Acoustic Sounds

Steely Dan

Aja

Music

Sound

Produced By: Gary Katz

Engineered By: Roger Nichols, Elliot Scheiner, Bill Schnee, Al Schmitt

Lacquers Cut By: Bernie Grundman

By: Michael Fremer

October 27th, 2023

Genre:

Rock Jazz Fusion

Format:

Vinyl

The Best "Aja" You Will Ever Hear and It's Not Even Close

"Deacon Blues" Gets a full side at 45, so case closed?

The tape box pictured in the notes tells the tale in tiny hand written letters: "original master was 1/4". In other words the source for this UHQR reissue was a 1/2" Dolby A copy of the master, which became the 2 track Dolby Master. When you hear the record you won't care about from where it came, you'll just know it's the best sounding Aja you've ever heard and it's not close.

For one thing, "Deacon Blues" takes up an entire UHQR 45rpm side so anyone trying to tell you the original whether the AA or the AB or the Cisco, or the MoFi 1/2 speed from "back in the day", or whatever sounds better, doesn't quite understand what happens toward the end of the side as the groove radii get smaller and the high frequencies get "scrunched" together. The 7:26 epic finally has room to breathe and express all of the tape's wondrous top end and dynamic authority.

This copy is the real Clarity Vinyl one not the black vinyl TP reported on previously and it's even better especially than that black vinyl one especially in longer decay that noticeably lingers beyond lengths to which your memory is accustomed. Transients are so well defined. You're sure to hear newly resolved detail. Bernie Grundman did not appreciably mess with the EQ compared to his original 1977 cut because there was nothing wrong with what he originally did, but cutting at 45 and not having to cut to near the label has obvious benefits especially on "Deacon Blues" but really on everything and the bottom end has definitely not been attenuated as it must have somewhat been on the originals.

This Aja fulfills the UHQR promise as well if not better than has any in the series and there's plenty of stiff competition!

What's there left to say about this classic? Even Donald Fagen ran out, so his notes are mostly about musician choices and why and nothing about the songs themselves, so I'll take my cue from him and can the unnecessary analysis, but since people seem to like anecdotes, here's one: Fagen notes the various drummers who contributed, one of whom was Rick Marotta.

Back when The Tracking Angle was a print magazine a post card arrived in our box from a guy in Staten Island asking for a free copy of the magazine. It's not as if he asked. It was kind of "Send me a copy to this address". The nerve! It just struck me the wrong way. I wasn't in the mood for arguing, so I fired off a "who the f**k are you to ask for a free copy?" For some reason i didn't think this guy could have been the Rick Marotta, but shortly after I tossed the post card in the mail I had second thoughts. It probably was the Rick Marotta. One of my dumbest moves. Oh well.

I'll conclude this "review" in quotes because it hardly qualifies as one because one's not needed. All you want to know is does it sound great, and it does, and you won't be disappointed! The only negative thing I can say is that the jacket credits misspell Elliot Scheiner's name as "Elliot Schneiner".

Music Specifications

Label: Analogue Productions/Geffen

Catalog No: UHQR 0014-45

Pressing Plant: Quality Record Pressings

SPARS Code: AAA

Speed/RPM: 45

Weight: 200 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 1/2" 15 IPS Dolby "A" copy master

Presentation: Box Set

Comments

  • 2023-10-27 01:39:37 PM

    Azmoon wrote:

    Been reading your reviews for many, many years and this may the one with the least detail. Basically discuss one song on one side and the rest is generalities. Why? Its a disappointing review to say the least and won't get me to shell out the $150.

    I see Acoustic Sounds has a soundbite from it on their website already....interesting.

    • 2023-10-27 04:48:09 PM

      Jeff 'Glotz' Glotzer wrote:

      You figured him out, huh? 'Many, many years'... Perhaps he's suddenly becoming distrustful? Senile? Lol.. that implication at the end is pretty disgusting too.

      • 2023-10-28 03:00:03 PM

        Azmoon wrote:

        Figured him out? Not a relevant comment. He mailed this review in - thats what anyone (well, almost anyone it appears) can figure out. And it looks like it was done to provide Acoustic Sounds with a quick soundbite.

        • 2023-10-28 07:55:41 PM

          Anton wrote:

          If that’s your take on his body of work, you should boycott this den of sonic iniquity.

    • 2023-10-28 01:19:33 PM

      Silk Dome Mid wrote:

      Somebody got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.

      • 2023-10-28 06:13:38 PM

        Azmoon wrote:

        Yes, and did a totally lackluster review of a $150 LP.

  • 2023-10-27 02:41:59 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Happy to read this, looking forward to my preorder arriving and comparing with the Cisco!

    Any opinion on the tracks available on the Greatest Hits DLP original? This usually sounds pretty awesome compared to any of the originals and reissues for the relevant tracks.

  • 2023-10-27 04:13:18 PM

    Tom bergeon wrote:

    Thanks for the review Michael. Sounds like this will be a winner like the first 2 Steely Dan UHQRs. Glad to hear

    The Pretzel Logic UHQR was such a rare AP missed - tonally way off, etched snd recessed midrange

    Thank you

  • 2023-10-27 04:33:11 PM

    Todd wrote:

    This hardly seems like it should pass as a review. Is this just a placeholder until the real analysis is done? If an album costs $150 and you give it an 11/11 we should get some explanation. You are right that we don’t need to rehash the artistic qualities of a record we all know and love. But tell us why this is 5x the cost of the standard rerelease or the original. C’mon.

    • 2023-10-28 07:19:18 AM

      Come on wrote:

      I always read sound quality ratings as this 11 as related to this recording and alternative releases of the same. . In an absolute sense, this would never be an 11 in my opinion, as there are certainly many better sounding recordings than Aja generally. Same for a lot of hard bop achieving 10’s or 11’s.

      • 2023-10-29 06:13:54 PM

        Todd wrote:

        Here’s what I really want to know. If this is an 11 on a 10 point scale, then what is the rating for the standard release on that exact same scale. Is it worth 5x the cost for the UHQR? How does that 11 compare with one of Fremer’s OP copies? Not some test pressing or grail type item. A reasonably priced copy we could expect to find on the open market. If it’s almost as good and well less than $150 then that’s a good deal. Seems like a review could contain this info.

        • 2023-10-29 11:12:09 PM

          AnalogJ wrote:

          First of all, it's rare to be able to objectively say that one thing is 5x better because it costs 5x more. When it comes to many things, you'll a lot more to get improvements, but not the amount more than you spend. A $3000 turntable is not going to be 50% better than a $2000 one. But say it's 15% better? That improvement may be worth it to you, or may not.

          The AJA UHQR costs 5x the UME. Is it worth it if it's 50% better? If so, that's considerably better. Would that be worth it? In which ways would it need to be better to make spending 5x more worth it?

          I, too, would have liked to see more detail in the above review. For me, how I respond viscerally from one version to another is how I gauge its worth to me. It isn't merely how well I can pick out different instruments, rather how much more involved I get in the performance.

          • 2023-10-30 10:21:05 AM

            Todd wrote:

            I think we are in agreement. I definitely don’t expect the value to be the same multiplier as the price. But I would like some attention to be paid to the average consumer. If $150 option is only going to get me a 10% upgrade from the standard release that is something I’d like to know. And what will I heard on a $7500 set up vs the Mack daddy 500k rig that MF tests on. Maybe I’m being too hopeful. But these assessments would be really helpful and might bring more enthusiasts into the fold.

  • 2023-10-27 04:42:39 PM

    John Moore wrote:

    Michael, Can you confirm that this is the same tape that Kevin Gray used over 15 years ago for the 33RPM Cisco? I hope we get a little more detail from you in terms of how it compares, at least to the Cisco, which I think sounds fantastic and is not as compressed as the originals are. (even though they still sound great)Love the originals, love the Cisco. Can I love the new AP reissue? Details!!

    -first time poster, long time fan.

    • 2023-10-27 05:28:36 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      At best the Cisco was from a copy of this tape.

      • 2023-10-27 05:46:55 PM

        Come on wrote:

        That’s what I hoped for!

  • 2023-10-27 07:34:05 PM

    Bill Bird wrote:

    Yeah? But does it have the Triangle in the second verse in 'Aja' in the L Channel? Detail schmetail. You had me at "The Best "Aja" You Will Ever Hear and It's Not Even Close".

  • 2023-10-27 08:56:11 PM

    PeterG wrote:

    Mine arrives Monday--I will be spending the day on the porch waiting. Not by the front door, that would be too far away, in front of the front door. So I'm thrilled to see 11/11, I know those are rare; and I know what I'm getting. But with all due appreciation--I had hoped for more of a review. I would have read a full review 3-4 times, just for the vicarious pleasure/foreplay

  • 2023-10-28 12:05:37 AM

    Robert wrote:

    That's all I needed to read. The statement that "It's the best 'Aja' you will ever hear and it's not even close," makes me impatient for its arrival. Some don't get the idea that you reviewed it with the hyperbolic endorsement.

  • 2023-10-28 02:03:53 AM

    Jazz fan wrote:

    Have you heard Bernie Grundman's 192/24 transfer, and if so, why is the UHQR better?

    • 2023-10-28 04:31:33 AM

      Come on wrote:

      I made this comparison a few times with other UHQR’s and the 192/24 transfer isn’t even similar, it’s just plain boring, lifeless and flat sounding against the UHQR. More so than anyone would expect. Don’t know why, but no one should think he get’s somehow similar quality with it.

    • 2023-10-28 09:38:03 AM

      PeterG wrote:

      This sounds like a question from a person who is unsure of vinyl vs digital in general. Most readers of this site would tell you that virtually any good record from the 70s will sound fuller, richer, more 3 dimensional than the best digital version. You might borrow a turntable from your local stereo dealer and buy a few LPs to test this hypothesis.

  • 2023-10-28 02:07:59 AM

    Jazz fan wrote:

    Mr Fremer, perhaps you should spend more time writing your reviews and less time on youtube?

  • 2023-10-28 10:57:13 AM

    Anton Neumayr wrote:

    Thank you! Can't wait to hear this!

  • 2023-10-28 08:07:32 PM

    Tim wrote:

    Looks like 'Dan-Fans' really crave longer reviews...

    Shame on you Michael for keeping it brief...

    (I, for one, don't mind when it's on the shorter side)

    • 2023-10-28 08:33:47 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      perhaps they expect 55 attempts at perfecting the last 50 words of the review

      • 2023-10-28 09:18:04 PM

        Anton wrote:

        Audiophiles are a prickly bunch.

        They are the type to complain bitterly about the quality of a meal, and then complain that the serving was too small.

        • 2023-10-29 12:58:12 AM

          Silk Dome Mid wrote:

          "The thump when I dropped the needle lacked the impact I demand. There must have been a digital step."

      • 2023-10-29 11:41:00 AM

        PeterG wrote:

        Ha! Excellent point, and nice of you to stick up for your friend. But these are not "complaints" (or at least mine is not). They are requests to hear more thoughtful comments on a critical piece. This is one of the most important albums in rock, and Michael is the most important vinyl reviewer. You guys have spilled much more ink on albums much less worthy of your time (oops, maybe that last sentence is a bit of a complaint ;-)...)

        • 2023-10-29 12:08:43 PM

          Malachi Lui wrote:

          to be perfectly clear, i'm staying out of the discussion as to whether or not this review should've been longer. not my decision to make nor do i really have an opinion one way or the other.

    • 2023-10-29 07:41:28 AM

      Come on wrote:

      For me it was also enough I needed to know (just as Michael decided, possibly wrongly, for his common audience).

      I guess the reason is, that Aja is probably the most discussed recording among audiophiles in forums and magazines and has a long history of comparisons and source tape topics. To make the shortest review ever exactly for this one, seems to be a controversial decision ;-)

      • 2023-10-29 12:41:33 PM

        Anton wrote:

        Exactly! This album will be played on the most fabulous yacht systems in the world. . . . Joke, l love the album and I have purchased this release. My favorite part is the nostalgia I will get from setting my turntable to 45 rpm and having to change sides after one track.

        • 2023-10-29 05:13:33 PM

          bwb wrote:

          which makes me wonder how this 45 pressing sounds compared to the original 45 from 1977.. https://www.discogs.com/master/226700-Steely-Dan-Deacon-Blues

          • 2023-10-29 06:50:54 PM

            Anton wrote:

            I think it would drive me crazy! The LP version is 7:26 and the 7" 45 is only 6:40. But that's dodging your question: I think the original 7 inchers were stamped out at rates that would make us audiophiles cringe regarding pressings per stamper. I might actually give this a try, sometime, but I am not optimistic at all.

            • 2023-10-29 11:21:30 PM

              bwb wrote:

              I see 12 inch 45s from then that are the longer version as well as other songs from the LP as single 45's. However, yo would end up spending over $150 to get all of them in mint condition, not have the complete album, and may not sound as good... .. it never ends

  • 2023-10-29 05:22:02 PM

    Anthony J Russo wrote:

    If this is off a Dolby tape than it is not the Original Master ? Yes or no. Also how close is the Geffen re issue in sound .@ 29.99 USD

    • 2023-10-30 12:08:47 AM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      first paragraph of the review answers your first question. it's a 1/2" dolby copy from the original 1/4" master, which no longer exists.

    • 2023-10-30 12:09:58 AM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      There is no "original master". No one knows where it is. Quite some years ago a Dolby A 1/2" copy was generated and that's what's being used. Many of our favorite records were cut from "copy masters" and not from actual master tapes, especially back when millions of records were involved.

      • 2023-10-30 12:02:02 PM

        Anthony J Russo wrote:

        thanks Mike

  • 2023-10-29 06:39:19 PM

    Ed Osborne wrote:

    I've read Michael's articles/reviews for many years and respect his commitment to the best in audio playback, as he sees it. Is he perfect? Nope. None of us are. We all have biases (many unknown) and non-absolute ear/brain aural systems.

    Still...I find this "review" falls way short of one I want...given the album in question and the price point. (Way above what I can afford, but that's another story.)

    I also want to know how it compares to the $30 companion vinyl release.

    I can't pony up for a Ferrari, but I want to know how a less expensive sibling compares to it and other competing cars (Aja pressings).

    • 2023-10-29 06:54:36 PM

      Anton wrote:

      You are a gentleman. I have certain albums that I sort of automatically buy, just for the joy of comparison, so I didn't pop on the price regarding this set, but you made the subject more considerable. I bet Michael gives us more as we go along. I am setting aside the budget for Gaucho, too. Then there's Royal Scam....damn!

    • 2023-11-06 06:08:42 PM

      Michael A. Arlt wrote:

      It's "meh" at best, the life got sucked out of it.

  • 2023-10-29 10:05:01 PM

    Fred Morris wrote:

    Michael, I think your review did exactly what it needed to do. But have heard nothing about how the AP SACD of this and the other SD titles sound. Presumably AAD, and so potentially a good value, would be very interesting to get your take.