Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Aja.
Our track commentary for the song Home at Last makes it easy to spot an obvious problem with Cisco’s remastered Aja: This is the toughest song to get right on side two.
Nine out of ten copies have grainy, irritating vocals; the deep bass is often missing too. Home at Last can sometimes be just plain unpleasant, which is why it’s such a great test track.
Get this one right and it’s pretty much smooth sailing from there on out.
If you own the Cisco pressing, focus on Victor Feldman’s piano at the beginning of the song. It lacks body, weight and ambience on the new pressing, but any of our better Hot Stamper copies will show you a piano with those qualities in spades on every track. It’s some of my favorite work by the Steely Dan vibesman.
The thin piano on the Cisco release must be recognized for what it is: a major error on the part of the mastering engineers.
Bonus Listening Test for Side Two
The truly amazing side twos — and they are pretty darn rare — have an extended top end and breathy vocals on the first track, Peg, a track that is dull on nine out of ten copies. (The ridiculously bright MoFi actually kind of works on Peg because of the fact that the mix is somewhat lacking in top end. This is faint praise though: MoFi managed to fix that problem and ruin practically everything else on the album.)
If you play Peg against the tracks that follow it on side two, most of the time the highs come back. On the best of the best the highs are there all the way through.
Listening Tests for Side One
Generally what you try to get on side one is a copy with ambience. Most copies are flat, lifeless and dry as a bone. You also want a copy with good punchy bass — many are lean, and the first two tracks simply don’t work at all without good bass. And then you want a copy that has a natural top end, where the cymbals ring sweetly and Wayne Shorter’s saxophone isn’t hard or honky or dull, which it often is on the bad domestic copies.
Also listen for GRAIN and HONK in the vocals on Black Cow. The better your copy is the less grainy and honky the vocals will be.
Shockingly Good Sound
It’s SHOCKING how good this record can sound when you get a good copy. We played more than a dozen of these for the shootout, most of which had already been designated as sounding good. (Almost as many were noisy or bad sounding. Those we just toss or trade back in to local stores.)
I could literally spend hours describing what sets the best copies apart from the very good ones, having critically listened to well over a hundred copies of the album at this point. For those of you who really want to get into the details of the sound of some of these songs, our track commentary should be of interest. You can access it under the Track Listing & Commentary tab above.
We Now Return to The Revolution, Which Is Already in Progress
Seriously, what album on the planet is better than Aja? This music belongs in any serious audiophile record collection worthy of the name. As audiophiles we all know that when an album sounds this good, it makes you appreciate the music even more. I never cared all that much for Aja until a few years ago when I discovered just how amazing the most amazing copies could sound.
That’s what the Revolutionary Changes in Audio link is all about. If you haven’t taken advantage of all the new technologies that make LP playback dramatically better than it was even five years ago, Aja won’t do what it’s supposed to do. Trust me, there’s a world of sound lurking in the grooves of the best Ajas that simply cannot be revealed without Walker cleaning fluids, the Talisman, Aurios, Hallographs, top quality front ends, big speakers and all the rest. Our playback system is designed to play records like Aja with all the size, weight and power of the real thing. We live for this kind of Big sound here at Better Records. We’re prepared to do whatever it takes to play records like this with Maximum Fidelity, secure in the knowledge that a system that can play Aja right can play ANYTHING.