I own both and doubt I can hear any difference!
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I've been following many discussions on this forum and have learned much about analog playback. My level of ignorance made me hesitate to join the forum, because I really didn't know how to contribute anything useful.
The reason I decided to change my mind is this question, which hits on a topic on which I do have some knowledge and experience that is perhaps worth sharing. So, ahum, here goes my first post on audiogon! Hopefully I can return something useful to the members of this forum.
Over the years there has been much overheated debate amongst collectors about this decca / london issue, which is financially spiked. Dealers ask a premium for early SXL's, while the equivalent London bluebacks cost only a fraction. So it has long been denied that these pressings are identical. But they are. They were both pressed in the same Decca pressing facility in the UK, using the same vinyl and the same masterings, lacquers and stampers. The only difference is the label (decca had to change the name for legal reasons only because there already existed a Decca label in the US) and the cover art (these were manufactured in the US, probably to cut on transport cost). Both these pressings even have the 2 letter UK text code (RT, ET, ZT, OT, MT, KT, etc.) that was required for the internal UK market until around 1970. So if Decca ever had any intention to differentiate between these pressings and be able to tell them apart, it would have been easy to just omit this tax code on the London labeled export pressings, since this code would have no significance in the US market.
But the conclusive evidence was delivered a couple of years ago when a test pressing slip surfaced that proves that both pressings are identical. It even shows in that particular case that the London CS release actually preceeded the Decca SXL release. The slip states that the London is scheduled for export release on November 9th 1962, while the release date for the Decca says: 'home market to be advised'. The record in question is the famous Borodin Quartet recording of Shostakovich & Borodin Quartets. The Decca ED1 pressing (SXL 6036) will probably cost at least $250, while the equivalent London (CS 6338) can be found for around $25.
Has this evidence changed anything in the marketplace? Not really. The early SXL's have appreciated in value, while the price of the London's has more or less stayed where it was. So the smart collector goes for the London bluebacks, no question about it.
I've compared many SXL's and CS's of the same recordings with the same lacquers and stampers and I can vouche that they sound identical. Any audible differences that do occur can be contributed to differences in condition and playing history, not to some concious decision on Decca's part to make inferior pressings for the US (as some SXL 'experts' want us to believe).
But the SXL's have more snob appeal, that's for sure ;-)
@amg56: thanks, my pleasure!
BTW: a scan of this test pressing slip of the Borodin can be found on Michael Fremer's (analogcorner) and Arthur Salvatore's (high-endaudio) websites. This last guy is on some sort of crusade against what he calls 'first pressing fundamentalists' and offers a conspiracy theory of greed that would be behind the propagation of the SXL superiority. Big words for something as unimportant as vinyl records (for 'normal' people, not for us of course!), but it's still an enjoyable read.
Some general info for better understanding
Decca SXL made the very best recordings (from the Team, Hardware and from general understanding...Mercury is a different chapter) from the music repertoire we can listen today.
Decca was extremely careful not to get bad customer feedback (distortion, overdrive, don’t forget, those were different times from cartridge design- round diamond tip - ...) and SXL was a sale on commission!! Unsold records came back to Decca and were melted.
That is the reason why they are so expensive today. Simply limited Quantity.
Sound is - or was - first rate. I think, a Benchmark which was never surpassed for their Titles.
Those Stereo SXL were very expensive in the early 50’s and it was pure luxury to get those after the war, the Economy was still down.
In USA there was a similar economic situation but fixed pricing was cancelled around 1960.
London CS was created from Decca because Decca couldn’t use their own name in USA.
(There was a small private label which was named Decca). To avoid any problems, Decca decided right from the Start to create for USA a new Name, London.
Now for the "Sound"
For both Labels they used the same Mastertape.
But the main difference was - or is - the Peak of the cutting process. Decca thought, the US listener expects a different kind of sound, the result was a ~ +2dB Peak in the cutting.
This means, a distortion in the headroom was accepted.
But this is rare, those Decca Cutters were real artists, unsurpassed. But they can sound a bit different based on that (depends on your ears and quality of playback chain).
Next difference, Decca thought that USA wants something "Physical", means, thicker LP’s.
For Londons they used 20gr to 40gr. more vinyl. This varied a lot 1958/1959 and became Standard from 1962 (∼ 205gr). When you compare such records (SXL / London) you should use a Arm with VTA adjustment. This is mandatory.
It is a very interesting chapter for a curious audiophile, because we have different diamond cuts in our carts and that will make a huge difference when we talk or rate such records.
Also, not every SKL was available as a London CS and reverse. And of course, completely different Prints onto the Box.
Decca was also very open for information transfer, they had a good Management and later a Partnership with RCA (Living Stereo) to do their European recordings. RCA was happy because those sessions were way cheaper than in USA (affiliated unions).
A class on its own again...but this is also a different chapter.
"London CS was created from Decca because Decca couldn’t use their own name in USA.
(There was a small private label which was named Decca). To avoid any problems, Decca decided right from the Start to create for USA a new Name, London."
From Wikipedia, fountain of all knowledge:
Decca Records is a British record label established in 1929 by Edward Lewis. Its U.S. label was established in late 1934 by Lewis, along with American Decca's first president Jack Kapp and later American Decca president Milton Rackmil. In 1937, anticipating Nazi aggression leading to World War II, Lewis sold American Decca and the link between the UK and U.S. Decca labels was broken for several decades. The British label was renowned for its development of recording methods, while the American company developed the concept of cast albums in the musical genre. Both wings are now part of the Universal Music Group, which is owned by Vivendi, a media conglomerate headquartered in Paris, France. The US Decca label was the foundation company that evolved into UMG.
@syntax I fully agree with you that the Decca engineering was the top of the foodchain back then and these recordings are rightfully considered a benchmark even today. Their consistent high quality level was not approached by their competitors, although there are titles in the Mercury, RCA and HMV / Columbia UK catalogues that are equally good, but more 'hit or miss'.
Your suggestion that the London CS were cut differently than the SXL's is an urban myth perpetuated by SXL protagonists. There's no evidence to support this. Quite the contrary, the test pressing slip is convincing proof they were created equal. Why do you insist in keeping this story alive? You don't have to worry about your investment. The snobs will make sure this remains safe.
But don't take my word (or a Decca test pressing slip) for it. The best and certainly most enjoyable (if you're unbiased) way to prove it is by comparative listening. I've compared dozens of near mint SXL's and CS's with identical matrix, mother and stamper numbers. A great example is the Albeniz Suite Espagnola (generally acknowledged as one of the prime Decca's). Comparing the SXL 6355 and CS 6581 - both with 1G matrix, first mother, B stamper (the earliest) and JT tax code - will tell you all you need to know.
Also, where do you get the idea that the London's used heavier vinyl that SXL's? Decca wasn't particularly consistent with vinyl weight, although it is true that the earliest pressings from 1958 (the so called pancakes) are much heavier. But variations in weight existed within both labels and had nothing to do with either the Decca or London label being attached.
I honestly don't think it is fair to project modern marketing tactics like 'limited editions' (or limited quantity) to Decca's way of doing business in the '50's and 60's. If they were so concerned about quality control and even melting unsold copies (?), why did they reissue older recordings in the budget SDD Ace of Diamonds series, using the very same (and by that time well used) stampers? This was common practice and Decca was a company like any other in the business of making money. They were the best in the business and don't need these kinds of 'imaginative' fairytales to 'pique their mystique'. That they reached this high quality level using normal business practices is - if anything - an even greater achievement!
So by all means enjoy them as some of the best records ever made. If you enjoy them more with the SXL label on it, go for it. They sound great! But my intention was to give unbiased advise to (apparently) a novice collector who is interested in sound quality, not status. In the current marketplace you can buy as many as 10 London bluebacks for every SXL 2000 series with the same sound quality. Not a difficult choice if you ask me......
I've never attempted any direct comparison between Decca and London so have nothing to contribute to that discussion.
But as it happens I do have a copy of the Albeniz Suite Espanola, CS 6581, with 3G in the runout. It's one of my favorite classical recordings, part for the music and part for the dynamic, life-like recording. I can't imagine the Decca to be any better.
... If you enjoy them more with the SXL label on it, go for it. They sound great! But my intention was to give unbiased advise to (apparently) a novice collector who is interested in sound quality, not status. In the current marketplace you can buy as many as 10 London bluebacks for every SXL 2000 series with the same sound quality. Not a difficult choice if you ask me......I did not write that I enjoy SXL more, I wrote a few lines about the background in general (from my memory, it is long time ago when I collected some SXL and bought way more London CS and Monos later).
Honestly, in summary I prefer London (but can be that some titles I really like sound a bit different compared to SXL).
I was more deep in RCA Living Stereos and later to SXL and Londons...Both, SXL/London are always first rate, really bad were later the Reissues from Speakers Corner (SC=Sound Crap)
Yes, killer definitely. I doesn’t matter what press number you have, 1, 2, 3, 4 because the quality control took proof that each stamper was first rate. You can try to find same from other cutting engineers, there are interesting differences (G, W, V, L,K, D, E ...)
G=Burkett is known for really low frequency cut.. but there is not "best" engineer, it is a bit of taste from each
A "best" sound record is not automatically 1L / 1D..maybe it is a 6W ....
I guess from CS 6581 I own 4 or 5...
That's interesting. Most collectors say they prefer SXL's over CS's, probably in an attempt to defend their buying decisions. You are the first person I come across who actually prefers the London's for their sonics. Which still seems to suggests that you hear a generic sonic difference......
I agree that most of the so called 'audiophile' reissues sound like crap, not just the Speakers Corner. Any of Decca's own Ace of Diamonds reissues from the 70's will sound better for much less money.
syntax is correct that later matrix numbers can often sound just as good as the earlier ones. The mother/stamper number is much more significant to sonic quality. Decca used the services of several great cutting engineers, e.g. Stan Goodall (E) and Tony Hawkins (K), who did most of the SXL 2000's and earliest 6000's, and Harry Fisher (W), who was responsible for the majority of the later 6000's. In my opinion Ted Burkett (mister 'G') was probably the most consistently excellent. Not so much for deep bass, but for their 'see through' transparency. He unfortunately didn't do that many of the SXL/CS cuts, but he was responsible for most of the Argo catalogue. This is a Decca subsidiary label greatly underrated by 'audiophile collectors' and therefore very affordable. Less mainstream repertoire perhaps, but lots of interesting 20th century stuff. Grab 'em while you still can.
Don't worry being shredded, at least not by me. The reason these Jubilee's generally sound great is because Decca used the same quality level (metalwork as well as cutting engineers) for these budget pressings as they did for the original full price SXL/CS and midprice Ace of Diamonds SDD issues.
The only possible downgrade might be that the stampers had been used before or they made new stampers from lacquers that had previously been used for the earlier pressings. This can eventually result in reduced dynamics and perhaps a bit more surface noise.
There is at least one Jubilee on the TAS list for top level sonics and commands top prices (around $100). This is a recording of the Prokofiev Violin concertos by Ricci and Ansermet (ECS 746). Ironically it is one of those titles that was never issued on SXL in the UK, although it was released in mono (Decca LXT 5446). It was originally released in stereo in 1959 on London CS 6059, which makes it the first stereo UK pressing (with 1K/1E matrix).
For the Jubilee reissue brand new lacquers were cut by Ted Burkett (mister G). I've never heard it, but I wouldn't be at all surprised if it sounds better than the original CS. All of this goes to show you that there are no strict rules in this game. So buy and enjoy your Jubilees without reservation (and save yourself a lot of money).
Edgewear, thanks for your great input. You are most welcome ... or shall we say ...
You are very much welcome : )
This may be off-topic but could you give some advice for this one... I have this (still sealed) GENESIS In the Beginning; London Records LC 50006 (P) USA 1977, also seen at Discogs:https://www.discogs.com/Genesis-In-The-Beginning/release/694639
Is this worth keeping or should I seek for a UK 70´s reissue for better audio quality as I don´t want that first UK Decca edition from 1969 because its high price ?
It's interesting to read this thread about Decca vs London LPs, because it runs counter to my memory of the 1970s, when I was regularly buying classical LPs new from places like Tower Records and other emporia in the Washington, DC, area. I had one friend who probably bought 4-5 LPs for every one that I bought, but we regularly conferred on sound quality. As I recall, we both thought that Decca LPs were far superior (quieter, mostly) than London-labeled LPs containing the same performances. Had something changed by the mid to late 1970s, or were we just deceiving ourselves? I am not a "collector" per se, and I could not care less about relative market values. We only obsessed about SQ.
@harold-not-the-barrel , thanks for the kind words!
I'm not a great Genesis fan, so I don't have first hand experience with that particular LP.
First you should understand that this so called 'Decca - London debate' only has a bairing on the classical catalogue, as these records were both pressed in the UK using the same metalwork.
From what I know the situation was very different with popular repertoire. These were generally NOT created equal and Decca apparently referred to the more common practice of sending a copy of the master tape to other markets for domestic mastering and pressing. I suppose you are aware of the large sonic difference between UK Decca pressings and US London pressings of the Rolling Stones catalogue? You might think the Stones were an exception, given the large pressing runs needed to meet market demands. But I've had a London pressing of Caravan's 'If I Could Do It All Over Again....', not what you'd call a big seller. Yet it was sonically a bad joke compared to the UK Decca.
So here's the big question: was this London reissue pressed in the UK? If it was, it's probably equal to the UK reissue. If not, you can be pretty sure the UK 70's reissue will be superior. You will likely need to open it to check the stamper codes, unless the sleeve gives an indication ('pressed in the UK' or words to that effect). The usual 'printed in the USA' text on the sleeve tells you nothing as this only refers to the sleeve itself. Still there?
An exciting moment, and this just might be one of those exceptions......
@lewm , I'm not sure about the Decca - London situation in the late 70's. Perhaps Decca had changed their export policy by then. I do know that the New Malden pressing plant in the UK was shut down completely in the early '80's and Decca's were pressed in Holland by Philips (something to do with the take over by PolyGram I think).
I was taking an electrical engineering degree at Imperial College in London during the early 1970's and I had the opportunity to work for Decca at their New Malden plant during one summer vacation, basically acting as a gopher in the pressing plant.
I can state categorically that the same stampers were used for both the Decca and London pressings at that time and the requests for metalwork often included both the US and UK labels in the one invoice- which explains why both issues often have the same stamper codes in the inner section.
I know of at least one copy of such an invoice which definitively proves that there is no difference.
Having said that, I have numerous copies of both SXL and CS issues of the same work and more often than not the SXL issues- most of which I acquired in the UK- sound better than their UK pressed CS counterparts- most of which I acquired in the US. The reason for this is entirely unclear, except that my SXLs were bought new, while the CSs were used.
US pressings of CS issues are generally inferior and are not worth having.
Phillips pressings can be quite excellent.
@wynpalmer4, thank you so much for sharing this information. It really is most valuable to get first hand confirmation that UK pressed SXL and CS labels were created equal by someone who was actually there!
But in your experience the SXL's are still often sonically superior. I'm sure this will delight the SXL fundamentalists, even if the reasons are unclear. In your case 'new versus used' might go along way to explain this. Another possible explanation could be that with each pressing run the first part was given the SXL label, while the latter got the CS label. In that case the slightly more used stampers for the CS labels might explain a slight sonic difference in favor of the SXL's. But this is pure speculation on my part and it's probably not very likely that Decca would stop halfway a pressing run to change labels. Having been there, can you shed any light on this?
I've never been able to detect any generic difference between UK pressed SXL and CS labels with the same lacquers and stamper codes. In some cases the SXL sounded better, in others the CS. Because all my copies are previously owned, I tend to attribute these small sonic differences to their past playing history. This will always remain 'the great unknown' in collecting used records.
First off one big difference is a lot of changers in use in US, not the case in UK. Also many times the Decca LP was put out first, so more likely to have fresher stampers. Charm has all the details on which LP came out first for most titles:
This is the main document at Charm:
Here is a sample entry:
Pr: James Walker (m) Eng: Kenneth Wilkinson (m)
Pr: Erik Smith (s) Eng: Cyril Windebank (s)
15-16 Jan 1957 Kingsway Hall
Ruggiero Ricci (violin), London Symphony Orchestra, Pierino Gamba
BRUCH Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor Op.26
MENDELSSOHN Violin Concerto in E minor Op.64
(Jly57) LXT5334 = (Aug58) SXL2006;
(Sep57) LL1684 = (Sep58) CS6010, (May89) 417 793.2DM.
Here we see SXL2006 in August of 1958 versus CS6010 in September; advantage to the SXL.
Works like a charm for collecting Decca/London!
I'd lean towards SXLs because the LP was more likely played by a good turntable and needle. In the US YMMV with lots of people having nasty changers and needles plus poor LP hygiene habits. Very pleased with British dealers and the quality of their LPs.
Arthur Salvatore has been mentioned. Anyone with enough interest to have read this far should look here for more than you may have wanted to know about this subject:
I think EMI is more consistent than any of them not that they are the absolute best. Erato is another consistent label. DGG is the most inconsistent going from wonderful to crap. I am not a record collector. I am a music collector. I shop for the artist and or the performer and take whatever I get for quality. If they are really bad I'll just send them back. I sent one Rycodisc back 4 times before giving up. Rycodisc is the absolute worst. I do not buy used records although I can understand record collectors doing that.
There are several companies now capable of manufacturing first class records and hopefully will continue to reissue important performances.