Steely Dan Aja vinyl shootout

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by Sam, Aug 12, 2013.

  1. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    This weekend, I did a small shootout between 3 vinyl pressings of Aja. I did not include the Mofi pressing, as I have to agree that the EQ on that one is somewhat "hot." I wanted to compare the Cisco 30th anniversary pressing with two early pressings on the original ABC label. The two that I have on original ABC label have a matrix code of AB 1006 with a hand-written RE-3 in the runout groove, and an AA 1006. Both are clear and do not have any letters scratched out.

    First up was the ABC AA 1006 pressing. To get right to the point, stay away from this pressing. The sound was muffled. Drums sounded like a blanket was thrown over the speakers, and the presentation was quite uninvolving. From what I gather, the AA pressing was not the original Bernie Grundman mastering and I can hear it. So even though it has the original label, CHECK THE MATRIX numbers first.

    Next up was the AB 1006 matrix pressing, all hand written in the runout groove. AB NOT AA. Wow. What a difference. Clear kick drums and overall clarity to the vocals. The midrange is to die for. A wonderful stereo spread combined with warmth and musical drive. Basically, what people call "master tape" sound, or as close as one can get via vinyl. I didn't want to get up to change the record, and that's always a great sign.

    Next up was the Cisco pressing on heavy vinyl. Clear presentation with good bass, unlike the first AA pressing I auditioned. (By the way, I played cut 1, BLACK COW, for this shootout). The thing that bothered me about this Cisco pressing was the vocals and midrange. There was something going on that was very difficult to put my finger on. The vocals were not as clear or as well-defined in the mix as the ABC AB pressing. The midrange was not "blooming," for a lack of a better description. The overall presentation was not as full. It's damn good UNTIL you compare it to the original AB 1006 pressing, and then you realize what is missing. And with Steely Dan's Aja, you WANT that mastertape experience.

    So there you have my experience with 3 different pressings. As I said, I didn't bother to compare my mofi, as I know that it has unnatural boosting in the highs and lows. Sometimes that works, but on this lp, the original AB pressing is the winner.
     
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  2. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Has anyone else compared various pressings?
     
  3. DPM

    DPM Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nevada, USA
    Your "master tape" conclusion is flawed. The only LP you played that actually came from the uncompressed two-channel master was the Cisco pressing--mastered by our host and Kevin Gray. All other LPs and CDs came from a 2:1 compressed copy of the master or a tape copy of said compressed copy. The reason a compressed copy tape was made back in the seventies is because there was concern about the ability of the majority of the turntables of the day to track the record if pressed using the full dynamic range of the master tape.

    Now, many people do prefer the original domestic pressing because of the fatter sound. There's nothing wrong with that. But the Cisco vinyl is the only release of Aja that used the true non-compressed stereo master.
     
  4. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    My "Master tape" reference was only used in terms of what I was hearing to describe the sound. I don't know if the actual "Master Tape" was used to press my copy. HOWEVER, be aware that Michael Fremer did state in a follow up to his review of the Cisco that the Master Tape WAS NOT USED for the Cisco copy. I'll try to find the posted statement somewhere. I remember Fremer stating that he found this out after his review, but he still liked the Cisco. He surmised that it must have been the plating and pressing on the Cisco. And, our host Steve Hoffman, had nothing to do with the Cisco vinyl 30th anniversary remaster to my knowledge. That was all Kevin Gray.
     
  5. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
  6. DPM

    DPM Forum Resident

    Location:
    Nevada, USA
    Thanks for the link. Wow, Michael Fremer REALLY liked the Cisco.

    It does seem we have a mystery here vis a vis the source used for the Cisco LP. I like Kevin's work, so only him doing the mastering is fine with me. I wonder where Fremer got his info regarding the source tape used for the Cisco. Every blurb I read promoting that pressing stated the true master tape was used for the first time. Hmmm.
     
  7. One_L

    One_L Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    I believe the AB pressing is the first press, the AA is a second pressing.
     
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  8. Preston

    Preston Forum Resident

    Location:
    KCMO Metro USA
    That's what I've read too. Interesting...
     
  9. Raunchnroll

    Raunchnroll Forum Resident

    Location:
    Seattle
    Have you tried other copies of the AA cutting? To eliminate the chances that the particular pressing you used was a bum one, or made towards of the end of the stamper life.
     
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  10. c-eling

    c-eling Forum Resident

    Bunch of samples in the needledrop thread, I'm happy with my no-note ABC AA press enough to not seek out the cisco
     
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  11. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Nope, just the AA one that I recently bought to compare with my AB pressing. I suppose one could go on and on comparing many pressings ala Tom Port, but I know what I heard between the AB and AA, and the AB wins hands down. For me, I've got my go to pressing of Aja.
     
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  12. MYKE

    MYKE Offended By The Easily Offended

    I knew the Cisco was my go-to years ago, without all this work. :laugh:
     
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  13. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    How's that? You may be happy with the sound, but unless you actually hear another version on your system, you won't know for sure. I too thought the Cisco was my ultimate copy, but every time I played it, I felt that something was missing. Now that I have actually compared an AB 1006 Bernie Grundman first pressing against the Cisco, in my system, the Cisco is second best. It could be different based on systems. But that's the thing. Have you actually heard the pressing of which I praise? They are out there in used record bins for $5 - $8. It may be worth it to give it a try some day.
     
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  14. MYKE

    MYKE Offended By The Easily Offended

    I had an original I bought in 1977, the Cisco sounded a lot better. I sold the original.
     
  15. reeler

    reeler Well-Known Member

    Yea you can always buy a few and try. I'm not buying that record anymore, it's one I just got tired of, a little too smooth jazzy- I like their earlier stuff more. My favorite Aja Lp has a Union jack in wax (which if I remember has something to do with a NY pressing plant). I got it around when it came out, and later got some to replace that old copy, that old one had a Union jack in wax too. Not that X wax=X sound. My typical mode of operation on a easily available record like that was to buy copies until I was satisfied with the sound and the surface condition.
     
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  16. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    I hear you. Just like with Fremer, what you thought was an original (AA) was different than what I'm told IS the original (AB). Apparently, the AB 1006 was mastered by Bernie Grundman, someone who has put out a lot of fantastic sounding masterings, and the AA 1006 was not. That would seem to be the difference.
     
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  17. MYKE

    MYKE Offended By The Easily Offended

    No, I have no idea what the deadwax said. I refer to it as an original, since I bought it brand new upon release. We didn't have a choice, and even if you knew what to look for (who did back then ? ), you weren't allowed to open the shrinkwrap until you had paid for it.
     
  18. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    Yes, I'm just saying it "may" have been an AA, which is why it sounded like doo-doo in comparison to the Cisco.
     
  19. kozy814

    kozy814 Forum Resident

    I've had numerous copies of this over the years. AA's, AB's, MOFI, and then the Cisco. The 2 I have now is the AB and the Cisco. These are the best of the bunch by a long shot. I probably lean in favor of the AB BG versus the Cisco -- I guess because it's the original cut that I'm used to. Tough to beat with a clean pressing IMO.
     
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  20. reeler

    reeler Well-Known Member

    Myke, yea back then it was more about getting a noisy or warped one and taking it back. Beyond that- the wisdom of the time was: the speakers are all that really matter- after that get an amp or receiver and a decent table. Strangely enough it was not until Mobile fidelity came out with their "master tape" albums that I ever heard mention of significant variation in sound between pressings. Mofi said that there were indeed major differences in Lp pressings -regular pressings were not worthy of your nice stereo gear they opined. My friend bought the Mofi Stones sticky fingers and proclaimed that "it does'nt sound that good" . I bought the Floyd dark side of moon and thought it sounded good. Someone else got Litte Feat waiting for columbus and could'nt tell if it was any better.
     
  21. Muzyck

    Muzyck Just another anonymous canine Beatle fan

    Yup.
     
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  22. Sam

    Sam Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Location:
    Rochester, NY
    I found this quote from Steve Hoffman on another thread:

    AJA was recut so many times it ain't funny. All but the first mastering was done from the ABC EQ cutting master.

    So, it would appear that the AB matrix was cut from the master, not a compressed and EQed master for all later pressings.

    My ears have not let me down.
     
  23. James Glennon

    James Glennon Forum Resident

    Location:
    Dublin, Ireland
    My understanding is that the AB and AA was a price difference thing, not a mastering one. I do believe Bernie Grundman still did the mastering for the AA!

    In actual fact some LPs have the AB scratched out and AA put in instead, same stampers just a price change issue.

    JG
     
  24. GreatTone

    GreatTone Forum Resident

    Location:
    Falls Church, VA
    I think I remember the change to AA had to do with the price -- ie, the later versions were more expensive, hence, the "A" designation. The AB is the true original pressing, though I don't know how long it was in print, or how many times it was cut, before changing to AA.

    I have owned many copies of this record, though I don't own the Cisco. I bought Aja the day it came out, and it sounded incredible. When the Cisco came out, I was looking at both the Cisco and the Japanese reissue that had come out around that the same time. I didn't want to buy both, and after reading a bunch of reviews, decided to spend the money on the Japanese. There were some negative comments about the Cisco that swayed my decision. I believe the Japanese was cut from a hi-rez digital file, but I can't tell by listening. Since I am a big fan of Aja, I wish I had bought the Cisco as well, just to be completist and have another take on it.

    I go back and forth about whether I prefer the Japanese or the AB original. The Japanese has quiet vinyl and super detail, the original is warmer and has better bass. I'm glad I have both.
     
  25. One_L

    One_L Forum Resident

    Location:
    Boulder, CO
    Found this:

    It was ABC's standard procedure to use the album's prefix and stock # (plus other info) in the deadwax of their records. Therefore all original LP issues of AB 1006 will have AB 1006 in the deadwax. All later LP issues of AA 1006 will have AA 1006 in the deadwax. However, in order to avoid throwing out a bunch of perfectly good metalwork with AB 1006 already etched in it, some of the earliest pressings of stock # AA 1006 have the prefix changed in the deadwax. The B was crossed out, and an A was added in front to change AB to AA. Eventually all the metal parts made from the original AB 1006 lacquers were replaced with parts made from later cuttings with AA 1006 etched in them from the start.

    To recap...

    First...Stock # AB 1006...AB 1006 in deadwax

    Second...Stock # AA 1006...AAB 1006 in deadwax (note, the "B" is scratched out on this release)

    Third...Stock # AA 1006...AA 1006 in deadwax
     
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