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Decca cartridges

Discussion in 'classic' started by topoxforddoc, Apr 27, 2014.

  1. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Aaargh, I may have hit an issue. I've just read a few comments that it is not possible to use a Decca with the green cast-iron sub platter on the TD-124 due to the magnets being too strong. Can anyone confirm or deny this? I have got an alloy platter but I really don't want to refit it as it sounds so naff compared to the iron one. It is a total PITA to accurately centre too. With many MC carts the iron platter is no issue, e.g. with a DL-103 (or SPU) it equates to about 0.5g pull, so I just factor that in when setting the weight (I set the weight with the top platter off and the scales at the exact height of a record).

    I need to figure this one out in advance if it's a no deal I'll not even fit it and just bounce it out for sale again. I certanly don't want to run the risk of trashing it.

    Edit: Just found a reference in Joachim Bung's TD-124 book that the magnetic attraction for an FFSS is 5g! This is a non-starter without fitting the alloy platter then. Annoyed I didn't do sufficient research before buying, but at least I've not trashed the thing!
  2. JemHayward

    JemHayward pfm Member

    I've returned to using my Decca Gold after probably twenty years of moving coils. I've had, Linn Asak, then Asak with ESCO stylus, then Lyra Lydian, Lydian Beta, Denon DL103, Zu/Denon 103, and finally ESCO Zu/Denon DL103 with sapphire cantilever and paratrace stylus. I still think that the Decca is the best of the lot, even if it does have some issues with tracking on some albums. Arms I've used with the Decca: Audiocraft (Ultracraft) AC300, Hadcock, Linn Ittok, Naim ARO, and now the dramatically mis-matched Transcriptors Vestigial. It sounds superb. I think that the different vertical vs horizontal compliance means that you really have to suck it and see. Arms I've had issues with have been SME3009 (not sure which one, but likely an early one...), Acos Lustre, and it's Rega derivative. I also briefly tried it in a Rega RB300 and it didn't seem to be too happy there either. I've heard one (not mine) in a Decca International, and it sounded very fine. I suspect the Decca arm is under-rated - it was very cheap at one stage, I wish I'd bought one. The Vestigial is so odd, it cannot really be compared with anything else. It works, but one album did, I think, set off a resonance problem.
  3. thebiglebowski

    thebiglebowski pfm Member

    I'm using a Decca Gold with an Audio Note Arm one v2 and it works really well despite the lack of damping and the fact the AN is barely a unipivot.
  4. Patrick Dixon

    Patrick Dixon Imagineer

    You won't trash a Decca by running it at too high a VTF. There is no cantilever and they are pretty robust.
  5. awkwardbydesign

    awkwardbydesign Officially Awesome

    I believe it is only the Decca International Tonearm (unipivot) that has the magnetic bias. I have one and it handles the Supergold well.
  6. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Got it. It was well packaged in an improvised way as it is missing its box and stylus guard, so unpacking it was rather scary. It looks ok. I've mounted it in a headshell as I've got a really neat headshell box that came with my old AT33PTG which will keep it safe. I soldered a couple of cheap headshell leads together for the ground so I could at least check both channels work by gently brushing with a stylus brush. They do, it seems fine, sounds very 'thin' compared to brushing a normal cart though, which is rather odd! As best as I can tell with a loupe the stylus looks fine:


    At some point I will fit the light alloy sub-platter to the TD-124 and have a listen to it (fitting the alloy one is a right PITA as it is a nightmare to centre, putting the iron one back again later is a doddle though as it is a tight fit on the spindle). I have a feeling I'll end up hanging onto the Decca as I may take a change of direction later and having such a good cart to hand is not a bad thing. It allegedly performs in a price class I couldn't otherwise justify. I don't think I've overpaid for it, though I don't think I got a bargain either, so it is not really something to worry about - I don't actually need the cash so it may as well stay there for now. It may even be so good it overcomes the gulf in performance between the iron and alloy platter, so who knows! I will give it a try.
  7. Patrick Dixon

    Patrick Dixon Imagineer

    The stylus guard is really part of the box so many don't have one. It's no use when the cartridge is mounted anyway, but they are pretty tough so not as easy to damage as a 'normal' one.

    I'm glad you are at least going to try it; my TD124 has an alloy platter and sounds OK, but then I have never tried an iron one. Surely you should have some fabulously expensive Schlopper brass one or something? You are already in for a penny IIRC.
  8. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    For a while I had the Swissonor/Schopper black iron one which costs an absolute bloody fortune. I wasn't happy with the build quality, the finish is 'dipped' and the idler track was not remotely smooth resulting in a once per rev 'swoosh' rumble that was very audible through the Tannoys on quiet classical etc and I didn't consider the response that I should just sand it down acceptable so I ended up returning it for a refund. They were very good about it as I'd had it well over a year before I decided I couldn't live with it. Annoying as if it was properly machined after casting like the Thorens item it would have been truly superb, the best of all worlds as, rumble aside, it does sound bloody good and has no magnetic attraction issues. After that I was rather depressed by the downgrade back to the alloy one (so much gravitas, heft and dynamics goes, plus the pitch never sounds 100% to me but that may be me not being able to centre it to fractions of a mm or whatever is required. So before I just gave up on the 124 I hunted down a tidy green iron one and it really is superb IMO, sounds very like the Swissonor, but a lot quieter and the pitch is superb, for the first time in owning the deck I really felt piano was right (I am very critical of pitch, I don't have perfect pitch, but my sense of relative pitch is good, e.g. a tiny amount of record eccentricity pisses me right off!). Anyone using the alloy platter with a MM cart or known usable MC such as a 103 or SPU really should grab a green iron platter, they can be had for under £100 and it is a big upgrade to my ears/priorities.
  9. Shuggie

    Shuggie Trade: Ammonite Audio

    Interesting - I still have my Swissonor platter and the inner running surface is really not as smooth as it should be for the price, with a raised 'spot' in one place that has resisted sanding. Having read your comments I think I'll take it to a specialist machining shop to get it sorted. It will be a useful exercise to re-instate the alloy platter in the meantime!

  10. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    ...ok, got bored, swapped platters, mounted it, played a couple of tracks. Something isn't right. It is just crazy microphonic. Insanely so; it can hear every noise a TD-124 has to make (which are many and varied) just through the armboard, arm and arm rest. Touch the headshell finger-lift or cuing arm and you can hear it at louder than a record volume, just blowing on the body produces a real 'whoosh' out of the speakers. I assume this can not possibly be right?!

    Other than that, and that in use it is picking up a lot of rumble due to this microphony it is working and sounding quite good. I'm currently playing a Schubert string quartet and it does sound good. I'm not convinced it is any better than the 540/II and heavy platter though.

    Anyway, is this microphony normal or do I have a faulty one? I can't think I've done anything wrong, it is wired up correctly and everything else is just how it was working perfectly with the 540/II. I'm going to reverse-out and put everything back how it was whilst I think, e.g. do I send it back as broken for a refund or send it to John Wright for a checkup? It certainly isn't usable as-is in this context, just way, way too noisy. I'm currently sitting on the listening seat with the deck off, arm in its rest and if I gently tap my foot on the floor I get a resonant 'bong' out of the speakers, it sounds just the same as if I'd have left a live mic on the table. I bet it would feedback if I increased the level to higher than my normally quiet level!

    Time to take it out and stick the Ort back...

    PS Aside from that it seemed to track ok, a slight wobble when it lands on the record but it seems clean. I didn't try it on anything warped, with crazy bass or anything, just some Schubert, a bit of Blue Nile Hats and Sonny Rollin's The Bridge.
  11. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I can't recall the exact reasoning but Swissonor implied that due to the type of finish they use that wasn't possible - I suggested if they machined it neatly like the original Thorens item I'd happily keep it but they declined. I really didn't want to send it back as I liked it, but any imperfection in either smoothness or concentricity of the idler track really is a deal-breaker, it just makes it unfit for purpose IMHO. I love the fact there are people making parts for these vintage decks, I just wish they could make them as well as Thorens did in the first place. The original green iron platter is a truly beautiful thing, just so well engineered.

    PS Refitted the 540/II played a couple of records and then switched platters. I stand by everything I said, the iron platter is unquestionably better; everything just gains in stature and solidity, it starts sounding like a seriously good turntable. To be bluntly honest it wasn't until I got the green iron platter that I felt I could live with the 124 over the 301. That is the point all the farting about rebuilding, over-spending etc came right and I really started liking it as a serious music replay tool rather than just a beautiful period-piece. As others have commented elsewhere you don't notice it at the time, but once the alloy platter is swapped-out you become conscious that it had a 'note' and it was always very quietly ringing. This is replaced with silence with the iron one, and it is very noticeable. I will however now definitely keep the alloy platter as I was planning to sell it, but knowing it is essential for the Decca kind of justifies is existence.
  12. thebiglebowski

    thebiglebowski pfm Member

    Mine is also very microphonic i.e tapping the headshell or arm comes through very loudly on the speakers. When it's down on the record though it is very quiet with no rumble. I did have some major issues with hum to start off with and had to position the tonearm cable and interconnects very carefully.
  13. Patrick Dixon

    Patrick Dixon Imagineer

    They are a little microphonic but not to that extent, so something is wrong somewhere. Are the +es and -es reversed at the phono stage or something? You just never know with Quad stuff ...

    John Wright is a really nice guy to deal with and he would certainly check it out for you (probably for not much more than the cost of postage) but I suspect it's fine and there is something else wrong somewhere. He might also have some suggestions if you talk to him on the phone.

    Deccas are quite good at exposing other problems IME ;-)

    On my 124 I have ditched the rubber mat since it seemed to be adding a warp to every record, and I'm using a vinyl mat instead on top of the Thorens tin platter top. I am also using a Nigel Speed controller to feed 'clean' mains. I think both improved things a little but not massively.
  14. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    I wasn't having hum issues, this is very definitely microphonic issues and to a degree I have never witnessed before, it picks up its surroundings as loudly as the record.

    Is this perhaps why people say a damped arm is needed, i.e. is the damping needed to damp mechanical resonance? I naturally assumed it was a compliance thing as that is why one usually uses damping. I'm also aware a Series II headshell is probably about as bad a shell as one could find if one wants to damp/deaden a cartridge body as the contact area is tiny and the shell itself very lightweight. If/when I try it again I'll maybe buy another shell with a better contact area and deader construction.

    The annoying thing is I have a SME M2-10 just sitting in its box, if it was the 9 I could try it, but given the mount to stylus distance of the Decca is so long (I had to move the 3009 back as far as I could) it just wouldn't be doable on the 124. In fact I have a feeling that by moving the 3009 so far back to align the Decca the arm cable may have been hard up against/fouling the lightweight conical plinth which may transmit rumble, footfall etc. My 3009 has the RCA base conversion so it is just like a Series 3 or M2 underneath so the RCA cables come out the side, not straight down (I'm using the M2's VDH 501 arm lead). Even so I don't see how I could get things to be quiet enough for it.

    I can't adequately articulate just how microphonic it is, it is just crazy. It hears everything, e.g. just quietly walking across the room results in a resonant boinging out of the speakers. By comparison the Ortofon, which has a very similar gain, is silent, you can pick up the arm tube and tap it, the headshell, the cart body etc and get nothing out of the speakers at all. It also picks up no rumble, whereas it was very obvious with the Decca, i.e. present within the string quartet as an extra instrument!

    There is nothing obviously wrong with the cart, e.g. gently shaking it or tapping it away from the deck indicates nothing loose, there are no cracks or anything in the body casing. All looks good. I just need to try and figure out how much is it just not liking the SME shell (and maybe arm or something else in my setup) or whether I have a fault condition I need to address by either sending it back and getting a refund or deciding to keep it and sending it back to John Wright for another checkup. Don't know what to do really.
  15. Stunsworth

    Stunsworth pfm Member

    Didn't people use to dampen the cartridge in some way? With an alternative 'can' for the body to fit into? Can't say that I'm right, but it's a thought at the back of my mind. Time to Google.
  16. Patrick Dixon

    Patrick Dixon Imagineer

    The headshell is fine. I ran one in a SME 2 Imp and it didn't do that. I also don't think the cable position is causing it.

    Dampening Deccas is really just for the later ones which have the tin body (and adding Decca pods etc). The 4s are much more substantial than that.

    Could you just buzz the cable out end to end to make sure that + and - does really go to where you think? And if not that, try a different phono stage maybe? I am just thinking that connecting the 2 earths together might be an issue if they were actually the +es rather than the -es, but I can't think of anything better off the top of my head.
  17. Paul R

    Paul R pfm Member

    What preamp setup did you use?

    Because if there were a minor wiring problem of some form and that meant the gain had to be very high to hear the wanted signal, that might in turn explain the prominent handling noise.

    Seems unlikely though.

  18. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    The arm is definitely wired correctly, I've just continuity checked it with my Fluke and everything comes out at the RCA plugs where it should (red to right RCA centre pin, white to left, etc etc). The arm is also correctly earthed to the back of the preamp (again tested). When playing the Decca earlier it was definitely stereo and the channels were correct, e.g. Mr Rollins was standing over to the right.

    The preamp is a late grey Quad 34 that was fully recapped by Rob a few years back. The only deviations from stock are the rumble filter has been reduced a bit but not removed entirely (the stock one sucks the life out of the bass IMO) and the MM stage has been set to 39k/39pf to better suit the Ortofon MMs I have. It really sounds excellent with these carts, far better than anyone would expect from a humble Quad 34.

    I've just stuck the Decca headshell back in, not to play, just to see if the microphonic behaviour in the arm rest has changed at all now the arm is further forward in its slide-base, and it hasn't. It is still insanely microphonic, e.g. picking up footfall at normal listening level etc. I'm not going to rule out the arm position in the base entirely as I suspect the arm cable was fouling the plinth, i.e. it may have transmitted a little more rumble, but it is not a major factor. This is a very microphonic cartridge. I've owned a heck of a lot of cartridges, but nothing that behaves like this.

    I do have alternate phono stages I can double-check with, the easiest to get at would be a fairly recent Croft RIAA. I don't know anything about it other than it is a fairly nice tube MM stage, I'd probably use it if I had any space on the table! I'm just holding onto it just in case I ever go the TVC preamp route. I've also got the JC Verdier pre, but that would be a bit of a pain to shift as it is plumbed into the upstairs system, and I've no idea what the spec of that is either (aside from it sounds very wrong with the Ortofons, so I guess it has too high capacitance as it sounds great with an old Shure).
  19. Dowser

    Dowser Learning to bodge again..

    I would try it with a different pre-amp, if still microphonic send it back as faulty - you are the buyer, you are king on eBay :) Did the ad say it worked perfectly?

  20. Tony L

    Tony L Administrator

    Yes, it has apparently only had 50 hours since a £280 service/retip by John Wright/London Decca. My dilemma is it is an exceptionally rare cartridge, so do I keep it and get it checked out by John Wright again (I assume it can't be anything too bad as the thing has a fresh Paratrace stylus, tracks ok, the tie-wire is there etc), or do I just scrap the idea and send it back, which will cost me postage etc? Given its rarity and value I don't mind having it knocking around.

    One problem I have is hearing a C4E many, many years ago was one of my 'defining audio moments', so I do have an albeit ancient idea of what these things can do with regards dynamics, speed, directness etc. Today was a letdown as I just didn't get that. Even taking the obvious superfluous noise out of the equation what I got probably didn't sound quite as good as my admittedly perfectly respectable 540/II (I do like this unassuming little MM very much once it is correctly loaded, I actually think I prefer it to the later 2M Black which I also own). I had no 'OMG that is amazing' moments with the Decca, though noise aside it sounded nicely balanced, e.g. wasn't overly bright/dull, thin/fat or whatever - it didn't sound badly loaded.

    I'll try it just in the armrest later via the Croft, that will rule the Quad out. I'm not going to swap platters again! I'll then spend tomorrow pondering what I want to do and maybe try giving John Wright a ring to ask advice. I don't need to make a decision whether to return it for a day or two and the more evidence I can get either way will strengthen my argument to either keep or return.

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