Top Engineers – Elliot Scheiner

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

xxxxx

A distinguished member of our Better Records Hall of Fame. 

Your Steely Dan Hot Stamper Collection is far from complete without a killer copy of Gaucho, and I don’t think you’re going to be able to find a much better copy than this one no matter what you do! Both sides are wonderful, with side two boasting BIG, BOLD A+++ MASTER TAPE SOUND that’s sure to blow the minds of all you Steely Dan maniacs. From top to bottom I don’t think you could cut or press this album any better.

What do these high grades give you for this album? Mindblowing, DEMO QUALITY, Steely Dan Magic, baby! Tons of ambience, amazing richness, ‘you are there’ immediacy, note-like bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic. The overall sound is airy, open, spacious, and lively. The bottom end is punchy and meaty, and even on this, their most famously laid-back album, with bass and energy like this it means these songs really ROCK!

Clarity

Every instrument taking part in this complex, richly imagined sonic tapestry sits perfectly in its own place, and, more importantly for us audiophiles, its own SPACE.

The average pressing we auditioned was opaque and compressed, throwing a veil over the vocals. Not this knock-out: the transparency and dynamics are in a league of their own, highlighting Donald Fagen’s moody, emotive singing while his ensemble of Hand-Picked Studio Cats wails away behind him with abandon (but not too much abandon; can’t lose our Steely Dan cool don’t you know). Add a handful of Oh-So-Sultry Female Vocalists to sex it up and you have one trancendent musical experience.

A Special Feeling

No other copy gave us the feeling we got from this LP — that ethereal illusion of being in the room while the band is playing. This is what we refer to as Master Tape Sound. Once you’ve experienced it you’re never the same. Read some of our testimonials. People really go crazy over this kind of sound. Records like this are few and far between, but when you find one, the effect it can have on you may make you go a little overboard too.

You might even feel the need to write us a letter. It’s the kind of experience that compels you to find some way to share it with the world. The problem there is that those reading your letter don’t have a copy with the kind of sound you have, and they therefore can’t experience the music the way you can. If they haven’t heard it for themselves, it’s all just talk, the kind of crap you can read on any internet forum about any piece-of-junk record ever made.

That’s why we love to hear from people who’ve actually played the very same record we did. We know why they’ve flipped out. We flipped out too!

When you drop the needle on a record this good, you feel like you just threaded up the master tape and hit play. You quickly become so totally IMMERSED in the musical experience that you soon forget you’re listening to a record. You’re hearing the music exactly the way the musicians intended it to sound. You can’t ask for more than that. Records like that get the Triple Plus.

Three Demo Discs

Of all the great albums Steely Dan made, and that means their seven original albums and nothing that came after, there are only three in our opinion that actually support their reputation as studio wizards and recording geniuses. Chronologically they are Pretzel Logic, Aja, and Gaucho. Every sound captured on these albums is so carefully crafted and considered that it practically brings one to tears to comtemplate what the defective DBX noise reduction system did to the work of genius that is Katy Lied, their best album and the worst sounding. (Those cymbal crashes can really mess with your mind if you let them. To get a better picture of the DBX sound just bang two trash can lids together as close to your head as possible.)

The first two albums can sound very good, as can Royal Scam, but none of those can compete with The Big Three mentioned above for sonics. A Hot Stamper copy of any of them would be a serious DEMO DISC on anyone’s system full range system.

More Evidence of Ron McMaster’s Flat Out Incompetence

More Gaucho

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: D

Check out our Heavy Vinyl Scorecard to read all about the latest winners and losers. When such records are clearly inferior to their mass-produced counterparts (Heavy Vinyl pressings are mass-produced too by the way), we put them in our Hall of Shame.

Reasonably good bass, we’ll give it that, but no top end and no Tubey Magic. More of Ron McMaster’s handiwork and the result is a record that simply has no reason to exist. The AVERAGE original pressing sitting in your local record store bin right now for probably all of five bucks will MURDER this piece of crap. 

As we noted for Ron’s remastered Band album, “When you see that little RM in the dead wax of one of these new Heavy Vinyl reissues you know you’ve just flushed your money down the toilet. There should be a warning label on the jacket: Mastered by Ron McMaster. It’s only a warning to those of us familiar with his work of course; the general public, and that includes the general audiophile public, probably won’t have much of a problem with the sound of this record or anything else he does. He still has the job, doesn’t he? What does that tell you?”

Glenn Frey – Soul Searchin’

xxxxx

  • With excellent Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this copy will be very hard to beat – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • We were shocked to find out that this album actually sounds very analog – rich, smooth, sweet and natural
  • Elliot Scheiner (Royal Scam, Aja, Nightfly) produced and also did some engineering – he is to be commended for his excellent work here
  • “Though I left Detroit and went to California to cut my teeth on country-rock, I’ve remained obsessed with the music of my adolescence, the great soul hits of the ’60s and early ’70s.”

The best copies are both rich and open, with the sound we tend to associate with the better ’70s recordings and rarely hear on records from the ’80s. But here’s a record from 1988 that sounds the way we like our records to sound – like analog. We don’t really know if it is or not, or mostly is or mostly isn’t, but we’ve never really cared about those sorts of things as long as the record sounds good.

It’s our one and only criterion. Any other criterion is a sign that you’re not really listening, you’re reading (more…)

Steely Dan – The Royal Scam – Our $600 Shootout Winner from 2009

xxxxx

Steely Dan fans, brace yourselves! This White Hot Stamper copy of The Royal Scam ROCKS HARDER than you’d ever imagine! We play dozens and dozens of these each year, and it’s a shame more of them don’t sound like this. All the elements necessary to really bring this music to life are here: tight, punchy bass; knockout energy; big time presence; shocking clarity and so forth. Everyone gets all hot and bothered about Aja (and with good reason) but there’s no denying how POWERFUL this material is after you’ve heard these songs sound like this.

It’s great to hear these guys really rockin’ out on these heavier songs, and here’s the copy that communicates that nearly perfectly.

We listened to dozens of copies of Royal Scam for this shootout and kept finding the same problems — shrill highs, grainy vocals, and general lifelessness. A copy like this one really shows you how well-recorded this album actually was.

Doin’ It All!

Man oh man, this copy just plain kicks butt from start to finish. Side one earned top honors at A+++. Drop the needle on Caves Of Altiira and listen to how amazing the brass sounds. On most copies it tends to be lean, pinched, or smeary, but on this bad boy it is full-bodied and breathy with the right amount of bite. Don’t Take Me Alive comes up next and will knock your socks off with amazing presence and energy like you wouldn’t believe. The top end is silky sweet, there’s loads of ambience, and the group vocals during the chorus sound PHENOMENAL.

Side two keeps up the fun with an A++ – A+++ grade. The whomp factor is positively OFF THE CHARTS! The sound is strong from top to bottom — open and transparent, big and wide, and incredibly life-like. If you like records that deliver the power of loud music, this one (played at loud levels) will do the trick! (more…)

Steely Dan – Aja – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

xxxxx

A distinguished member of the Better Records Rock and Pop Hall of Fame.

And now the moment you’ve all been waiting for — AJA HOT STAMPERS! Believe me, they don’t get hotter than these. From the first note of Black Cow, you get presence like you’ve never heard — the sound positively JUMPS out at you! This is the most spacious, transparent, DYNAMIC copy of Aja we’ve EVER heard — a DEMO DISC in the truest sense of the word. 

We had the chance to go back and do a final round shootout for all the best copies, and this one was BY FAR the most DYNAMIC and PRESENT of them all. Bernie turned off ALL the compression for this bad boy. The ENERGY of the ensemble playing here was simply in a league of its own.

But I’ll tell you this flat out right now: if I could have any Aja, this would be the one for me. This one gets the MUSIC right. That energy is on the tape, and that’s the kind of energy I want to hear on a copy I would keep for myself. (Unfortunately there are way too many customers and not nearly enough records to satisfy them, so my collection has been raided for all the best pressings I used to hold onto. It’s really not a problem; if I want to hear Aja we have about another forty copies laying around. They don’t sound like this one, but some of them sound darn good, good enough to enjoy the hell out of.)

It’s SHOCKING how good this record can sound when you get a good copy. We played more than twenty of these for the shootout, most of which had already been designated as sounding good. (The bad ones — which means most of them — we just toss out as they come in.)

There ended up being about a dozen pretty hot copies in contention for Top Honors in this shootout. The Hot Stamper copies listed here are the survivors of that final elimination round.

I could literally spend hours describing what sets the best copies apart from the very good ones, but we’ve already gone overboard enough with our track commentary, so we will try to keep some of this brief. Although our enthusiasm for this album is out of control, we will try to keep a lid on it as best we can. (more…)

Donald Fagen – Morph The Cat – A Heavy Vinyl Disaster

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing and another Heavy Vinyl LP debunked.

Hopelessly murky, muddy, opaque, ambience-free sound, and so artificial I honestly cannot make any sense of it. Pure sludge.

This is someone’s idea of analog? It sure ain’t mine.

Music for robots?  And Kamikiriad from 1993 was musically every bit as bad.

Why waste vinyl on crap like this?

Steely Dan / Aja – One of the Great Audio Disasters, Courtesy of Mobile Fidelity

 

xxx

mofipresslit

 

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. (more…)

Donald Fagen – The Nightfly – MoFi Debunked

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame Pressing.

More phony MoFi EQ on the top and sloppy bass. You can do a whole lot better and you sure won’t have to try very hard to do it.

Yet another Mobile Fidelity Pressing Debunked. Our Audiophile Scorecard has plenty more where this one came from.

Jennifer Warnes – The Hunter – Awful on Import Vinyl (and Any Other Way)

More Jennifer Warnes

The Hunter

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing on import vinyl from 1992. Years ago we wrote:

This is a SUPER RARE Private Music German Import LP. The last two copies of this record listed on eBay went for over $600! 

All of which was true. We left out, however, what an awful record The Hunter is in every way. If you like your Big Production Pop to sound as phony as possible, this is the album for you. Not one instrument sounds remotely like it should, and that is surely an insult to audiophiles of every stripe. (The problem was that most self-identified audiophiles failed to notice how execrable the sound was.)

Billy Joel – Songs in the Attic – CBS Half-Speed Debunked

xxxxx

Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame pressing and another Half Speed debunked.

Records with too much bass and especially too much top end can’t be played loud. The louder you play them the worse they sound. Try playing the average MoFi at a loud volume. All that extra 10k starts to make your brain hurt. The CBS half-speed of this album is like that. It’s frustrating — the music makes you want to turn it up but the sound says forget it. Not the good pressings. They sounds BETTER when you play them loud.