Top Engineers – Elliot Scheiner

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

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

Sonic Grade: F

More MoFi bashing, but boy does this MoFi deserve it. In our estimation, it is tied with the Cisco 180g pressing (2007) for The Worst Version Ever.

I remember back in the ’70s when the album came out. I was a big Steely Dan fan by then, having been turned on to their albums with Countdown to Ecstasy. With each new Dan record I became more impressed with their music, from Pretzel Logic to Katy Lied to Royal Scam and finally on to this, their commercial breakthrough, Aja.

At the time I thought the 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. Wow! Listen to all that bass!

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 must be (I’m guessing) on the master tape. The song Home At Last has at least an extra three or four DBs added around 50 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 hi-hat, all top and no body, and the hi-hat sounds so bright you can barely even tell it’s a hi-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 Donald Fagen, the perfect example of an approach we call My-Fi, not Hi-Fi, as if the world needed such a thing.

Mobile Fidelity took this fairly artificial recording and made it even more artificial sounding than it already was.

We don’t like it when a mastering engineer creates a new sound for a well-known recording, a sound that nobody involved with the original production could have wanted, since no other version of the album ever sounded like this one.

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 am sure plenty of people still play the record and like it.

If you have small speakers, or screens with no subs, it might actually give you some of the bass and highs your speakers have trouble reproducing. This is not a good way to pursue audio of course. We are of the opposite persuasion and have been since 1975 or thereabouts.

This is exactly what is going on with the Speakers Corner Mercury reissue series from about twenty 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 two working ears would even want.

If you can’t tell what’s wrong with the MoFi Aja –and I’m guessing that’s a sizeable contingent of self-described audiophiles — then it’s hard to know how to help you.

Like our friend with the MoFi Aqualung, we would not know where to start. Something ain’t workin’ right — room, stereo, who knows what it might be?

In order to build a record collection of high quality pressings, the first thing you need to do is get good sound.

It is the sine qua non of record collecting. Without it you are almost guaranteed to fail. Until you’ve achieved good sound, you most likely will be wasting money on one bad sounding audiophile record after another, and that would really be a shame.

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Jennifer Warnes / The Hunter – A Cisco Disaster

More of the Music of Jennifer Warnes

More Reviews and Commentaries for Audiophile BS LPs

Sonic Grade: F

A Hall of Shame pressing from Cisco/Impex/Boxstar.

Some of the worst sound I have ever heard in my life. An absolute disgrace, both sonically and musically. 

If you like your Heavily Processed Big Production Pop [1] to sound as unnatural 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 so many self-identified audiophiles did not seem bothered by the execrable sound, certainly not the way we were.

Oh, but it’s on vinyl! That surely solves all the problems with the recording.

Yes, the CD was bad, but the vinyl was no better. I had them both and couldn’t stand either of them.


[1] Note that some of our favorite records are on this list. Yes, they are heavily-processed, “unnatural” recordings, but the engineers, producers and artists who worked on these albums were attempting to create a unique sound for the music they were making, not recreate one, and in many cases the results of their efforts are some of the most powerful and musical albums we’ve ever played.

Romantic Warrior, like The Beatles’ amazing Revolver from ten years before, is a sonic extravaganza created entirely in the studio. It never intended to be a live jazz performance. The goal was to create the biggest, boldest, hardest rocking Jazz/Rock Fusion Album Ever Made, and in that effort we think it succeeds brilliantly. We know of none better.


The only album we like by Ms Warnes is Famous Blue Raincoat

It is her Masterpiece, a Core Collection record, and a clear case of One and Done.

When you have a good copy of Famous Blue Raincoat, you have all the Jennifer Warnes you will ever need.

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Van Morrison – His Band And Street Choir

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Reviews and Commentaries for Van Morrison

  • With Double Plus (A++) sound from first note to last, this is an outstanding Palm Tree pressing of Van’s shockingly underrated album from 1970 – fairly quiet vinyl too
  • The band is swinging, the material top-notch – “Domino,” “Crazy Face,” “Blue Money” and other classics are right here
  • The Best Sounding Van Morrison Album, a classic of 1970 Tubey Magical analog, and his only title to make our Top 100
  • “As ‘Domino’ opens the album with a show of strength, ‘Street Choir’ closes it with a burst of both musical and poetic energy which is not only better than anything else on the album but may well be one of Van’s two or three finest songs.” – Rolling Stone
  • For Rock and Pop 1970 Might Just Be the Best Year of Them All

This is the album that came out between Moondance (in the same year in fact, 1970) and Tupelo Honey, but for some reason, it don’t get no respect. We think that’s insane — the material on this album is stellar and the sound on the best pressings is out of this world!

Here’s a copy that really makes our case for us. Both sides of this vintage Warner Bros. pressing sound AMAZING! We went through a massive stack of copies and let me tell you — most of them sure don’t sound like this! Take this one home for some of the best Van Morrison sound you will ever hear.

For years I thought that Moondance was the best sounding album in the Van Morrison catalog. His Band And Street Choir is even better. One reason for that would have to be that Robert Ludwig mastered it, and he can usually be counted on to do an excellent job.

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Steely Dan – Gaucho

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Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

  • This copy is guaranteed to handily beat any pressing of Gaucho you have ever played, especially the awful Ron McMaster Heavy Vinyl LP
  • This superb pressing has three-dimensional ambience, tubey richness, you-are-there immediacy, tight bass, clear guitar transients, silky highs, and truckloads of analog magic on every track
  • 4 stars in the AMG, 4 1/2 in Rolling Stone, and one of this exceptionally well recorded band’s Three Best Sounding Albums – a true Must Own
  • “Despite its coolness, the music is quite beautiful. With its crystalline keyboard textures and diaphanous group vocals, ”Gaucho” contains the sweetest music Steely Dan has ever made.” New York Times
  • If you’re a Steely Dan fan, and what audiophile wouldn’t be?, this title from 1980 is surely a Must Own
  • The complete list of titles from 1980 that we’ve reviewed to date can be found here.

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

  • With two outstanding sides, this early pressing is guaranteed to be a huge improvement over anything you’ve heard – exceptionally quiet vinyl too
  • Punchy and high-resolution, check out the cymbals and muted guitar on “I.G.Y.” — they sound Right On The Money here
  • If you are looking for a shootout winning copy, let us know – with such good music and sound, we hope to get another shootout going again soon
  • 4 1/2 stars: “A portrait of the artist as a young man, The Nightfly is a wonderfully evocative reminiscence of Kennedy-era American life; in the liner notes, Donald Fagen describes the songs as representative of the kinds of fantasies he entertained as an adolescent during the late ’50s/early ’60s, and he conveys the tenor of the times with some of his most personal and least obtuse material to date.”

Vintage covers for this album are hard to find in exceptionally clean shape. Most of the will have at least some amount of ringwear, seam wear and edge wear. We guarantee that the cover we supply with this Hot Stamper is at least VG


Energetic and present, this copy is on a completely different level than most pressings. We just finished a big shootout for Donald Fagen’s solo effort from 1982 (just two years after Gaucho and the end of Steely Dan) and we gotta tell you, there are a lot of weak-sounding copies out there. We should know; we played them.

We’ve been picking copies up for more than a year in the hopes that we’d have some killer Hot Stamper copies to offer, but most of them left us cold. Flat, edgy and bright, like a bad copy of Graceland, only a fraction had the kind of magic we find on the better Steely Dan albums.

Both sides here are incredibly clear and high-rez compared to most pressings, with none of the veiled, smeary quality we hear so often. The vocals are breathy, the bass is clear and the whole thing is open and spacious.

How Analog Is It?

The ones we like the best will tend to be the ones that sound the most Analog. The more they sound like the average pressing — in other words, the more CD-like they sound — the lower the sonic grade. Many will not have even one Hot Stamper side and will end up in the trade-in pile.

The best copies sound the way the best copies of most Classic Rock records sound: tonally correct, rich, clear, sweet, smooth, open, present, lively, big, spacious, Tubey Magical, with breathy vocals and little to no spit, grit, grain or grunge.

That’s the sound of analog, and the best copies of The Nightfly have that sound.

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More Evidence of Ron McMaster’s Flat Out Incompetence

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

Sonic Grade: D

Reasonably good bass, we’ll give it that, but no top end and no Tubey Magic.

More of Ron McMaster’s handiwork. 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 ten 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?

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Donald Fagen / The Nightfly – MoFi Reviewed

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Sonic Grade: F

More MoFi phony EQ on the top right around 10k and sloppy bass.

You should be able to do a whole lot better and you sure won’t have to try very hard to do it.

Robert Ludwig is the man who knows how to cut this album, not Stan Ricker.

The properly pressed, properly cleaned Robert Ludwig-mastered copies are right in a way that the typical Half-Speed Mastered or Heavy Vinyl pressing rarely is. The more critically one listens, the more obvious this distinction becomes.

The real thing just can’t be beat, and you can be pretty sure that the real thing is an old record.

If you are buying these audiophile pressings, take the advice of some of our customers and stop throwing your money away on Heavy Vinyl and Half-Speed Mastered LPs.

At the very least let us send you a Hot Stamper pressing — of any album you choose — that can show you what is wrong with your remastered LP.

And if for some reason you disagree with us that our record sounds better than yours, we will happily give you all your money back and wish you the best.


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Improving Your Critical Listening Skills

Important Lessons We Learned from Record Experiments

Listening In Depth to Gaucho, The Dan’s Last Good Album

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for Gaucho

Presenting another entry in our extensive Listening in Depth series with advice on what to listen for as you critically evaluate your copy of Gaucho.

Here are some albums currently on our site with similar Track by Track breakdowns.

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…)

Donald Fagen / Morph The Cat – Mastered by the Cats from DCC

More of the Music of Steely Dan

Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Yet another Disastrous Heavy Vinyl release with godawful sound, and in this case, equally godawful music, a fitting entry for our Hall of Shame.

Sonic Grade: F

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.

Is this music for robots? That would explain a lot. Audiophile robots, perhaps?

Why do audiophiles waste their money on crap like this?

And Kamikiriad from 1993 was musically every bit as bad.

The last good record Donald Fagen was involved with was The NIghtfly.

After that, there is no reason to buy anything he recorded, whether as a solo artist or as part of the reformed Steely Dan.

And there would never be a good reason to buy a record that sounds as bad as this one on vinyl.

The CD has to be better.

Billy Joel / Songs in the Attic

More of the Music of Billy Joel

  • Incredible Demo Disc live rock concert sound with both sides earning Shootout Winning Triple Plus (A+++) grades or very close to it
  • This one has it ALL — the sound has so many wonderful ANALOG qualities when you get a good copy — the hardness of the typical pressing just disappears, leaving surprisingly transparent and sweet sound on virtually every track
  • The WHOMP FACTOR here is off the scale. There are few studio recordings that have these kinds of dynamics. We forget how compressed most of them are. It takes a record like this to show you how much LIFE there is in LIVE MUSIC
  • “Songs in the Attic is an excellent album, ranking among his very best work… even if Joel wasn’t a celebrity in the early ’70s, his best songs of the era rivaled his biggest hits.” – 4 Stars

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