Another SH Mastered Steely Dan post

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by JonUrban, Jan 5, 2003.

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  1. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497 Thread Starter

    I went to check my Steely Dan MCA CDs to see if there was any mention of SH mastering in them. I know that these are early release CDs, as I bought them at the dawn of the CD era! I looked over the booklets and the JB artwork and there is no mention of Steve.....

    An interesting thing that I noticed is that they have sequential pressing numbers, yet the DIDX numbers, although sequential, are not in the same order. These are the numbers:

    Can't Buy a Thrill MCAD-37040 (DIDX-369)
    Countdown to Ecstasy MCAD-37041 (DIDY-372)
    Pretzel Logic MCAD-37042 (DIDY-371)
    KATY LIED MCAD-37043 (DIDY-373)
    The Royal Scam MCAD-37044 (DIDX-370)

    Another question, what is the difference between a DIDX number and a DIDY number?


  2. Gary Freed

    Gary Freed Forum Resident

  3. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497 Thread Starter


    Thanks for the link. I forgot about the discography.
    On the Katy Lied, the discography does not list a pressing number.
    I wonder if the one I have is the correct one?

  4. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Hang on to those. You either have Roger's mastering or mine. Either way, it's the sound of the actual analog master tapes, warts and all.
  5. Ed Bishop

    Ed Bishop Incredibly, I'm still here

    Don't forget AJA, with the original DIDX 000055....that's a 1984 pressing, the first Steely on CD....before it was mucked with...

  6. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497 Thread Starter

    Thanks Steve. Glad to know I have "the good ones".

    Ed, I still have the "Gaucho" first pressing (DIDX-56), but I stupidly traded in my early "AJA" when I bought the MFSL AJA! Who would have known???

    UGH! :confused:

  7. CT Dave

    CT Dave Forum Resident

    Any CDs with a DIDX or DIDY code number stamped in the inner ring of the disc were manufactured by CBS/Sony in Japan, or Digital Audio Disc Corp.,Sony's American production facility. The difference between the DIDX and DIDY discs is the DIDY prefix was used on discs manufactured for the Columbia House CD club.
  8. JonUrban

    JonUrban SHF Member #497 Thread Starter

    Wow! Dave you are correct. I just looked at those discs closer, and lo and behold there was the CRC text ptinted on the JB and the disc.

    Thanks very much for sharing your knowledge!!

  9. Rob LoVerde

    Rob LoVerde New Member


    What's wrong with the MFSL "Aja"?
  10. Matt

    Matt New Member

    I asked Steve about this. The club CD's, such as the Columbia House ones you've got (or CRC), are the flat transfers Nichols did.

    Rob, nothing's wrong with the MFSL "Aja." I used to think there was because of the Steely Dan book (don't remember the titles, but it's pretty much the ONLY book on Steely Dan that's been in print for the last decade; it was recently updated). The fault they found with the MFSL "Aja" was that it used the original analogue master tape. Nichols was supposedly upset about this because he had made up some digital masters in the early 80's that he believed should have been used for any CD release. More of a difference of opinion, I think, then someone doing something "wrong."

    Which brings me to my question: Steve, did you use the original analogue tapes or the digital masters Roger prepared in the early 80's? What difference would there have been had one been used instead of the other? Would it be pretty negligible?
  11. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    I used analog, of course, just like MFSL. ;)
  12. I don't get it. Is he concerned they can't transfer an analog tape properly? Wouldn't you want to use the ORIGINAL master tape instead of a digital tape made in the early 80's? Seems to me Roger's analness is miss-guided.
  13. Angel

    Angel New Member

    Hollywood, Ca.
    He means well though!
  14. I have Countdown to Ecstasy MCAD-31156. What do I have? Who mastered it? Is it worth keeping or should I look for another copy?
  15. Matt

    Matt New Member

    If it has that ugly grid-like tray card used on most early MCA CD's, it's no good.

    If it doesn't (instead a blown-up section of the cover is used as a background), you've got a keeper.

    If it's made in Japan, it's probably Steve's. If it's made in the USA or a CD club disc, it's Roger's.
  16. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Either way, it's damn close to the actual sound of the master tapes (if that means anything to you, they are not amazing sounding in the first place).

    I wouldn't get rid of it....
  17. Thanks Matt. I always thought it sounded decent but didn't know how much better it could sound. The back photo is a blown up section of the front cover and it's made in the US. So I guess it's Roger's transfer.

    Thanks for the info.
  18. It sounds pretty un-tinkered with.;)

    I just LOVE Razor Boy. I re-recorded it once as a piano ballad, heavy Mellotron and multi-layered vocal harmonies. Turned out great. Roger said he heard it and was impressed. It was one of my first attempts at a pure path, "audiophile" recording. We really got into it. I rented a whole bunch of old tube gear and let it do all the work. Very enjoyable sessions.
  19. Paul K

    Paul K Forum Resident

    Toronto, Canada
    How about the Canadian MCA budget presses (under 10 dollars apiece) that, again, have been manufactured by Cinram?
  20. pauljones

    pauljones Forum Chef

    columbia, sc
    The Steely Dan CD's with the grid-like back covers were the ones pressed after the initial run of Steve Hoffman/Roger Nichols cd's.
    From 1984-1986 MCA used album graphics on the back covers; these are the ones listed with the "37" prefixes. They are Hoffman or Nichols masters.
    From 1986 until 1992 MCA used stock masters and cheapened the graphics, while placing all except Aja and Gaucho into their midline series.
    In 1992 MCA reissued the catalog (except Decade) with Stickers on the longbox stating "Newly Remastered by the Artist". Most, however, still had the grid-like packaging. Over the next couple of years, the packaging was restored to the type on the very first run, except with the new, stylized MCA logo.

    I had written Andy Mc Kaie of MCA about the above issues years ago, and he sent back a detailed letter indicating that after the initial run, the whole series was redone (in 1986), and graphics got "chopped up" and an in-house engineer "pulled tapes" and put them out again. He said that he did not feel the 1986-1992 issues sounded bad, and that they had no customer complaints about them. But, that the entire catalog was (just) re-worked and that they would be restored with original graphics (the letter he wrote me was at the time they were wrapping up the "Newly Remastered by the Artist" reissues).
    Hope this helps!

  21. Gardo

    Gardo Forum Resident

    I've just done some intensive comparisons of three Steely Dan songs, snaking my way through different masterings. I won't do my usual illustrated deal. Instead, here's the executive summary:

    As time goes on, Steely Dan CDs get brighter and more compressed. The degree of brightness and compression varies by song and by album, but the trend is consistent, and by the newest remasters the EQ and compression are starting to hurt the music.

    Some specifics:

    I've compared six masterings of "Babylon Sisters": the original MCA LP, the original Decade CD (mastered by Bob Ludwig and Roger Nichols), the original made-in-Japan CD, the Steely Dan Gold 1991 collection (SDG), the Citizen Steely Dan (CSD) box, and the 2000 remastered version. To my ears the best sound is on the first three masters, which are pretty close to each other. The LP seems to have the widest dynamic range, oddly enough. The SDG immediately sounds louder, and that loudness goes up on CSD and the latest remaster. The 2000 remaster is quite compressed compared to the LP and first two CD versions. The vocal is thus more prominent, but it's also sibilant and unpleasant to hear.

    I should also add that the CSD box and the 2000 remaster seem to have used a noise gate or some kind of noise reduction: there's light tape hiss audible on all other masters, but none audible on CSD or the 2000 remaster. It's very troubling to think that the Dan organization might be no-noising their CD masters. On "Babylon Sisters," the hi-hat work at the beginning sounds splatty with the brighter EQ, and weirdly truncated with whatever noise-reduction is being used. NOT GOOD.

    I've compared six masterings of "Deacon Blues." The MFSL LP has boosted the extreme treble, to my ears. The cymbals at the beginning have less body, and the bass sounds a little thinner too. The original MCA CD of AJA and the track on the original Decade sound identical. I'm not sure whether the original MCA I have is Hoffman or Nichols mastered; I'm guessing perhaps Nichols, since it matches the Decade version so closely. The SDG version is not compressed, but there's tape damage audible in the right channel about two seconds in, and the stereo image seems narrower throughout. The CSD and latest remaster are both compressed and brightened; this remastered AJA is the most compressed of them all.

    An interesting side note: there really are lots of warts on these records. On the line "This is the day of the expanding man," there's clearly a wart on the words "the day" that sounds like distortion or tape damage. The wart is on every version I've listened to. It's a small thing, but it's odd that such audio perfectionists would let that stuff by. Maybe it's unavoidable, but I always thought the Dan were ultra-clean recorders.

    I've compared five versions of "Bad Sneakers." The original LP sounds like it has a slight presence peak, but sounds quite good otherwise (or even because of this!). The original MCA CD of Katy Lied (I think it's Hoffman-mastered) sounds a little duller but also a little smoother throughout the spectrum. The Decade track sounds a little crisper, perhaps, than the original MCA CD of Katy Lied. But these three issues are all pretty close. The analog crackle at about 23-24 seconds in is audible on both the original CD and (more clearly on) the Decade track. The CSD version of "Bad Sneakers" is again brighter and more compressed. The latest remaster of Katy Lied (1999) is compressed and almost painfully bright. In fact, that latest Katy Lied sounds pretty bad compared to the other versions I have.

    I had thought that the new remasters sounded pretty good, but here's a case where I couldn't trust my ears without comparing a few versions. And as always, now that I've had some fine ear-training over the last few months, I'm listening for how natural things sound, especially vocals. It's obvious that Nichols is trying to meet the new market halfway by brightening and compressing the CDs to some extent. The albums aren't ruined, but they're just not as good-sounding in their latest incarnations.


    P.S. Note that the newly remastered version of Decade is mastered by Glenn Meadows, who mastered the CSD box. (I'm betting the tracks are clones of the work he did there.) Get the earlier Ludwig/Nichols-mastered Decade if you can.

    P.P.S. Many thanks to Paul J. for all his help here!
  22. Matt

    Matt New Member

    The main difference between Steve's mastering and Roger's early flat mastering may be the "hole" in the midrange, supposedly a common characteristic of Steely Dan albums. Steve restores some of it, Roger leaves it as is.

    I used to have a Greatest Hits 1972-1978 CD, made in Canada. A reissue of the double Lp compilation released between FM and "Aja," it had something like 80 minutes and 10 seconds of music. Sold it long ago, so I can't comment on the sound, but it definitely was issued before the 1993 remasters.
  23. Steve Hoffman

    Steve Hoffman Your Host Your Host

    Perfect description!

    The hole is due to the horn loaded studio monitors those albums were mixed on. Unless you have your own Altec or Westlake horn monitors at home, you're going to have the hole if you play Roger's versions flat.

    I filled it in about 1/2.

    Of course, I'll take Roger's flat transfers over anything that came later, but that's just me.
  24. KeithH

    KeithH Success With Honor...then and now

    Beaver Stadium
    This is a great thread! A couple weeks ago, I found a used copy of Aja that must be a Nichols production. Here are the particulars:

    1) It's a CRC disc. 'CRC' is imprinted on the CD and is printed on the back insert. The CD says "DIDY 000055", and the back insert and spine say "DIDY 55".

    2) The inner ring of the disc says "DIDX 000055".

    3) The catalog number is MCAD 37214.

    I still would love to track down the Hoffman version, but I am very happy to have the Nichols version. Above all, the booklet and disc are practically mint! :D

    P.S. The disc sounds great, though I have not had a chance to compare it to my '99 remaster yet. I don't have the MFSL version for comparison.
  25. pauljones

    pauljones Forum Chef

    columbia, sc

    Thanks for that clarification.
    I did a close comparison of the various versions and also found out that the later versions were, to my ears, way too bright and hollow sounding.

    I also pulled out my MFSL vinyl Katy Lied and discovered it sounded "dull"--like a veil was tossed over the music. Also, the grooves on side one were spaced out very nicely, with virtually no trail-off area, while the groove area on side two is compacted where the trail-off area takes up about half of the side! I purchased the LP new in 1978 and have only played it twice--lots of ticks and pops and the vinyl is thinner than most MFSL lp's.
    Mastering is credited to Stan Ricker.

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