Kenneth Wilkinson 1912-2004

We are saddened to report the death of Decca recording engineer Kenneth E. Wilkinson on January 13 at the age of 92, in Norfolk, England. The news was reported by LP historian Michael Gray of The Absolute Sound on the Internet newsgroup

"Wilkie," as he was universally known, was one of the driving forces behind the audio excellence of Decca/London classical recordings in its "ffrr" and "ffss" heyday, from the 1950s to 1980, when he retired. He started his career at World Echo records in 1927, at the very dawn of electrical recording, and retired just before the advent of commercial digital recording. He did work on some early Decca digital projects, however, according to an appreciation by Tony Faulkner in the July 1981 issue of Hi-Fi News, published to coincide with that magazine's giving him one of its annual Audio Awards.

Wilkinson joined Decca in 1931 when Decca acquired the Crystalate Company for which he was then working. He worked on the development of moving-coil disc cutting and, during the war years, on the recording of Luftwaffe nightfighter codes. But it was his work with Arthur Haddy in the mid-1950s, adopting Roy Wallace's "Decca Tree" microphone array for stereo classical recordings that laid the foundation stone of his career's golden days, when he recorded literally thousands of orchestral sessions with more than 150 conductors.

No purist, Wilkie augmented the Decca Tree's three omni microphones with outriggers and spot mikes—whatever was required to communicate the music. He felt that a coincident mike technique was not capable of reproducing a realistic hall sound, with a natural sense of ambience, compared with techniques using omnidirectional microphones. His own work demonstrates that thesis: According to an appreciation by producer Tam Henderson, until recently of Reference Recordings, published by Audiophile Audition in 2003 when they presented Wilkinson with the Walter Legge Award, a Wilkinson orchestral recording has a "rich balance, which gives full measure to the bottom octaves, and a palpable sense of the superior acoustics of the venues he favored."

Wilkie's favorite of the LPs he worked on was the Decca recording of Benjamin Britten's War Requiem (SET 252-3), as well as Solti's Grammy-winning Berlioz Symphonie Fantastique (SXL-65711). I would tip my hat to the series of recordings he worked on with producer Chuck Gerhardt for The Reader's Digest in the 1960s before nominating as my personal favorite the LP of works by French composers conducted by Gerhardt that RCA released in the UK in 1978 (Red Seal RL 25094) and that was both engineered and produced by Wilkinson.

A giant used to walk the world of recording. All we can do is walk in his footsteps.