Side One: Mint Minus to Mint Minus Minus
Side Two: Mint Minus Minus
- A superb pressing of Katy Lied, with nearly Triple Plus (A++ to A+++) sound from start to finish - just shy of our Shootout Winner - fairly quiet vinyl too
- Take it from The Dan: "The sound created by musicians and singers is reproduced as faithfully as possible, and special care is taken to preserve the band-width and transient response of each performance."
- Our pick for the best Dan album of them all, a Masterpiece of Jazzy Swing Pop that is sure to reward hundreds of plays in the decades to come
- 5 stars: "Each song is given a glossy sheen, one that accentuates not only the stronger pop hooks, but also the precise technical skill of the professional musicians drafted to play the solos."
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These Nearly White Hot Stamper pressings have top quality sound that's often surprisingly close to our White Hots, but they sell at substantial discounts to our Shootout Winners, making them a relative bargain in the world of Hot Stampers ("relative" being relative considering the prices we charge). We feel you get what you pay for here at Better Records, and if ever you don't agree, please feel free to return the record for a full refund, no questions asked.
The covers for these original Katy Lied pressings on ABC always have at least some edge, seam or ringwear. We will of course do our best to find you a cover with the fewest problems, but none of them will be perfect, or even all that close to it. It is by far the hardest Steely Dan album to find good covers for.
This copy has the all-important rock energy we look for, although rocking is not quite what Steely Dan are up to here. Cameron Crowe calls it "...absolutely impeccable swing-pop", a four word description that gets to the heart of the music far better than any combination of adjectives and nouns containing the word "rock."
This vintage ABC pressing has the kind of Tubey Magical Midrange that modern records rarely even BEGIN to reproduce. Folks, that sound is gone and it sure isn't showing signs of coming back. If you love hearing INTO a recording, actually being able to "see" the performers, and feeling as if you are sitting in the studio with the band, this is the record for you. It's what vintage all analog recordings are known for -- this sound.
If you exclusively play modern repressings of vintage recordings, I can say without fear of contradiction that you have never heard this kind of sound on vinyl. Old records have it -- not often, and certainly not always -- but maybe one out of a hundred new records do, and those are some pretty long odds.
What the best sides of Katy Lied have to offer is not hard to hear:
- The biggest, most immediate staging in the largest acoustic space
- The most Tubey Magic, without which you have almost nothing. CDs give you clean and clear. Only the best vintage vinyl pressings offer the kind of Tubey Magic that was on the tapes in 1975
- Tight, note-like, rich, full-bodied bass, with the correct amount of weight down low
- Natural tonality in the midrange -- with all the instruments having the correct timbre
- Transparency and resolution, critical to hearing into the three-dimensional studio space
Michael McDonald is a wonderful accompanist. His soaring harmonies on this album are breathtaking, even more so here than on Aja.
Of special note is Phil Woods' sax solo on Doctor Wu. On most copies it is too thin, with not enough body, too much bite and sourness or hardness, but here it is smooth and natural -- easy on the ears you might say.
What We're Listening For on Katy Lied
- Energy for starters. What could be more important than the life of the music?
- Then: presence and immediacy. The vocals aren't "back there" somewhere, lost in the mix. They're front and center where any recording engineer worth his salt -- Roger Nichols in this case -- would put them.
- The Big Sound comes next -- wall to wall, lots of depth, huge space, three-dimensionality, all that sort of thing.
- Then transient information -- fast, clear, sharp attacks, not the smear and thickness so common to these LPs.
- Tight punchy bass -- which ties in with good transient information, also the issue of frequency extension further down.
- Next: transparency -- the quality that allows you to hear deep into the soundfield, showing you the space and air around all the instruments.
- Extend the top and bottom and voila, you have The Real Thing -- an honest to goodness Hot Stamper.
Recently we did one of our regular shootouts for Katy Lied, using pressings we know from experience to have the potential for Hot Stamper sound (all domestic, all originals, nothing else will do).
We cleaned them as carefully as we always do. Then we unplugged everything in the house we could get away with, carefully warmed up the system, Talisman'd it, found the right VTA for our Triplanar arm (by ear of course) and proceeded to spend the next couple of hours playing copy after copy on side one, after which we repeated the process for side two.
If you have five or ten copies of a record and play them over and over against each other, the process itself teaches you what's right and what's wrong with the sound of the album. Once your ears are completely tuned to what the best pressings do well that the others do not do as well, using a few specific passages of music, it will quickly become obvious how well any given pressing reproduces those passages.
The process could not be more simple. The first step is to go deep into the sound. There you find something special, something you can't find on most copies. Now, with the hard-won knowledge of precisely what to listen for, you are perfectly positioned to critique any and all pressings that come your way.
Mint Minus Minus and maybe a bit better is about as quiet as any vintage pressing will play, and since only the right vintage pressings have any hope of sounding good on this album, that will most often be the playing condition of the copies we sell. (The copies that are even a bit noisier get listed on the site are seriously reduced prices or traded back in to the local record stores we shop at.)
Those of you looking for quiet vinyl will have to settle for the sound of later pressings and Heavy Vinyl reissues, purchased elsewhere of course as we have no interest in selling records that don't have the vintage analog magic of these wonderful recordings.
If you want to make the trade-off between bad sound and quiet surfaces with whatever Heavy Vinyl pressing might be available, well, that's certainly your prerogative, but we can't imagine losing what's good about this music -- the size, the energy, the presence, the clarity, the weight -- just to hear it with less background noise.
For Those Of You Playing Along At Home...
We really went overboard with the track by track commentary for this one. We want you to be able to compare in detail what we are saying to what you are hearing at home, using whatever copy you own.
If you end up with one of our Hot Stampers, listen carefully for the effects we describe in the Track Commentary. This is a very tough record to reproduce -- everything has to be working in tip-top form to even begin to get this complicated music sounding the way it should -- but if you've done your homework and gotten your system really cooking, you are in for the time of your Steely Dan life.
Arguably the most musically aggressive track on the album, “Black Friday” is without question the most sonically aggressive and a quick indicator of what you can expect from the rest of the side. The typical copy is an overly-compressed sonic assault on the ears. The glaring upper midrange and tizzy grit that passes for highs will have you jumping out of your easy chair to turn down the volume. Even my younger employees who grew up playing in loud punk rock bands were cringing at the sound.
However, the good copies take this aggressive energy and turn it into pure excitement. The boys are ready to rock, and they've got the pulsing bass, hammering drums, and screaming guitars to do it.
Without the grit and tizz and radio EQ, which could have been added during mastering or caused by the sound of some bad ABC vinyl, who can say which, the sound is actually quite good on the best of the best copies. It's one of the toughest tests for side one. Sad to say, most copies earn a failing grade right out of the gate on this album.
In that respect it's very similiar to Royal Scam. Kid Charlemagne is no walk in the park. We noted:This song will always be a little bright and upper midrangy. That's the way it's mixed. It will never sound as good as the songs that follow on side one. It will sound really irritating, hard and aggressive on the average domestic pressing.
This is my favorite track on the whole album. I love this song! On the best copies, the sound is very punchy, but the most important qualities I listen for are richness and sweetness, especially on the backing vocals. Michael McDonald, et al should sound like they were recorded with ribbon mics and an Ampex 300 Tube tape recorder, like the one Contemporary Records used. The vocals are that good!
Another quality the chorus should have is clarity. By that I mean there should be separation between each of the vocalists that make up the group. When this record is mastered from sub-generation tapes (or sub sub-generation tapes, which is more often the case) the voices take on a smeary quality and there is a noticable increase in the harmonic distortion.
I first discovered this sound when listening to a Hot Stamper copy of Countdown To Ecstasy while doing a shootout with a Japanese pressing, which until that time I thought was the better sounding version. On the chorus of one of the tracks the domestic copy was clear, clean and undistorted. The Japanese pressing had noticable harmonic distortion, which I'm inferring came from their use of a sub-generation tape. In every other way the Japanese pressing sounded fine. When the mix got complicated, the flaws showed up. So when Bad Sneakers gets loud and complex, the shortcomings of some pressings will become obvious. This is what shootouts are all about. Everything is relative. It oftentimes takes a better record to show you what's wrong with the record you're playing.
Check out the electric sitar at the opening. If it sounds thin and brittle, run for cover! If you can hear the texture and musicality of the instrument, you’re off to a good start.
Some other key things to pay attention to: Jeff Porcaro’s rimshots in the verses should really knock. (We love this guy!)
Also, Fagen’s vocals are present and transparent on the better copies; they come across veiled and compressed on the standard issue. You can really hear this effect clearly when his doubled vocal comes in on the line “Honey, when they gonna send me home?” It should really jump.
On this one if the piano don’t sound right, ya got nothin'. It's big and bold in the mix and should really sound solid and weighty. Thin or washed out and you are in trouble.
Daddy Don't Live in That New York City No More
Doctor Wu is actually the most difficult track to get right. Phil Wood's saxophone can sound hard on some copies, especially if they have any brightness or harshness. The vocals however tend to be on the smooth side. The trick is getting the vocals and the saxophone to both sound properly balanced relative to each other. Neither should be advantaged during mastering at the expense of the other, but that's precisely what happens to most pressings.
It presents a fairly tough test for even the best copies. The compression inherent in the sound of most LPs can make the vocals overly smooth and just plain lifeless. It doesn’t have to be this way!
The killer copies afforded us an insight into the sax solo for this song that made the listening panel really sit up and take notice. Phil Woods’ solo most of the time sounds like exactly what it is: an overdub laid onto a finished song. It usually sounds (and feels) disconnected from the band playing behind it.
While doing this shootout, the super hot side ones made us forget he was playing his bit after the fact. It suddenly started to sound like a real live band rockin' together. The effect was uncanny. Phil was in the room with these guys, even though we knew he couldn't have been!
Proof positive that when it all comes together in the mastering, the sound isn't the only thing that gets better -- the music does too. Non-audiophiles have no experience of this phenomenon, but anybody lucky enough to own a Hot Copy of Katy Lied knows what I'm talking about. Oh yeah.
One last note: listen to how tasty Porcaro’s fills are in the fade. Yummy. Of any musician to ever play on any Steely Dan album, Porcaro on Katy Lied is The Man. Play the whole album through a few times listening to nothing but the drumming and see if you don't agree. (Hal Blaine plays on the track Any World... so ignore that one.)
Everyone's Gone to the Movies
Your Gold Teeth II
Like Rose Darling on side one, if the piano doesn't sound right you are in serious trouble on side two. It's big and bold in the mix and should really sound solid and weighty. Thin or washed out and the mix just won't work the way Becker and Fagen intended.
The thing to listen for here is the huge amount of ambience -- the distance the echo goes back behind the speakers must be 20 or 30 feet on a good system. Maximum echo equals maximum resolution in the midrange. (Resolution is not the be-all and end-all of good mastering, but it helps.)
Some of the biggest sound on the record! That huge snare drum is an immediate sign of things to come. We found that poorer pressings made this snare sound like it was coated in digital reverb, which hadn't even been invented yet! The good copies revealed that it was instead meaty-thick and powerful, surrounded by room ambience – the way it was intended to sound.
The group vocals were also ruined on the baddies. They became smeary and muddled. The hot copies allowed the background singers to separate themselves, giving the impression that Fagen is being backed by real singers and not an indeterminate processed mass.
Any World (That I'm Welcome To)
Dynamics, Dynamics, DYNAMICS!
Let’s play a game. Where does the dynamic contrast of this track really kick in, making it about 1-2 db louder? (That's a significant change by the way.) Well, if you find it, you’ll be floored to hear that our hot copies made this dynamic kick up even more -- maybe even as much as 4 db. Wow! What an impact it has this music!
Also, listen for the delicate acoustic guitar in the left channel. The overly compressed versions practically makes it disappear. It's clearly part of the mix on any good LP. Just for fun see how clear it is on your copy.
Let's face it: This is the toughest track to get to sound good on side two. The chorus can be a little strained toward the end of this song. I think there's a certain amount of upper midrangy-ness in the mix that no amount of TLC in the mastering can really get out.
But the best copies make you forget such minor shortcomings; the bad copies throw them in your face like a bucket of cold water.
Throw Back the Little Ones
Building from the jazz fusion foundation of Pretzel Logic, Steely Dan created an alluringly sophisticated album of jazzy pop with Katy Lied. With this record, Walter Becker and Donald Fagen began relying solely on studio musicians, which is evident from the immaculate sound of the album.
Original Album Liner Notes
This is a high fidelity recording. Steely Dan uses a specially constructed 24-channel tape recorder, a "State-of-the-Art" 36-input computerized mixdown console, and some very expensive German microphones. Individual microphone equalization is frowned upon. The sound created by musicians and singers is reproduced as faithfully as possible, and special care is taken to preserve the band-width and transient response of each performance. Transfer from master tapes to master lacquers is done on a Neumann VMS 70 computerized lathe equipped with a variable pitch, variable depth helium cooled cutting head. The computerized logic circuits of the VMS 70 widen and narrow the grooves on the disc in accordance with its own bizarre electronic mentation for reasons known only to its designers; this accounts for the lovely light and dark patterns that can be seen on the surface of the pressing. Vinylite compound is used. For best results observe the R.I.A.A. curve.
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