LP pressings …

Extravagant claims were made by record labels on their unique sound quality and some were even true.

Mercury’s EmArcy LP claimed to use the FINE-FAIRCHILD MARGIN CONTROL process. Whatever that was.

During World War Two, Decca developed the Decca Navigation system and was a radar pioneer, its military connections forming the basis of its later position as a major defence contractor. A side effect was its research into detecting submarines. They had to distinguish British and German submarines by their sound from the air. Existing recording techniques were not capable of producing a wide enough frequency range for reference recordings, and Decca developed a new recording system, ffrr or full frequency range recording. This was about as wide a range as cassette tape thirty years later: 80 cps ( cycles per second) to 15,000 cps, and not as wide as compact disc’s 20-20,000 cps. It was a startling improvement on existing recording, and Decca and its subsidiary labels carried the ffrr logo through to the the 1970s. In the late 50s, the logo ffss was added for stereophonic sound.

Decca’s stereo LPs of the era carry a warning on the inner sleeve:

When held at certain angles the surface of this FFSS record looks different than that of a monaural disc … it may even appear to be worn. Of course this only an illusion caused by the unusual way in which the grooves of this FFSS record are cut.

I’m amazed secondhand vinyl dealers haven’t leapt on this. If this disc looks worn, it is an illusion.

The superior sound quality enabled Decca to become a major exporter of discs to the USA under the London imprint from 1947, and London was fast in adopting US Columbia’s new LP format in 1949.  Decca produced the first British LPs in 1950. They had enough sense not to follow EMI into rush-releasing 45s in 1952, but held back 45s until 1954 when enough players were on the market. 

London had a name for innovation, following Columbia rapidly with 33 1/3 rpm LPs and RCA with 45 rpm singles. It also had a name for high fidelity, based on Decca’s ffrr recording process. U.S. London distributed smaller labels and found foreign distributors for U.S. companies.

Decca’s straight-laced stiff upper lip British image appealed to American companies, when so many of the local labels had dubious associates who might leave the odd horse’s head in your bed. Decca was obviously “reputable” and had a name for fair dealing.  London has long been the collectors’ favourite with old singles commanding the highest average prices. This has an international dimension, as most London pressings are thought to be superior to the US originals from the late fifties. London sourced the master tapes until 1964, and Decca had a superior pressing system. 

Decca’s claims bear the most scrutiny, but other labels had their own systems.

Around 1970, RCA claimed their ultra-thin Dynagroove LPs were superior, though the test of time definitely favours thicker and heavier records. RCA earlier 70s discs are really thin. They almost flex.

Some claims are impossible to judge, but interestingly they claimed to eliminate “inner groove distortion.” This was an effect on all LPs where the sound quality deteriorated on the inner grooves of the disc closest to the label. Producers would sequence records so as to have less dense material at the end of sides where possible. RCA did it with “electric brains” or computers.