More of the Music of Steely Dan
Reviews and Commentaries for Aja
One of our good customers recently bought a Super Hot pressing of Aja, and wasn’t quite sure if he loved the music enough to keep it, so he wanted to try a White Hot Stamper pressing to see if that would win him over, the idea being that the better sound of the White Hot copy would communicate the music better and let him appreciate every aspect of the music, no matter how subtle. This is his story.
Probably my favorite thing to do in audio these days is putting on a record of yours for the first time. When the Aja White Hot Stamper came, I had to wait a few hours until after the kids were all tucked in. I listened with headphones for a change, and right away I could tell how clear and intricate this copy was. Knowing how my other copies sounded, I knew no shootout was going to be necessary.
I also really love doing mini-shootouts of my own. It’s a great way to really sink in to listening for a while. I don’t have 16 other copies of Aja, the way your other customer described, but I could still stack your WHS up against three other ABC pressings with identical-looking labels and nearly-identical deadwax, along with a MoFi and a Japanese pressing.
It proved to be the most beguiling shootout I’ve ever done. Each copy had merits, and among the ABC pressings, I was hearing clear similarities to the WHS. This is such delicate and full music, so obviously well-recorded, that I guess it’s hard for any pressing to completely muck it up.
I’ve heard you say that a white hot stamper is a copy that just does everything right, and that was completely true in this case. The differences were subtler, but also more important, than they usually are in my mini-shootouts. The WHS made the music sound more natural and more involving. All those crazy details, present in the others if you really pay attention, came right up to the surface when the WHS played.
I really can’t claim it trounced the others, but I can certainly say that it had the best aspects of each of them, while in turn not being improved on in any aspect by any of the others. Sure, it would be fun to get to hear one of the sought-after pressings, like a Cisco, but with prices verging on hot stamper territory, it’s not like I’m going to go track that down. I’ll just content myself with your word that this one would beat one of those. Since I’m not feeling anything lacking here, I have no reason to keep going.
After almost every purchase from you, I ask myself, “is it worth what I paid?” This was a funny one. I don’t love Steely Dan, even though all indications are that I should. I’ve always dug Aja, but not to the obsessive levels I know others to be (and that I am with other records). I was curious to own a WHS because I know it’s such a well-recorded album, I knew I’d love the sound, and as you suggested when I asked you about it, I wanted to see if a great-sounding copy could help me get into the music.
So far so good. I appreciate the virtuosity of the musicians, the touch they’ve got on their instruments, the clever wordplay (now that the vocals are so easy to make out), and the communication among them, like a great jazz session. Is it worth what I paid? Well, I’m not sending it back, even though I know you wouldn’t mind if I did. So, thanks for another gem in my collection.
Thanks for your letter. A few thoughts:
 Yes, an early ABC pressing is unlikely to sound wrong or terrible in our experience. Of the hundred or more that we’ve played, a don’t remember one that did not at least sound good enough to sell, earning perhaps our lowest Hot Stamper grade.
You’ve recently upgraded your system quite a bit. If you keep going that way, in five or ten (or two!) years you may want to revisit the WHS copy relative to your other three ABC pressings (forget the others) and see what changes you have wrought, although I do not recommend you use Aja as a test disc, for the simple reason that extremely artificial recordings can often sound amazingly good, but when your system goes off the rails a bit from some new tweak or change, they will sound different, but not necessarily better or worse, more right or more wrong, and then you don’t know whether the change was a good one or a bad one.
Different means nothing. Things sound different all the time. More right or more wrong should always be your focus.
Test discs like the ones we recommend should make it easy to distinguish better from worse, right from wrong. Test discs that don’t are simply not good test discs and should not be used for that purpose.
 Don’t take my word for how bad the Cisco pressing is. We have letters from customers who say the same thing.
The Cisco is so bad we call it 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.