Gromit

Playing with a Decca...at last

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Long post - sorry!!

I finally got the chance to borrow a Decca - been wanting to have a play with one of these for donkeys' years so when the opportunity to try one came up I just couldn't turn it down...

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First time I heard one was at a hifi show nigh on 30 years ago into stacked ESL57's via a Pink Triangle turntable. Can't remember the amps though. My life would never be the same after this experience, the sound of that system having stuck in my mind for a long time after.

This one's a Super Gold, of fairly recent vintage by the looks of things, as it has the 4-pin set up (as opposed to the twin signal, single ground 3-pin).

Oh the joy of detachable headshells! In it goes into the PL71, with some trepidation I have to admit as I've heard all sorts of horror stories about these monsters chewing up vinyl and general wrecking folks' lp collections. I needn't have worried - this thing tracks well, at the recommended 1.8g, even putting it on the HFN test record just for a laugh - it was quite happy with the first 3 tracks. Didn't bother with the torture track as the only cartridge I've ever known get through that without serious problems is the good old DL103.

How does it sound? Like friggin' musical TNT. The power and sheer grunt of the bass is quite an awakening - and of course it seems to just explode on drumkit, hitting harder than any cartridge I've owned. Surprisingly (contrary to common belief) the surface noise is so very very quiet - queter than the AN IQ3 I've been using, which is itself a very quiet cartridge. The top end of the Decca is clean, doesn't seem to suffer much if any distortion (no more than any other clean-sounding cartridge). Remarkably smooth in fact. No signs of sibilance which is encouraging.

Where it seems to score is in the reproduction of transient attack, and also tonal colour - listening to Keith Jarrett 'Tribute' the piano displays plenty of body resonance and clear overtones, as well as good fundamentals.

I haven't played any large-scale orchestral music on it yet, but rock & jazz is where it seems happy. REM 'Believe' from the Out of Time album the falling bass guitar at the start is like being kicked in the chest. No let-up in drive or direction - it's hard to sit still.

Downsides?

Certain things really do upset it - sustained bass synth. There's an example of just this on a track from Level 42's first album; a low pitched note which grows louder over a few seconds. There's clearly distortion here as the crescendo grows, signs of mistracking without a doubt, as the overlaid acoustice piano starts to break up. Short, stabbing transients don't cause the Decca any grief, and the aforementioned absence of surface noise is surely a sign that the stylus is sat happy in the groove most of the time.

I don't think it would be a keeper though, unless I've got the ideal tonearm for it, but it's most definitely not the horror I thought it would be. If I did have the right one however, I'd get a Decca in a heartbeat.

Update (24 hours later)...

Progress report as of yesterday evening, around 9pm.

Been playing records for about an hour now and the cartridge seems to have warmed up - there's little or no fuzz to the sound now, in fact the clarity is quite startling. Bass is just so faaaast - listening to 'Once Upon a Time in the West' (Dire Straits - Communique - the last DS album I give shelf room to!) the bass line is just so full of texture and power and you can almost feel the strings' vibrations cutting the air.

Tom toms (kit) have a very defined pitch and natural decay - the Decca doesn't just major on leading edge. Electric guitar has great bite, but naturally so - no upper midrange peak obvious, to give false sense of attack. Rhythmically it has no lag, no reluctance to follow twists and turns in the music.

At the moment there's Chick Corea 'Akoustic Band' playing - track 1, side 2 ('TBC') Patitucci's bass is playing a fast line in unison with CC's left hand with interjections from Weckl's kit. I've never heard that happening before - sure it was there but it wasn't obvious what these 3 guys were doing to make the music dance. Now, it is obvious - something of a 'well of course that's what we're doing' sort of moment. I've owned this lp for 20 years and it's like I'm hearing it for the first time.

The Jubilee or Reference must be incredible, if this is anything to go by.

Only downside now is that the stylus does need a quick flick with a soft brush every 3 or 4 tracks. If it gets fluffed up you know about it!!

I'm glad I like this cartridge - would've been gutted if I hadn't, after all this time. :)

Today's report:

Had a few mins' playing some string music earlier - the Decca seems happy doing this, sounding quite natural enough for me. What has struck me most about this cartridge is its ability to differentiate dynamic nuance - what one would call emphasis or easing within a musical phrase. Sometimes this is so subtle, that its omission is only obvious once it is heard in the correct way. For me, musicality (or the system's ability to convey it) lives or dies on this - the Decca, because it is so dynamically capable (ie it ain't covering anything up!) is allowing the music to really breathe but to my ears it isn't adding anything which isn't really there. It certainly doesn't sound unnatural to these ears.

Its other party trick is how it conveys the power of an instrument - listening to tenor saxophone (always a system killer imho) is an ear-opening experience. The way the air feels like it's being ripped by the density of its tone, the sheer power of it, doesn't feel like it's being held back. This was, for me, always one of the neat tricks of the good old DL103 but the Decca manages it even more. Stand next to a Tenor Sax whilst it's being played (I choose a Tenor because it's nearest to the pitch of a male human voice) you don't just hear it - you really feel it. The Decca's getting a lot of this over - as someone said about it some time ago, it's like having always listened to a band from nextdoor, where (with the Decca) we've just walked into the room where they're playing.

Going back to a 'normal' cartridge isn't going to be easy after this.

To pinch one of KK's analogies - the Decca's like having spent all one's life driving a normal saloon car, then getting behind the wheel of a Caterham 7. Not everyone will like it, but my giddy aunt does it tells you what it feels like to really drive.

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It's not fair! You always manage to get your hands on the tastiest carts! :cs:

Seriously though - fantastic write up matey. That was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sounds like it's definitely one for my "carts to hear before I die" list :cool:

Lefty

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Lefty wrote:

It's not fair! You always manage to get your hands on the tastiest carts! :cs:

Seriously though - fantastic write up matey. That was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Sounds like it's definitely one for my "carts to hear before I die" list :cool:

Lefty

Thanks Lefty - reckon the Decca would work a treat in your WT's arm, with it being damped. :)

Current plans are to have one of my own for Scalford but it depends on how long it takes to get one through, I think they're quite hard to get hold of.

Carl (Fordy) and I swapped carts for a few days - he had my SPU, I had his Dorian - but neither particularly worked out so the SPU will be up for sale again. Providing it sells (which it should) I'll be ordering the Decca.

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I got a Decca on ebay but it was not working properly - the stylus was slightly bent, and it distorted a little on one channel. Since returned.

However, the character of the sound shone through quite well - the Decca has a real presence and tactility, and is fast as Usain Bolt on whizz. However it is also a bit too hard when combined with Lowthers - when I have one before I had valves and Snell speakers, and it was a much better fit.

Interesting carts. I am tempted still to get one of the new ones, Jubilee maybe, as they are meant to be less harsh than the older ones...

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its a lovely sound aint it!

i have mine on a hadcock 242, which on a DD is a lovely combo.

its just magical; 'fast' speakers do it justice.

ill have to see if weve anything on over the scalford w/e - i could try and bring the deck/arm/cart, if it could be mated to someones set up.

Liam

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AmDismal wrote:

However, the character of the sound shone through quite well - the Decca has a real presence and tactility, and is fast as Usain Bolt on whizz. However it is also a bit too hard when combined with Lowthers - when I have one before I had valves and Snell speakers, and it was a much better fit..

Decca & Lowthers - there speaks a brave man!! I'll bet that was a hairy ride. :)

Valves & Snells though - I'll bet that was very nice indeed. I'm using this one now through an NVA Phono1 into an MFA Silver pre/WAD KaT34 into the Royd Merlins and it sounds just lovely.

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soupdragon wrote:

its a lovely sound aint it!

i have mine on a hadcock 242, which on a DD is a lovely combo.

its just magical; 'fast' speakers do it justice.

ill have to see if weve anything on over the scalford w/e - i could try and bring the deck/arm/cart, if it could be mated to someones set up.

Liam

I will have a spare MM phono input and two DD turntables, so you're welcome to hook up to my Meridian 201 pre-amp.I have never heard a Decca, so would be very interested.

S.

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thanks serge - ill see how the runes lie !

im just between derby and ashby de la zouch, so not too far from scalford

liam

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Lovely write up Richard, I've always been intrigued by the Deccas, but have been scared by the stories of them "re-writing" the vinyl. One day, I must hear on of these. Any chance of it coming to Scalford?

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Pete - hopefully I'll have my own Decca in place by Scalford as this borrowed one will have to go back to its owner before then.

Seems a fair few hifi designers have been 'Decca Men' in the past - I know Tom Fletcher is a big fan, as is Glenn Croft and Doug Dunlop. I'm getting an inkling as to why. :)

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I really hope you can bring one to Scalford, I am looking forward to continuing my 'Cart' education.

I heard a SPU for the first time last weekend and now I understand a bit more.

Would love to hear a Decca :)

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Gromit wrote:

Pete - hopefully I'll have my own Decca in place by Scalford as this borrowed one will have to go back to its owner before then.

Seems a fair few hifi designers have been 'Decca Men' in the past - I know Tom Fletcher is a big fan, as is Glenn Croft and Doug Dunlop. I'm getting an inkling as to why. :)

:^ I'll look forward to that. :)

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The deed is done - one Super Gold ordered. Just got to wait for it now...and I hate waiting. :D

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Gromit,

Enjoy. Your posts have stirred me into mounting my Decca again. I had to do a bit of soldering on my vintage 1978 Hadcock (broken cartridge tags) and soldered the L&R ground leads onto one tag. Mounted my Decca Gold (Garrott Brothers) and it's great.

It has real presence and 'liveness' that you get with no other cartridge. The bass is taut. It doesn't quite have the 3D soundstage that my Allaerts MC1B has (but the again hardly any other cartridges match the Allaerts carts for that), but it's good, really good. I'd almost forgotten how good these are!

Best wishes,

Charlie

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hmmm another Decca on a hadcock [circa 1978] - a lovely marriage

Liam

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