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  MCA -
  Steely Dan: Gaucho

Steely Dan
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Related titles: 3

Reviews: 17 show all

Review by JW December 30, 2003 (22 of 22 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:  
Review in three parts;


This SACD is so much better than it's silver 1984 MCA predecessor its laughable. Even the redbook layer is a big step-up from the RBCD that I own (250 422-2 (MCAD-37220)).

The soundstage is wider and deeper, the treble on the SACD is so extended (the RBCD is very constricted and sounds capped in comparison) and the voice is more dimensional and natural.

Good though the treble may be I question whether this SACD is the latest word in treble extension, hearing a little hardening of the upper octaves in 'Hey Nineteen' and 'Glamour Profession' (section between 4:00 and 4:15) or Gaucho (around 2:44) for example - but this could very well be (probably is) my system and I'm being very critical here. [Postscript: after a re-tube and circuit mod to my pre-amp these artefacts indeed disappeared: JW]

The CD layer on the hybrid is also very good with a lot of the SACD attributes only less so. Goes to show that RBCD has come a long way, because the MCA disc of the early eighties was well regarded and it still sounds pretty good compared to some of its compadres (if you want to torture yourself, or just need confirmation, just listen to the absolutely horrible sounding 1985 Gary Moore CD 'Run for Cover' for example).

If I listen to the old RBCD the whole picture caves in as it were, the treble hardens and you miss the headroom. There is very little decay as compared to the SACD, and the metal tick on the cymbal is almost completely missing. The SACD is also louder. Had to turn up the volume quite a bit on the RBCD to match levels.

Turning to the SACD again and I notice the chorus on Gaucho is spread out in front of me in a nice arc over and beyond the speakers. Lots of space between the electric piano, voices and drums. The muted strumming of Steve Kahn's rythm guitar providing some nice depth to the soundscape. This detail only the SACD can bring out.


This time I pulled out the 2000 Remaster RBCD.

2000 Remaster vs SACD

The Remaster sounds pretty good upon first listen, but when you insert the SACD you immediately recognize the bigger, bolder, richer sound and soundstage. The SACD is louder than the remaster - I adjusted level. Better instrument separation. Voice is more natural, focussed and emerges better from the music. The cymbals and percussion are more natural. The tenor has more brassiness and the electric piano has a purer tone, longer decay and also stands out more. And the rythmn guitar is more audible - the Remaster still buries it into the mix. The percussion at the end can be heard as individual metal cylinders being struck rather than a more squashed together metallic sound. Overall you can hear deeper into the music with the SACD.

2000 remaster vs CD layer of Hybrid SACD

Immediate reaction is that the soundstage collapses to a fair extend. I also had to adjust for the lower level of the Remaster. The Remaster is nice but a little harder/brittler than the CD layer of the Hybrid SACD - especially noticeable on the electric piano and the chorus. More distant perspective on the tenor.

The 1984 RBCD further continues along these lines. The level is much lower, the soundstage collapses further, the music does not breath as much (less instrument separation) and the entire perspective is more distant and less involving. But it's a nice CD judged on its own merits.

The score is therefore as follows:
2) CD-layer of SACD
3) Remaster

No surprises here. Naturally this is what I heard in my system/room and I welcome and recognize other perspectives. A longwinded way if saying YMMV :-) Based on my observations the SACD is worth the price of admission. Both its Redbook and its SACD layer provide noticeable and preferable (to me) differences. My last venture will involve the LP, so on to Part III.


The story continues and ends with these listening notes:

A. 1980 MCA Record (yes, the RL mastered MCA version)
B. 1984 MCA CD
C. 2000 MCA Remaster
D. 2003 Hybrid SACD - RBCD Layer
E. 2003 Hybrid SACD - SACD Layer

A vs. B
When switching back and forth between the record and the CD, it is very obvious that the record is the winner here. The CD sounds dry, thinner and 2-dimensional in comparison. Though nothing to do with sound quality as such, it continues to surprise me how low the recording level is on the CD. I find that the CD has very little natural decay. Voices are flat and the record sounds so much richer and detailed. Night and day.

A vs. C
The remaster definitely has a fuller sound than the 1984 disc, but compared to the record it still sounds somewhat edgy and the electric piano sounds harder, with more metallic overtones. The soundstage is not as wide and the cymbals sound less natural. The record wins again.

A vs. D
Now it becomes a real fight. The differences are no longer very obvious and one has to do more analytical listening. Soundstage wise both are very much equal, with perhaps a slight edge to the record. The record also edges forward on the voice, which sounds more three-dimensional and less dry. It's a close call, but you could say that the record wins the third round on points.

A vs. E
Coherency versus punch. The SACD wins on audiophile points, the record scores as a coherent, musical medium. The SACD highlights the individual instruments and the voice stands out more. There appears to be more going on on the SACD. The SACD also does a better job on the drumkit - more punch. And there is more headroom. I note that the cymbals sound very natural on the record, and I think it's in the decay where the difference lies. Having said that I think they sound equally good, but different. The record embraces the total musical event and doles out attention evenly whilst preserving enough detail to satisfy the audiophile ear. The soundstage on both is of equal size and depth. I cannot decide a winner and the outcome of this round comes down to an individual preference.

This work remains one of my favorites and it's great to hear it reproduced so well in my system. Wonder on what format we'll buy it next...


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Review by 24-96 Mastering January 11, 2005 (18 of 20 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
"One word: fantastic. Nothing else to add."

Apparently, that wasn't very helpful before, sorry. (That's where the 2 "review did not help" votes come from.)
Please allow me to make up for it and write about this disc in more detail.

On music and performance:

Musically, Steely Dan are very special and there's no other group one could associate them with.
The songs are always "clever", in story-telling lyrics, jazzy chords, lush arrangements. Many folks will find Steely Dan in general sterile, calculated, etc. but I find the combination of easy-listening elevator funk and sophisticated harmonies and arrangements a great combination. Steely Dan can run in the background on a coctail party or it can occupy and posess you like a Chick Corea record, depending on how much you want to engage with the music. To me, that is the fascination of Steely Dan.

All this is not specific to "Gaucho". In my view, Steely Dan are very consistent. If you transferred all Steely Dan songs ever made onto one single disc, one would have a hard time determining which songs originated from which album. This does not lesson the greatness of "Gaucho" though. This record is as great as any other Steely Dan record; that is, if you find Steely Dan of interest. If not, this disc, just as any other disc by Steely Dan, Donald Fagan or Walter Becker will sound like supermarket background music to you.

One detail on this disc should be mentioned though: The first track, "Babylon Sisters", is particularly well done. The minimally stripped, slow groove when the song starts, the delicate and playful rhodes licks, the mellow but intruiging chords of the verse and finally - the amazing impact of the chorus with its gorgeous backing vocals still give me shivers. The other tracks are great too, but to me, it's obvious that there's a good reason "Babylon Sisters" starts off the album: It grabs you and just doesn't let go.

On sonics:

Steely Dan are one of the few artists that have a very good idea about how they want to sound - and about what's possible with regards to sound quality. In fact, steely Dan have produced the favourite discs of car HIFI salesmen for decades. When you buy a Steely Dan album, you expect very balanced frequency distribution, dry and fast transients, level headroom that allows peaks to stand out miles above the average (i.e. when a musical peak in energy comes along, it has the means to really grab you).
Even today (referring to "2 against nature"), they are one of the few artists I know that make contemporary music that feel no or little need to follow the loudness trend.

Steely Dan have employed Elliot Scheiner as mixing engineer for quite a while, one of the very few engineers with an impressive resumé of surround releases. The multichannel mix is very tasteful, but does make strong use of the rear speakers. Someone who does not like instruments to be mixed in the rears will not like it on this disc either; those who can accept that or even like it will find great joy in the surround mix.

One of the first things that strikes me when listening to the disc is that there is some easily audible noise. First I asked yourself why it was not taken out with adaptive filtering. I'm sure they considered it but decided to 1. stay true to the original release and 2. decided that the noise is better than the artifacts and loss of transients that denoising would have introduced. The dynamic impact of the disc is amazing. Take the fast dynamics from Thomas Dolby's "Aliens ate my babysitter" (tracks "airhead" or "pulp culture", for example), add some warmth, some intimacy, some 'organic' interaction between instruments, great songs, delicate arrangements and you have "Gaucho".

If you are a person that gets a kick out of sound reproduction, you'll enjoy this release immensly. And if Steely Dan does something for you, musically, then it would be a sin to not buy this disc.

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Review by junior kelly April 22, 2004 (6 of 6 found this review helpful)
Performance:   Sonics:
What to add to Joel's fanatical attention to the various reissues, his encyclopedic comparisons? While this isn't an improvement of a great LP pressing of the album, it comes closer than nearly than any SACD I've heard. Plus, it's a real treat to hear the new mix, quite different than the LP. (Apparently we're hearing the lost master tapes for the first time in decades.) Voices are brought up in the mix, including backing vocals...some of which used to sound slightly 'spitty.' Now they are as smooth as I've ever heard them. Rich, powerful (more punchy than LP) and with bite when the music demands it...with none of the euphonic LP roll off when the music takes off with real instrumental edge. (The best analogy is tha this SACD sounds analog in the same sense of an expensive moving coil.) This is truly a test SACD disc and you should definitely use it to evaluate SACD players. On the best SACD players, the width of the soundstage is astounding, the depth of the recording is excellent and the instruments are all immaculately placed in space. Very unusual for any cd or SACD. Sounds very close to LP, and in the cleanness and precision of the music and blackness of the backgound, it is actually superior to the best LPs, failing only a tad at generating the overall warmth of the LP. While the LP sounds a bit smooth and laid back, this is far more ballsy, but never becomes edgy. Overall, this is a different experience from analog entirely, sounding more like a precise master tape than an, in many respects, most will find this superior. I used this SACD to evaluate and choose an audiophile player...the Krell Standard. The performance of Gaucho on the Krell was the best I've ever heard from the format. Period. Even compared to players double the price. A benchmark SACD. Makes it difficult to play even the best K2 redbooks after hearing this disc. If all SACDs were re-mastered like this, redbook would simply's that good.

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