The design of the Full Frequency Stereo Sound (ffss) cartridge uses two pairs of magnets and three coils. One magnet for the pole pieces of the two 'vertical' coils, and there are magnets placed left and right of the single lateral coil for generating the lateral movement of the armature.
For the lateral movement the pole pieces of the horizontal magnets were placed left and right of the tiny piece of iron to which end the diamond tip was connected.
The iron was placed inside the lateral coil. So the system becomes a motor. This coil was placed right above the magnet poles.
The practical upshot of this is that the stylus pokes out of the bottom of the cartridge by less than 2mm which means your records better be pretty flat! The advantage is that because the motor system is literally just above the stylus, no losses are suffered because of a long cantilever or a soft rubber pivot point. This makes for the startling dynamics and a very immediate, upfront presentation that Deccas are renowned for.
The modern interpretation still employs the famous 'Tin Can' construction on the bottom 3 models in the current range. The top 2 models have CNC machined alloy bodies but are significantly more expensive. My cart is the middle of the range £699 London Super Gold, the top model with the tin can body. It has been refined somewhat along the way from the 1950's , this particular version is filled with beeswax to damp the tin body and sports an extended line contact stylus tracking at a lightweight (by Decca standards) 1.8 grams. It still has the original 3 metal contact mount on the back for mating up with Decca International tonearms, so users of conventional 1/2" mounting headshells can use either a red plastic adaptor bracket or stump up another £100 for a 'Deccapod', an aluminium clamp system for mounting to regular headshells. There is some controversy about how much better the Deccapod is than the plastic bracket though, mainly because of the amount of energy Deccas put into a tonearm. With effectively no damping and very low compliance, a medium to heavy weight arm with very tight bearing tolerances and preferably with some fluid damping is required. Damped unipivots are the weapon of choice but quality gimbal arms can play too. Those with knife edge bearings probably should look elsewhere! It is felt that the plastic bracket adds an extra degree of damping which can be beneficial to the sound. Most likely your mileage will vary depending on what arm you are using, so experimentation is called for in this area.
OK, so enough talk. I found a nice low mileage example at Emporium Audio, less than a year old and not many LP sides under it's stylus for £450. Cash swapped sweaty palms and a few days later it arrived. After a less fiddly than expected installation, I settled down for a listen.
My immediate impression was that it didn't sound much different from my AT-32E!
I let it play for a while as I had read they sometimes needed some running in after being stored for a while. Sure enough, by the end of the first album side things were starting to happen. After the third side the little tin can was on full song
So does it live up to the hype? In spades. It has a wide though not too deep soundstage and great resolution of detail. Dynamics are it's forte though, on Rock music drums and guitar power chords almost assault you with visceral impact. Voices are stunningly real and vocals that are a bit back in the mix are much easier to follow than on any other cartridge I have ever heard. The cartridge manages a chameleon act as well though, spinning some Melody Gardot and Tom Waites showed that it can reign in it's violent tendencies and deliver the laid back grooves with delicacy and aplomb. It does like a good recording though, any inadequacy in the source material is mercilessly exposed and this can make some albums somewhat less enjoyable. I have some 80's albums with a bright, thin production that really is too much when 'Deccafied'. But feed it balanced, well produced recordings and it will bring a smile to your face that few other transducers will manage.
It's not going to be for everyone. And even if it is for you, it probably wont be your only cartridge because of the painful way it will treat some of your LP's. It needs careful setting up, it's expensive and fragile. But like most primadonnas, when it's on song it will make you weak with joy.
Everyone should have one at least once