UMe’s New 1LP Reissue of Steely Dan’s Seminal Hit 1977 Album Aja Indeed Has Merit for Those Seeking a New, Clean-Sounding Vinyl Edition Without Breaking the Bank

I’ll say this right upfront about the new Geffen/UMe 1LP edition of Steely Dan’s seminal September 1977 album, Aja: for an SRP of $29.99, it sounds pretty darn good, all things considered! But, of course, I realize that “pretty darn good” may not be enough for many of you seeking ultimate perfection for one of the ultimately perfect hit records ever made. You want Aja to sound “pretty darn great!” — I get it!

As we’ve learned from the prior releases in this current Steely Dan LP reissue series — Aja is the fourth such entry (and the first not strictly chronological entry, at that), following November 1972’s Can’t Buy a Thrill, July 1973’s Countdown to Ecstasy, and February 1974’s Pretzel Logic — the key stats for all of the new standard edition SD LPs, according to the band’s official press release, are as follows:

“All albums are being meticulously remastered by Bernie Grundman from the original analog tapes. . . Lacquers for UMe’s standard 33 1/3 RPM 180-gram version will be cut by Alex Abrash at his renowned AA Mastering studio from high-resolution digital files of Grundman’s new masters and pressed at Precision. They will be housed in reproductions of the original artwork.” (In case you’re wondering, November 1980’s Gaucho will be what’s coming next in December, and then the series will circle back to March 1975’s Katy Lied and May 1976’s in 2024 — and, naturally, we will review them all.)


There is, however, something of a stick in the spokes to be considered here that makes this particular release of Aja different from the rest of the series, to date. Both the standard and the upcoming 200g 45rpm 1LP Analogue Productions UHQR version of Aja were sourced from a 1980 analog tape copy that was originally EQ’ed by the maestro, mastering engineer Bob Ludwig. (The latter, UHQR edition of Aja is now scheduled to arrive at the end of October.) So, if you really want to hear the “original” version of the album — which will thus be at least one generation closer to the first-gen master tape — you’ll have to track down one of those 1977-78 ABC Records editions out in the collector’s marketplace.

(An aside: This decision does make me curious why a new, effectively remastered tape copy was made in 1980 by Ludwig in the first place. Was it also used for the 1980 Mobile Fidelity edition, and/or perhaps the record club edition? Or perhaps it was to accommodate certain parameters of then-new parent company MCA Records, which soon enough offered a budget line of Steely Dan catalog reissues that admittedly cut many production corners. Just speculating here, as all that is another issue for discussion some other day, and/or in the Comments section below. For now, back to our regular album reviewing.)


As with the earlier releases in the Steely Dan reissue series, the album cover art on this new 2023 standard edition of Aja is printed on basic oaktag-type stock, similar to the original album covers from 1977. The big difference is that the originals were crafted with an elegant, high-gloss, laminated-looking finish. These new editions, while not completely flat matte, are much less shiny and look comparatively a little washed out next to the original covers — see my photo of the two together above for comparison. But still, it is probably more than serviceable for most people.

At least the album labels look much nicer this time around, mimicking the late-’70s “rainbow” style design of the original LPs. Even with the newer Geffen logo there instead of the original ABC Records logo, it still feels kind of like the originals, whereas the earlier albums looked more like the older, darker Geffen Records labels than the ABC Records designs.


Now, some additional reality checks for those of you who are keen on finding an original Aja pressing. Steely Dan albums have become quite collectible in recent years, so good condition originals can be pricey — especially online. There are not many listed on Discogs at the time of this posting, and those in truly NM condition tend to go for upwards of $70-$100. (For further context, I did notice one NM 1980 MoFi edition selling for $75.)

As far as how this new Geffen/UMe edition of Aja sounds, I think that, for the given $29.99 pricetag, it’s not all that bad. Yes, it is digitally sourced. And yes, I can feel and hear some of the digital edges to the mastering at points, especially as I turn up the volume on my amp a bit. But the dark black vinyl pressing is pretty quiet, and the disc is well-centered. It is worth noting here that certain original ABC Records pressings weren’t the best to begin with, and they could be noisy at times. So, again, there are tradeoffs to be considered.

That said, my copy of this new standard edition of Aja seems to have some minor distortion-type issues toward the end of Side A, so please do take that into consideration as well — hopefully, my copy was just a one-off anomaly. Also, I did hear one little channel dropout at the line “I run to you” just before the final Steve Gadd drum solo bridge/ending section of the title track, “Aja” (Track 2, Side A) — and this is something that does not happen on my original ABC LP. That sort of thing is to be expected from not only a 45-year-old tape, but also a copy of a 45-year-old tape. Stuff happens, folks, and without the producers getting too deep into potential digital restorations and such, we have to accept that it just is what it is.


One production nit to pick here is that the new edition of Aja doesn’t reproduce the original inner sleeve with the printed lyrics — and that feels a bit lacking, frankly. I mean, graphically, the lyric sheets were never anything super-special, but if you are trying to offer the consumer a good replica of what the original vinyl experience was all about, reading Steely Dan’s often quizzical and obtuse lyrics while listening to this album especially is indeed part of that equation. (Just sayin’.)

So, what’s a budget-minded Steely Dan vinyl fan to do? Well, if you don’t mind a little surface noise and a click ’n’ a pop or two, you can probably find a very serviceable used copy of Aja out in the wilds for a fair price, and probably less than what they are going for on Discogs. (For example, I saw one at Amoeba Music here in San Francisco just the other night selling for about $30.) But, if you must have a shiny new edition of Aja to play now, before deciding on whether to get the upcoming $150 UHQR Analogue Productions version, then this new Geffen/UMe release might be just the elixir you need.

(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



1LP (Geffen/UMe)

Side A
1. Black Cow
2. Aja
3. Deacon Blues

Side B
1. Peg
2. Home At Last
3. I Got The News
4. Josie


jazz's picture

I just heard the hires files of this release and perceived the sound quality as quite flat and boring. Have the Cisco vinyl, think I sold my Mofi when the Cisco came, have the Steve Hoffman remastered CD, so with both of them, there’s a certain level set to surpass. I preordered the UHQR and hope I don’t have to cancel it as Pretzel Logic after the first reviews. From the other SD UHQR’s I own, I know how much better they sound than the new hires files, so I still have hopes for the UHQR even if I don’t expect it get more than a 9 then. Hope it won’t have the distortion problem you mentioned.

Michael Bear Arlt's picture

I have the high res of Aja and hear the same thing too, it lacks balls and sounds like the life has been sucked out. Aja sounds fantastic on the original ABC LP and Japan for USA (MCAD-37214) MCA CD, the high res just sounds meh. Same deal goes with Who's Next, the new Plagent LP sounds excellent but the high res just sounds loud [DR8] and watered down with no presence. The Japanese SACD is wayyy better and almost matches the Hoffman mastered MCA CD. I'm begging to wonder if someone at Universal is messing with the high res files if the LP sounds great why does the high res sound like a worn out cassette? On the Dynamic Range Database, this was said about the high res of Aja "A "Hi-Res" hoax. The frequency range of all tracks cut-off at 48kHz. The rest is noise up to 192kHz. So therefore there is no difference to other lower frequency formats. But otherwise it has superb dynamics".

1984 MCA CD:

DR15 -0.83 dB -18.38 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 01 - Black Cow.wav
DR14 -0.75 dB -18.54 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 02 - Aja.wav
DR14 -0.85 dB -16.86 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 03 - Deacon Blues.wav
DR12 -1.03 dB -15.78 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 04 - Peg.wav
DR13 -0.32 dB -15.64 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 05 - Home At Last.wav
DR15 -1.28 dB -18.48 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 06 - I Got The News.wav
DR14 -0.21 dB -16.79 dB Steely Dan - Aja - 07 - Josie.wav

High Res:

DR16 0.00 dB -18.26 dB 5:10 01-Black Cow
DR15 -0.37 dB -19.11 dB 7:58 02-Aja
DR16 0.00 dB -18.60 dB 7:35 03-Deacon Blues
DR14 -0.39 dB -17.97 dB 3:57 04-Peg
DR16 -0.03 dB -18.19 dB 5:35 05-Home At Last
DR15 -1.90 dB -19.98 dB 5:08 06-I Got The News
DR15 -1.91 dB -19.20 dB 4:32 07-Josie

James Kelly's picture

Just purchased the new $29.95 version. To me, it sounds pretty good. Im not into spending $200.00 with shipping for the UHQR version. By the way, anything about the woman on the cover? Who was she?

Mark Smotroff's picture

The wiki page on Aja says "The title of the album is pronounced "Asia" (like the continent).[4] Donald Fagen has said Aja was the name of a Korean woman who married the brother of one of his high-school friends.[5] The album cover features a photograph by Hideki Fujii of Japanese model and actress Sayoko Yamaguchi,[6][7] and was designed by Patricia Mitsui and Geoff Westen."

And, yes, that was my takeaway ultimately: for the price it sounds pretty good overall.

James Kelly's picture

Thanx for the info!!! :-)

bludogk9's picture

photograph by Hideki Fujii of Japanese model and actress Sayoko Yamaguchi

Rashers's picture

they should consider the Plangent process approach - which would fix tape anomalies and enhance the flat sound. Everything about these UME Steely Dans has seemed a little second rate, particularly knowing that Bernie Grundman almost certainly cut AAA 33rpm lacquers from the tapes (and these are being held back for future AP releases). Although I have bought the UHQRs to date, and pre-ordered this one, I have to say that I really HATE the 45rpm format. These are loved and cherished albums that ran over 2 not 4 sides.
I also hate the large ugly unnecessary box - and for the price there should be more than a token insert (look at the recent Pharoah Sanders "Pharoah" for what should be in a box).

Mark Smotroff's picture

I'd love to hear a Plangent treatment on these albums for sure...

rl1856's picture

I have AB, Mofi, and Japanese YX copies. My Japanese copy is by far the best sounding pressing I have heard. No need for a new digitally sourced pressing or a $200 2nd generation AAA copy.

rich d's picture

Clean ABC pressings are, as the reviewer observed, not plentiful but they can be found. And they're about the same price as this digitally-remastered second generation version of an album which every one of us already owns.

Two other observations: the Cisco pressing is as good as 'jazz' suggested. And don't dismiss a tatty-looking original out of hand - many of them were just scuffed up by the sharp cardboard inner sleeve. Maybe that's why it's missing from the new iteration?

Chemguy's picture notorious and endemic to the final few minutes of Deacon Blues. My hope is that it will be minimized/eliminated on the UHQR, which I am all in for.

Fine review, Mark. Thanks.

Russo7516's picture

I like the UMe model . It lets the younger set get into vinyl.
As for the UHQR it is way overpriced plus for 1 or 2 points more for sound.No thanks.
Has anyone checked out the issues with UHQR. I read on the SH forum many asked for replacement copies on certain 45 rpm press . Issues like hissing, bell sounds etc .
I know many can get a bit over the top with album perfection. But it seems to a an issue.
I have an 1 press of Aja and a Mofi which I paid ten buck used way back.
Just seen an AjA record at Academy Brooklyn for 5 buck is VG shape not sure which pressing on 10/12/23.
So dig and you will find.

Chemguy's picture

...was only with Side 1 of Countdown to Ecstasy. It was a high pitched, tea-kettle sound. Not audible as the music plays, but just noticeable in between tracks. AP replaces these free upon request, with evidence that you have destroyed the disc.

vinyl listener's picture

The Cisco is awful.
Flat and dead sounding.
Even M Fremer late of this column changed his mind after hearing a good original AB or AA pressing.

Anton D's picture

Did I miss this week’s Aja reissue?

Tom L's picture

Still working on collecting all 310 issues of Aja, including 157 on LP.
The only ones I listen to are the 10 versions on 8-track. The fidelity of the thumps when tracks change is incredible!

Anton D's picture

...keeping up with all the Love Supreme reissues.

Don Roderick's picture

I own 2 reissues of this terrific album, both the Mobile Fidelity and the Impex.
Their sound couldn't be much more different from one another.
The highs on the MFSL are clear and extended. However the cymbal crashes on the title track are distorted (probably mistracked) by every high quality cartridge that has played my copy. The midrange and bass of the MoFi sounds fine until...
it is compared to the Impex reissue. That disc has deeper more solid bass and midrange making the MoFi sound thin by comparison. But the Impex just sounds very muffled in the top end.
Neither one satisfies me. Oh, if only I could combine the two!
Thank you for reading this. Don R.

Don Roderick's picture

CORRECTION: My 2nd reissue is from CISCO, not Impex.

gMRfk6LMHn's picture

Mastered by: Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering from first-gen Bob Ludwig EQ’ed 1980 tape copy,

It has been stated clearly that the UHQR Aja was mastered from a non-eq'd tape made by Bernie Grundman when he mastered the original Aja.

James, Dublin, Ireland