:24:47 AM

    Come on wrote:

    Thanks for the honest review! This can mean serious cancellation of orders I’m sure. Too expensive for a fail in sound quality. I heard the Can’t buy a thrill UHQR just yesterday and enjoyed the sparkling highs, so I guess I won’t like this one, too.

    How bad, this was the most important of the releases for me. I’m sure you’ll find out what’s behind it and I hope you’ll report back after talking to Chad or Bernie!

  • 2023-07-27 08:33:11 AM

    Diogo wrote:

    Thank you for the honest review. It's a breath of fresh air in the midst of audio reviews packed with superlatives that seem to be the norm in this business.

  • 2023-07-27 09:25:41 AM

    Anthony J Russo wrote:

    @ 150.00 plus S&H music is a 9 and sound a 7. I must say is the UHQR really worth it than ? Plus those bulky boxes ?

    • 2023-07-27 02:30:18 PM

      Fred Morris wrote:

      Glad someone else agrees these fat boxes are a bug and not a feature. Need to give my 1974 quadraphonic a careful listen.

  • 2023-07-27 10:28:45 AM

    Matthew Williams wrote:

    Since I already paid for it, I hope I like it when it arrives.

    • 2023-07-27 12:46:46 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Please post your opinion of the sound and let us know what your system is....

  • 2023-07-27 11:46:37 AM

    John Marks wrote:

    For what it's worth, a nice woman who claimed to be guitarist Rick Derringer's wife sat beside me on an AMTRAK train. I was going to NYC, and she got on in a nice part of Connecticut. The train was crowded. In our conversation, she told me that the song "Rikki Don't Lose That Number" came about because Rick Derringer lost the piece of paper with the details of the Steely Dan session he was supposed to play for, and he arrived at the wrong studio. Realizing his mistake, he borrowed their phone and began calling around to other studios to find out where Steely Dan was. Meanwhile Steely Dan & Co. was killing time, and a keyboard player was playing the Horace Silver (whom Pee Wee Marquette would call "Whore-Ass") riff, and someone sang, "Rikki Don't Lose That Number." Well, that was her story, and I imagine that she is sticking with it.

    • 2023-07-27 01:05:11 PM

      Silk Dome Mid wrote:

      Thanks for the interesting story! Too bad it makes very little sense. The overall vibe of the song makes it sound like it's directed at a woman, and if it was for Derringer the "you might use it if you feel better when you get home" line is inexplicable. Fagin knew a writer/artist named Rikki Ducornet when he was at Bard College, and although the song might not be literally about her that's probably the origin of the lyric.

      • 2023-07-27 01:14:36 PM

        Silk Dome Mid wrote:

        That's Fagen. Shouldn't try to type fast.

        • 2023-07-27 06:21:49 PM

          John Marks wrote:

          I had known about Ms. Ducornet, so I was a bit surprised at the story I heard from the self-described wife of Mr. Derringer, but, I can assure you, if she had been consciously lying, they should have given her an Oscar! So, I always thought that SHE believed the story. She was very cute, but I was married, and she claimed also to be, so I did not proposition her.

          • 2023-07-27 06:37:51 PM

            Mr. Audio wrote:

            John,

            That's exactly the story I have heard through the years, about Rick Derringer? I just read the other story here recently and was taken aback.

  • 2023-07-27 12:24:16 PM

    VQR wrote:

    I'm surprised the first lacquers were cut at the Mastering Lab, since I thought only the first two albums were cut there.

    I do have an original black label without Az in the deadwax that I prefer over the Allen Zentz cut many like. I outta check if the handwriting in the deadwax of my preferred copy looks like Doug Sax's.

    • 2023-07-27 12:48:53 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      The sticker on the tape box says The Mastering Lab so I assume Doug cut and that's what was first used. On the other hand, Stevie Wonder's "Innervision" has George Marino listed on the jacket as mastering engineer but every pressing I've seen has KENDUN in the inner groove area (I hate the expression "dead wax"), so who knows?

  • 2023-07-27 12:49:01 PM

    Jeffrey C. Robbins wrote:

    Anyone yet heard a pre-release of this vinyl version of Pretzel Logic coming out on 7/28/23 (tomorrow)?

    https://superdeluxeedition.com/news/steely-dan-pretzel-logic-vinyl-reissue/

    As to an original black label, Discogs has a series of different 1974 US pressings noted. What is the suggested version to acquire? Thanks. JCR

    • 2023-07-27 01:27:30 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Man that website's album description is lame beyond belief. That one will be cut from a digital file and probably sound like the others in that series, just ok....though it would be interesting to hear what Bernie did without input from Analogue Productions...As for the original pressing not sure which cut is best people prefer different ones on discogs and most of the people posting there don't know what they are talking about IMO

      • 2023-07-27 03:17:27 PM

        Jeffrey C. Robbins wrote:

        I’ll let someone else buy this new pressing and report. I do have the 2014 flat transfer from the JAP SACD. Michael, is that essentially as good as an original vinyl pressing (whatever the correct version to acquire is…), obviating the need to do anything further? JCR

      • 2023-07-27 06:17:51 PM

        Georges wrote:

        Agree ! Like the SHF, Discogs is not usable for us. At least for sound quality.

  • 2023-07-27 02:32:58 PM

    Fred Morris wrote:

    So sorry for the repeated posts of my mundane comment. Not by design!

    • 2023-07-27 04:03:37 PM

      Anthony J Russo wrote:

      Yes you blew up my comment. Is Geffen doing a reissue ?

    • 2023-07-27 04:54:33 PM

      Mtglass wrote:

      My post did the same thing.

  • 2023-07-27 04:53:15 PM

    Mtglass wrote:

    There is a 1978 greatest hits on MCA cut by Kevin Gray that sounds great also.

  • 2023-07-27 06:43:09 PM

    Come on wrote:

    So far I just have a later yellow label LP, a 1999 remastered CD and the 2014 Japanese DSD files.

    The late LP sounds dark, not open, with too much lower mids and bass, the 2014 DSD sounds ok with just enough top end sparkle (could be a tiny bit more) and a very flat bass (could be a tiny bit more maybe), the 1999 remastered CD sounds nice and fresh on top (but with less resolution there) with a little stronger bass (not bad) and messed up (too loud) upper mids.

    So now you know why I waited for the UHQR, but if it has less top end sparkle than the 2014 SACD, I‘m out. Pretzel Logic generally needs rather a bit more sparkle than less if remastered.

    • 2023-07-27 06:51:34 PM

      Come on wrote:

      A too muted top end is usually not exactly Bernie‘s problem…was he instructed or got a bad tape?

    • 2023-08-17 12:06:09 PM

      Come on wrote:

      I have a NM Santa Maria original now and it sounds just right compared to the other version I have. Just the right sparkle on top, clean, focused voices, gorgeous mids, nicely filled soundstage, richness to play loud and a good bass that might be the first thing to improve by some more extension. My copy sounds really more or less mint, I’m very happy.

  • 2023-07-27 07:31:05 PM

    Marc Anthony wrote:

    Hey Mike,

    Did they get the playback speed right? I know Parker’s Band and some of side 2 runs faster on LP than the digital dubs that Roger Nichols made for the CD’s, which run a little slower. Just curious.

    • 2023-07-27 07:36:10 PM

      Marc Anthony wrote:

      Then again, my copy is an Allen Zentz Az which could be why. They could be drastically different from the TML, which I’ve never heard.

  • 2023-07-27 09:18:39 PM

    Andrew Curtis wrote:

    I spent thousands and thousands of dollars with Acoustic Sounds during the pandemic. Then in one large $800 order I got an unplayable $25 LP (warped, off centre etc). I was told to send it back for a refund. I said I was not spending $35 to send back a $25 LP from the other side of the world. Case closed. No response to further emails, calls or a hand written letter to Chad. I have not purchased from them since (I would have pre-ordered the whole Steely Dan UHQR set). It’s now been over a year since purchasing anything from Acoustic Sounds.

    • 2023-07-31 05:50:09 PM

      AntNZ wrote:

      You need to get yourself a record flattener - in addition to the expensive options, there are a couple of low cost options which work well (Google "Vinyl Flattener" and you will get a list of options). Records are quite often warped due to the tight shrink on the sleeves and also heat during delivery in hot vans. A flattener will pay for itself very quickly (relative to return shipping costs) and I find almost no records I buy (even in the shops) are "perfectly" flat. Also, almost all records will have some degree of eccentricity. This is easy to solve yourself with careful use of a file on the spindle hole. You don't need the DS Audio ES-001 either at $10k - just use your eyes and watch the the groove position at the cantilever tip. Once you identify where it swings OUT furthest, mark the spindle position directly in line with the cantilever tip and carefully file out the hole at the mark. The alternative is to simply enlarge the hole but this means you have to carefully nudge the disc to centre whereas the method I describe identifies the preferred position to push the record against the spindle for correct centering. I've been doing this for years and the sonic improvements go beyond just removing the eccentricity wow.

      • 2023-08-03 05:37:25 AM

        oldlistener2222 wrote:

        Be careful with flatteners ! I had an AFI Flat and it ruined several valuable records. A couple of which were pressed by QRP on some wanky red vinyl that didn't like a gentle heat treatment. Not tried the new machine that only heats the rim.

  • 2023-07-28 03:39:03 AM

    PeterPani wrote:

    UHQR means the record surface and quiet vinyl. Directly mastered from the tapes - yes, it is said on the box. But ow the mastering is done and what steps on the way to the cutter - I could not find any reliable information. Since they do not put the letters AAA on the boxes (or, do they?) I doubt that UHQR always means AAA...

    • 2023-07-28 07:13:33 AM

      Anthony J Russo wrote:

      And what does that tell you ? I been asking this question for years now. What tape source was the new lacquer cut from . B/Q record collectors just a had round . Master Tapes can be copied over and over and scrubbed digitally. Source info is vague to say the least .

    • 2023-07-28 07:13:37 AM

      Anthony J Russo wrote:

      And what does that tell you ? I been asking this question for years now. What tape source was the new lacquer cut from . B/Q record collectors just a had round . Master Tapes can be copied over and over and scrubbed digitally. Source info is vague to say the least .

    • 2023-07-28 11:57:14 AM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Whoa! This is getting out of hand. Analogue Productions and Chad Kassem are honest brokers here! The UHQRs they release are all cut directly from either the original master tapes or if there's a better copy (as was the case with "A Love Supreme") or if the master no longer exists, which will be the case with "Gaucho" and "Aja". Using a copy, which is what Intervention used for the Frampton box because the masters no longer exist can produce superb results as that box proves. Please, let's keep to the facts here. The facts are not vague here and as I wrote, the tape box for "Pretzel" is shown in the set and it's not an old photo! I've been to numerous mastering sessions for AP reissues and if there's a master tape Chad gets it. The Doors management didn't want to give him the tapes for that series until he forked over big bucks. I can't speak for Analogue Productions customer service but I can speak to their integrity and honesty and they have both! So please let's not go crazy here!!!!!

      • 2023-07-28 05:45:27 PM

        Anthony J Russo wrote:

        I guess ever since MOFI many pressing are coming into question. You can thank the VC you tube critic for that. I have many lp’s from Chad that I enjoy. Many feel at the 150 price range you just want perfection which as you not always goes hand in hand with recordings that are old. Sorry did not want to start anything in fact I figured my reply would just be overlooked . Funny I get of Chad stuff in the used bin in NYC . I go why so cheap and they always say it is just a reissue

      • 2023-07-29 03:14:51 AM

        PeterPani wrote:

        You got me wrong. I do not doubt that Chad uses the best possible analog tapes as mastering source. They put that sticker on the box. And I own all the fantastic 15 ips Ultratape R2R’s of AP (what’s next after the Coltran’s?). But I do not like that Chad does not put an AAA on the record boxes, when they are truly AAA. This gives unnecessary room for thoughts. And it would be nice when all of us urge the audiophile labels to put this 3 letters on their boxes. As long as the quality labels do not do this, they must be prepared to get annoying questions.

  • 2023-07-29 03:43:55 PM

    cjp123 wrote:

    I'm listening now. Definitely the top end seems muted (I don't have a super audiophile system, but a decent one). Comparing it to my clean ABC original, though, I don't think it's worse, but different. The ABC to me has more top end, but almost zero bass. But perhaps it's me, but I always thought the earlier Steely Dan lps sounded "meh" no matter what version I heard. Royal Scam is the first one I recall sounding nice out of the gate. Aja I think would be hard to screw up (I have the Cisco issue--best version I've heard).

    • 2023-07-30 06:29:11 AM

      James wrote:

      Listening to the Grundman master but digitally (24 bit) on Qobuz and the mids are great (for example guitars on Night by Night’, sax on ‘Parker’s Band) but overall it sounds like someone has thrown a blanket over the speakers. I’m using Naim Nova/Naca5/Neat Ekstras

    • 2023-07-30 06:29:14 AM

      James wrote:

      Listening to the Grundman master but digitally (24 bit) on Qobuz and the mids are great (for example guitars on Night by Night’, sax on ‘Parker’s Band) but overall it sounds like someone has thrown a blanket over the speakers. I’m using Naim Nova/Naca5/Neat Ekstras

  • 2023-07-29 06:21:35 PM

    Jon Sokol wrote:

    Michael, thank you for your honest review. My UHQR arrives tomorrow so this certainly sets the table for a comparison to my original ABC first pressing of Pretzel Logic. The UHQR releases of Can't Buy a Thrill and Countdown to Ecstasy sounded awesome on my system and surpassed my original pressings in terms of sound quality, especially Can't Buy a Thrill. It will be disappointing if this one falls short. (Basis Audio 2200; Lyra Atlas; ARC Ref Phono 3SE, ARC Ref 6SE; Gryphon Mephisto; Vandersteen Quattro Wood CT speakers).

  • 2023-07-30 01:07:55 PM

    Come on wrote:

    I now compared what I have with the 2023 UMG files in 24/192 which I guess come from the same remastering as the UHQR. I hear the same that MF described. Missing top end transients and level/extension. Until my original LP arrives my favorite (but not perfect) choice so far is the 1999 CD remaster, then the 2014 SHM SACD and quite a step behind my muddy yellow label LP and the 2023 UMG hires.

  • 2023-07-30 10:01:21 PM

    Jon Sokol wrote:

    As a follow up to my earlier comment, my UHQR of Pretzel Logic arrived today and I compared it to my original 1974 ABC pressing. Unfortunately for those who purchased the UHQR, MF's review is spot on. The top end of the UHQR is rolled off and sounds muted compared to the original pressing. Rikki and Night by Night explode off the original pressing. By comparison, all of the energy and the transient highs of these great Steely Dan songs are gone in the UHQR. The UHQR didn't even improve on the background noise floor of the original pressing. While the UHQR seems to have better bass than the original, it only results in the UHQR sounding muddier than the original. Whereas the UHQR releases of Can't Buy a Thrill and Countdown to Ecstasy are home runs that improved upon the SQ of the original pressings, this UHQR by comparison is a failure. Bernie and Chad need to address what went wrong here.

    • 2023-08-26 04:21:36 PM

      Jim B wrote:

      Spot on. I couldn’t agree more. It definitely sounds muddier than my original first pressing copy.

  • 2023-08-01 01:11:41 PM

    Tim Ware wrote:

    I've had a couple days to compare to my minty OG to the new UHQR and I must say I'm quite pleased with what Bernie and Chad put out. I agree that the OG has more "sparkle" but I find the overall sound to be richer and fuller, with punchier drums, a wider soundstage, and lovely clarity and transparency. To me, each version has its plusses but I think the UHQR, especially when cranked up a bit (say 80dB), is a much better listen.

    My system: ClearAudio Ovation + Tracer arm + Hana Umami Red MC cart Gold Note PH-10 + PSU-10 phono stage Hegel H190 amp Paradigm Persona speakers + subs

    • 2023-08-01 02:59:22 PM

      Jay Valentino wrote:

      I agree with you, Tim. I love the way this version feels - big punch and full bass. Super quiet and wide soundstage. And lots of fun to listen to loud. I'm glad I have it. My system: Classe electronics, ClearAudio Concept turntable with Hana ML cartridge, Transparent Reference XL cables, Wilson SASHA speakers.

  • 2023-08-04 10:20:17 AM

    Jeff Richards wrote:

    I'm always happy with AP releases, I have almost the complete catalog over the years. Chad's a straight shooter and the vinyl world owes him a debt. That said, this UHQR is an absolute disappointment. It's difficult to follow the tunes, they are all muddled... my copy sounds a mess. The Citizen Steely Dan release from 1999 (Pretzel Logic Section) sounds FAR superior. I have a reference system and this is just a muddled mess. I was extremely surprised. I imagine the tape was bad and this was the best they could extract. Contractually, maybe they have to release the catalog. This is one to skip. The prior two were excellent.

    • 2023-08-26 04:18:04 PM

      Jim B wrote:

      I really wanted this UHQR to be great. But as soon I put it on I heard something off. It definitely sounds wooly, smeared in the midrange. The highs are muted too. I put on my original ABC first pressing to evaluate. The original sounds clear, concise, beautiful midrange, solid bass, natural. The UHQR is not engaging. Some instruments sound louder but the overall presentation is flat, lifeless. I’m disappointed.