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?

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Aja in particular is pretty well acknowledged as a top notch pop recording. We used it for demos all the time when it came out. Lots of shimmering cymbals, possibly celeste and other high frequency things happening in there along with all the rest as I recall but nothing inherently "bright". I know my older ears no longer hear to 20khz like they did back then.

A lot of noise can happen at higher frequencies. If you can hear that high, it can make a lot of things sound "bright" or fatiguing when present. I can’t anymore so fewer things sound bright....certainly not Aja.

Are your components physically isolated from each other? From any other nearby transformers or such? FLiourescent lights? Dimmers? NEarby appliances/HVAC? All these things can induce noise. Or it could be present inhernetly in a component not working well. Is your streamer on a wired home network? Some say noise there can make its way into the sound. I use wireless wifi only. No brightness.

Not saying that is the case here....just tossing out possibilities.

Put a sound meter to work. Maybe that can detect something useful to know.

You had brightness issues with your low ceiling from the outset as I recall. That could also still be somewhat of a factor.

What digital connection is in play? USB? Coax? Optical? I’d try USB over the other two and coax over optical just to see if any differences there perhaps.
No it should not, especially with your system. Maybe you have a microphonic vacuum tube in the preamp or amp. Time for a tap test. 
No, Steely Dan is not bright. I have a Hegel H390 powering Focal Aria 936s that some say are bright and Aja is very easy to listen to on them.
Thanks for the answers so far. Since *everything* else sounds not-bright, I cannot think it has anything to do with physical factors. This narrows it down to the specific versions of the songs I'm playing. I need to compare the CD and the Amazon HD recordings again to see if perhaps it's the Amazon version. I may be misremembering it happening on the CD.

"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."

To my ears, those albums mentioned don't exhibit excessive highs on my LP's. Having heard  those albums on better digital setups, the only thing I experience is the ol LP vs digital "something's off" phenomena. 

I’ve always thought that Steely Dan’s recordings are very good. I didn’t know how good until recently when I bought better equipment. However, there are times when the backup singers sound a bit nasal. I don’t think that is a result of bad recording and producing. It’s how they want it. An example would be in Kid Charlemagne. There is a little call and response between Fagan and the backup singers in the pre-chorus: "Did you feel like Jesus?"

It’s a technique that Fagan uses. On lesser systems it sounds very nasal to me. But it’s the way it was produced to sound.

Loved that band!
Spring 2021: Added photos with mixture of deflectors (boards), diffusors (GIK, bookshelves), absorbers (ATS, GIK), and bass traps (Real Traps), along with some DIY (utilizing OC 703, OC R38 pink fluffy).

Got this from your system page. Did the problem start before or after this change? I fought brightness for years but never with Steely Dan & especially Aja. Is your streaming really HD? Sometimes HD is still lossy IE 320 kbps. Something is amiss and I doubt it is SD recordings. Good luck finding it
BTW, the brick wall throws up big red flags to me. hard surfaces bring about brightness.. But its still peculiar that everything else sounds good. Quite the mystery which usually  means it's a simple fix
I would say no to Steely Dan recordings being bright. Some are great, some horrible (Pretzel Logic, anyone?). But The Nightfly could definitely edge into the "bright" category. It's super polished, but to a fault. Even though it can be impressive, it's thin sounding without much body. Just MHO.


Maybe time to head to a local dealer for a reference do same recordings sound there versus at home?
@tablejockey Thanks. Would like to hear on vinyl again.
@artemus The brightness has always been there. If anything, the system changes have all helped with brightness, overall -- I'm now at the point where only a couple Steely Dan tunes (and some random others) sound bright.

The streaming is "ultra hd" on Amazon. I believe that is beyond CD quality. The brick wall is not affecting other things -- the deflecting boards help with that. (An amazing hack which deserves a detailed write up.)

NO! It’s not about music to listen to, try out, etc. It’s an *example* of music-that-sounds-bright and it’s open to other examples. But thanks for your help in categorizing my posts. Maybe I can check with you first, next time.

Trying it in a store is a good idea.

Here’s a bit from the band and their longtime engineer. Vinyl fans, get ready to crow.

"Three years ago Scheiner, and to a lesser degree Becker, went into fairly great detail about the analogue versus digital debate, while Fagen only let slip that he felt that "digital sound loosens the fillings in your teeth". So three years on, with the dramatically fast developments in digital technology, has anything changed for Scheiner, and how are Fagen’s teeth? Did they survive his work on The Nightfly, which was one of the first best-selling albums recorded to digital, and for years a popular demonstration record in hi-fi stores across the globe? Surely it didn’t sound that bad? And what does he make of digital today?

"I haven’t listened to The Nightfly since I made it," replied Fagen, "but the people in these hi-fi stores must have liked something about it. I think most of the way a record sounds is independent of whether it was recorded digital or analogue. So much has to do with the miking, the material, the studios, and the engineer. Having said that, I do think that digital has improved a lot over the years. It doesn’t have that weird scratchy high end any more, and the bass sounds a little better too. But frankly I don’t hear that much of a difference between the two media. As long as bass and drums are recorded to analogue you’re OK. So we recorded the basic tracks to analogue, and for convenience’s sake we loaded them into Pro Tools for overdubbing. To use analogue for overdubbing is just too much of a pain in the ass."

Many would agree with Fagen on these points, but strikingly, Scheiner’s attitude appears to have hardened in the last three years. "I don’t think digital will ever catch up with analogue," he says uncompromisingly. "Digital is convenient and it is good for doing trench work, but as far as sound is concerned, it’s definitely analogue. I recorded the basic tracks to Quantegy GP9 tape, 15ips, +3dB operating level, Dolby SR. All edits on the backing tracks were done in analogue, and we then digitised everything, transferring stuff to Pro Tools HD at 24/96."

'Some are great, some horrible (Pretzel Logic, anyone?)."

I'm more of a pre Aja fan on LP. Pretzel Logic on LP has to be heard from an original press.
It took me several tries until I found one intact and in good condition.
The album version of "Rikki" with flapamba(marimba) intro is a litmus test for any LP based system.

Better Records sells this hard to find(they're out there, if you have the patience)copy for $500. This of course is for the "white hot stamper"
I think the "regular stampers" are under $300. 

Most copies in the bins are the later yellow label 2-3rd run prints. The black label ABC gatefold delivers the goods.

Taking my copy to shows and noticing it gets everyone's attention confirms I found a good pressing. Hearing the title track at full tilt on an uber setup reminds you what the fuss is all about.
Not bright on my TW ACUSTIC AC3 turntable.Seen them live in NYC while they were both here.
Donald Fagan's Nightfly is almost a really great recording, but just a tick on the hot side for my tastes.
Aja is a masterpiece in every respect. If you are hearing it bright your problem lies elsewhere.   

Scheiner nails it. Natch.
I listened to both tracks you noted;  Gaucho and Aja on [HD] using your same streaming service provider checking for HD and UltraHD versions.  My system is neutral and smooth, and those particular tracks are a tad lean and somewhat bright in comparison to many other tracks with the same service provider. Garbage in Garbage out on some of these digital recordings with some service providers. If you love these tracks, and persist to hear them, I can see as others have suggested this would make a good case for a vinyl rig.   
THe original Aja on vinyl was an awesome recording.   It's possible other versions digital or otherwise don't measure up.    But I will say I have a CD copy of both Aja and gaucho and neither are bright.   WOuld I prefer the original vinyl?   Maybe, maybe not.    Would have to compare and decide.    
I have the gold plated original master recording CD of Aja, and it's not bright at all.
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Nightfly on LP approaches good sound, but clearly digital. Imagine what it would have sounded like uncompressed and analog. On the other hand, it is Fagan’s “sound”
Pretzel Logic does not cut it sonically but the music is so special, most likely i have a bad copy.
I recall a similar question on Audiogon some -- many? -- years back, and remember a beautiful wiseacre answer that went something like this: Well, they are called "Steely Dan," not "Bass-Heavy Dan." Or words to that effect. Did a quick search but couldn't find the original, which was much more well-phrased than what I just added here.

That silliness aside, I listen to something by this band, and by Fagen, often still, on vinyl, and don't find them bright on my (admittedly mid-fi) system.

-- Howard

aja and later sd albums were exceptionally well engineered and mastered (painfully so)

royal scam/katy lied and earlier ones were not

big big gap in sq pre vs post...
@hilde45 CHECK THIS.
Which master version are you really listening to while streaming the Steely Dan "Aja" track? Audiophilestyle wrote an article about this, and "seven" different digital masterings. Try the CD remaster and compare to your streamed version, you might hear a difference. This might explain part of it.

Quote: @Audiophilesyle:

"The digital mastering history of Aja is complex, the differences between the masterings are notable, and debate on the interwebs about which is the best has been particularly heated.

But the basic story is that there have been (at least) seven digital masterings of Aja: 1) a 1984 CD mastered by Steve Hoffman, 2) a 1984 CD mastered by Nichols, 3) a 1984 Japanese CD with uncertain mastering credits, 4) a 1988 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab CD remaster, 5) a 1993 remaster by Glenn Meadows found on the Citizen Steely Dan CD box set, 6) a 1999 CD remaster by Nichols, and 7) a 2010 “flat transfe[r] from Japan[ese] original analogue master tapes” by Hitoshi Takiguchi at Tokyo’s Universal Music Studios, used for both a 2010 SACD and severalsubsequent CDs."

Thanks, all. The tragedy is that with all the information which could be conveyed with the music we stream, there's precious little that you get along with it. CDs and of course vinyl albums gave us all we needed to nerd out about the details of a recording. I don't know which Aja I'm listening to when it's on Amazon.

If one looks at the link I posted earlier, there was not only a preference for analogue for playback but also for recording.

"Scheiner adds that he 'seldom' uses EQ during the mix, and that Morph The Cat was recorded via Clinton's Neve 8078 directly to analogue 24-track. Straightforward recording to analogue without much processing is now Fagen's favoured approach, says he. "It's the sound I like. It's not necessary to have the latest equipment."
Per Donald Fagen:

"But frankly I don’t hear that much of a difference between the two media."
Landslide by Fleetwood Mac in the very last Remastered version sounds nothing like the prior three versions from prior decades; Early version, 2004 version, 2017 remaster, 2018 remastered version. The 2018 remaster at times sounds like a totally different recording, even with streamed content. The last remaster is more vibrant and engaging.  

I played the four different mastered and remastered versions of Landslide for my wife. She was shocked how much different the last remaster sounds, compared to priors. It depends on which track version you are actually listening to with some of these timeless songs regardless of media types.
@decooney  Thanks, and I should probably know better to ask such a vague question. Given the variety of media and masterings out there, my question almost doesn't deserve asking because it merely leads to differences based not on hearing (though that is possible) but on a variety of factors which are either unknown or in conflict.
I played the four different mastered and remastered versions of Landslide for my wife. She was shocked how much different the last remaster sounds, compared to priors. It depends on which track version you are actually listening to with some of these timeless songs regardless of media types.

See the comment on my System Page where Keith didn't even recognize the song until Stevie Nicks came in. He's heard it a million times. It is a favorite of his. This was the original LP. He simply never heard it with so much detail, focus, and holographic imaging. Even though this obviously was there on the recording the whole time.  

So in addition to all the other stuff is how you play it back.
I imagine hearing Landslide, or Aja, or pick your favorite track(s)... on Ken Fritz’s system, would be quite an experience. He definitely has all media covered.
Don’t know specifics of how Aja on Amazon might be mastered but in general I find streaming services often lean towards more recent remastered releases of older recordings and they tend to be mixed much louder and much differently than the originals. That’s true of most remasters in the last 20!years or so. If so with Aja I could easily see why the streamed version might seem brighter or more fatiguing than the original in some cases be it vinyl or earlier CD masterings that are compared. That is one original recording that was so good to start with there is no good reason for a producer to kick around with it extensively except maybe to make it louder overall unlike many older lesser pop/rock recordings which often have a lot to gain with a well done digital remastering even if louder overall  like many old prog rock classics remastered by guys like Steven Wilson.
Streaming my cd res rip of Aja CD mcad-37214 copyrighted 1977, 1984, An early CD release. Not bright. Not far off from what I recall on original vinyl which I think I still have.

Also streamed and compared with Aja off Spotify which is lower res.  Exact release not identified. Also not bright in fact slightly washed out in comparison.  
Op thanks for giving me an idea of music to play tonight!

I don’t find it bright- there is a good variety of instruments - horns, percussion, horns, guitars, pianos/ keyboards and the like.  
I don't know about that but when I was doing research for my system I called a friend of mine who plays with them, Roger. I told him about my quest for a few minutes and proceeded to ask him what he knew about amps to which he replied "I have AirPods".  

Aja left a long deep

33.33333 rpm scar.

So did Dire Straits- Love over Gold so full of pyrotechnics, rain and thunder

Dark Side of the Moon was worse, an amputation maybe... cutting away at my love for Meddle, Animals and more...

All of these and more were Audiophile darlings worn thin in the Eighties...

We had at the peak eight showrooms of gear. Vinyl was king and the lifeblood of the store and our customer’s addiction.

Of course we tried to stock fresh copies but they ended life worn out like a rust belt Ford Pinto. Washed and prayed over with a VPI deemed “ witch doctor “

For it’s renowned ability to raise some of the dead

  • but not all.

So I tired of Peg, Deacon Blues and yes even Telegraph Road. Some thirty five years on they creep back slowly into my playlist, even LP ownership. And they make me smile....

i read somewhere that roger nichols used very bright speakers [never found out which ones] to monitor his steely dan sessions, but that somehow he got the trebles right in the final product. i've never heard anything untoward in the treble department with any of his records, but i've always had mellow speakers. 

The Dan are master record-craftsman. Those albums were well produced. Play Aja LOUD!

Happy Listening!
Not that I remember. 
However, I picked up an original vinyl (and a CD) of Billy Cobham’s Spectrum. Sent them both back - they were ear piercing, and my old Kef Reference speakers are not bright per se. 

So no, Dan is above average intelligence, but not bright 😂
Was able to pick up a copy of Katy Lied from

Just a perfect sound and engineered recording; but I find the Dan to be a group that consistently focused on recording quality.  From the LP 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......" 
TO the absolute contrary, a clean Original vinyl of Steely Dan's Aja would be many peoples reference.

Matt M
I listen to both on either CD or SACD.  Speakers are Marin Logan.  They do not sound bright, they do sound well recorded.  My musician friends favor the SACD versions.