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Widget Of The Week

Decca RP 205 Record Player 1964

You have to be a real nerd to know, or appreciate, that Emma Peel, in the 1960’s TV series, the Avengers, had a Decca RP 205 recorder player in her apartment. That makes it the height of sixties retro cool and gives it a good deal of credibility right now, in the midst of one of those periodic vinyl revivals. The RP 205 really was one of the more desirable standalone (but I hesitate to say portable, check out the weight…) record players of its day. It was also a big step up, in terms of looks, performance and price over the popular Dansette models, though to be fair they were a lot more portable than this one and largely aimed at teenagers. The RP205 was the sort of thing that that the trendy well off parents of those teenagers might have bought. The more conservative, with a small c, option was a radiogram but these tended to be bought as much for being a piece of furniture, as an item of home entertainment. 

 

What made the RP 205 a bit special was the sound quality and this was largely down to the combination of three well chosen components. The first is a Decca Deram stereo ceramic pickup cartridge, noted for its wide frequency response and use of high-quality diamond microgroove styli. Mono records were still the norm in the early sixties and the RP 205 has a mono amplifier but the cartridge is also wired to a jack socket on the front so it could be connected to an optional Decca stereo upgrade kit or a suitable external stereo amp and speakers.

 

Critical component number two is the amplifier. It is a 3-stage push-pull design using two valves: 6BR8 and ELL80. The latter is a rather exotic double output pentode and today you would be hard pushed to find one on sale for much less than £50. The amp pumps out a healthy, room-filling 6 watts rms through a surprisingly supple 8-inch (200mm) elliptical speaker.

 

The last piece in the jigsaw is the Garrard AT5 4-speed autochanger. This was another well regarded piece of kit in the developing home hi-fi market, and its ability to play 16, 33, 45 and 78rpm recordings meant it could cope with just about anything. By the way, although it could play 78s, it was inadvisable to do so using the supplied LP stylus as it rides low in a 78’s wider grooves making a pretty awful noise. Fortunately it’s fairly easy to switch to another stylus, as the head shell is detachable, held in place by a simple twisting collar

 

It is housed in a stylish and sturdy wooden case with a hinged lid. The whole caboodle is clad in colourful leatherette. All of the amplifier controls (on/off, bass, treble & volume) are on the front panel, below the speaker grille. Around the back there’s a compartment with a sliding door for stowing the mains cable and plug. Straight out of the box it’s set to run on a 240/250 volt AC supply but this can be easily changed to 200/210 or 220/230 volts using a simple plug selector on the power supply, accessed through a removable panel behind the speaker compartment.

 

I normally give valve-based devices a fairly wide berth; they’re usually horrible to work on and the actual valves are becoming harder and more expensive to replace, particularly so on this model. However, this one, which I spotted at a boot sale in Surrey, appeared to be in very good shape and with an asking price of just £10, even if the amp was a complete basket case it would have been worth it just for the deck. Even so I couldn’t resist a quick haggle and we eventually settled on £8.00. After some basic circuit checks to make sure it wasn’t about to explode I powered it up and was rewarded with a smoothly spinning turntable and a promising hum from the speaker. All it needed to make it fully functional was a new stylus but I gave it a thorough overhaul, which included cleaning off a lot of nasty looking hardened grease on the turntable mechanism. Fully greased up it now fires on all cylinders and sounds excellent. It may not be up to modern hi-fi’s technical standards but those old valves and the, by now, well matured speaker, produce a warmth and depth that brings classic rock albums back to life, in a way that transistors and microchips simply cannot match.

What Happened To It?

Decca dates back to 1914, it was founded by one Wilfred Samuel, an established maker of musical instruments. In case you were wondering the name is made up from the D from Dulcephone, one of the company’s trademarked brand names, and the last four letters of Mecca. It was chosen for the simple reason that it was easily pronounceable in just about any language. The Decca Gramophone company was formed in the late 1920s and soon after it diversified into record production, By the mid 30s it was also involved in making radio receivers and after a busy WW II, which saw it developing military and marine radios and radar systems, Decca started making TV receivers and projectors. The company continued to thrive throughout the 50s and 60s, producing a wide range of valve based record players but growing competition from the Far East and a decline in record sales compelled it to wind down the manufacturing side of the business and concentrate on its core business, as a major recording label.

 

The RP 205 seems to have been in production from around 1963 to 1966; the one featured here is date stamped 1964 and if the 7-digit serial number is anything to go by, a goodly number of them were made. Valve-based record players from the 1960s tend to have a low survival rate; many of them were cheaply made and none too reliable at that but in any case they were bulky and heavy and decidedly un-fashionable following the introduction of Compact Cassette.

 

Throughout the 70s and 80s manufacturers reluctantly included record decks as the transition to the tower-topping component in countless home hi-fi systems but gradually it became an optional extra and by the late nineties had all but disappeared. Since then there have been several half-hearted vinyl comebacks but the latest one, which began in around 2015 has been the most pervasive to date with significant increases in the sale of players and records.

 

Sixties record players like the RP 205 are a bit of a gamble for anyone discovering vinyl for the first time, or hoping to revive old memories and actually wanting to listen to records. Valve-based equipment is also a bit of a time bomb; the cost alone of replacing the ELL80 in this one should be enough to put most sane people off. There’s also the problem of replacing worn out styli, and getting mechanical problems fixed could prove difficult, and expensive. That said, it still ticks a lot of boxes for collectors of retro and vintage technology, and one in good working order, with a recent service history, could be good for another 10 to 20 years, but be prepared to pay the thick end of £100 for the privilege. There are plenty of potentially decent fixer-uppers on offer though, on ebay at boot sales and antique fairs, but unless you really know what you are doing, or can hear it working, be prepared to dig deep.    


GIZMO GUIDE

First seen:          1964

Original Price:   25gns (£26.25)

Value Today:     £45.00 (0417)

Features:           Three-stage 2-valve (6BR8  & ELL80) push-pull amplifier, mono output, 15 ohm elliptical speaker, 4-speed (16, 33, 45 & 78rpm) Garrard AT5 autochanger, Decca Deram stereo ceramic cartridge, tape & external stereo adaptor outputs

Power req.           200- 250V AC mains

Dimensions:           490 x 380 x 220mm

Weight:                           11.2kg

Made (assembled) in:   England

Hen's Teeth (10 rarest)  7



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