Acoustic Sounds

Steely Dan




Steely Dan "Aja" standard edition

Label: Geffen

Produced By: Gary Katz

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

Mastered By: Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering

Lacquers Cut By: Alex Abrash at AA Mastering

By: Michael Fremer

November 5th, 2023


Rock Jazz Fusion



What About the $29.95 "Aja" Cut at AA Mastering by Alex Abrash Using BG's Digital Master?

your dime dancing will get you a dime pressing

Only covering the sound here and the news is not good for a few reasons. First, the sound is bass-heavy, generally "thick" and unpleasant and the perspective is flat. If you bought the UHQR or have an original pressing and don't want to spend $150, you are all set.

The 192/24 Qobuz stream sourced from Bernie Grundman's digital file produced using the same tape he used to cut UHQR lacquers sounds far superior in every way to this vinyl edition. The bass is more rhythmically together and appropriate, the midrange is open and transparent and the top end has added air and appropriate sparkle. And, spatially there is no comparison whatsoever. The stream's presentation is three-dimensional and far more involving.

Does this sound familiar? If you read the Swordfishtrombones review it should. That release was mastered from the original tapes to high resolution digital files by Chris Bellman and cut by Alex Abrash. The Qobuz files sounded way better and the record sounded similar to this Steely Dan.

When you listen to a record you are listening to the mastering engineer's "hi-fi in reverse". These are only two samples but I'm starting to think since the streamed files sound pretty good and thee two LPs cut by Abrash sound thick, flat and unpleasant, either we are hearing his unpleasant sounding chain (including his D/A converter), or he's doing some unpleasant EQ and/or compressor manipulation to the files. The consistency between the Swordfishtrombones and Aja is too strong to be accidental. In other news, the recent Who's Next got five enthusiastic stars from a writer at my previous print endeavor. Oy vey! (that's Italian for exasperation).

Music Specifications

Catalog No: B0035028-01

Pressing Plant: Precision (or another GZ Subsidiary)


Speed/RPM: 33 1/3

Weight: 180 grams

Size: 12"

Channels: Stereo

Source: 192/24 bit file

Presentation: Single LP


  • 2023-11-05 03:09:19 PM

    Stereo wrote:

    I sprung for the ‘AA’ cut-from-digital “Can‘t Buy a Thrill” since it was priced to move. Same deal, dead sound. I don’t know how these cutting engineers manage to get it that bad? It’s an epidemic, but punctuated by the exception. Today I enjoyed the new ‘Actress’ LXXXVIII album. Some of the tracks are mono, some 16-bit (I checked the Qobuz high-res files) and they all sound amazing on this double disk album. Full of texture and depth. So go figure.

    • 2023-11-05 07:04:16 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      still have to listen to the new actress record but his stuff always sounds great. electronic music is pretty sonically consistent (and usually quite excellent) no matter the process/resolution.

  • 2023-11-05 03:45:54 PM

    Jake wrote:

    It can't be Alex's D/A converter as the analog signal has already been converted to a digital file by Bernie Grundman. Is it Alex's cutting system? Is it the EQ, some other component in his chain and/or sub-optimal pressing by an inferior pressing plant? Would love to find out as a lot of reissues from a digital source tends to (not always though) sound inferior to their AAA counterparts

    • 2023-11-05 04:28:22 PM

      Eric Mack wrote:

      No, BG produces the digital file using his A/D converter and then hands that digital file to AA. So AA's DAC is therefore part of the chain (and perhaps part of the problem). As MF points out, BG's A/D converter is not at issue because the 24/192 stream apparently sounds fine.

    • 2023-11-05 09:25:27 PM

      Michael Fremer wrote:

      Alex has to convert the digital file to analog! His D/A is critical to the final sound.

  • 2023-11-05 04:08:23 PM

    Come on wrote:

    Wasnt aware that when BG‘s file is mentioned and he gave his name for the whole thing, a production might have been additionally mastered during cutting. What a mess and surprising how much can be screwed up during cutting a readily prepared file.

  • 2023-11-05 04:40:33 PM

    Eric Mack wrote:

    Not to pile on the guy, but I just checked out Mr. Abrash on Discogs and the list of previous titles he has mastered is pretty anemic. Why would a catalog of Steely Dan's caliber be entrusted to him, especially when Bernie is already involved in the mastering?

    • 2023-11-05 07:57:05 PM

      Frank A wrote:

      THE question. Why him? Was him the cheapest one? Doesn’t make sense at all, BG could have done both the AP and UME ones.

      • 2023-11-06 02:01:20 AM

        Ron Madigan wrote:

        It's SOP in most industries to actively reduce the quality of a budget offering. Think airlines making economy seats tiny or consumer hifi companies not using the full avaliable functionality of a chip. Nothing unethical just trying to hit all pockets of demand. It's possibly why MFSL jumped on the MJ estate release saying BG was mastering the cheap vinyl releases.

  • 2023-11-05 05:34:00 PM

    Fred Morris wrote:

    So the sound of the AP SACD should be in the same ballpark as the 192/24 stream right? (Taking into account any DSD vs PCM issues.)

    • 2023-11-05 07:02:04 PM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      probably, though it's generally agreed that DSD64 SACD resolution is roughly equivalent to 88.2kHz/24bit PCM. whether you prefer the SACD or the 192/24 stream/download of course depends on your system and your preferences.

  • 2023-11-06 01:02:16 PM

    David wrote:

    Wouldn’t it be a possibility to contact Universal about this to draw attention to the problem and maybe ask for decent cuts of Aja and especially the Waits Island reissues!?

  • 2023-11-07 08:52:25 AM

    Jeff Stockton wrote:

    But what if you don't want to go the $150 or have an original? This is the one that's obtainable.

    • 2023-11-07 09:57:57 AM

      Malachi Lui wrote:

      then you hop on discogs and take the $30 you'd spend on this and buy a VG+ original.

  • 2023-11-07 01:53:35 PM

    rl1856 wrote:

    Thank you for this warning positioned as a review. I suspect that the record company wanted to be sure that no one would prefer the digital pressing to the overpriced UHQR boondoggle.

    As for me....I'll stick with my Japanese YX pressing that sounds better in my system than an "AB" or Mofi pressing. YX pressings can be found, and do not cost $150.

    • 2023-11-09 11:40:00 AM

      andy wrote:

      I was in Japan last April and got a NM pressing of that for the equivalent of €30 in a Disk Union shop in Kyoto and it sounds fantastic (Grades A actually on my Puffin).

  • 2023-11-10 03:57:37 AM

    Ivan Bacon wrote:

    AA, absolutely abysmal. Digital. picked up an OG for $25. NOT paying 150 plus shipping to Ak. Hey Chad, United States Postal Service.

  • 2023-11-13 09:34:14 AM

    Anthony J Russo wrote:

    What ever happened to just buying a LP and enjoying the music? Funny you can play the same lp on various systems and it will sound different .

  • 2023-11-15 12:21:33 PM

    Peter Dizozza wrote:

    Having read this my understanding is that new releases of old albums are represses of new plates cut from old elements, and that this review compares a cutting of 33rpm plates reprocessed into analogue from a digital element with plates recut at 45rpm from a master tape (Did Mr. Grundman provide these lathers 1977 master tape?) Then I see the banner ad above this review for the 45rpm version, ah, I see the small print, the tape itself was copy. Ok, so, instead of making new plates from old elements can we make a mirror metal plate from an original pressing? I guess not. Yes, the original pressing probably sounds good.