UK Pressing Plant Matrix Formats

In the 1950’s and 60’s, four main plants were responsible for most jazz LP UK pressings: Decca, Philips, EMI, and CBS-Oriole. Each has its own distinctive matrix code format which enables collectors not only to identify the pressing organisation and plant, but more importantly, differentiate an original pressing from a later reissue, in the absence of other clues of origin.

Though collectors sometimes describe the differences in words, online, very few have the technical proficiency to show you what they look like. Those that do often give you a close up of the engraving, which leaves out the many of the important tell-tale clues about size and location of the engraving in the run-out. The LJC all-in-one-view technique banishes all these problems, and offers a full screen view of the matrix code in situ, at high resolution, as you will see it in the real world. Impress your friends, at a glance, you too can be a matrix expert.

This is what the big four look like (click twice to view full screen at 1800 pixel):

UK--main-pressing-plant-matrix-code-formats- philips one L

 

DECCA: stamped in a straight line – usually letter VGMT followed by four-digit number, a “1” followed by a letter which is code for the identity of the mastering engineer. Example here is “B” – Bert Steffens, their regular jazz engineer.

PHILIPS: also stamped, but in a crescent following the curve of the runout groove. The important part is the country code, preceded by a triangle, 420 indicating UK pressing, or 670 indicating Dutch pressing, other codes indicating other country of origin, rarely seen here.

EMI: stamped (or drilled) similar to Decca, but always in a curve following the runout groove. Generously spaced numbers and letters.

ORIOLE/CBS: stamped, generally a short very compactly-spaced  alpha numeric code with little or no additional information  beyond the matrix identifier.

AUDIO QUALITY

For what it’s worth , my hierarchy of audio quality, based on a few thousand records, award first place to Decca, who are in my view consistently the finest, closely followed by Philips. EMI are good but trailing a little. CBS Oriole is way down the plug hole, clapped out plant in Slough and Bucks, I won’t buy them, disappointing every time. In addition to the big four plants,  independents turn up, but generally they competed on price and offer lower standards.

In some respects the pressing plant is a given. Miles Davis mid to later 60’s UK releases are all pressed by CBS/Oriole, and are weak. Its not like you have a choice – it’s the only way they come. Though not exactly – the equivalent US Columbia two-eye pressings are significantly better – better mastered and better pressed. With Riverside, the earliest are Decca pressings, and re-pressing of early titles are Philips pressings.

With UK pressings of American recordings, you are also depending on the engineering skills of whoever transferred the US copy tape to its UK master and metalwork. With a few exceptions, the re-mastering is highly competent, and the quality of copy tape is not itself an issue. The resolution of tape transfers at high speed to a pretty good second generation copy. The problem is more how those tapes aged over the decades that followed. When offered an audiophile reissue (mastered from the original tapes !!!) those tapes often haven’t aged well, 1st or 2nd generation.

Fifties and early Sixties  American recordings issued in the US both in Mono and Stereo format, were often only released in the UK in Mono – a commercial judgement at the time. If you want stereo, you often have no choice but to look for a US seller and all the postage, customs, and general aggravation that can incur.

5 thoughts on “UK Pressing Plant Matrix Formats

  1. I have the B of Decca Mastering engineers down as Ron Mason, in the list of:
    A = Guy Fletcher
    B = Ron Mason
    C = Trevor Fletcher
    D = Jack Law
    E = Stan Goodall
    F = Cyril Windebank
    G = Ted Burkett
    K = Tony Hawkins
    L = George Bettys or Bettyes (Check spelling)
    V = Quentin Williams
    W = Harry Fisher

    But I am prepared to stand corrected if you can provide a source. (Mine is from the Journal of the Audio Engineering Society, a lot of issues available on line).

    • Tony Hall, Head of Tempo Records, commented on the “problem” of sound engineers:
      “every session was a struggle with the engineers. They didn’t understand jazz and they didn’t really want to do jazz dates…. The Decca engineers could not get the tight Van Gelder sound, they just couldn’t get the balance right. I couldn’t specify the engineer I wanted. It was a case of who was left over at the time. Bert Steffens did a lot of the Tempo stuff, but he didn’t feel the music, you had to keep the beer flowing for him. ..”

      The link I got this from has expired so I can’t re-source it. Another reference:

      ….There are two other contributory factors which made the sessions what they were. One was the excellent recording by engineer Bert Steffens. The other was the handy proximity of The Railway Hotel to the Decca studios. It seemed that every time we slipped out for ‘a little taste’ we always came back into the studios and made a satisfying ‘take’. Don Rendell, the original sleeve note.

      ftp://def92-10-88-162-195-105.fbx.proxad.net/Commun/Music/BritJazz/0182%20Don%20Rendell%20%5BPlaytime%5D%20FLAC%2010(43.38)/Don%20Rendell%20-%20Playtime.pdf

      Lost in the mists of time, I have seen references

      I’ve seen the “B=Ron Mason” in the list at http://stonesondecca.com/3A1_Matrix.html
      which is the same as yours. No mention of Bert Steffens.

      I have no reason to know what is right, Bert seems to get a few mentions from musicians present at the time. It may well be that the engineer credited with mastering was not the engineer on the microphones in the studio.

      I bow to anyone else’s knowledge.

  2. That’s what I get for correcting your spelling — more typos than a monkey on a Remington! Please correct my errors and save my blushes!

    • Philips has only one “L”. I know that! It’s crept into my WordPress spell-checker dictionary with two L’s, so it either doesn’t highlight the error, or auto-corrects it behind my back to two L’s. Mischievous, this technology

      You may remember at the height of the hifi boom in the Seventies Philips ran an ad campaign referring to themselves as “Phirips” – as good as Japanese electronics

      Just one L in crystaline?

      Cheers John!
      LJC

  3. This is such an entertaining and educational website. The enigma-esque cracking of LP pressing codes in is extraordinarily illuminating. I agree that the Philips (which has one “L”) pressings of CBS LPS are massively superior to the later Oriole efforts. The most obvious example I have is a the 1963 Philips pressing of The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan which is so much present and crystaline as to render the 1965 Oriole press unlistenable by comparison. As the LP is just guitar and voice, the difference between the two cutting engineers and presses is absolutely strikingly audible. As always keep up the good work.

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