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Article: The Best Version Of… Steely Dan’s Aja


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I have the MFSL and the SACD. Can never decide which one I like best - and this article explains why. Thanks, Josh.

Question: is the ‘84 version at Tidal the Nichols remaster?

Main listening (small home office):

Main setup: Surge protectors +>Isol-8 Mini sub Axis Power Strip/Protection>QuietPC Low Noise Server>Roon (Audiolense DRC)>Stack Audio Link II>Kii Control>Kii Three BXT (on their own electric circuit) >GIK Room Treatments.

Secondary Path: Server with Audiolense RC>RPi4 or analog>Cayin iDAC6 MKII (tube mode) (XLR)>Kii Three BXT

Bedroom: SBTouch to Cambridge Soundworks Desktop Setup.
Living Room/Kitchen: Ropieee (RPi3b+ with touchscreen) + Schiit Modi3E to a pair of Morel Hogtalare. 

All absolute statements about audio are false :)

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fascinating insights as always... only thing I'd add is that including analog / record versions of these trials would possibly tilt outcomes somehow... for example, I have the original ABC Aja, the MoFi (which was highly regarded), the Robert Pincus consulted and mastered (ex-Cisco, pre-IMPEX) reissue from mid 2000s. Of these, the Pincus mastered is the best followed by the MoFi, which sometimes splits the original pressing. The issue with Steely Dan titles is that the original tapes are mostly missing and there have been many errors made decoding the existing tapes with the proper Dolby decoders, some of which have been mislabeled, lost, etc. 

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Great writeup. Why didn't you consider the Cisco pressing? My understanding is that it's the definitive vinyl version. 

 

Aja ‎(LP, Album, Ltd, Num, RE, RM, 30t) Cisco Music CLP-1006 US 2007

 

Would be interested in hearing your opinion on Nightfly. Another highly respected production that Mofi gave a special treatment for the second time. 

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Fun to read about (and to poke around in eBay seeing who wants a lot of money and who may have undiscovered treasures), but since I picked up the entire "Citizen" set for $3 in a used CD/record store, I guess I'm sticking with that.  :) 

One never knows, do one? - Fats Waller

The fairest thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. - Einstein

Computer, Audirvana -> optical Ethernet to Fitlet3 -> Fibbr Alpha Optical USB -> iFi NEO iDSD DAC -> Apollon Audio 1ET400A Mini (Purifi based) -> Vandersteen 3A Signature.

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This is a quite useful post over on the Hoffman forums:

 

https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/steely-dan-cds-different-masterings-the-summary-thread.561226/#post-14611213

 

I have mastering #3 which is the same as mastering #7 when comparing waveforms. See this thread:

 

https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/steely-dan-cds-different-masterings-aja.158372/

 

I like my CD better than any other I have heard, including the MFSL.

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3 hours ago, firedog said:

I have the MFSL and the SACD. Can never decide which one I like best - and this article explains why. Thanks, Josh.

Question: is the ‘84 version at Tidal the Nichols remaster?

 

Let me take a look at what’s on streaming and add a comment here about it. I believe one of them is the ‘99 Nichols, but I don’t know about any others. From now on, I’ll try to add info about streaming in the articles or as a footnote when possible. 

 

1 hour ago, diecaster said:

This is a quite useful post over on the Hoffman forums:

 

https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/steely-dan-cds-different-masterings-the-summary-thread.561226/#post-14611213

 

I have mastering #3 which is the same as mastering #7 when comparing waveforms. See this thread:

 

https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/steely-dan-cds-different-masterings-aja.158372/

 

I like my CD better than any other I have heard, including the MFSL.

 

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!) against a confirmed Hoffman and the EQ is identical. The only difference, as far as I can tell, is that some of the clones fix a track mark issue, where the first second of the next track is actually at the end of the previous track if you rip the CD. Some of the clones also might have silenced the gaps between songs more than others. But the actual musical content, as far as I can tell, is identical. 

 

2 hours ago, Johnseye said:

Great writeup. Why didn't you consider the Cisco pressing? My understanding is that it's the definitive vinyl version. 

 

Aja ‎(LP, Album, Ltd, Num, RE, RM, 30t) Cisco Music CLP-1006 US 2007

 

Would be interested in hearing your opinion on Nightfly. Another highly respected production that Mofi gave a special treatment for the second time. 

 

I didn’t consider the Cisco only becuse I was just using the vinyl rips as a baseline of artist intent to compare the digital editions against. So I only wanted original Grundman masterings. Also, while I understand some people might like vinyl rips as their digital version of an album, I’m with Nichols: I prefer digital to vinyl. Plus, the vinyl rips are all unofficial releases, which isn’t something I want to get into (beyond the odd need for a vinyl comparison, like this case), for ethical and practical reasons. 

 

1 hour ago, thedregs said:

The Cisco is overhyped, the Santa Maria pressing the "One". Curious what was the lineage of the CSM and Japanese VIM? Pretty sure there is an updated CSM "out there"

 

The lineage info for the CSM rip says it’s the 1977 AB-1006 pressing. I believe there’s an AA-1006 pressing. The people over in that SHF thread uniformly laud the AB-1006, though. As far as I know, Grundman was the only mastering engineer for the original vinyl, so I’m not sure what would account for any sonic differences in the pressings (beyond the inherent variation in the pressing of vinyl, “hot stampers,” etc.). I just tried to compare all the original vinyl rips that claim to have the Grundman mastering that I could find to figure out what was the normal representation of the Grudman vinyl mastering. The fact that both the CSM and Japanese pressings (both of which are praised by audiophiles) were high-quality rips with nearly-identical graphs in Har-Bal song-for-song made me feel confident that I knew what the Grundman mastering looked like.  

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Great article and great fun to read.  

 

I have the 1999 Nichols CD mastering and what I believe may be the same 1984 CD mastering as diecaster's (the matrix info on mine reads MCAD 37214 DIDY 000055, which puts it in "mastering #3" on the Hoffman forum thread).  Whether or not that's a "Hoffman clone", it is a pleasure to listen to.  As is the 1999 remaster.

 

https://forums.stevehoffman.tv/threads/steely-dan-cds-different-masterings-the-summary-thread.561226/#post-14611213

 

I prefer the 1984 CD mastering, but probably because I know it's the 1984 mastering when I put it on.  

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29 minutes ago, Ralf11 said:

I have a 1984 release marked 37214 also, but dunno if it is Mastering #3 or #4.

 

It should be shown in the matrix next to where it says 000000055.  I have a #3.  I also have the MFSL and the recent Japanese flat transfer Platinum CD.   I think it’s a toss up, and probably system dependent, whether the “SH master” or the Japanese CD is better, but both beat the MFSL.

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Interesting about the MFSL (!)

 

 

I'm not sure what you mean by matrix.  There is a faint code - only readable from the back side - stamped into the CD just inside the silver data annulus - it starts out with 1AMCAD..."

 

Then there is a stamp inside of that on the clear part which reads CMU P 51.

 

Neither has the zeros or the 55.

 

The case the CD is in (and which hopefully matches the CD) does say DIDY 55 on the back and on the 'spine' so maybe I have Mastering #3 (or a case for Mastering #3)...

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Great essay!  Looking forward to the next installment!

QNAP TS453Pro w/QLMS->Netgear Switch->Netgear RAX43 Router->Ethernet (50 ft)->Netgear switch->SBTouch ->SABAJ A10d->Linn Majik-IL (preamp)->Linn 2250->Linn Keilidh; Control Points: iPeng (iPad Air & iPhone); Also: Rega P3-24 w/ DV 10x5; OPPO 103; PC Playback: Foobar2000 & JRiver; Portable: iPhone 12 ProMax & Radio Paradise or NAS streaming; Sony NWZ ZX2 w/ PHA-3; SMSL IQ, Fiio Q5, iFi Nano iDSD BL; Garage: Edifier S1000DB Active Speakers  

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1 hour ago, Ralf11 said:

Interesting about the MFSL (!)

 

 

I'm not sure what you mean by matrix.  There is a faint code - only readable from the back side - stamped into the CD just inside the silver data annulus - it starts out with 1AMCAD..."

 

Then there is a stamp inside of that on the clear part which reads CMU P 51.

 

Neither has the zeros or the 55.

 

The case the CD is in (and which hopefully matches the CD) does say DIDY 55 on the back and on the 'spine' so maybe I have Mastering #3 (or a case for Mastering #3)...

 

1 hour ago, diecaster said:

You guys can run your CDs through EAC or XLD to see what the track levels are and match from there. 

 

Yes, using EAC or XLD (or the Computer ReplayGain feature in Audirvana) to get the peak levels is the easiest way to tell. The big debate was whether the “clones” of the Hoffman were actually any different from the Hoffman. As I noted in a footnote, they don’t look any different in Har-Bal. I think the only difference is different track markers and the silence between songs. 

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Finding it hard to identify the different versions on Amazon. What do people recommend?

NUC10i7 + Roon ROCK > dCS Rossini APEX DAC + dCS Rossini Master Clock 

SME 20/3 + SME V + Dynavector XV-1s or ANUK IO Gold > vdH The Grail or Kondo KSL-SFz + ANK L3 Phono 

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo

Signal cables: Kondo Silver, Crystal Cable phono

Power cables: Kondo, Shunyata, van den Hul

system pics

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If I can't find the release through a search on Amazon, I check eBay, where I've had more success finding specific releases that are hard to find on Amazon (e.g. the 1988 original CD version of Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece).   I find Amazon seems to favor the most recent mastering in the search results; I've had to stick in specific years with the album name to find older masterings, if available.  I haven't tried discogs.

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1 hour ago, Mayfair said:

If I can't find the release through a search on Amazon, I check eBay, where I've had more success finding specific releases that are hard to find on Amazon (e.g. the 1988 original CD version of Van Morrison's Veedon Fleece).   I find Amazon seems to favor the most recent mastering in the search results; I've had to stick in specific years with the album name to find older masterings, if available.  I haven't tried discogs.

Right. More often than not, I can't actually tell what the release is on Amazon. And the customer comments below often apply to any one of the versions (vinyl/cd/import cd/etc) so it is even more cryptic. If only they quoted the item's manufacturer version it would make it easier to tell. Additionally you sometimes don't get the exact release you purchased.

 

BTW... Looked into the SMH-SACD... Bought from AcousticSounds it is $60, from CDJapan it's $34 + about the same amount in shipping... :(

 

NUC10i7 + Roon ROCK > dCS Rossini APEX DAC + dCS Rossini Master Clock 

SME 20/3 + SME V + Dynavector XV-1s or ANUK IO Gold > vdH The Grail or Kondo KSL-SFz + ANK L3 Phono 

Audio Note Kondo Ongaku > Avantgarde Duo Mezzo

Signal cables: Kondo Silver, Crystal Cable phono

Power cables: Kondo, Shunyata, van den Hul

system pics

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It was fun to listen to each track after it was dissected in the article. I have owned a red vinyl version of Aja since it was a hot new release. Despite my concern that coloured vinyl may turn out to be inferior, it's still in great shape after more than a thousand plays. It is now ripped at 24/88. I rarely make a change in my system without playing Crime of the Century, followed by Aja. 

 

I'm surprised there was no mention about sexual references in Dan lyrics. Maybe the band's name takes my mind there, but some lines seem pretty blatantly sexy. I Got The News and Josie are prime examples.

Main System: QNAP TS-451+ > Silent Angel Bonn N8 > Sonore opticalModule Deluxe v2 > Corning SMF with Finisar FTLF1318P3BTL SFPs > Uptone EtherREGEN > exaSound PlayPoint and e32 Mk-II DAC > Meitner MTR-101 Plus monoblocks > Bamberg S5-MTM sealed standmount speakers. Crown XLi 1500 powering AV123 Rocket UFW10 stereo subwoofers. Upgraded power on all switches, renderer and DAC. Furutech and Audio Sensibility ethernet cables, Cardas Neutral Ref analogue cables. iFi Audio AC iPurifer, iFi Supanova, Furman PF-15i & PST-8, power conditioners.

 

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