Does Steely Dan sound bright to you?


This is going to sound like a somewhat random question but I’m wondering how many of you find Steely Dan’s recordings to sound a bit bright. I’m particularly thinking of Gaucho, and Aja but some other recent recordings, too, such as Fagen’s Nightfly.

My typical media include streaming (CD and HD quality) and CD’s. I have not played my old vinyl because I’m presently without a turntable.

At first I thought it was my system and it was driving me a little bit mental; eventually, I decided it wasn't my stuff, it was their stuff. Because most other recordings on the same system with no other changes don’t typically have the brightness of Steely Dan.

Whether or not you’re a fan (I am) Steely Dan has often been a go-to for testing out equipment, so I imagine there will be experiences people have had about this.

P.S. Any other recordings which, for you are unnaturally bright?


8700e65e 845e 4b1b 91cc df27687f9454hilde45
Always felt some music sounds bright and have tried to taylor my choice of components to minimize this. Aja does sound on the bright side to me, but still sounds amazing, dynamic, and detailef and still gives goose bumps. 
Steely Dan’s "Aja" has always been my reference while listening to vinyl. In fact, I even enjoy the CD version. Is it too bright? Who cares, I love the SD sound. Donald Fagen’s "The Nightfly" is also a favorite.
My roughly 30 year old original CDs do not sound unnaturally bright either.  I put Pretzel Logic up there with Aja.   
@Kevlev42  Yeah, until the early 1990s and a couple of Kyocera CD players I felt the same way.  I now have 7,000 CDs and record/produce my own CDs frpm orchestra/chamber/choral groups for over 25 years from digital recorders.   I now listen using COS Engineering D1 and D2 DACs.  There is NO comparison to 1980s/1990s CD players.   As wonderful as great analog through great DACs.
@speakermaster - it’s not just about the sound quality. I have Gaucho on a Japanese pressing and it is one of my top sounding records, easily. That doesn’t mean it’s one of the best compared to Aja, Royal Scam, Pretzel Logic....

IMO Aja is one of the greatest albums of all time up there with DSOTM and several Beatles records, Dylan, you name it. That’s why you don’t hear more about Gaucho. It is great (all Steely Dan albums are) but not close to Aja.
I can say that gaucho is a wonderful recording and it is properly balanced but i only have it on vinyl i am not such a big fan of aja it does not sound nearly as good as gaucho on vinyl at all and it do not understand why gaucho is not mentioned more often.
@idigmusic64 - how do you know 2 Against Nature is up next? Are any others being planned or is it wishful thinking?

I thought there were rights issues preventing some reissues as they changed labels I think 3 or more times. There certainly would be no problem selling a good size pressing run.
What an interesting timing of this thread as I have been wondering when the entire Steely Dan catalog will be remastered and reissued on vinyl. I know that "Two Against Nature" is  up  next.

Like many I  just picked up the reissued version of " The Nightfly". Someone mentioned it was mastered from digital source and not the original analog masters...bummer. It is a very nice  pressing and sounds  excellent, for  me this was always little bright but that might be  more of  by-product of the early 1980's influences on recording production.

I do have an original copy of " Aja" and it is not bright as at. I have owned many versions of  Steely Dan & Fagen solo on DVD Audio and SACD, and  vinyl back in the day, and they have never sounded bright IMHO. If you have the  chance to hear the boxed set "Citizen Dan" it is quite  good.

Sometime  back I  did a  review of that on the music thread.
https://forum.audiogon.com/discussions/citizen-dan-boxed-set?highlight=Citizen%2BDan%2Bboxed%2Bset

Post removed 
hilde45, if your system measures flat at the listening position then it has to be you who are bright because Aja and Goucho certainly are not. Maybe you need to tune your hearing aids? Maybe you did to many gummies? Or perhaps the system yo are using to measure your system is defective? Something is amiss and it is not Steely Dan's recordings. The early recordings if anything are a bit dull.
Big fan back when but had been a while to sit critically.  Added TT a few years ago to revisit many of that era vinyl that I'd been toting since the CD took over.  Compared last night after this thread.  So to me, I sort of agree with OP but it's not a brightness thing.  I'd submit that much of the "processed" and over-engineered sound noted here by many, to my ear, falls on the snare drum (and hi-hat).  It seems compressed with the snare having little to no lower timbre.  Sounds like a drum track machine (I know it's not).  Not a natural, acoustic sound IMHO.  I think it was an 80s thing.  For example, 2 Against Nature seems more natural to me, fuller range in all instruments in fact.   

Otherwise the SQ of SD is overall well done.  But yeah, many tracks do seem to be an exercise in producing sonic ear candy!  I guess my blues listening has changed my preferences some.  
I have to say that Steely Dan has always sounded somewhat "digital" and a bit "processed" to me on either CD or Qobuz streaming. (This may be somewhat different on vinyl, of course.) Although the tracks on the CD of "A Decade of Steely Dan" sound very clear and detailed to me, they do not sound as full and natural as do some other well-recorded CDs from the same time period, such as Rickie Lee Jone's first CD. I often used Rickie's CD to evaluate audio gear in the 1980s and 90s, but Steely Dan was never a demo choice for me. YMMV.
This thread piqued my curiosity, as I have always considered Gaucho and Aja to be well recorded old school rock albums!

I'm listening on headphones (Tidal Connect -> Allo Digione Signature -> Simaudio 300D DAC -> SPL Phonitor 2 -> Audeze LCD-3 and Sennheiser HD800S), so I don't know how it translates to speakers.

On Babylon Sisters, both headphone sets sound very well balanced. And usually the HD800S is pretty unforgiving of bright recordings, so your findings are quite surprising to me!

I don't have any answers, but I just wanted to share my experience!
Condos found a new home ;-)
All CDs sound bright to me now when I swap from vinyl. Harsh and less involved.only play CDs in the car now days.i think once you've had a good vinyl player, nothing else compares!
Steely Dan at The Gorge was a beautifully balanced holographic experience. Standing in front of the mixing board. Other places around the venue it could be unbearably bright and harsh, like I will never understand why those people didn't move. Worked out good for me though, they never would have all fit in the tiny little sweet spot.
Some what related but not totally. My first exposure to Steely Dan was at the Jethro Tull concert in 1977. We arrived there to be one of the first inside. They were finishing the final set up and had Steely Dan blasting through the stage speakers. Tull was great but I have more recall of the Steely Dan songs it was fantastic. Instant and for ever fan on the spot. Can tell you that when ever i listen either album cassette or quobuz I would not call it bright. They do have a lot going on in the upper range that can present forward though.
Can’t say on these SD albums as my TT is down right now. If it make you feel any better, years ago during/following a binge on either of the two following artists I thought the same held true - Elton John’s “Honky Chateau” LP and Jethro Tull’s LPs either “Living in the Past*” or “Songs from the Woods*.”*can’t recall which for sure LITP I believe
great percussion depth of image on Hat too Flat
"Well, I mean, they did go to Bard College ...

I'll be here all week. Please tip your servers."

+++++

Is that a line from "Moscow on the Husdon"?

Please don't make me watch it again.

DeKay
planning for quality ( 3 sides ) is not the same as executing it ( pressing ). I didn’t return it as it was a demo disc from a high end shop i adore…..

a shameless plug for them; Gig Harbor Audio

IF a contributor here would like it, gratis shipped to your door in the USA, just PM me. I roll like that. Sometimes i get rolled by the big Karmic wheel….

fun
@tomic601 - you should have returned it. It sounds great and since it is on 2 records, you don’t go too far into the middle on the 3 sides. That shows caring about quality instead of jamming it onto 2 sides. Whoever heard of leaving a side blank (other than on 45 single album 4 record sets pressed on one side only that cost a fortune).
also, so glad you started this thread….good on ya
Eleven Tracks of Whack…..get a better DAC…

My shortlist: Brinkman, Aesthetix, Lampizator Amber x or better, MSB Analog w powerbase

i never recommend or blather on about gear i haven’t owned or lived w inhouse for days…..

My clear vinyl pressing of Sunken Condos is a basket case poster child for absent quality control…

carry on !
@mijostyn Afraid that won't explain it. No peaks there, at least not on REW scans. All looks good in both SPL and Spectrogram graphs. No ringing either on Waterfall graphs. 
Hilde45, not at all. If they are bright on your system then you have a peak in the 3 kHz to 10 kHz region. If there is no sibilance it is in the 5kHz to 10 kHz region. It is probably the room doing this as most speaker manufacturers know not to do this or they lose sales. Some like Wilson intentionally put a dip between 3 and 5kHz to avoid sibilance. This is where a measurement system becomes extremely useful. Dayton's Omnimic system is fabulous in this regard and costs only $300, worth every penny. Add a Minidsp SHD preamp and you have total control of both channels independently. You can tweak them within a dB of each other from 100Hz to 10 kHz, get rid of the brightness and improve your system's imaging capability.   
Only Nightfly sounds a little bright...antiseptic to me.
@Hilde45 got to the Katy Lied master tape fiasco just ahead of me....and back when I read about what happened I was depressed for days, wondering what we had all missed (and the sound of Katy Lied as-issued is great).
IMO, SD faded a little after Katy Lied (not professionally or any of that....just a little bit inspirationally....but, one could argue they had done all there was to do in that particular vein....or maybe "veins" or whatever hastened that somewhat numbed atmosphere that seemed to hover about in their later tunes).
To my huge dismay, Steely Dan's entire recorded output went up in smoke in the disastrous Universal Studios Hollywood warehouse fire in June 2008 (see NYT "The Day the Music Burned").
Along with countless other seminal artists (UNI literally doesn't know the full extent of what was there), we will never hear any unearthed studio gems from any of SD's countless song takes since they literally went up in smoke.
@dinov No, not all were top notch. Read guitarist Denny Dias on the DBX fiasco of the Katy Lied album. 
https://sdarchive.com/dennys3.html
Just listened to Donald Fagan Nightfly on a German 180g vinyl from Amazon. Wow, sound close to a Better-Records Hot Stamper!
This is my second copy and the other one is not great.
I wouldn't say bright. Maybe a little upper midrange forwardness creating some artificial clarity. If you believe that's a characteristic of my system, fine. I have no heartburn with that. :-)
I heard he was kicked off
Sorry for this obviously off topic posts, but I have noticed that glupson has not posted in a month.

Does anyone have any information on what is going on with him. I always enjoy his posts.

In 20 years I never had one post deleted by the mods. In the last week I have had four of my last five posts deleted, so I am wondering if this has anything to do with glupson’s absence?
Well, I mean, they did go to Bard College ...

I'll be here all week. Please tip your servers.
I recall a LOT of EQ on SD's early LP's, which could be described as being bright for certain instruments and vocals.

Sometimes the drums sounded like they were replayed through a clock radio and then miked direct to the board.

Also BIG reverb on some of the bass lines as well as keyboards.

Compression on vocals that could be mistaken for tape over saturating...

This said, they are studio albums (never to be mistook for live or open room recordings) and all of this manipulation ended in an award winning sound for the time.

I've never listened to them on CD, just LP and though 

DeKay
Hey pgaulke60 - ALL SD should is good (mostly great) and should be appreciated.

As far as not being a band, I guess you have never seen them in concert this century. They've had minimal personnel changes in like 20 years and they tour pretty much every year. Listening for the sonics? Are you nuts? How early are you talking? They stopped touring in the early 70s when "they stopped being a band" and restarted around 2000.

They are the best sounding live band anywhere. I've heard critics say they are too perfect. They create the complex soundscapes just fine live in concert. Check out Alive in America (unfortunately only available on CD). Nice disc.

Yes you are biased. Very, just like a friend of mine who doesn't like SD because Sirius has them in heavy rotation on their Yacht Rock channel, just like Boz Scaggs, another favorite of mine. 

Fagen said he only played 40 records growing up - Miles and Trane heavy in the rotation.
No, all top notch recordings. They were known for that. 
I have never cared much for later Steely Dan (SD), and certainly not for Fagen & Nightfly.  Earlier stuff is to my liking, as they were more of a band.  For me, later SD was not a band, it was a conglomerate.  This is classic Type A listening - listening for the sonics, not as much as the music.

Much the same for the highly and widely aclaimed Beach Boys' Pet Sounds.  The Beach Boys were not a band at the time, they were a ton of session musicians creating a soundscape.

This is why I love LIVE music and LIVE Recordings.  By and Large they are bands playing as bands.  Some did lots of overdubs (Zappa anyone), but these is where music is really made, Live and in person.

If you are into music creating complex soundscapes, whether digital or analog, by overlapping instrumental passages, cool.  There is a place for that.  Hell, who could deny Bitches Brew, Tribute To Jack Johnson, or In A Silent Way.  I own multiple copies of those but Miles did have a BAND that he worked with.

Enough of my Bias! 

I do own a SACD copy of Aja just for testing systems, and I don't find it bright, but it ain't like a good blues band either.
@sokogear You make a powerful case to this SD fan for a turntable!

Since I don't have one, the "they" in your comment is unfortunately very hard to get stabilized, as the thread below details. Many masterings, releases, etc. moot the genuine interest of my question. I'm amazed at how many responses this thread continues to get. I wish I could retitle the thread, "Post if you like SD" because that's now the fire-giving ember.
They sound the way Steely Dan wants (ed) them to sound. Excellent. Some bands care more than others about SQ. Some don't. I think they are at the top of the list.

My MFSL Aja jacket is a disaster. Record itself is perfectly clean. Been played more than any record I own. The sound on the song Aja is so unique.

Can't Buy a Thrill on Speakers Corner is incredible (and SD really screwed with the chords/timing on Fire in the Hole) - wish the licensing permitted them to press Pretzel, Countdown, Royal, Katy (even though I have that on MFSL that sounds like crap), and the ones that were never released here on vinyl (Kamakiriad, Everything Must Go, Morph the Cat). Check out Sunken Condos on clear vinyl - sounds amazing. I was lucky to get the Nightfly and Gaucho on Japanese Pressings and they are the best. Wish I had gotten the early ones on them, but live and learn. I was in college and didn't know how hard it would be to get them later on.

Can't say bright or not bright....perfect.
No. I have a MoFi copy of Aja that Ricker mastered - its got his SR/2 on the inner grooves - in any case, one of my fav albums for both sound and the music.  Gaucho is another one of my favs - its a 1/2 speed master by Bob Ludwig. I love both for the sound and music. Playing thru VPI Prime, DECWARE phono pre-amp and DECWARE Torii Jr Amp with DECWARE 8" open baffle speakers. 

No other recordings for me that sound unnaturally bright.

Good questions. Thanks
My roughly 30 year old original CDs do not sound unnaturally bright....  nor do the streaming versions on Tidal Hi-Fi.  On Qobuzz they and many other recordings seem somewhat bright,  etched or hard....  especially when dealing with remasters of remasters..
This is an interesting thread for me as I’m a huge SD fan for years. I actually believe that while there were issues producing Gaucho. It’s probably one of the best mixed and engineered albums of the decade. I know many sound guys that use this album for setting up PA systems for concerts and live events because of its dynamics and frequency range. It’s just so good. 
Kamikiriad could be the best recorded work ever ... 
No not at all. I think that it might or could be be more of a matter of microphone placement.
I personally feel that the cymbals in "green earrings" are a bit forward or closely miced, shall I say?
But over all "Steely Dan's production has been above the average or accepted at the time .I believe that they did care about the sound more than other bands of the time.
To be clear -- the effect I'm hearing is on Aja and Gaucho only. On Aja -- especially piano on Home at Last which is a bit shrill and much more on Gaucho, especially Babylon Sisters and other tracks on Gaucho which are bright. Again, mostly these are great sounding tracks but there is a harshness that is not present on other Dan/Fagen/Becker albums.

Other Steely Dan tunes and albums sound fine. Agreed, these are reference discs and that's why I'm raising the issue. Because if anything should sound good, these do.
 
@gosta  I suspect that Gaucho (and possibly Nightfly) crossed a line (accidentally) as the industry moved to digital. My guess is that this was recognized and corrected. There is a comment from their Scheiner or Fagen down below  on this thread (around the time of Morph's release) where they go back to analog recording. I've noticed that the brightness I'm referring to is NOT there on Kamakiriad, Sunken Condos, or Becker's albums. And again, as decooney and others point out, it could be the mastering or release for one medium or another that's at fault.
Steely Dan sounds excellent on my system, through digital or analog sources.
Not at all bright, rather DRY for sure. Still great music for all era.
Not bright, but with Gaucho I think Steely crossed a line where there recorded sound became to slick and unnatural. I.e. Pretzel Logig is a much more natural voiced down to earth and fun recording to listen to. Really good. Even streamed from Tidal. may need a better system to appreciate and understand in full than Gaucho which sounds good on anything like a kitchen radio.
YT crud, but anywhere else....*whew*
2nd -
Gaucho on SACD is a reference disc. A Decade of Steely Dan MCA Gold CD is a reference disc as well.

Happy Listening!
One of the ’smoothest’ recordings to listen to, ’bright’ in the sense of it’s clarity of instruments with ’up-front’ vocals.

Stops me my tracks to pay attention to. *S*

I’ve always enjoyed the Art of Noise work, but I’m like that. *L*

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JSWhzsGY3hA

...piano @ 7:30....I'm a sucker for A. Dudleys' piano....*S*