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Reviews: Steely Dan: Aja

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Reviews: 18
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Review by danfaz July 7, 2010 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I just got my Aja SACD. I don't have the previous versions, so I can't make a comparison. However, it is a beautiful sounding SACD. It sounds very clear, no hisses, spits, crackles, etc. Despite being 2 channel, there is a pretty good sense of separation of the instrumentation, as well.

I can see why these are expensive (other than the SHM label)...the packaging is very ornate.

Edit: I completely agree with Jimidisc's statement: "It is about 'breaking in' the SHM disc. It must be true. This disc sounds considerably more open than it originally sounded."

I, too, have noticed this the more I play the disc. Just gets better each time!

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Review by JimiDiscs July 8, 2010 (3 of 5 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is a title that I have long awaited. It sounded great on vinyl, great in a different way on the original Japanese US released CD pressing and I imagined the SACD would be the ultimate culmination of the best features of both.
I was home when it arrived. Thank goodness, as a signature was required for delivery. I had planned on doing other things but this forced me to put everything else on hold and immediately listen to this treasure and enjoy a few moments of Nirvana.
I carefully opened the packaging, which is quite nice, and I inserted the talisman into the player. I set the volume on the pre-amp to a very listenable level and sat in 'the seat', ready to ascend.
I must say, I was not blown away. In fact, the experience was almost reserved. I actually started to listen with a critical ear rather than be able to soak in the experience. The examination of how each of the individual instruments sounded became part of an analysis process, and I continued. The bass sounds excellent, controlled, strong, a sense of air on 'Black Cow', track 1. On track 2, 'Aja', the bass started to really sound alive. I wasn't analyzing the bass on this track, I was enjoying it. Same bass player, maybe a more involving bass line. In fact, this was true for just about every instrument in the band. The music just seemed more alive. As the tracks progressed, it seemed so did the quality of the sound. Was I getting adjusted to the sound of this disc or was something happening that improved as the disc played?
Out of curiosity, I searched the net. I found several comments about SHM in gereral, and SHM-SACD, in particular that stated that these discs needed a 'break-in period'. For equipment, I could understand, electrical current going through circuits and wires will change things. But a disc? I guess right now I would have to say maybe. It does seem to sound better on each listening.
Now 'broken in', this disc is outstanding. All of the 'smooth' from the vinyl is there. All of the 'jump out and nail ya' from the CD is there, as well. The instruments have air around them, the bass is great, tonality is true, imaging nice with some depth. The only negative I could find, a bit more punch to some parts, seems to disappear with each playing. If anything, it started out sounding more like the record but surpasses that level with much greater dynamics, more like the CD. Maybe we finally have the best of both worlds. And listen to it loud!
Steely Dan and SACD truly suit each other well. It makes me hope some day I will hear 'Reelin' In The Years' and 'St. Louis Toodle-oo' like this.

I am adding this a few days after the above. It is about 'breaking in' the SHM disc. It must be true. This disc sounds considerably more open than it originally sounded. A friend of mine who heard it the first day and just listened to it again commented on that without any mention of anything about the disc 'aging' from me. He is usually more concerned with the music than the sound, so that makes his comment even more surprising.

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Review by Kikke July 8, 2010 (9 of 9 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
The SACD I've been waiting for since the introduction of the format. I own the original 1977 vinyl album as well as the 30th anniversary lp from Cisco. I own the normal cd and the MFSL version both.
Other than with the other reviewer I immediately noticed the leap forward in quality. The music is very and I mean very dynamic. The bass is better than ever and the overall balance of the sound is, to me, beyond any further improvement. But the most striking is the absolute absence of any sharpness.
Form me this is the definitive version of Aja. Finally after 33 years.
It makes me sad that there is a medium that is almost dead before without the chance given to ever come to life.

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Review by PaoloL July 26, 2010 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
The day I received the box it felt like the good old days of unwrapping the latest album and put it religiously on the turntable. Just closed my eyes and listened and wow!

It met my expectations by far. The sound is stunning especially crisp the rhythm section.

It's worth every penny. Humming 'Peg' for three weeks now. Can't get it off my head.

One of the best analogue sounding SACD I own.

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Review by The Reverend July 28, 2010 (3 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This has been very near the top of my favorite albums list since it came out. I am a Dan fanatic. I have read all the other reviews of this title on SACD, and I disagree with the assessments of the sonics. I thought the high end sounded extremepy rolled off, like I was hearing it from under a mattress. I actually turned down the subwoofer out on the analog inputs of my amp (which I have never even thought about doing on all the titles I own) to bring this disc into sonic balance. It kind of worked, but all of my other titles then sounded out of whack.

My iTunes lossless rip of my CDs from Citizen Steely Dan sound better than this. I think it's a waste of money. They did a great job on Gaucho, so why not Aja?

Finally, about breaking in SACDs, has anyone actually compared the ones and zeroes coning fron the disc on the tenth play compared to the first? Or is it just "getting used to" the sound that's there? I have no idea, but I'm curious as to whether anyone has analyzed this.

I am now hunkered down for the responses . . . . .

Bless you all.

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Review by Tingman July 29, 2010 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I have to agree with the positive reviews here. In some regards, I was hoping to find a reason to dislike the two SHM-SACDs I have purchased for two reasons: 1) the price and 2) the whole SHM thing seems a little gimmicky to me. I have to admit though, that the SACD of Aja sounds great, and yes, I have the original LP, the original CD and Citizen Steely Dan.

To me, the high end sounds just fine, the bass provides a great sense of presence, and the soundstage is really wonderfully imaged.

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Review by ZNokes July 30, 2010 (3 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
It saddens me that perhaps one of the finest recordings ever was so sloppily mastered to DSD. The disc was ridiculously expensive - I can live with that. This album and original mastering - FANTASTIC! This SACD reissue - RUBBISH! I'm calling my senator.

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Review by wferrari August 3, 2010 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Ok, there seems to be some widely diverging opinions regarding this remastered version. I'll just throw in my 2-cents, nothing more or less than a personal opinion.

I think that the main cause of the such radical statements ("Sound great" vs "It's rubbish") is mainly due to the equipment used. Fortunately I have a variety of ways to check the sound of the album, and I can use the 1999 redbook official and MFSL remasters as benchmarks. The first remaster is the one that at first may sound better and has the best soundstage, but it's a tad too bright for my tastes and I suspect it has also been remixed. The MFSL is a very nice sounding and neutral remaster. There are two main elements that characterize this remaster compared to the other two:

1) There is a slight predominance of lower frequencies, which have also been brought forward toward the listener. This should NOT come as a surprise, given the fact that this is a Japanese remaster. Having said that, the extra bass is really well defined, not leaking everywhere like, for example, the Rory Gallagher SACD, and it's in my opinion very pleasant to listen to with the proper equipment.

2) The soundstage is definitely reduced, mostly due to the previously mentioned characteristic. This is not the remaster that will make you say "Hey, I've never heard that before!". Minor instruments (such as the cymbals as someone else pointed out) are brought back and are given less emphasis compared to the other remasters. Don't get me wrong, the soundstage is great, but mainly because this is a really well produced album to begin with.

In regards to the equipment I used to verify the sound quality in comparison with the other two versions, this album plays fairly on my monitors (M-Audio headphones and speakers), while did not do very well on my open-hear soundstage headphones (Audio Technica AD-700) I use to listen to classical music. My main Hi-Fi system is very slightly on the bright side (Canton speakers), and I have to say that's the place where the SHM-SACD remaster really shines. But I can see how, in a system where the sub have a predominant position, this record may sound too boombastic.

I personally consider the MFSL version the best of the lot, but the SHM-SACD bring the extra depth that someone may seek to take advantage of some expensive equipment. Overall I consider this a good remaster that has been fine-tuned for more modern tastes (and equipments), but fans of the seventies sound may be disappointed by this release.

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Review by analogue August 28, 2010 (10 of 11 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
There have been so many good and bad reviews about this new sacd I really didn't know if I should purchase it. I have many Japanese sacd's and they are almost always superior to their American counterparts. In addition all this talk about the new plastic layer over the sacd that theoretically should make the sound better...and lets not forget that some said that the disc needs to be played many times before good sound is realized. Sheesh.... what TO DO??

It is also scandalously expensive as well and buy a few of those and we need to mortgage the house.

Steely Dan is a great band and this title was the first shm-sacd I ever bought. Upon first listen I was very disappointed to say the least. What horrible sound. I felt like I wasted my money. The bass was blubbery.....the drums were tubby and stuck in the mid range...the vocals smeared....it was scratchy............what a mess. It was just nasty. Did the guy in the mastering lab press a wrong button.or what???

That was then.

I have played this disc over ten times. Now it is simply an incredible experience. I cannot believe this is the same disc. its LIKE A MAGIC TRICK. It really is true what they say about these discs needing to be played multiple times. As strange as it seems it actually works. Ed Meitner freezes his cd's and sacd's in a nuclear freezer at a temperature of 300 below zero saying that this improves the sound. If this is a fact who am I to argue that playing an shm-sacd multiple times does make an enormous impact on the sound. If the theory works then it ceases to be a theory and becomes truth.

I cannot convey in words how beautiful this sacd is. For those of you who say otherwise I was ask you to do the following; and i SAY THIS RESPECTFULLY.

1) Does your sacd player stay in the dsd domain when it releases sound to your pre-amp or does it convert it to pcm??
2) Are you using a receiver for home theater or do you have a decent pre-amp-amp system??

I simply cannot understand why you are not hearing what I am.
This is most likely the best rock sacd I own. It does not even sound like vinyl.....it sounds like reel to reel tape. I am still stunned by what has happened.

Every aspect of the music is rendered flawlessly. Bass is warm and deep.......drums are crazy real......vocals warm..guitar.piano..I could go on and on. I guess the best way to explain or express what I really want to say is that this disc is an experience and that music happens to the listener when he/she presses play. And it also kills with head phones on.

I also have the Gaucho sacd from about 7 years ago. It is terrific as well but this sacd is so much better. Gaucho was mastered to 24/192 and then converted to dsd. As a result the sacd has the genetic fingerprints of pcm. It is rather loud and forward and very punchy. Also the dynamic range suffers a bit as well. But the record is more relaxed and organic.
Aja is an entirely different animal and is so life like and musical it keeps you into the music from start to finish like music is supposed to. When you listen to this disc its almost like you are in a studio.

Please.............play this several more times and see if it improves.

i am a believer. I also thank the fine fellow from Universal Japan for giving us a treasure.


P.S. I also ordered Who's Next and have received it already.

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Review by james_joyce October 30, 2010 (3 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
This is an awesome SACD. I've had the original RBCD but usually listened to the MFSL LP, which is excellent in every way except I've started to wear it our after 20+ years. The SACD is even better, it is everything that is good about digital: the clarity, the definition, and the convenience, with all the "listenability" of analog. No doubt this is an expensive disc, but worth it IMO to finally get "perfect sound forever."

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Review by MattMan657 January 31, 2011 (1 of 3 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
The first thing I noticed was how professional the packaging looks. The case is beautifully put together with Japanese & American text. The colors flow well with pictures of Fagan and Becker. Really looks good.

I'm listening to this SACD via my PS3 into my Onkyo Receiver. Using Stereo as opposed to upscaling it using PLII/Neo6 although it does sound really good with PLII but better in Stereo IMO. I listened to a few tracks in Direct mode, however because the PS3 converts DSD to PCM before outputting it so all your hearing is the uncompressed PCM as opposed to the native DSD. With that in mind, might as well just listen to it in your preferred processing mode as you can't hear the true DSD w/ PS3. Kinda sucks though, my Onkyo receiver supports DSD just fine. The bass feels natural as opposed to an intended bombastic feel that some cds get.

Although I have been listening to my father's SACD collection for years, this is my first SACD that I have personally owned. definitely sealed the deal for me to start collecting more. I'm glad my first is this SHM-SACD.

EDIT: I just cranked up the volume a bit more and WOW! It sounds incredible at higher volumes. I also tried listening to it in All Channel Stereo, sounds really really good.

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Review by montejay April 28, 2011 (2 of 2 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
One of my favorite albums. That is the only reason I would pay this much for any sacd.I have owned it on the original vinyl pressing purchased the day it was released(best I`ve heard including this sacd), 1st cd release, remaster, mofi gold cd, and now SHM SACD.
I did find the disc sound veiled intially :(. It was inferior to my mofi. After reading simular experiences both here and on other forums, I decided to let it play on repeat for a day and a half.
To my disbelief,it actually improved. The frequency range expanded and the veil lifted. My mofi is not as good to my ears anymore.The mofi does have the better soundstage and instrument placement but the sacd has just more information coming across. Perhaps the mofi will be for sale shortly! I would not consider this an audiophile recording, but the best Aja I have heard in digital. If price is no object I would recommend it.

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Review by CA 94542 Native April 29, 2011 (1 of 10 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Iím not a Steely Dan fan. Donít remember what inspired me to buy the DTS release of Gaucho Ė maybe because it was readily available, or cheap. But I liked it on first listen, and with continued listening learned to appreciate the complexity of the music on the album. Upgraded to SACD, and while not a night-and-day difference, the SACD has an overall integrated feeling that is lacking on the DTS. It is multi-channel splendor, crisp and bright, with detailed vocals up front and full use of the surrounds.

So what about AJA, the subject of this review? Well, Iíve never heard the album in its entirety, and bought it based on how much I like Gaucho (and of course the good press received for the album over the years and the SHM SACD). But Aja is no Gaucho, not by any measure. Sure, the female-sounding backing vocals are there; the percussion is similar, as are the horns and other instruments employed in new and exciting ways. But the refinement of these techniques found on Gaucho are sorely lacking on Aja. Aja seems to be a starting point for this style, and as such, the music is not pleasing in ways that Gaucho serves. The title track in particular is a good case in point. Overly long, with layers of sounds (is that one sound suggestive of something Ė Asian?) that come and go as if to pad out the albumís length, make the listener want to skip through to the next track. I can not give this album high marks for the music, despite rave reviews from the critics.

As painful as the music is to listen to, the sonic presentation does not meet any SACD standard that I have come to expect. For whatever reason the vocals are pushed way to the back and have a muffled sound; the higher frequencies are shrill and fatiguing; and only the bass seems to have benefited from whatever processing is done on these seriously expensive SHM SACDs. Iíve played this disc repeatedly, as some reviewers note that this improves the sound (perhaps some nice person will post the forum with a technical explanation as to how this is possible). On one afternoon I had the sound off for these repeated playings (as I find the listening unbearable) and was playing my Japanese-pressing version of the Beatles 1 LP. Iíd switch to the SACD player while changing sides and was appalled at how truly awful this SACD sounds.

So thatís one bad SHM SACD and one bad Esoteric SACD (Beethoven Overtures) for me. Guess Iíd better stay away from these pricey products and stick with the more reasonably priced discs. Or stick to vinyl.

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Review by Bazzamatazz June 20, 2011 (0 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
I feel terrible for those people who have this disc and do not treat it!! Before treatment I would have given this release a 4-4.5 stars for sound. Then I gave it the Russ Andrews 'Relees' and 'Reveel' treatment, essentially removing all factory dirt/grime etc from the playing surface and reducing static buildup of the disc as it spins in the player. Now if I could give 6 stars I would!!! Normally the differences in sound quality these treatments make are very good... but this just simply defied belief. Detail, air around instruments, bass, mid, top end, you name it, simply staggering improvements. I have the regular redbook remaster, plus the SHM redbook release of this. Sorry, the SHM-SACD simply monster kills them for quality. PLEASE, PLEASE treat this disc those who own it!! Of the current versions around I imagine only the Mobile Fidelity LP could top this.

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Review by Eyolf December 11, 2011 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
Very diverged opinions on this one. I had the remaster cd and have compared. This shm-sacd sounds better. This disc has always sounded a bit withdrawn and flat, like the music and instruments do not come forward, tame drums and and bass, polite is the correct word. The sound does not pop out. Well, this one is better in these areas and sounds more alive, although not like the old Gaucho sacd(NOT the shm-sacd). Aja will never pop out like the best ones, but it is better than all other versions i have heard.

What is this nonsense that a shm disc gets better the more you play it?? How on earth should that be possible? There is not one fact that could prove that a disc getts better every time you play it. Snake oil.

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Review by The Mule April 30, 2012 (1 of 1 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
First time I heard it, I thought this is definitely NO GAUCHO and NO NIGHTFLY, but then again this disc is in stereo and the other two are in 5.1 surround. Still it did not even pop out to me like some other stereo SACD's that I have (ex. Doobie Bros - Toulouse Street). I kept going back and forth on my system between this SACD and then listening to a MOG feed (which is about as good as it gets for internet streaming music). I could barely tell a difference, as the SACD wasn't quite as bright and the Bass was tighter. I also got a bit more instrument separation with this SACD. Therefor, I would say it's barely better than a regular redbook, but not worth the $50+ I paid.

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Review by gingerbeardman June 1, 2012 (2 of 4 found this review helpful)
Sonics:
I actually prefer the 5.1 DTS version of Aja compared to this SHM-SACD reissue. It just lacks a bit of sparkle for me.

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Review by beached October 10, 2013
Performance:   Sonics:
I am sure that there was a mistake made in mastering of this one. It has no sound stage. Lacks crisp hits on the snare, everything is reduced to a veiled image that is hardly recognisable as even stereo, very little separation. I have the Japan SHMCD and the redbook CD. I prefer both to this Frankenstein.
The SHMCD has a wide stage and really shines in comparison. I have over 1300 SACD's so I know this could have been a lot better. This will be my first up for sale when that needy time comes. Playing the SACD thru a device called a Surround Master by Involve Audio out of Australia does nothing. It hardly gives any derived info out to the rears whilst with the SHMCD, it separates sounds to a very convincing mix.

You guys should know better. No amount of playing or snake oil is going to save this sucker. I think my Boston SACD sounds about as good. The Japanese normally get them right. This is my first disappointment.

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