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Discussion: Steely Dan: Aja

Posts: 152
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Post by mcintosh September 8, 2010 (121 of 152)

On one of your posts you stated the music, “is closed-in, overly smooth, has the "wrong" pacing”. By saying “closed in” would lead me to believe the sound stage was very constrained or almost mono in its quality. My sound stage and imaging was normal, it had depth, I was able to pinpoint the location of the instruments. Most of the lead vocal’s location was slightly to the right of center. My Dunlavy speakers are noted for their upfront cymbal presentation. With this SACD the cymbal sheen was placed at the correct depth.

“Overly smooth”, again tough to quantify with the Meitner because I’m used to everything sounding close to analog.

“Wrong pacing”, from my point of view the normal rhythm or the correct pace/music flow of the original recording was upset. This was not the case in my experience. Anyway for this to be occurring, would mean the die that stamped the disc to create the pits and lands was somehow damaged. I seriously doubt this is the flaw. The only other cause for this to occur would be your player not spinning the disc at the correct speed. Also the discs are coated with a reflective layer to allow the laser light to be properly reflected back to the laser pickup. This could be your problem where this layer was applied non-uniformly causing the laser light to be reflected incorrectly.

You stated you have a friend who has a Meitner but you didn’t comment on how your disc sounded when played on his machine. Did you play your disc on his player and what did it sound like?

Post by wferrari September 9, 2010 (122 of 152)
It would be madness to say that this SACD sounds bad in absolute terms, but the relative quality compared to other releases leaves enough room for debate. Compared to the MFSL version the SACD is indeed smoother and has less soundstage, but does it means that the soundstage is narrow? (answer: no, it does not)

After quite some time of comparing, I've decided to put in my Squeezebox library the SHM-SACD version of this album and take out the MFSL, because it suits better my hi-fi system. I'm getting used (almost addicted) to how smooth these SHM-SACDs sound.

Post by airegin September 9, 2010 (123 of 152)
I like the sound of the new SHM SACD. Aja was first released when I was a young soldier deployed on the East/West border of Germany. The seventies were a golden age for audio and American military PX's around the world were brimming with all the latest gear. I listened to Aja on cassette many times on my portable player while walking the perimeter on patrol. The East German soldiers looked at me with their binoculars/night scopes, and I looked back wondering if their commanders let them listen to music while out on patrol. Five years ago I went back to the same border area and walked across what was once a impenetrable obstacle of barbed wire, mines, anti-tank ditches, guard dogs, and observation towers. I took my iPod along with Aja on it and listened again in the united Germany. These days I'd rather listen to Bezaly and Fischer, but memories are very strong and I'll always have a fond spot for Aja. I hope someday some soldiers now walking the North/South Korean border will have similar experiences of returning to a united Korea and revisiting old memories with their audio selections of choice.

Post by sordidman September 9, 2010 (124 of 152)

My comparisons were done against the very good SHM redbook Aja CD.

I have yet to hear of anyone else running a direct comparison between the two discs.

Certainly, (from what I remember), both SHM SACD and CD will blow away the POS 1984 redbook CD. (I'm sorry now that I threw away that disc, as it could give me more to compare and talk about).

I can say that compared to the SHM redbook, - the SACD has a significantly reduced soundstage.
What I mean by "pacing" COULD be that I'm missing the aggressive "attack" of the first "louder" bit of sound when a piano chord is struck, or when a rack tom is hit, or when a cymbal splash occurs: this affects the "timing" or "pacing" of this incredibly aggressive music. (I say this because although SD is very well produced: Fagan, and other players, are quite aggressive in the way they approach their phrasing. They are not out of time, but they drive the tempo with an aggressive attack on their instruments on the upbeats.

This smoothed out quality and narrow soundstage does not occur on the "other" Steely Dan SACD, the Elton John SACDs, the first Getz/Gilberto, or Dead Can Dance, peter gabriel... blah blah blah... But it DOES occur on the Pixies SACDs.
That's why I was citing those examples. Hey, at the end of the day, the whiz-bang of smooth sound is what people want. (Hence all of the glowing posts about the quality. I suspect that this comes from classical fans who don't like rock instruments, like a drum kit. Often the complaint is of sibilance. But rock instruments and music utilize sibilant instruments). There was a lot of complaints about the "Bright" nature of the Elton John SACDs. But, those SACDs, IMO, reflect the recording at the time, and a vast improvement over the pops, and clicks on the vinyl: plus higher resolution.

My friend who has the Meitner hasn't heard any Steely Dan SACD or redbook CD, and I'm not certain if he has an interest in hearing and comparing them.

Post by sordidman September 9, 2010 (125 of 152)

I'm just comparing is all.

That being said, I've had about 8 MFSL redbook (gold) CDs and Almost all of them sounded muddy, overly warmed up, rolled off treble with a narrow soundstage. The guy from MFSL probably re-masters on Krell/BMW.

I would not be surprised if the MFSL redbook Aja is cut from the same pile of chocolate sauce.

Somehow though, Patricia Barber SACDs and Dead Can Dance SACDs were done right.

Just my opinion.

Your post makes me wonder how you would find the redbook SHM Aja.

Post by airegin September 9, 2010 (126 of 152)
I've owned the SHM CD of Aja for awhile and fairly recently acquired the SHM SACD. I kind of understand the comparisons of sibilance, the aggressive sonic signatures on some instruments and how the SHM CD and SHM SACD's differ in these respects. One difference that stands out to me in particular is the better definition of the bass runs on the SHM SACD. I've spent plenty of time in the past at the Hollywood Bowl and The Greek, so I know how pop sounds live. These days I only attend classical or small group Jazz shows, and I avoid most definitely the sound systems in those horrid multiplex cinemas.

Post by sordidman September 9, 2010 (127 of 152)
thanks for your comments:

Did you mean sibilance where you said "semblance?"

Yeah, - I agree with you about definition of instruments, - there IS clearly better "trueness" and clarity to the instruments, - what I assume is due to increased resolution. To me this is very evident as well.

Post by airegin September 9, 2010 (128 of 152)
sordidman said:

thanks for your comments:

Did you mean sibilance where you said "semblance?"

Yes. Thank you for pointing that out. I corrected that post, and updated the one before it too.

Post by rammiepie September 9, 2010 (129 of 152)
IMO, Universal/Japan's foray into SHM~SACDs is a very mixed bag. First, their selections (Nico and the Velvet Underground, especially) were not well chosen. To launch a new format (which technically it is), I would think they would've chosen (at least in the Pop/Rock selection) higher quality sounding masters.....All the Cat Stevens, albums are extremely well~recorded, for instance.. The only SHM~SACD that really popped out of my speakers and had a wide soundstage was 10cc: The Original Soundtrack. Aja was NOT on my top list nor was the Who's Next.

I'm fully aware that Universal was targeting a Japanese market (with their two~channel preferences), but I will put my money on Analogue Productions SACD releases....not only do they offer MORE bang for the dollar, but their consistency and excellence are unparalleled.

I have four additional SHM~SACD titles, on order, but I do not think I will be supporting any future purchases in that format unless things radically change (and the prices come way down).

That AP is now using the Grimm Audio Converter and sensibly pricing their discs at between $30 and $35 (with further discounting, available), their committment to the format, IMO, far exceeds Universal/Japan's inauspicious initial offerings.

And all that money expended on those SHM~SACDs could've been spent on supporting the smaller SACD companies who continue to release in multi~channel, record in pure DSD and price their discs at a reasonable $20 mark (but of course they're not producing Rock/POP sacds....but oh, well)

I rest my case.

Post by sordidman September 9, 2010 (130 of 152)

I've never been a fan of the grabbing of "low hanging fruit."

I agree with you and will add that SHM is their process too. And, they already did a redbook SHM CD of Aja. So, - you'd think that they'd listen to both and see what they got.
So maybe they have, and they decided to make the SHM SACD sound "different" than the redbook SHM: whatever.

I just hope that their "call" here was definitive as they heard it, - if not, - then why do it? Surely if they decided to make the change, then they must feel that it's A LOT better.

This will hold true for the upcoming Gaucho and Getz/Gilberto release. Perhaps I will shell out the big dollars yet again for Gaucho or G/G. In any case, - the USA SACD releases of G and G/G are OUTSTANDING, - and it is stupid to redo them just to integrate SHM, - (unless the improvement is dramatic, and frankly, how can one improve them any more)?

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