Acoustic Sounds

Steely Dan




Gaucho UHQR

Label: Analogue Productions/Geffen

Produced By: Gary Katz

Engineered By: Roger Nichols, Bill Schnee, Elliot Sheiner

Mixed By: Elliot Sheiner

Mastered By: Robert Ludwig (1982)

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Michael Fremer

April 17th, 2024





UHQR 'Gaucho' Doesn't Right Any Original Sonic Wrongs, It Just Gets More Right

the best 'Gaucho' ever?

How can an album filled with songs about drug dealers, users, losers, the jilted, and of course the age-gapped creep famously exclaiming, "Hey nineteen, that's 'Retha Franklin" be so sparkly-enticing and such a party listen? Partly it's the twisted fun Becker and Fagan have with their cast of characters delivering mellifluous lines like, "The Cuervo Gold, the fine Colombian, make tonight a wonderful thing," seemingly disconnected from the rest of the song that's mostly about getting old and being unable to connect with a nineteen-year-old. So all that's left is to drink and get stoned?

Or chorus lines like, "Bodacious cowboys such as your friend will never be welcome here"—a hilarious understatement instead of "GTF outta here!" when you catch your boyfriend in bed with a "gaucho," but a much better song lyric. The record is full of them but they're easy to lose in the album's strong rhythmic thrust. It's funny how many people were outraged by these creepy characters and so confused the objects of Becker and Fagen's scorn with them. And I'm not sure why anyone calls this sailing on turbulent waters "yacht rock."

Reissuing a record like Gaucho—one that since its original release has long been considered a sonic masterpiece (within the rock/jazz fusion genre) —is fraught with difficult choices. Do you attempt to "re-invent" it to distinguish it from the original? Do you make minor but audible changes to equalization and/or compression so listeners hear differences and interpret them as improvements? Or do you leave it alone and hope the "infrastructure" upgrades produce a series of small but significant improvements that add up to a measured quality jump?

I think Bernie Grundman and Analogue Productions were faced with these choices here. It's far easier to reissue a record like Crosby, Stills & Nash, which sounded terrible when first released (and not much better on any and all subsequent reissues) and offer a revised and improved edition, which is what Analogue Productions recently did (and Classic Records before them), than it is to reissue a record like this one that everyone acknowledges sounded great when first released!

Bob Ludwig, when he was at Masterdisk, mastered the original Gaucho released in 1980, and in 1982, based on the tape box image shown in the booklet accompanying this UHQR release, produced a 30 IPS, 1/2" Dolby A "safety copy" that was used for this release. It's the best available tape source. So then, what do you do with it?

I always say "Do not bet against a Bob Ludwig original" and on the original pressing—on most pressings—Bob's initials are next to the Masterdisk stamp. He was working with the original tape, not this EQ'd safety copy. So going into this project, Analogue Productions reissue producer Chad Kassem and mastering engineer Bernie Grundman had their hands full. How do you beat a Bob Ludwig original with an EQ'd tape copy? At least the "EQ'er" was Bob!

They had a few things going for them as well, of course, including cutting at 45rpm instead of 33 1/3, the latest tech in plating, low pressing numbers compared to commercial '80s mass production, and UHQR flat profile stampers plus the quiet of Clarity Vinyl.

The reissue team chose for the most part to remain true to the original's sonics in terms of equalization and compression. Unlike the strategy of a few other reissue labels, the goal here was not to present a different Gaucho—one that was pumped up or pressed down one way or the other—but rather to deliver a clarified version of a familiar recording—one that was perfection-tuned and almost musically sterilized in the process. Gaucho is a great sounding production but it's also sterilized clean. There's not a great deal of warmth involved.

Lurking behind the powerful beats are the seemingly endless "touches" Becker and Fagan worked so hard to add to the mix: tiny, almost imperceptible rhythmic stick hits, small scale reverberant touches, percussive accents, and especially horn charts so deftly played and tucked into the mix you could almost miss them as you're overwhelmed by the rhythmic thrust. You really have to listen in to grab some of the details. Read the song by song credits and be amazed.

The original didn't have powerful bass and neither does the UHQR. It would have been easy to screw this up by boosting the bass but that wasn't done here. Instead, bass attack has been clarified and tightened, but at the same time, cutting at 45 seems to have added suppleness. On "Gaucho," listen to the stop-and-start clarity of Becker's bass lines produced by the quiet vinyl and 45rpm cut. There are percussive elements and accents in the left channel that I've never heard so clearly.

The overall sonic picture is less gritty, especially on top. Now whether that's the result of a tape copy source or the 45rpm cut doesn't matter. There's no loss of transient clarity. It's not "smoothed over." The improvement in Fagan's voice should be obvious first time you listen. He's more "human" and less edgy, more three-dimensional and separated in space.

The quiet pressing clarifies and more easily reveals low level touches and textures formerly caught up in "grit." I've only had time to play through a few times but each play I hear both new details and old ones in a new way, but mostly the UHQR cut invites you further in.

I'd long ago heard that the dark "Third World Man," which sounds so different from the rest of the album, originated during The Royal Scam sessions, but in the notes Fagan writes that it started out on Aja as something entirely different. I went back and compared that track on the original and the UHQR. You could argue that the original somehow sounds emotionally darker and delivers more creepiness about the kid with whose playroom is "a bunker filled with sand."

After a few more plays I disagree with one thing I say on the video because I did hear a few things I never heard before, mostly because the quiet let me in. I agree with my conclusion: "This is the definitive version of this record." If your analog front end is up to delivering it, I think you'll agree.

Music Specifications

Catalog No: UHQR 0015-45

Pressing Plant: Quality Record Pressings


Speed/RPM: 45

Weight: 200 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 30 IPS 1/2" EQ'd copy

Presentation: Multi LP


  • 2024-04-18 07:35:03 AM

    Come on wrote:

    Great! I look forward to the arrival of mine.

    It’s very good, that you are always ahead of us, so we can decide about a purchase, on the other hand, its bad, because our feedback hits the featured reviews just when they are long forgotten. And notifications on new posts and answers to own posts in older articles unfortunately don’t seem to work on this site (at least not for me). In hope for adequate bass from this one ;-) I otherwise eagerly expect the best!

  • 2024-04-18 08:01:41 AM

    PeterG wrote:

    Super! And this bodes well for the rest of the series. Mine is now on its way

  • 2024-04-18 10:39:39 AM

    Mr. Audio wrote:

    I've had mine for almost a week now. Listened several times through. Completely agree! I have several different versions of this LP and this UHQR is BY FAR the best.

  • 2024-04-18 01:18:05 PM

    Max Bisgrove wrote:

    Sounds fab Michael, even on YouTube! Just for a bit of fun I ripped the audio of your needle drop and made a compilation of three different pressings of this song. Orignal UK pressing, The recent Universal (digital files prepared by Bernie Grundman) and the UHQR (from your video). I recorded my two samples on a Rega RP8/Ania cart. This of course proves nothing but it is quite interesting how similar the Universal and the UHQR are. Here is a link. Who can tell which is which?

  • 2024-04-18 03:42:28 PM

    Ivan Bacon wrote:

    My OG is stunning.

    The fine coke-lumbian Wish i could afford it.

  • 2024-04-18 03:55:59 PM

    Geoff Healey wrote:

    Great review Michael… really looking forward to hearing it. One little thing, though: it’s Fagen, not Fagan… :-)

    • 2024-04-18 07:59:15 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      eye fickst it

      • 2024-04-23 04:02:03 AM

        tim davis wrote:

        Well played sir! Literary literally & phonographically.

  • 2024-04-20 10:46:31 AM

    Bill Bird wrote:

    Mine arrived yesterday. I am still experimenting with a new set up (room treatments, soundstage) which are affecting some aspects but overall this UHQR delivers. I feel I'm going to be playing the proverbial feces out of this one, my favorite SD LP.

  • 2024-04-22 07:52:18 PM

    Kevin Jones wrote:

    Nice review without getting too carried away. Sold.

  • 2024-04-26 06:36:11 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Got mine now. It’s incredible.

    The grade of detail, 3D soundstage, top end resolution, the grade of possible new explorations in this recording, the new option to much better understand the perfectionism that went into this original production is mind blowing.

    This is one of, or possibly the most extreme example of what can be achieved with an audiophile reissue. Congrats to Chad and Bernie, you triple nailed this one!

  • 2024-05-11 03:35:57 PM

    MrCoolJazz wrote:

    I'm in total agreement with your review. I was very hesitant about buying this UHQR, mainly because I had purchased the UHQR of Aja and was disappointed. It was not that bad; it was not worth the $150 I paid. I have an OG AB1006 first pressing that sounds fantastic and still bests the UHQR copy. But, Guacho, this pressing is fabulous! It's very quiet, and the nuances of the recording really stand out. Definitly worth the money.