Top Engineers – Bill Schnee

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Our Shootout Winner from 2010

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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.

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – The Best Sounding Copy We’ve Ever Heard

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  • A KILLER copy with DEMO DISC Shootout Winning QUADRUPLE Plus (A++++) sound on the second side and Triple Plus (A+++) sound on the first
  • This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title
  • It doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper
  • Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright; on this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom and the horns sound especially wonderful

Please note: we award the Four Plus A++++ grade so rarely that we don’t have a graphic for it in our system to use in the grading scale shown above. So the side two here shows up on the chart as A+++, but when you hear this copy you will know why we gave it a fourth plus!


What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Steely Dan – Aja – Our Shootout Winner from 2007

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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…)

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

 

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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…)

The Sheffield Track Record – Who in His Right Mind Thinks This Is a Super Disc?

More Direct to Disc recordings

The Sheffield Track Record

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Sonic Grade: F

Hall of Shame Pressing.

This is a Minty looking Sheffield Lab LP of Rock Instrumental Tracks For Audio Component Testing and Evaluation. Harry Pearson calls this absolutely the best sounding rock record ever made.

We cannot agree with HP as to the recording quality of this album. The sound is surprisingly compressed, and the music is every bit as lifeless as the sound.

The Sheffield Drum Record

More The Sheffield Drum Record

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

This Minty looking Sheffield Direct-to-Disc LP has AMAZING SOUND. We played it against other pressings we had and this was clearly the winner. It’s lively, with a wonderfully extended top and bottom. We rate it about A++ – A+++ on both sides. 

The record features improvisations from Jim Keltner (one of the all-time great session drummers) and Ron Tutt (Elvis Presley’s studio drummer). The album is a member of the famous TAS list.

Lincoln Mayorga & Distinguished Colleagues – Volume III – Our Shootout Winner from 2009

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DEMO DISC QUALITY SOUND on both sides of this AMAZING Hot Stamper! This Limited Edition Sheffield Lab Direct Disc recording has some of the best sound we have ever heard for this title. The sound doesn’t get any better than this, with CLARITY and that JUMP OUT OF THE SPEAKERS quality we desire from a Hot Stamper. 

We just finished a big shootout of this album [in 2009!] and this Flower label pressing was the undisputed champion. Many copies of this album tend to sound a bit thin and somewhat bright. On this copy, the sound is rich, full, and tonally correct from top to bottom. The horns sound especially wonderful.

What do Hot Stampers give you for this album? It’s very simple. Most copies of this album are slightly thin and slightly bright. They give the impression of being very clear and clean, but some of the louder brass passages start to get strained and blarey. This copy is rich and full. The sound is balanced from top to bottom. You can play it all the way through without fatigue.

Trumpets, trombones, tubas, tamborines, big bass, drums — everything has the true tonality and the vibrancy of the real thing. The reason this record was such a big hit in its day because the recording engineers were able to capture that sound better than anybody else around. That’s also the reason this is a Must Own record today — the sound holds up!

Just listen to that amazing brass choir on Oh Lord, I’m On My Way. It just doesn’t get any better than that. If ever there was a Demo Disc, this is one! (more…)

Thoughts on a Direct to Disc Recording – Side One Vs. Side Two

I’ve Got The Music In Me

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In our last shootout this White Hot Stamper tied for the best side two we have ever heard! In the final round it simply came down to the fact that the other copy was a little more clear, this one is a little richer. They were both so amazing we couldn’t decide which we preferred so we gave them both White Hot Stamper grades.

In our experience this rarely happens. Most of the time one side of one of the records in the shootout will show itself to be the clear winner, doing everything (or almost everything; there is no such thing as a perfect record) right. When you play enough copies, eventually you run into the one that shows you how the music wants to be heard, what kind of sound seems to work for it the best. The two side twos we liked were variations, and fairly subtle ones at that, on a theme — a little richer here, a little clearer there, but both SO GOOD!

Side two fulfills the promise of the direct to disc recording approach in a way that few — very few — direct to disc pressings do. To be honest, most copies of this title were quite good. Few didn’t do most things at least well enough to earn a Hot Stamper grade. This has not been the case with many of the Sheffield pressings we’ve done shootouts for in the past. Often the weaker copies have little going for them. They don’t even sound like Direct Discs! (more…)

Dave Grusin – Discovered Again – Our Shootout Winner from 2008

More Dave Grusin

More Discovered Again

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A distinguished member of the Better Records Jazz Hall of Fame.

This Sheffield Direct to Disc pressing has AMAZING SOUND! Out of the six copies we played, this was the White Hot Stamper WINNER of our shootout with the kind of life and musical energy simply not to be found on the average Sheffield copy.

The typical direct to disc pressing of Discovered Again leaves much to be desired. Two areas are especially lacking as a rule: the top end tends to be rolled off, and there is a noticeable lack of presence, which can easily be heard in the drum sound: the snare sounds like it’s covered with a towel on most copies of this album. Wha’ happen?

Who knows? Even though the mastering is fixed at the live event, there are many other variables which no doubt affect the sound. The album is cut on two different lathes — M (Master) and S (Slave), and pressed in two different countries: Japan and Germany. Many mothers were pulled from the acetate and many, many stampers made from those mothers. (I saw one marked stamper number 15!)  (more…)

Steely Dan – Gaucho – Listening In Depth

More Steely Dan

More Gaucho

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Another in our series of Home Audio Exercises with specific advice on What to Listen For (WTLF) as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho, the last of the Must Own Steely Dan albums. 

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 contemplate 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 seriously good sounding record indeed. (more…)