1) The Labels
When we talk about DECCAs, we are not referring to just anything with the word DECCA written on it. By Decca, we are referring to the first 4 UK labels which look like this:
ED 1: The grooved ORIGINAL RECORDING BY label. & the ED 2, Made in England Grooved Label. These two labels are the best sounding.
ED3: The Made in England, non-grooved Label & ED4, The narrow band label.
ED3s are still very high quality, while ED4 is falls behind.
If 100% is the best, then ED1 and ED2s would be 100%. ED3s would be 85%, and ED4s would be 70%
Reissues ? 30%.
2) Should I buy ED 1 or ED 4 ?
Buy which ever one you can afford the most.
For recordings which are released under all 4 labels, the quality of ED1 and ED2 are always better. ED1 may not be better than ED2, but ED1 will always fetch the most money. ED3 is pressed on slightly thinner vinyl, and the quality is slightly inferior to ED2. ED4 is on very thin Vinyl and quality is again inferior to ED3 but by a bigger margin.
However, keep in mind that not everything is released under ED 1 and ED 2. Some of DECCAs are only available on ED3, and some only on ED4. The Solti – Right of Spring is a prime example of a phenomenal recording which was only released in ED4. At least I have never seen a ED3 on it.
This LP is a MUST BUY, please do yourself a favour and buy a copy because this is still selling for cheap.
3) The Blue Backs / Pan Cakes
Some of the earliest ED1 are blue backs, which denotes the blue ring on the back on the record cover. These will ALWAYS fetch more money, but are not necessarily better sounding.
Some early ED1s also come in what you call the “Pancake” version, with the groove positioned near the outer rim. These are very early pressings, and are produced in a different DECCA factory. Sonically, regular ED1s vs Pancake ED1s are somewhat different, but Pancakes often fetches more money, they are not necessarily better sounding though.
4) Do they really sound Good ?
The DECCAs are about dynamic contrast, and dynamic swings. They will squeeze the last drop of energy from your system. Many systems are incapable of playing these LPs because they are simply shitty. These LP demand a big soundstage, and high quality analog equipment to properly present them. Make no mistake about it, the DECCAs render dynamics which only some Mercury’s can come close. They are SIGNIFICANTLY better than the best of ALL high resolution digital recordings. The famed “Tutti” high res recording is Mickey Mouse compared to the Kenneth Alwyn Decca SXL 2001 1812. The difference is so huge you cannot even compare the two.
To this day, I have not heard anything more dynamic under the sun vs the DECCAs (save the Open Reel Tape Decks). Some very high end digital players may be able to give a run at it but they still lose out by a big margin in my book. This is why, in my opinion, analog is a far superior format. Want to challenge this ? Simply find me a digital recording which can beat a wide band DECCA.
If you cannot hear a difference, IMHO it reflects more about the listener than on the quality of the DECCAs.
5) What about the Reissues ?
I own about 30 reissues, and all 30 of them sound significantly inferior to the originals. That is not to say they are bad sounding, they just do not posses the very qualities which makes DECCA special.
* The reissue does not have the “texture” which the original does
* The reissue does not have the dynamic swings
* The reissue is tonally different than the original, it has a noticeable dryness which makes the sound sterile and hard sounding
If you do not want to buy the ED1~ED3s, please buy an ED4, because the E4s are better. And if you do not want to buy an ED4, then please do yourself a favour and buy a LONDON ED1.
6) What about Londons ?
The Wide Band Londons do sound VERY GOOD., but are different sounding than DECCAs. Wide Band Londons are fetching very little money on EBAY right now, and for those who do not want to get into the buying frenzy, please do yourself a favour and buy every LONDON BLUE BACK you can find under the sun. London Blue Backs are selling from $ 1 dollar to $ 70 dollars (max) on 90% of the London LPs that’s out there.
And if you think London Blue Backs are still to much, then please do yourself a favour and start buying ACE of Diamonds ED1s, rather than reissues. Some Ace of Diamond ED1s are fetching as little as $ 2-3 bucks each. Only a schmuck will buy a reissue when you can buy all the London Blueback and Ace of Diamonds to your heart’s content on EBAY.
If my prediction is correct, in 10 years time, the London Bluebacks will be selling for 5-10x their worth on EBAY, because when 50 million chinese start bidding on them there is only 1 direction they can go, and that is UP.
But make no mistake about it. The London Blue Backs rarely have the two qualities which makes the DECCA famous.
Those two qualities are:
1) Dynamic Swing and Contrast
2) The right tonality which is not dry and sterile.
7) Finally – the CRAP
You pay for what you get, and some DECCAs are expensive for a reason. There are some pretty shitty sounding DECCAs, and by shitty I don;t mean bad. They are not terrible but are not special either. So you really have to know what you are buying.
This one for instance, is a pretty shitting sounding DECCA which is worth about $ 15 bucks on a good day. So be warned, not all of them are superb sounding. But the ones which are superb, are TO DIE FOR.