Steely Dan’s Countdown to Ecstasy Almost Achieves Liftoff on New 180g 1LP Reissue From Geffen/UMe

Let’s begin this review with the key specs that you might want to know about the new Geffen/UMe 180g standard-edition reissue of Steely Dan’s fine and hard-rocking second album, July 1973 Countdown to Ecstasy, which was released on May 26. This edition of Ecstasy has been remastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analog tapes to hi-res digital files. Fresh lacquers were cut to spin at 33 1/3 by Alex Abrash at AA Mastering Studio, working from Grundman’s remastered digital files. The new 180g black vinyl was pressed at Precision in Ontario, Canada, and the SRP is $29.99.

I put all these critical stats here at the beginning with no preamble since many of us know the bigger elephant in the Ecstasy LP room happens to be the relatively new 45rpm UHQR 200g 2LP QRP-pressed edition of this very same album that was made via an all-analog process and courtesy the fine folks at Analogue Productions. AP editor Mike Mettler reviewed that stellar UHQR edition of Ecstasy quite comprehensively back in February 2023, and you can read that in-depth evaluation for yourself right here.

While I can’t compare this new standard edition LP to that UHQR release myself, I do have an original black-label copy of Countdown to Ecstasy from 1973 — likely either a Terre Haute or Pitman pressing — as well as a rare-ish, of-era quad edition. Together, those vintage LPs will offer perhaps more of an apples-to-apples level of comparison the new-to-2023 version.


Listening to Countdown to Ecstasy has always been somewhat frustrating for me, because while it generally rocks really hard, I always felt the original 1973 vinyl release didn’t quite deliver the sonic punch and clarity of Steely Dan’s debut album, November 1972’s Can’t Buy a Thrill, or even the album that followed Ecstasy, February 1974’s Pretzel Logic.

Now, the music is generally fantastic on Countdown to Ecstasy, so I have no questions about that. Any album with tracks like the searing, steamy, soaring Side A opener “Bodhisattva,” the super-catchy hit “My Old School” (Track 2 on Side B), and the epic “The Boston Rag” (Track 3 on Side A) has got to be pretty great.

Yet I do wonder at times if, during the making of this album, the band was still searching for its sweet spot (if you will) in the evolution of their sound. That said, Countdown to Ecstasy has always felt somewhat compressed to my ear — and, at times, near-muddy when listening to the original mix as presented on the standard vinyl editions I have owned over the years.


Curiously, the quad edition of the LP I have in hand sounds remarkably airy, open, and widescreen. I suspect that what I am hearing is the difference between mixes made for radio play vs. those intended for, effectively, a theoretically more dynamic early home stereo setup.

To be fair, this new edition of Countdown to Ecstasy generally sounds okay. The pressings are very thick, dark, and generally, the vinyl is quiet. The new mastering is brighter than my original pressing, but overall, the 2023 edition is not knocking me out as much as I’d hoped it would. I even took a step back to compare the new Ecstasy to some of the hi-res streaming versions to see how they stacked up — and, in general, it was pretty good in that regard.

Overall, Bernie Grundman’s mastering here on the 2023 edition is just fine, as it is more open and wider-screened than the original pressing. But something else seems to be going on here with the new physical pressing that is giving me pause. I won’t speculate too much per se as I’m not an engineer, but the music as presented in this new edition feels just that extra bit more crunchy than I would like, resulting in a somewhat harsh sonic signature when you turn up the volume on your amp.


Curiously, the quad pressing I have (which also plays in stereo) actually is really quite great comparatively, delivering a very open and wide, warm soundstage, along with greater instrumental detail and presence with more air of the studio coming through. So, yes, this music can sound great.

Sadly, on my copy of the new edition of Countdown to Ecstasy I experienced some distortion on one or two tracks — notably on “Razor Boy” (Track 2 on Side A) — which I suspect is a pressing problem. I checked in with AP editor Mike Mettler, who gave his own copy of the new 2023 edition a test run on his turntable, and he reported back that his LP sounded relatively fine, adding that this “low volume” release was “clean and flat” overall. Checking around the interwebs on some audiophile forums, I have seen grumblings of similar issues like mine some folks have had with their own new editions, while others reported their copies as being okay. With all this in mind, we feel the need to give you all a heads up about the possibility of getting a copy of the new Countdown to Ecstasy with some evident distortion. I have let the folks at Geffen/UMe know of my own issue with my copy, and they told me they are sending a new copy. Once I have it in hand, I’ll update this review accordingly after I’ve spent some time with it. Hopefully, this isn’t a widespread problem.


Again, it is worth reiterating this new Countdown to Ecstasy does indeed sound okay, but I suspect it is not the final word on standard-edition SD pressings to come. Is this new 2023 edition better than my original 1973 black label ABC Records pressing? Well, I can’t answer that without qualification. While I do like the warmth of my 1973 pressing, I also find it ultimately a bit murky-sounding. Right now, my original quad copy is the best version overall for me and my ears at this moment in time.

That said, if you only own a well-loved 1970s copy of Countdown to Ecstasy — or even the often problematic ’80s pressings on MCA that, in general, suffered from quality-control issues back in the day — this new edition will be an improvement.

Sure, you can try to find a clean original pressing of Countdown to Ecstasy, but in my experience, that is a bit of a needle-in-a-haystack process. I have gone through many iterations of Ecstasy myself over the years, consistently upgrading in search of a better-sounding version. Of the 71 copies listed on Discogs at the time of this posting, exactly zero were listed in Near Mint or Mint condition. Some 32 copies are VG-Plus, with prices ranging from $23 to more than $200 — so there certainly is a clear need for an affordably priced $30 LP reissue like this one.


With all this in mind, you may want to weigh the options as to what are the most important factors for you. If you just want a good, basic starter copy of Countdown to Ecstasy, then this new 2023 reissue is probably not a bad place to begin, given the escalated collectors pricing on just about all things Steely Dan these days.

Alternately, I’ll wrap things up here with a little record-collecting pro tip. If you really want to get an original Countdown to Ecstasy pressing in hand, keep an eye out at your favorite used record shops in the weeks and months ahead. Given the full breadth of this current Steely Dan reissue series, some folks who only want “new” albums these days (something we’ve discussed in a few of our other recent LP reviews of late) may very well be offloading their old copies soon. Happy hunting, as far as that goes. But if you can’t or don’t want to wait for that, then the new Geffen/UMe Countdown to Ecstasy might just do you right after all.

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

Music Direct Buy It Now



180g 1LP (Geffen/UMe)

Side A
1. Bodhisattva
2. Razor Boy
3. The Boston Rag
4. Your Gold Teeth

Side B
1. Show Biz Kids
2. My Old School
3. Pearl Of The Quarter
4. King Of The World


brenro12's picture

My copy of this was supposed to have been delivered two days ago but it's now held up somehow at Fed Ex's Olathe, KS sorting warehouse. On top of that I now have to wonder what the quality of the pressing will be when it finally gets here.

Chemguy's picture

...but my Quad copy of CTE is thin and insipid, hardly worth keeping were it not for the alternate mix. I’m not criticizing your hearing, here...only warning others if they think the Quad could be for them.

My black label ABC is quite fine. But the UHQR...well, that’s in another league, of course. It’s the only one I’ll ever play now.

Mark Smotroff's picture

Thanks for the kind words! Curious: which version of the quad pressing do you have? The one like mine shown in the review or the later one with thee target styled label? Mine isn't sounding particularly thin or insipid especially compared to the OG black label which sounds compressed and a bit on the muddled side... b It is what is ultimately: a stereo playback off a quad-encoded vinyl LP (which is probably far from idealized). That said, it is wider sounding than my black label. Again, my experience will be different than yours inevitably as we have different equipment. That said, no doubt the UHQR is its own thing but unfortunately I don't have one thus far. Someday, hopefully...

markmck12's picture

Arrived today. First impressions - lots of delicate separation, crisp integrated sound, nice lurking bass. Fagen's voice well placed in the soundstage. The guitar solos sound like they have had really good polish. Happy camper!

Played on Rega P10/Aphelion 3 and Naim rig.

Russo7516's picture

Funny CTE is both mastered by BG and yet the UHQR get a better rating this time . CBAT was close the last time .
How can this be ?????? When both are mastered by the same person. Yes I understand , the lacquer was cut by someone else.and quiet vinyl etc etc .
OK is any one else suffering from re issue burn out ?

Mark Smotroff's picture

Bernie's re-mastering of the original tapes and for the digital files is fine from what I can tell. The physical mastering done for creating the disc lacquers used for pressing the records is what I think was the problem. They are two separate process, both of which can impact the sound of the recording upon playback. Add to that the distortion issues on the pressing and, yes, the numbers are less.

Anton D's picture

I will pop into nerd mode for a moment.

Keep in mind that they were to quadraphonic pressings for different formats for many albums. The CD4 version sounds terrible without going through its specific processor. The SQ or QS version can sound quite good for playback in stereo.

I’m not sure if this album was pressed in both quad formats.

Anton D's picture


So, it seems we would all have the same format, quadraphonic vinyl pressing!

So much for nerd mode!

yorkie98's picture

The pressings marked with a "Made In Czech Republic" sticker seem to be the ones suffering here. The very worst part happens during the quiet part in the middle of "Boston Rag". It breaks down totally.
This is clearly a cutting/pressing issue. Does anyone actually listen to test pressings anymore?
Side A is the worst, when it's not actually distorting, it sounds as if it's on the edge of distortion the whole time and it has an unsettling grainy/crunchy sound and there seems to be an EQ lift in the mid-high guitar range making them unnaturally forthright in the mix.
Something went very wrong here and I hope they are working to address it. My two copies have gone back, awaiting (hopefully improved) replacements. If they have a Czech sticker on the back, I might just tell my retailer to send them back again and get me non-CZ copies (if such a thing exists).
If anyone is in doubt, check out the samples I posted on the Steve Hoffman forum.