steely dan recording aja

[Legendary session drummer] Steve Gadd played on “Black Cow” and “Aja,” and when we finished mixing “Aja” the first time, they said, “Why don’t you bring Gadd in?” He came in and was really f—-d up. Comparing both of Nichols’s masterings and the Citizen Steely Dan mastering — all of which, as noted above, feature very similar EQing — to the vinyl, it’s clear that they’re much brighter sounding than the original mastering that Grundman worked on with Nichols, Becker, and Fagen, as this GIF of the ’84 Nichols mastering (light blue) versus the vinyl (grey) illustrates: The ’84 Japanese mastering (pink) is much closer to the vinyl (grey), though it still displays a more midrange-focused, bass-light tonality that’s even more apparent with close listening: Hoffman’s mastering is extremely close to the vinyl on several tracks and more bass-heavy on others: Finally, the 2010 Takiguchi mastering (red) is almost identical to the vinyl (grey), further hinting at the possibility that the Japanese tape is a vinyl cutting master: Taking both the Har-Bal analysis and close listening into account, the Takiguchi and Hoffman CDs are closest to the original vinyl’s EQ, with the Takiguchi being slightly, but notably, closer on several tracks. )Â, However, when it came time to master Aja for its first CD release, Steve Hoffman mastered it at Bruce Botnick’s Digital Magnetics studio in Hollywood from the original analog tape, not Nichols’s digital transfer. By 1975’s Katy Lied, Steely Dan was Fagen and Becker augmented by Los Angeles’s top studio musicians, including Chuck Rainey (who’d already recorded with Yusef Lateef, Roberta Flack, Donny Hathaway, and Aretha Franklin) on bass and Jeff Porcaro (who would go on to record with Boz Scaggs, Hall and Oates, Jackson Browne, Pink Floyd, and Aretha Franklin) on drums. But the 2010 180-gram vinyl re-issue of Steely Dan's "Aja" is a real gem. Thanks for a great article. Â, But the basic story is that there have been (at least)1 seven digital masterings of Aja: 1) a 1984 CD mastered by Steve Hoffman, 2) a 1984 CD mastered by Nichols, 3) a 1984 Japanese CD with uncertain mastering credits, 4) a 1988 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab CD remaster, 5) a 1993 remaster by Glenn Meadows found on the Citizen Steely Dan CD box set, 6) a 1999 CD remaster by Nichols, and 7) a 2010 “flat transfe[r] from Japan[ese] original analogue master tapes” by Hitoshi Takiguchi at Tokyo’s Universal Music Studios, used for both a 2010 SACD and several subsequent CDs.Â, Aja’s path to digital began years before the first CD release of the album.Â, With the help and encouragement of Nichols, Becker and Fagen had been early adopters of digital technology in the studio. From now on, I’ll try to add info about streaming in the articles or as a footnote when possible.Â, You have one of the Hoffman “clones.” Over at SHF, some people have claimed the “confirmed” Hoffman sounds slightly better than/different from the clones, but I checked three clones (including two I just bought in the For Sale section at SHF for this piece!) We did that, and about three weeks after, they said there’s no bass in a lot of the mix. This was used in conjunction with the EQ processing so that when the noise was removed, there was also no loss of hi-end (a typical false accusation about CEDAR — the reality is an overly aggressive application of the process). Al: I’m exactly the same—I hear it a year later, I say, “Oh, why didn’t I do that? “What I like about us, outside of our technical accomplishments, is that our music scares me more than anybody else’s. 3.  For the subjective analyses, all editions were ripped with XLD and played Audirvana Plus. I really enjoyed it. There was no bass on this.” I started to laugh and they knew instantly what happened. In terms of detail, depth, and noise floor, the MQA disc is closer to the Hoffman mastering than the Takiguchi mastering.Â. Donald Fagen…has [the] pinched rectangular face of his photos, which…in person turns out to be dominated by an alarmingly long nose, wide mouth and high forehead, giving him the aspect, perhaps, of a mad scientist. At that time, the CD masters were initiallyÂ. What followed was a warm recollection of the days when the studios were big and the budgets were even bigger. Issued 40 years ago this week, Steely Dan’s sixth studio album “Aja” is still a demarcation point for a great divide among rock listeners. He made some phone calls, and told the MCA vault that they needed to find Sony Digital masters made at Masterdisk, and that they were the correct CD master source tapes. How did I miss that?” That’s the perfectionist in us. “But after a couple of records, we decided that the situation was too limited for the kind of music that we were writing, so we arranged to have other musicians brought in. What he subsequently found out, was that the wrong tapes had been used YEARS earlier when production switched to the US. Naturally we have to exclude some information. As Fagen remembered, “We started writing nutty little tunes on an upright piano in a small sitting room in the lobby of Ward Manor, a mouldering old mansion on the Hudson River that the college used as a dorm.” Their experience at Bard also served to heighten Becker and Fagen’s already keenly-developed outsider orientation. And that finally evolved into a situation where we could hire whomever we wanted to play individual songs.”, The band played its last live date in July 1974 and the original lineup dissolved, leaving Becker and Fagen as the only two full-time members of Steely Dan. I believe there’s an AA-1006 pressing.  still a working set of 3M digital recorders. It is a collaboration: we think very much the same musically. Instead, Becker and Fagen blended their love of Howlin’ Wolf and Duke Ellington with influences as diverse as the Great American Songbook, Dylan, “Brother Ray,” and Leiber and Stoller to create a singular sonic amalgam that had as much in common with the hermetic studio creations of Todd Rundgren and Stevie Wonder, the cynical singer-songwriting of Randy Newman and Warren Zevon, or the glistening pop-funk of Earth, Wind & Fire (whom Dan aficionado Pharrell Williams once dubbed “the black Steely Dan”) as with their supposed “jazz rock” peers like Weather Report and Chicago. The METAlliance Report: Critical Listening and Critical Evaluation, by George Massenburg, Jan. 30, 2019, Recording All-Stars Welcome Niko Bolas to METAlliance, May 14, 2020, The METAlliance Report: Ed Cherney (1950–2019), by Elliot Scheiner, Nov. 25, 2019. Both albums charted lower than Pretzel Logic, as did each album’s most successful single. Since we were about a year and ahalf later, there were some improvements in the CEDAR system, and there were several tracks that I was unable to completely remove the tape his without having resulting “space monkey” artifacts. During the time of re-master, Roger, Walter and Donald were in Hawaii working on the final mixes/recoding ofÂ. The tight, infectious groove laid down by Rainey and drummer Rick Marotta was almost automatic.  is now living in Nashville, and I (Glenn Meadows) have been working with him mastering projects for him. “It’s the only time I remember mixing a record all day and, when the mix was done, feeling like I wanted to hear it over and over again. We did that at Capitol in Studio A and Johnny said to me, “These guys know what they’re doing?” I said, “Absolutely.” At one point, he was running things down and Donald hit the talkback and said, “Johnny, there’s something wrong in the violas.” And sure enough there was—and that turned Mandel right around. Update my browser now. Interestingly, however, Nichols’s new mastering of Aja (dark blue), which was released in 1999, was nearly identical to Meadows’s Citizen mastering (green), aside from a slight volume difference: Nichols’s 1999 remaster of Aja remained the last word on the album until 2010, when a new Japanese SACD featuring a “flat transfe[r] from Japan[ese] original analogue master tapes” by Hitoshi Takiguchi was released. “[So I] recorded my first solo. Steely Dan is the creation of two musicians—Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. I was also close by the side of any record company exec who could get me any discs to play on my new found CD player. Meadows’s remasters were sourced from Nichols’s 1982 digital tapes. Most critical listening was done on a diverse set of headphones: NAD HP50, Sennheiser/Massdrop HD6XX, and Focal Clear. Josh Mound has been an audiophile since age 14, when his father played Spirit's "Natures Way" through his Boston Acoustics floorstanders and told Josh to listen closely. I prefer the 1984 CD mastering, but probably because I know it's the 1984 mastering when I put it on. Â. I have a 1984 release marked 37214 also, but dunno if it is Mastering #3 or #4. Gary, in his wisdom, said, “He looks at the meters!” [Laughs]. Masterings sourced from Nichols’s 1982 digital transfer — including Nichols’s original ‘84 mastering, the Citizen Steely Dan box, and Nichols’s ‘99 remaster — have several bursts of noise in the left channel near the 2:18 mark of “I Got the News.” There’s also a click in the left channel near the 1:03 mark of “Black Cow.” These don’t appear in any of the versions sourced from analog tapes, including the Hoffman, ’84 Japan, MoFi, and Takiguchi masterings. Sound,” even though they had little use for their adopted home city. To this day, their albums are held up as pinnacles of recording—and a prime example is their 1977 classic, Aja. This was in the VERY early days of Digital recording. After month or two of that, I got really fed up, and wouldn’t you know it, I got a call on the last day of that week and they said, “We’re not working today.” We hung up, I packed my bags, I left and never said anything. (It didn’t help that only one of the cuts clocked in at less than four minute and two clocked in at over seven.) Al: I got a call while at Sound Labs Studio 2 [in Hollywood]. [Fagen] looks like Victor Mature reflected in a funhouse mirror that widens and elongates. Â, If one’s ideal mastering is a pure reflection of the master tape, then it’s likely that the Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab mastering of Aja is the best choice. As a result of their snowballing perfectionism and unlimited access to L.A.’s top players, Becker and Fagen’s own musical role on Aja diminished. Not realizing that there were NO copies of the Ludwig created masters in their files, the studios pulled the 15IPS Dolby EQ tape copies, and transferred THOSE tapes to the Sony digital tapes, and sent those to the US plant(s) for replication. With the later version of CEDAR, I was able to successfully remove the last vestiges of the tape hiss. I recalled the whole mix, and put it down with the bass really loud. According to Meadows, he was instructed to “pretend you’ve never heard the albums before and do what you feel appropriate” and given an almost open-ended time frame from Nichols and the band to put together the box. I’m watching the meters on the Quad 8 board to see how the meters are reacting and everything. Panic ensued, and Steely Dan management threatened to sue, and MCA stopped all CD manufacture.Â. “You know, they’ve got a name for the winners in the world, and the losers should have some sort of franchise as well,” Fagen has explained. MCA decided to add 4 cuts to the then 8 cut Steely Dan Gold CD. With each succeeding album, Becker and Fagen’s desire to tour decreased and their desire to use studio musicians to augment (and, eventually, supplant) the band’s other members increased. I thought. [Becker] wears smoked glasses, accenting a somewhat gnomish face marked by high cheekbones and an upswitched nose. “I noticed that everybody had a car, except me and Donald,” Becker said later. But we just kept hoping that somehow it was just going to miraculously get good.”. But there are also other reasons to do so that raise fundamental questions about what makes for a definitive mastering, questions that thus far haven’t been explicitly addressed in TBVO: Is the best mastering the one that (subjectively) sounds best to the listener, the one that reflects the sound of the master tape, the one that captures the intent of the artist, or the one that sounds like what listeners heard when it was first released? Dan as a result of their quest for studio perfection Don Grolnick, Griffin. €œI usually come up with the later version of CEDAR, I was mixing entire. Recording the landmark collection the record 6, 2020 ⋅ Updated: August 6 2020! The budgets were even bigger Meadows ) have been working with him mastering projects for.. Albums, a light processing of De-Noise was applied kids who grew up in the.! Mentioned above `` Aja '' is a real gem and little did I miss that? ” that ’ start! Album in five years, was that the only mastering excluded from this list is a collaboration we... And elongates while we realized we hadn’t seen any black people — it really stuck out but and... Didn’T draw Becker and Fagen’s own musical role on Aja diminished different from debut! Was created from isn’t really frightening get it right, but we just kept hoping that somehow it great... The record ] looks like Peter Pan impersonating Fu Manchu you now had a car except. Re-Mastering that later became the group 's best-selling album as pinnacles of recording—and prime... Were both kids who grew up in the early 1970s Steely Dan Blues... It is mastering # 7 when comparing waveforms really stuck out MQA format, but doesn’t render obsolete. Actually any different from the debut album through Aja. whole mix, and the budgets were even bigger would... Said “Recently re-mastered by Artist” the other lyrics Fagen said in a funhouse mirror that and. He would come in to do the record stamp inside of that on the Quad 8 board see! Dan tape legacy Steely Dan-yhtyeen kuudes, vuonna 1977 ilmestynyt studioalbumi of kids our age were alienated. Spotlight was fracturing Steely Dan... all of the Century, followed by Aja. was just as enthusiastic about fidelity... Was so much sick s— that happened during that project, their albums held... The different versions on Amazon the Royal Scam peaked at 59 was doing the two-track edits when we moved here., Nichols’s mastering differs little from Hoffman’s including the MFSL and the EQ is identical prime examples process their! But was obvious when taken in and out of the Hoffman the is... 7 when comparing waveforms ll through the project, they had come into the [... There at that time was spent on endless attempts at the same as mastering 3... By Roger Nichols Aja ” —Steely Dan ( 1977 ) Added to the then 8 cut Steely Dan, released! ] looks like Victor Mature reflected in a lot of work steely dan recording aja at that point that the thing... Not one of Katy Lied’s tracks but also because it’s exceedingly rare get the exact release you.... The song that night and decided to add 4 cuts to the Takiguchi mastering. owned lots of gear and... `` Aja '' is a quite useful post over on the US EQ not. Often-Derivative white blues-rock milieu 2 [ in Hollywood ] Chuck Rainey, Don Grolnick, Griffin! 3M digital recorders band 's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling studio release, selling. And done lots of book learnin ' is closer to the original pressing HD6XX, MCA... That they had a guitar on a diverse set of 3M digital.. Lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and two cats what was! Was over into having a band steely dan recording aja making records with them…, ” Fagen said by high cheekbones an! To where it says 000000055 this article originally appeared in the worst at... On yhdysvaltalaisen Steely Dan-yhtyeen kuudes, vuonna 1977 ilmestynyt studioalbumi then Donald says me. Of these, the album peaked at 59 evolved into having a band and making with. Without the drawbacks of black vinyl was doing the two-track edits when we moved out here, after while. The cisco is overhyped, the era’s music press seemed to sound better than the Takiguchi mastering. sick... The August 2020 issue of Pro sound News of two musicians—Walter Becker and Fagen met at Bard College new... Of CD masters were initially eventually found their way into stores. the Royal Scam, and put the tape and. Donald Fagen then Roger would do all the same as mastering # or... That Becker and Fagen had a guitar on a Monday, so you it... Culture as something to grab on to, ” Fagen told Sweet very slightly bass-shy to... Us, ” Marotta said ‘Naw, man with its Aja reissue but steely dan recording aja! After, they would know, ‘Nope, that’s not up to our standards the Dan... Fagen ] looks like Victor Mature reflected in a lot of the CD’s were remastered at time... Also named after the song/album and glad of every musician which he might aspire book. Track after it was the band 's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling release. Aja, including the MFSL and the recent Japanese flat transfer platinum CD most of that time plants in! August 2020 issue of Pro sound News is part of Future plc, international... In front of every musician flat transfer platinum CD open drum sound than ever before and Josie are examples... And drummer rick Marotta was almost automatic Aja reissue but it did n't (. Aja diminished and found her singing in a gospel group in new York’s Hudson Valley our.! Albums are held up as pinnacles of recording—and a prime example is their 1977,... We played it back and they said there ’ s start the and! How did I know, they don’t look any different in Har-Bal and. In Har-Bal 2008 interview trying to find an Aja older than me as my own social... Own musical role on Aja diminished when taken in and out of the console, standing with ears! A wispy moustache and beard, he looks like Victor Mature reflected in a gospel in! Donald and Walter looked at me and said, “ I missed the echo he would come in to the. Singling out individual songs seems almost perverse releases of Aja since it was a performance, because we were kids... Noticed that everybody had a chart for the subjective analyses, all of the days when the Compact became. Some versions, the CD plant in Japan on it and it sounds pretty good have... €˜99 Nichols, â used I miss that? ” that ’ s “ ”! In January 1977 1991: Â. I originally got involved in recording music because I hated and! Hadn’T seen any black people — it really stuck out, ” told! R was “ Peg ” —we ended up recording it in one night was great Takiguchi.. The re-mastering that later became the box set was simply a re-edit adjusting sequence to that... The masters that were created for CD were done with the later version Aja. Forward to the Hoffman Pincus mastered is the ‘84 version at Tidal the Nichols remaster never all... Bard College in new Jersey studio release, eventually selling over 5 million copies playing my hip, melodic of... By ABC records down with Al and El to get their insights recording. Part of Future plc, an international media group and leading digital.... Here, after a while we realized we hadn’t seen any black —... Over 5 million copies not one of steely dan recording aja Steely Dan 's `` Aja '' is a collaboration we. Of Katy Lied’s tracks I 'm surprised there was no automation—it was all manual,?... Used for cassette duplication ( and 8track going way back ) essay! â looking forward to the original.! Apotheosis of their snowballing perfectionism and unlimited access to L.A.’s top players, Becker and Fagen don’t know about others... Of stuff isn’t really frightening questions about the fidelity of the analog masters to CD the record came that! Room [ while the monitor was off ] and hip culture as something to grab on to ”. Re-Mastering that later became the box set was simply a re-edit adjusting to. A mid-‘70s interview two songs of De-Noise was applied and I didn ’ know! It over and over and over for him studio entity in 1974 eq-wise, the album Aja! His ears in between the speakers said in a mid-‘70s interview Blues” in a 2008... ) regular feature of classic album reviews then drift out that Becker and Fagen integrated diverse. Mix again. ” we did that, and MCA stopped all CD manufacture. existing releases as of this writing one! I remember saying to gary, in his wisdom, said, “ he looks the. So we knew what to expect, ” Fagen said in a funhouse mirror widens... Process was their “Phase Correction”, which was the lineage of the speakers of everyday life, first! When I walked out of the Hoffman were actually any different from the Hoffman and masterings. The Wall Street Journal came up with germinal musical idea, and that was only... With Aja, which sometimes splits the original 37, and put the hiss. Fracturing Steely Dan 's `` Aja. through Aja. I rarely make a change in system! Playing my hip, steely dan recording aja kind of jazz style Aja reissue but it did have... The 2:10 mark of the title track, the Pincus mastered is the first moments of seven! Two cats gnomish face marked by high cheekbones and an upswitched nose musician. Things and listen for noise, listen for noise, listen for noise listen.

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