Top Producers – Gary Katz

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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More Evidence of Ron McMaster’s Flat Out Incompetence

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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?


FURTHER READING

There is an abundance of audiophile collector hype surrounding the hundreds of Heavy Vinyl pressings currently in print. I read a lot about how wonderful their sound is, but when I actually play them, I rarely find them to be any better than mediocre, and many of them are simply awful.

Music Matters made this garbage remaster. Did anyone notice how bad it sounded? I could list a hundred more that range from bad to worse — and I have! Take your pick: there are more than 150 entries in our Heavy Vinyl Disasters section, each one worse sounding than the next.

Audiophiles seem to have approached these records naively instead of skeptically.

(But hold on just a minute. Who am I to talk? I did the same thing when I first got into audio and record collecting in the Seventies.)

How could so many be fooled so badly? Surely some of these people have good enough equipment to allow them to hear how mediocre-at-best these records sound.

Their equipment is not the issue. I suspect most audiophiles have perfectly good equipment. What some of these audiophiles have failed to ask themselves about the sound of their Heavy Vinyl records is, “compared to what?”

It’s the most important question in all of audio. And to answer it, audiophiles need to learn how to do shootouts. This means you.

Without shootouts, how can you begin to know the specific strengths and weaknesses of the sound of the pressings you own?

That’s where we come in. We are happy to help you find better sounding records using the methods we’ve developed over the last twenty years.

One of the best place to start is with this FAQ entry: How Can I Find My Own Hot Stampers?

Now, if you would like some evidence to support the idea that Hot Stamper pressings actually are better sounding records, before you spend all the time and effort it will take to find your own, we make it very easy for you to do just that.  Simply go here and order anything you see.

We recommend you try a record you know well. It also helps if you have other pressings to play against our Hot Stamper. You have to hear the difference and see the value for yourself, on your stereo. You determine what the value of the record is, not me.

Hearing Is Believing. No explanations or descriptions can do justice to the sound of a truly great vinyl pressing played on high quality audiophile equipment. It is the thrill we all live for, and it never gets old.

Steely Dan / Katy Lied – Our Favorite Dan Album of Them All

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Reviews and Commentaries for Katy Lied

  • An outstanding early ABC pressing with Double Plus (A++) sound from start to finish
  • Our pick for the best Dan album of them all, a Masterpiece of Jazzy Swing Pop that is sure to reward hundreds of plays in the decades to come
  • Take it from The Dan: “The sound created by musicians and singers is reproduced as faithfully as possible, and special care is taken to preserve the band-width and transient response of each performance.”
  • Problems in the vinyl are sometimes the nature of the beast with these early pressings – there simply is no way around them if the superior sound of vintage analog is important to you, especially for this title, which is almost never quiet
  • 5 stars: “Each song is given a glossy sheen, one that accentuates not only the stronger pop hooks, but also the precise technical skill of the professional musicians drafted to play the solos.”

The covers for these original Katy Lied pressings on ABC always have at least some edge, seam or ringwear. We will of course do our best to find you a cover with the fewest problems, but none of them will be perfect, or even all that close to it. It is by far the hardest Steely Dan album to find good covers for.

This copy has the all-important rock energy we look for, although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it “…absolutely impeccable swing-pop”, a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of adjectives and nouns containing the word “rock.” (more…)

Steely Dan – A Killer Can’t Buy a Thrill (and Some Lessons We Learned)

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

During our shootouts, when we drop the needle on a copy and don’t hear that “Hot Stamper” sound, we toss that one and move on to the next. The difference between a truly Hot Stamper and most copies is so obvious that we rarely waste time on the pressings that clearly don’t have any real magic in their grooves.

Like we’ve said after some of our other Steely Dan Hot Stamper shootouts, you would never imagine how good this album can sound after playing the average copy, which is grainy, compressed and dead as the proverbial doornail. It’s positively criminal the way this well-recorded music sounds on the typical LP.

And how can you possibly be expected to appreciate the music when you can’t hear it right? The reason we audiophiles go through the trouble of owning and tweaking our temperamental equipment is we know how hard it is to appreciate good music through bad sound. Bad sound is a barrier to understanding and enjoyment, to us audiophiles anyway.

We Was Wrong About the Sound

Years ago – starting with our first shootout in 2007 for the album as a matter of fact – we had put this warning in our listings:

One thing to note: this isn’t Aja, Pretzel Logic or Gaucho (their three best sounding recordings). We doubt you’ll be using a copy of Can’t Buy A Thrill to demo your stereo.

We happily admit now that we got Can’t Buy a Thrill wrong. It’s actually a very good sounding record – rich, smooth, natural, with an especially unprocessed quality.

In that sense it is superior to most of their catalog; better than Countdown to Ecstasy, Katy Lied, Royal Scam and maybe even Gaucho. You could easily use the album to demo your stereo. (more…)

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

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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…)

Listening in Depth to Aja (Includes Free Cisco Debunking Tool)

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Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

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.

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Steely Dan – Testing for Energy with Green Earrings

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Reviews and Commentaries for The Royal Scam

The first two tracks on side two tell you everything you need to know about the sound. Most copies are going to be aggressive. There’s an edge to Fagen’s vocals. It’ll become especially apparent when the backing vocals come in on the line “The rings of rare design.”

If the sound is too midrangy and edgy, you simply do not have a good copy. You will probably not find the experience particularly enjoyable. Rather than finding yourself lost in the music, you may find yourself wondering what the fuss was all about when this album came out.

On a musical note, it’s songs like this one and the two that follow that make me realize how ENERGETIC an album this is. It’s actually the last high energy Steely Dan album, second only in that respect to Countdown To Ecstasy.

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Steely Dan / Aja – Guess Which Pressing This Guy Likes the Best

 


Go ahead, take a guess.

If you guessed the Cisco LP from 2007, one of the worst sounding versions of the album ever pressed, you win a prize!

Occasionally, when I go searching the web to find out something about a record, I find something I had no idea even existed. Look what I found today: a survey of various pressings of Aja, an album I think I know pretty well. I’ve been playing it since the day it came out in 1977.

Are you learning anything useful from the guy in this video? Does he seem to understand much about the sound of the pressings he is reviewing?

I didn’t think so either. If you know much about records you should be appalled at the nonsensical opinions coming out of this guy’s mouth. This video will of course garner many ten of thousands of hits, but that is to be expected. Phony record gurus like this guy —  as opposed to authentic record gurus like us — have found a home in every corner of the web, full of bad advice for those foolish enough to take it.

We Can Help

Would you like some helpful advice, some “actionable intelligence” vis-a-vis Aja?

Good. You’ve come to the right place. This blog is overflowing with information you can use to do your own shootouts, for Aja as well as any other record you have a good supply of.

When you are done you can make your own video if you like.

And if you follow our methods, your video, unlike this video, would actually be of value to audiophiles trying to find a better sounding pressing of Aja. It sure ain’t the Cisco. If that pressing doesn’t come in last place in the shootout, you need to try harder. You’re not doing it right. (The Japanese pressing you see pictured should do poorly also.)

If this guy had better playback equipment and had developed some basic critical listening skills, he would not be recommending the Cisco pressing. He would be telling you how awful it is just the way we did back in 2007 when it came out.

The Cisco pressing, so beloved by the gentleman above, also happens to be a good example of a Pass/Fail record.  We describe Pass/Fail records this way:

Some records are so wrong, or so lacking in qualities that are crucial to the sound — qualities typically found in abundance on the right vintage pressings — that the advocates for these records, reviewers and audiophiles alike, have clearly failed to judge them accurately.

Tea for the Tillerman on the new 45 may be substandard in almost every way, but it is not a Pass/Fail pressing. It lacks one thing above all others, Tubey Magic, so if your system has an abundance of that quality, the way many vintage tube systems do, the new pressing may be quite listenable and enjoyable. Those whose systems can play the record and not notice this important shortcoming are not exactly failing. Audiophiles of this persuasion most likely have a system that is heavily colored and not very revealing, but it is not a system that is hopeless.

A system that can play the MoFi of Aja without revealing to the listener how risibly wrong it is is clearly on another level of bad entirely, and that we would characterize as a failing system. My system in the ’80s played the MoFi just fine. Looking back on it now, I realize my system was doing more wrong than right. Over the next forty years I worked hard to make it right. It is at the heart of everything we do here at Better Records. Without it there could be no Hot Stampers.

The value of identifying such records is simply this: if you know anyone, or come across anyone, that has anything nice to say about records that are as awful as the ones on this list, you should know that such a person cannot tell a good record from a bad one, and therefore nothing they say about anything on the subject of either audio or records will be of any real value to you if you care about good sound.

Our video maker above fits neatly into this category. Why is he talking about better and worse versions of Aja when he clearly cannot tell the good ones from the bad ones? Why indeed.

Helpful Tips from Real Record Experts (Us)

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Steely Dan – Aja

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Reviews and Commentaries for Aja

  • Presenting a STUNNING copy of Steely Dan’s magnificent Jazzy Pop breakthrough album
  • Punchy, full and smooth, with the kind of rhythmic energy that brings out the jazzy funk in the music
  • A Better Records Rock and Pop Top 100 album and a true Demo Disc on an exceptional pressing like this
  • 4 1/2 stars: “With Aja, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen’s obsession with sonic detail and fascination with composition reached new heights. A coolly textured and immaculately produced collection of sophisticated jazz-rock, Aja has none of the overt cynicism or self-consciously challenging music that distinguished previous Steely Dan records … a shining example of jazz-rock at its finest. “

Folks, there’s not much I can tell you about this copy of Aja that’s going to make you want this record, other than to say this: If you’re in the market for a superb pressing of what’s gotta be the most beloved Steely Dan record they made, look no further. It’s right here. (more…)

Donald Fagen – Revisiting the Analog Vs. Digital Debate

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Reviews and Commentaries for the Music of Steely Dan

Do All the Pressings Have to Sound Like CDs?

The average copy of this digitally recorded, mixed and mastered LP sounds just the way you would expect it to: like a CD. It’s anemic, two-dimensional, opaque, thin, bright, harsh, with little extreme top and the kind of bass that’s all “note” with no real weight, solidity or harmonic structure. Sounds like a CD, right? (That’s the way most of my CDs sound, which is why I no longer listen to them except in the car)

But what if I told you that the best copies of The Nightfly can actually sound like a real honest-to-goodness ANALOG recording, with practically none of the nasty shortcomings listed above? You may not believe it, but it’s true.

I heard it myself. I heard a copy sound so natural and correct that I would never have guessed it was digital. On my honor, that’s the truth. The best copies of The Nightfly can actually be shockingly ANALOG sounding.

Allow us to make the case for The Nightfly. (more…)