Steely Dan – Aja
Sonic Grade: F
More Mofi Bashing, But Boy Does The MOFI Deserve It.
I remember back in the ’70s when I thought this album sounded pretty good on my plain old ABC original. Then I got a copy of the Mobile Fidelity pressing and I thought it sounded even better. Side two of the MoFi had bass that was only hinted at on my domestic copy.
Sometime in the ’80s I realized that the MoFi was hideously phony sounding, and that all the bass on side two was boosted far out of proportion to what was on the master tape. The song Home At Last must have at least an extra five DBs added at 40 cycles. It’s ridiculous.
And that’s just the bottom end; the highs are every bit as wrong.
Side one has its top end boosted beyond all understanding. The snare drum that opens the song Black Cow sounds like a high hat, all top and no body, and the high hat sounds so bright you can barely even tell it’s a high hat. Of course the vocals sharing the midrange are all ridiculously thinned out and compressed to death. Fagen’s voice sounds tonally unlike his voice on any other Steely Dan record. That should tell you something.
Fagen’s Evin Twin
Mobile Fidelity was not revealing or discovering the true nature of Donald Fagen’s voice. They were creating an entirely new version of it, one with no relation to the living Fagen, the perfect example of My-Fi, not Hi-Fi, if the world needed such a thing. The MOFI Aja is a giant black mark against Mobile Fidelity and half-speed mastering in general. I’m astonished that anybody who calls himself an audiophile in this day and age would not be able to recognize how laughably wrong it is, but I know people who still play the record and like it. Shocking but true.
(This is exactly what is going on with the Speakers Corner Mercury reissue series from about ten years ago as well. They are finding a Mercury “sound” that no one ever found before. More to the point, they are finding a sound that no one with half an eardrum would even want.)
If you can’t tell what’s wrong with the MOFI Aja –and I’m guessing that’s the majority of audiophiles (hopefully not the ones who come to this site) — then it’s hard to know how to help you. Like our friend with the MOFI Aqualung (Hey Pal, My Aqualung MOFI Sounds Just Fine), we don’t know where to start. Something ain’t workin’ right — room, stereo or both.