Analogue Productions’ Truly Premium UHQR 200g 2LP QRP Pressing Of Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill Reels Through the Layers to Reveal New Detail and Distinct Textures for a Super-Deluxe All-Analog Listening Experience

If I wanted to make my review of the new Analogue Productions’ 200g 2LP UHQR edition of Steely Dan’s Can’t Buy A Thrill super-short and to the point, I could easily just say something like it was a “night and day” or “best ever” listening experience, and be done with it. However, that wouldn’t do enough justice towards conveying appreciation for this new super deluxe vinyl edition — and it also wouldn’t be very compelling reading for any of you [or me!—MM] either.

Seriously, though, listening to this new all-analog edition, newly mastered by the great Bernie Grundman — and especially when comparing it to the standard, digitally prepared sister 180g 1LP release of the same album from Geffen/UMe I reviewed here last week, as well as with an original 1970s pressing of Thrill — one begins to appreciate the nuanced levels of quality revealed. This UHQR edition was obviously made with much love and care.

For some more perspective, whenever you take the time to compare and contrast different vinyl pressings of any favorite artist’s music, the experience of hearing increasingly superior editions can be a bit like peeling away layers of an onion. First, you get through the thin-but-tough outer layers that look and feel like an onion, but they don’t quite have the taste and texture you are ultimately seeking. When you get further inside to the center, you discover the true pungent and vital bite of the music within.

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Likewise, you can certainly enjoy a 1970s-era pressing of Can’t Buy A Thrill that was compressed according to the standards and limitations of the times. Or, you can slice down into the heart of the Steely Dan sound with this super deluxe UHQR package, and get that much closer to what the band really created in the studio.

From the official press release, which follows in italics, we learn a bit more about this limited edition run of Can’t Buy A Thrill, and why it is indeed special:

The 45 RPM UHQR version will be pressed at Analogue Productions’ Quality Record Pressings on 200-gram Clarity Vinyl, packaged in a deluxe box, and will include a booklet detailing the entire process of making a UHQR along with a certificate of inspection. Each UHQR is pressed, using hand-selected vinyl, with attention paid to every single detail of every single record. All of the innovations introduced by QRP that have been generating such incredible critical acclaim are applied to each UHQR. The 200-gram records feature the same flat profile that helped to make the original UHQR so desirable.

At this point, it may help to explain to anyone who is new to Analogue Productions’ super deluxe series of reissues that the “original UHQR” brand referred to above — as explained in the liner notes to this set — are the specially formulated audiophile vinyl records manufactured and distributed in the 1980s by JVC. In simpler terms, these discs use a consistent flat-groove cutting process that is different than most commercial releases which are slightly sloped, resulting in less distortion, purer sound reproduction, etc. You can go here to access the Quality Record Pressing website for more insights into how this works. (We have also included an image below from the brochure to help illustrate the point further.)

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Playing Analogue Productions’ new UHQR version of Can’t Buy A Thrill (and calling back to my aforementioned onion analogy), for the first time, I fully realized there really was a great recording in there beneath the muddied exterior of early-1970s compression and inferior pressings of the period. At the end of the day, however, it is all about the music — and if you are going to spend $150 for one recording, as you will be doing for this edition. it darn well better sound pretty definitive.

[MM adds: For additional context, you can go here to read Mark’s review of the earlier noted 180g 1LP Geffen/UMe version of Thrill that we posted on November 11, and you can also go here for my own September 16 post about all the tech specs regarding both releases. And now, back to the review!]

Happily, for this, my first UHQR experience, it feels super-solid. Musically, Can’t Buy A Thrill feels more three-dimensional on this UHQR edition than on other versions I’ve heard. Overall, the sound is super-clear and crisp, but ultimately presents the music more warmly than the standard 180g 1LP edition does. When you compare them side by side, you start noticing the differences between the UHQR and the standard edition — the sizzling cymbals aren’t quite as sizzly on the standard version, for one thing, and, comparatively, the vocals take on a bit of that raw edge around them. Plus, the congas feel less natural-sounding on the standard edition.

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The following observations are some of the track-by-track highlights from my listening experiences thus far with the UHQR version of Can’t Buy A Thrill. (I’m sure you’ll hear comparable and/or supplemental, different things on your end, so please feel free to share your thoughts with us in the Comments section below, underneath the full tracklisting portion of the review.)

“Do It Again” (Side A, Track 1)
The first thing that got my attention here as this groove kicked in was that super-distinctive “ping” of Jim Hodder’s ride cymbal, and the long natural decay of the crash cymbals. Having been in bands most of my life, I’ve been around a lot of drum kits both onstage and in studios, so I know that sound intimately — and this edition captures it quite nicely. Walter Becker’s bass is more distinctive and apparent in this version than others I’ve heard. Here, I noticed the neat congas percolating and panning across the stereo soundstage, a detail which never really jumped out at me before on other versions. Denny Diaz’s electric Coral sitar solo feels extra-vibrant. And be sure to listen for the super-cool extra snare-drum pick-up beats added to the rhythm bed at the very end — again, a detail I never really, well, picked up on (pun intended) before listening to my original pressing all these years.

“Dirty Work” (Side A, Track 2)
Pay attention for those crystal-clear strokes of the guitar pick sweeping across the strings for that super-distinct chord texture played in the background during Jerome Richardson’s bridge/sax solo. Yes, on the standard version (and the original editions), you can hear it — but, as an effect, it sort of just sits there. On the UHQR version of Can’t Buy A Thrill if you close your eyes, you can imagine in a much more three-dimensional manner Jeff “Skunk” Baxter dragging his plectrum across the strings down close to the bridge of the guitar to create that bright sound.

“Kings” (Side B, Track 1)
There is an interesting phase-shifting type effect on top of Donald Fagan’s vocals during the verses I’d never really noticed before on earlier versions. It is much more apparent on the new UHQR incarnation of Can’t Buy A Thrill. The congas on the choruses absolutely jump out of the speakers here. And check out that sweet amplifier tone pushing Elliott Randall’s guitar leads.

“Only A Food Would Say That” (Side B, Track 3)
This is the first time I’ve heard this song perfectly centered on vinyl, and it brought a big smile to my face to experience it this way. There was no wavering of those Beatle-y chord breaks — finally! The high end is bright but it feels natural, and not like it was overly EQ’d. The final chord rings out longer than I’ve ever heard it. And those strummy acoustic guitars also sound beautiful.

“Fire In The Hole” (Side C, Track 2)
Here, Walter Becker’s bass sounds rich and round. The piano is super-clean and natural feeling to the point where you can almost feel the woody acoustics resonating in the room where it was recorded. The cymbals sizzle! And, then there is that gorgeous pedal-steel part by Skunk Baxter, which sounds better than ever.

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I could go on and on, but I think you get the idea this new UHQR version of Can’t Buy A Thrill is a fine, fine spin. Everything about this edition is super deluxe. The whole consumer experience is sumptuous, down to the outer album box’s wooden-spined, drawer style design, loosely reminiscent of certain deluxe edition releases from the 1950s by labels such as Angel Records and Everest Records — albeit much more striking with this edition.

The 200g clear vinyl has that heft of a vintage record from the 1950s and/or early-1960s — and, frankly, it seems extra-substantial to me. Is it because these LPs were pressed in such limited quantity by hand? If I can get extra-obsessive about it for a moment, this vinyl just feels nice in my hands, with silky smooth curves crafted with a sort of handmade precision more akin to something you might pick up from a skilled blacksmith or a woodworker, as opposed to churned out of a machine press.

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The cover of this new edition is manufactured like one of the recent Blue Note Tone Poet or Verve Acoustic Sounds reissues, having been crafted with thick, sturdy, brown cardboard, excellent print-quality graphics, and a fully laminated finish. This is easily the nicest version of this cover art you’ll likely see and own. The discs themselves come shipped in audiophile-grade plastic-lined inner sleeves.

As I also experienced with the standard 180g 1LP edition, my only real nit here is they didn’t reproduce the original ABC Records label design, but as I noted in my aforementioned review of said 180g 1LP edition, I understand that might have been a legal/licensing issue beyond the scope of the project. Hey, this gives us completist collectors a reason to hold onto our original pressings, right? But, honestly, I can’t see any real reason why I would even want to play an older pressing again, save for maybe a white label promo copy — if I could ever get my hands on one at some point, that is.

[MM interjects: As I also mentioned in a parenthetical I added within Mark’s fine 180g 1LP review, I will also point out here the word “Reeling” is spelled out with the “g” at the end on the label that appears on Side C (as was the case on both Side Two of the earlier ABC label and the new 180g edition), whereas the title is spelled with the “g” dropped and the apostrophe in place — “Reelin’ In The Years” — on the back cover and on the inner gatefold of this edition. Do you have a preference either way? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below if so.]

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Conclusions
Given what I’ve heard with this Can’t Buy A Thrill, the first salvo in Analogue Productions’ Steely Dan UHQR release series, I’m quite thrilled about the rest of the reissues to come. I’m especially excited to hear what Analogue Productions will do with March 1975’s Katy Lied (which reportedly suffered from early noise reduction system problems and has always sounded a bit wonky despite it being a fantastic record in itself) and May 1976’s The Royal Scam (my personal favorite Steely Dan album). Can’t wait to see, and hear, what comes next — but for now, the 200g 2LP Can’t Buy A Thrill serves as one of the best listening experiences you’ll have this year.

(Mark Smotroff is an avid vinyl collector who has also worked in marketing communications for decades. He has reviewed music for AudiophileReview.com, among others, and you can see more of his impressive C.V. at LinkedIn.)

Music Direct Buy It Now

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STEELY DAN
CAN’T BUY A THRILL

200g 2LP (Analogue Productions)

Side A
1. Do It Again
2. Dirty Work

Side B
1. Kings
2. Midnite Cruiser
3. Only A Fool Would Say That

Side C
1. Reeling In The Years
2. Fire In The Hole

Side D
1. Brooklyn
2. Change of the Guard
3. Turn That Heartbeat Over Again

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COMMENTS
rich d's picture

...I won't start robbing liquor stores until they release Countdown to Ecstasy. Nasty slide riffs, tight horn charts and New York cynicism wrapped in California sunshine. I'm sure it'll be worth whatever larceny is required to attain the purchase price. I guess I'm saying it's my favorite Steely Dan record (Sorry, Aja, you came in second).

Mike Mettler's picture
I love that album too, Rich! My chronological gut tells me Countdown to Ecstasy will come next, though I have no exact info about that as of yet -- but will report accordingly once I do.

Hmm, brief sidenote -- Chronological Gut sounds like a long lost early-1970s British band, but I digress...

rich d's picture

I imagine they'd more than likely be German, the instrumental palette being synthesizer, flute and anvil. With two female singers. A bit like Faust meets the Archies. I'd see that concert.

PeterPani's picture

Why is it that difficult to put AAA on the sticker on the cover?

"Original Master Tapes - We use the original tapes and work with the best mastering studios" doesn't really tell, this is an all analog record from the source to the pressing.

I believe Chad that this is AAA, but wonder, why not tell the buyer on the front cover? It would increase the sells for sure.

rich d's picture

The Chronological Gut record would definitely carry an AAA sticker, but it would stand for "Anvil, ARP & Anneke". Obviously.

Mike Mettler's picture
Good point re your great point -- and probably too obvious for one of those AAAs to be designated "Achtung"...
Rashers's picture

this is essentially a US only release - to buy this elsewhere in the world is astronomically expensive.
The 2 x 45rpm format may be a popular audiophile approach - but many of us would rather hear the album in its original sequence.
It it truly appalling that Bernie Grundman had the original tapes in his mastering suite but, rather than cutting 33rpm lacquers, sending them to UME and the worldwide release being AAA sourced in the most popular 33rpm format, the proletariat receives a digital copy printed on vinyl of whatever BG lifted off the master tapes (the UMG version).
The Geffen labels are truly ludicrous - as Geffen did not exist until after SD broke up.
While you may like the box, it literally doubles the price of the set (standard AP releases would be in the region of $69 - give or take a few dollars for the flat clarity vinyl the mark up for the box is about $70). It is big (one would fit 5 or 6 albums into the space, ugly, and curved. I tossed my Kind of Blue UHQR box into the attic.
This release portends the beginning of the end of the "vinyl revolution" - by pricing analog products in the same realm as Hermes scarfs you alienate all but a small cohort of wealthy men who are willing to shell out ridiculous amounts of money for records.
I'm sure that these records sound amazing - but they would have sounded great as AAA 2x45 on black vinyl or 2 x 33 on black vinyl - at standard (already premium) Analogue Productions prices.
As someone who has collected vinyl records for 45 years - I find the whole thing obnoxious.

Wymax's picture

"this is essentially a US only release - to buy this elsewhere in the world is astronomically expensive."

In my part of the world (Denmark) the price will usually be multiplied by at least 2.5.

richiep's picture

Sorry that the cost is greater for you, but those decisions are voted by you and your government. Just think if you had to pay separately for family health insurance that is a must vs a record which is entertainment? Maybe 4 or 5 records a year with additional cost of $150.00 vs $12,000.00 to $20,000.00 per year for health insurance, I'll trade that any day, be well.

markmck12's picture

'This release portends the beginning of the end of the "vinyl revolution" '

Really? Capitalism and the record business are soulmates. This is not a new phenomenon.

PS are you the same person moaning on SDE about Thin Lizzy Live & Dangerous?

Tom L's picture

The overseas price problem doesn't affect me, but I certainly sympathize with all the people who find themselves priced out of buying many recent high-end releases. I also don't see why the lower priced 33 version couldn't have used the same source as the Grundman version. They're dividing the vinyl market into different segments out of pure greed.

Jenn's picture

...so please give the off-topic content. I'm wondering if you ever plan on reviewing or discussing any classical LPs. Thanks.

Mike Mettler's picture
In a word, yes we do plan on reviewing classical LPs at some point. Suggestions are welcome for anything on your radar that looks worthy of us covering.
PeterPani's picture

of our time:
Víkingur Ólafssons "Mozart"

https://www.discogs.com/de/release/20170012-V%C3%ADkingur-%C3%93lafsson-...

Music is a straight rating of 11. But rating the sound quality of the vinyl is a challenge. The digital does not provide the possibility to copy all the nuances of the piano tunes. So your brain must compensate. Because the playing of Ólafsson is so pure the brain & hearth of the listener can complete the missing (silent) tunes...

And if you can: go, see and hear him live!
Emotional feelings can be guaranteed. Humanism pure - Mozart as Mozart shall be!!
(yes, I am from Vienna - so pardon me, I cannot help it but to love Mozart)

Jenn's picture

Thanks.

markmck12's picture

Throughly enjoying the in depth coverage of this excellent - thus far- Steely Dan release project. I will go down the digital path due to the $$$ of the AAA alternative.

I was initially a tad frustrated with the lack of transparency on where, viewed from a European perspective, they were being pressed. However, regardless of the digital path, my UK purchased copy is fantastic.

PS this much anticipated Steely Dan project - at least by me anyway - appears to be verbotten on the SDE website. Methinks the site owner works from the same playbook as Elon Musk on Twitter - i.e. it's my site and I'll do whatever I feel like. It seems conspicuous by its absence. You cannot even comment on the topic. Oh well - plenty of excellent coverage & commentary elsewhere!

Tom L's picture

..but what is the SDE website? The State Department of Education has nothing to say about vinyl, or any other form of music reproduction.

markmck12's picture

SuperDeluxeEdition.com

You are pardoned.

vinyl listener's picture

... a UK based website shilling the latest moneygrabs from the major record companies :)

Lemon Curry's picture

An 8 for the Universal, a 9 for the UHQR. A lot of extra money for just 1 notch on the SQ scale.

Mike Mettler's picture
I see where you're coming from here, Lemon Curry. The way the Ratings fields have been set up since the days of yore (as in, before my time) are only able to recognize whole numbers -- i.e., even if we wanted to, say, give something an 8.5 or a 9.5, it's just not set up that way. Let me look into that to see if it's possible to enable half-star increments, so to speak.
Tom L's picture

Verrrrrrry interesting.

rich d's picture

I'm holding out for the Super Duper Mega Turbo Deluxe Edition (SDMTDE). Quantities are said to be limited to however many they can sell.

Russo7516's picture

So glad I purchased the BG / Geffen . You gave that LP 8 for Music and 8 for sound. Thank you for this review . Plus saving me some cash. Analog Planet you are looking out for record collector thanks.
While I have some AP stuff in my collection . I feel at 149.99 plus taxes, s&h. It is a bit too much. We are now over 150 for a reissue . Soon will will see 175 before taxes . When will it stop !

Mike Mettler's picture
Thanks for noticing that point, Russo7516. We're trying to be mindful of the "collecting reality" here on AP -- some of us can afford the higher-ticket releases and some can't, so we want to cover the full spectrum to give everyone options. There is no doubt the Analogue Productions version of CBAT is a landmark release. If you are able to afford it, you should absolutely get your hands (and ears) on it. If you can't afford it right now, you can also find merit in the Geffen/UMe release of CBAT for the reasons Mark outlined in his review. The bottom line is, we want everyone to enjoy the wonders of analog listening like we do, whether it's via great-sounding LPs or great-sounding gear -- or both.
Recordsmakemeinsane's picture

If they have the multi tracks to Katy Lied ... They need to start from scratch and with all that technology 2022 has today... Whatever the problems were with the Dolby or DBX situations that made Becker and Fagen literally walk out out of anger thinking all this work has gone to crap... Diaz did what he could but not enough in 1975 to make the recording sound like it's supposed to .... So before you release that album and maybe another one not sure which one ... Seems like all the Dan records had one problem or another with their recordings or tapes or something... They need to perfect this 4th one before 150.00 becomes the price for some of these... So back to the multi track and was it the multi track that was ruined or was it just the mix... If it was just the mix well REMIX IT ... PROPERLY NO DOLBY OR DBX CRAP OLD NOISE REDUCTION JUNK Please Bernie Grundman don't try to fix what's already broken Now what's the problem with Aja and Gaucho ? ... Thank You Walter Becker in Heaven ...

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