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  1. #1
    Inveterate Box-Swapper smegger68's Avatar
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    Decca London Super Gold Cartridge

    I recently fulfilled a long standing desire to own one of these iconic cartridges and have decided to tell you all about it

    Much has been written about the bizarre design of the 'Positive Scanning' system, a unique varient of the moving iron principle:

    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

    Last edited by smegger68; 15-07-2012 at 12:58 AM.
    "Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death." - Hunter S. Thompson

  2. #2
    Wammer topoxforddoc's Avatar
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    Welcome to the Decca madhouse! I got sucked in back in the late 70s and have never managed to escape.

  3. #3
    Super Wammer stewartwen's Avatar
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    Just like Charlie I got sucked in by my Mums system when I was about 4 or so. Once you have used a London or Decca cart there is no going back. Welcome to the most exclusive club in the world! I have used Decca and London carts for years now and other carts, with a few notable exceptions sound.............grey in comparison. Enjoy the music.
    S
    I am just a soul boy at heart.

  4. #4
    Wammer
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    I have heard Charlie's. An impressive little package - the Decca that is.

  5. #5
    Super Wammer Cable Monkey's Avatar
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    How many use a Decca exclusively? Would you acknowledge the fact that 2 arms or turntables are a must?
    Let me get this straight. You take a perfectly good CD and put it in a DVD player??!!

  6. #6
    Wammer topoxforddoc's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cable Monkey View Post
    How many use a Decca exclusively? Would you acknowledge the fact that 2 arms or turntables are a must?
    I have got two arms on my Platine Verdier. One has my late 70s vintage Hadcock plus my 60s Decca C4E. The other set up is my Schroeder Model 2 & Allaerts MC1B. I never play my Allaerts now. f1eng and KevinF have heard the difference as I swap from one cart to the other on the same track. I’m thinking of putting my Garrott Bros Decca Gold onto my Schroeder now. So no, you don’t need to have two TTs or two arms. One is plenty.

    Charlie

  7. #7
    Super Wammer TheMooN's Avatar
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    If not too repugnant to one's higher audiophile sensibilities a tonearm sporting an interchangeable head-shell collet would answer .

  8. #8
    In the trade Wammer pure sound's Avatar
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    I was once given a box of various Deccas to test to see which needed repairing. Maybe 15 or so. Maroons Blues but mostly Golds. Of those perhaps 2 or 3 functioned as they should without hum & tracking well. The best was a Gold with vdH tip. I liked what the good ones did well. Very fast, very dynamic, perhaps slightly lean in the bass. They reminded me alot of what Lowther drivers do well but also of what Lowther drivers can do poorly. All in all, an edge of the seat rather than relaxing experience. I thought they were less good on complex classical music a view re-inforced by subsequent experiences in hearing them play such material. Personally, I couldn't be entirely confident in using one daily on some of my more precious records. However, there is much promise there. I'd be interested to hear some of the newly made products to see whether any of the weaknesses had been addressed. Just my opinion. YMMV.

    Would also like to have a proper listen to an Ikeda 9EM which, unless I'm mistaken, was an MC with some similar design principles.

  9. #9
    Wammer topoxforddoc's Avatar
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    Guy,
    You're right about the quality control in the old Deccas, You could get a great one or a complete duffer. I remember that from selling them in the late 70s/early 80s. The current London cartridges made by John Wright are a whole different proposition - very consistent and excellent quality.

    Charlie

  10. #10
    Wammer
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cable Monkey View Post
    How many use a Decca exclusively? Would you acknowledge the fact that 2 arms or turntables are a must?
    Hey Henry

    As you know I sold off the Aqvox because I moved from MC to a decca (a mkIV c4e).

    I use the decca exclusively for stereo (on a 301) and an emt ofd25 for mono LP's (on a 930st). If push came to shove, I could probably live contentedly with only my 301/decca setup for both stereo and mono LPs because it's also pretty fab for mono playback (given its quite low vertical compliance). My partner would probably be happy with one less TT, but thankfully i don't have to make that choice!

    Whilst a few people knock the deccas for a bright top-end (i know i have in the past), the more i live with it the more i feel it's just giving an accurate account of both what's on the LP and the LP's condition (i.e it can be unforgiving of damaged LP's). Some people may not like that, but when you have an LP that's recorded well and in good nick, i think its a damned hard act to beat. E.g i was listening this morning to grumiaux/pellicia playing mozart's sinfonia concertante on philips plum mono (see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=M3yIwsvI_oE ). absolutely gorgeous - brilliant dynamics combined with great tone. even my 17mth old girl was mesmerised (ok - for about a minute anyways)!

    if you get the chance, definitely give it a go - even if only to know what all the fuss is about.

    cheers
    adrian
    Get this monkey off my back!

  11. #11
    Super Wammer Cable Monkey's Avatar
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    Adrian,
    nice to speak to you again. Funny but it seems my purchase of the Aqvox had us sailing in polar opposite directions. You towards the London solution, me away from it! I own a London Jubilee and it is the best of my three main cartridges by a country mile on some of my vinyl. To get it up to full speed I would need to make a lot of adjustments and changes. Instead I experimented with reasonable quality MC and along with your old Aqvox got what was for me a better balance of performance vs playable vinyl. I am fully signed up to the London Decca principle but too many of my old poorly looked after records need a more forgiving playback system and a conventional cantilever and suspension gives me that. I will pursue the Jubilee again, probably on a 301 or TD124 with an arm more suitable than my PU7. But I will also return to the principle of two piles of music, one I can play with the Jubilee, and the other* for my more forgiving MC's.

    *Not flat, lightly scratched, a little worn and some heavily modulated stuff.
    Let me get this straight. You take a perfectly good CD and put it in a DVD player??!!

  12. #12
    Super Wammer Huntergatherer's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by stewartwen View Post
    Just like Charlie I got sucked in by my Mums system when I was about 4 or so. Once you have used a London or Decca cart there is no going back. Welcome to the most exclusive club in the world! I have used Decca and London carts for years now and other carts, with a few notable exceptions sound.............grey in comparison. Enjoy the music.
    S
    I think I have taken charge of Stewarts Mum's , and subsequently part of the Club.
    Regarding edge of the seat , I'd rather say its FRONT ROW.

  13. #13
    Super Wammer awkwardbydesign's Avatar
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    Had mine retipped by John Wright recently. Must get off my arse and put it back on.

  14. #14
    Wammer mrwippy's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by awkwardbydesign View Post
    Had mine retipped by John Wright recently. Must get off my arse and put it back on.
    Mines still sitting in a padded envelope to be posted for a rebuild, but I'm not too sure I'll ever get round to it. Fortunately if I do, I have three arms fitted to my turntable so I won't be reliant on it for full-time playback duty, for as a few have said, I also never found it was comfortable with less than the best quality vinyl and some of my LP's have had over 40 years use (abuse)

    Paul
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    Still around, but mostly elsewhere

  15. #15
    Registered WullieD20's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cable Monkey View Post
    I will pursue the Jubilee again, probably on a 301 or TD124 with an arm more suitable than my PU7.
    I hope I haven't missed something further up the thread, but what is considered to be a 'more suitable' arm for a Decca?? I remember trying a Super Gold in my Zeta many years ago and the sound was sublime, but I couldn't make it track without skipping through a whole side for love nor money!!
    Tried a Jubilee again more recently and couldn't stop the system humming.... I'd love to try a Decca again and experience the joys without the pain....

    G.

  16. #16
    Super Wammer Cable Monkey's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WullieD20 View Post
    I hope I haven't missed something further up the thread, but what is considered to be a 'more suitable' arm for a Decca?? I remember trying a Super Gold in my Zeta many years ago and the sound was sublime, but I couldn't make it track without skipping through a whole side for love nor money!!
    Tried a Jubilee again more recently and couldn't stop the system humming.... I'd love to try a Decca again and experience the joys without the pain.... G.
    Hadcocks are popular, unipivots with oil damping, the OP is using an LAD which is a well made Jelco I think. What you are looking for is an arm with lateral damping. So a one piece arm that is all about rigidity is not good. My PU7 was very temperamental though in its defense my Jubilee needs to be checked and it may be that a rebuild will make it work better.
    Let me get this straight. You take a perfectly good CD and put it in a DVD player??!!

  17. #17
    Super Wammer awkwardbydesign's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by WullieD20 View Post
    I hope I haven't missed something further up the thread, but what is considered to be a 'more suitable' arm for a Decca?? I remember trying a Super Gold in my Zeta many years ago and the sound was sublime, but I couldn't make it track without skipping through a whole side for love nor money!!
    Tried a Jubilee again more recently and couldn't stop the system humming.... I'd love to try a Decca again and experience the joys without the pain....

    G.
    I have the Decca International arm. No excess rigidity there! Although I have just bought a metal SAU2 headshell for it and use a GB clamp to hold the cart's tin box.

  18. #18
    Inveterate Box-Swapper smegger68's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by awkwardbydesign View Post
    I have the Decca International arm. No excess rigidity there! Although I have just bought a metal SAU2 headshell for it and use a GB clamp to hold the cart's tin box.
    Probably preaching to the choir, but be careful not to overtighten that GB clamp... they have a reputation for breaking the carts if you do!
    "Faster, Faster, until the thrill of speed overcomes the fear of death." - Hunter S. Thompson

  19. #19
    Super Wammer awkwardbydesign's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by smegger68 View Post
    Probably preaching to the choir, but be careful not to overtighten that GB clamp... they have a reputation for breaking the carts if you do!
    Good advice, luckily I already knew. Just been out to the lathe and turned down my mounting collar so the bias magnets will go lower, so maybe I will have it running again soon.

  20. #20
    Super Wammer awkwardbydesign's Avatar
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    Done it! It's running, got rid of the hum, now I have to sort the lift, the magnetic end-of-side auto-lift (I tend to fall asleep!), the phono amp gain and loading, etc. And try not to break it!

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