WHAT IS ELECTRONICALLY REPROCESSED STEREO and why do so many Elvis fans hate it? What is rechanneled stereo and Duophonic stereo and why does everyone else hate them? Before addressing these questions, I want to mention a few things about stereo records. Most people, including music historians and record collectors, simply take stereo for granted—but it has a lengthy and interesting past.
Elvis was in the Army from 1958–1960, missing the first two years of the new stereo recording process.
Elvis was in the Army from 1958–1960, missing the first two years of the new stereo recording process.
In 1957, the stereo long-playing album was introduced to the marketplace by a pair of small independent record companies. In 1958, most of the major companies followed with their own stereo releases.
By 1959, the new format was selling at a pace that inspired Billboard to launch a separate Best-Selling Stereophonic LPs chart. This new chart had only thirty positions, but it showed that the stereo LP was established as a part of the market for records.
Billboard maintained a separate survey for stereo LPs until August 17, 1963, when the stereo and mono charts became one. Within a three years, sales of stereo albums outpaced those of mono albums. Three years later and mono albums were no longer a part of the regular release of most new albums.
In April, RCA Victor issued the first Elvis album in stereo, ELVIS IS BACK. Needless to say, it sold in mono and stereo, but nothing compared to two albums that followed. Both G. I. BLUES and BLUE HAWAII reached #1 on the stereo LP survey, while his other albums reached the Top 10 during this time.
But the first nine Presley LPs—several of which were among the best-selling pop albums ever—were available only in mono. These albums were A potential gold mines for RCA Victor in the new stereo market, but there was little that could be done. That changed in 1962 with the introduction of the company’s Electronically Reprocessed Stereo.
The first Elvis album in stereo was 1960’s ELVIS IS BACK. Arguably Elvis’s best album, it was issued without a hit single to help sell it. Consequently, it failed to top the charts and was relatively modest seller—especially in light of the two albums that followed: G.I. BLUES and BLUE HAWAII, both of which had the advantage of hugely popular movies to expose and promote them.
A brief history of time in stereo
But before I proceed, here a brief look at a few key events that led to the establishment of stereo LP album as the record of choice in the mid 1960s. For a longer (but still relatively brief) history of stereo on record and in the movies, click on over to the Audio Engineering Society.
Conductor Leopold Stokowski recorded and transmitted a performance in binaural sound at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia for Bell Labs.
Stokowski recorded Scriabin’s Poem Of Fire onto record for Bell Labs; it is the earliest surviving intentional stereo recording. 1
Emory Cook developed a binaural stereo record consisting of two mono signals played simultaneously. It was first demonstrated at a New York audio fair. There was a demand for such records, and Cook Records began to produce them commercially in 1952. 2
RCA Victor issued the first large-scale, prerecorded, open-reel stereo tapes priced at $18.95 each at a time when a similar mono LP record would sell for $3.95-5.995! 3
Audio Fidelity Records introduced the first mass-produced, “true stereo” record, featuring the Dukes of Dixieland on one side and sound effects on the other. Only 500 copies of this initial demonstration record were pressed. Shortly after, Bel Canto Records produced its own stereophonic demonstration disc. In 1958, both companies began issuing stereo albums to the general public.
The June 2 issue of Billboard carried an article titled “Entire RCA Line Goes Stereo With First Disks Due in June.” By the end of the year, stereo records were a standard part of the industry.
While the majority of people buying stereo albums in the early ’60s were older than most Elvis fans, G.I. BLUES topped Billboard’s Best-Selling Stereophonic LPs survey for one week in early ’61. Original pressings of RCA Victor stereo albums from 1958-1962 can be identified by the LIVING STEREO at the bottom of the labels.
What is fake or rechanneled stereo?
Fake stereo is a derogatory term given to any technique for altering monophonic signals to simulate stereophonic effects. Most fake stereo sounded ugly—just plain old ugly. And RCA Victor’s electronically reprocessed stereo Elvis albums sounded worse!
Every major record company developed such a method in the early ’60s. To achieve this fake stereo effect, several “tricks” were employed:
• Two separate mono signals placed in two separate stereo channels.
• The highs in one channel were stressed, while the lows in the other channel were stressed.
• The two channels were delayed a fraction of a second in speed.
• Reverberation and echo were added to fill the “hole” between the two channels.
Please note that nothing was actually recorded in fake stereo—the process was applied to mono recordings post-production, or after the fact
What is electronically rechanneled stereo?
Fake stereo is also known generically as electronically rechanneled stereo or simply rechanneled stereo.
What is Duophonic stereo?
Duophonic stereo is the clever name that Capitol Records coined for its fake stereo process.
Elvis recorded the King Creole music at Radio Recorders in Hollywood in 1958. The studio had been recording in stereo for months, so why wasn’t Elvis recorded in mono and stereo? The KING CREOLE album was released in fake stereo in 1962. Note the staggered effect in the down-and-up letters in STEREO at the bottom of the record label.
What is Electronically Reprocessed Stereo?
As stereo records were selling more and more, it was time for RCA Victor to “modernize” their catalog of older LP titles and get them out there for folks to buy in stereo. Electronically reprocessed stereo is the clever name that RCA Victor coined for its fake stereo process. In January 1962, RCA released its first batch of Elvis albums in Electronically Reprocessed Stereo:
LSP-1254(e) Elvis Presley
LSP-1515(e) Loving You
LSP-1707(e) Elvis’ Golden Records
LSP-1884(e) King Creole
LSP-2075(e) Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2
RCA identified these titles changing their original mono prefix (LPM) to the new stereo prefix (LSP). To differentiate these fake stereo records from regular, “true stereo” records, RCA added a small ‘e’ in parentheses after each number. Thus Elvis’s first album went from LPM-1254 in mono to LSP-1254(e) in stereo.
These title sold well and the other four LPs from the ’50s were reprocessed into fake stereo in 1964-1965:
LSP-1951(e) Elvis’ Christmas Album 4
LSP-1990(e) For LP Fans Only
LSP-2011(e) A Date With Elvis
Why they had waited two years to issue these titles—especially the Christmas album—is not known.
Fake stereo is a derogatory term given any technique for altering mono to simulate stereo effects and sounded just plain ugly—and electronically reprocessed stereo Elvis albums sounded worse.
The back covers of the album jackets to these stereo albums usually carried the following statement from RCA Victor:
“This record is the result of lengthy research and experimentation in the development of an electronic process that transforms monophonic recordings to two-channel recordings with stereophonic characteristics. By means of this unique electronic process developed by RCA Victor, yesterday’s irreplaceable recorded performances take on the spacious depth of sound that the stereo phonograph of today is capable of reproducing, while still preserving the artistic intent of the original performance.” 5
For those readers who have never heard these records, they were plumb awful! The original signal was grossly distorted, and the echo added to Presley’s voice made him sound years older than he did on the original mono records. Unfortunately, many of us ’60s fans who wanted everything in stereo, so this is what we grew up listening to and thinking it was normal! 6
In the December 5, 1964, issue of Billboard, RCA Victor ran a full-page ad claiming that ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM (LOC-1035 and LPM-1951) had sold over 800,000 copies. The ad also announced the release of LSP-1951(e), the electronically reprocessed stereo version of the album. By this time RCA Victor had dropped the staggered STEREO at the bottom of the label and replaced it with a more stable STEREO.
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Few critics of the early ’60s took the industry to task for these awful records. Since reviews focused on new product, they were rarely noticed. Today, most critics, historians, and fans look at them with disdain.
“As intent listeners have long complained, the mutated [electronically reprocessed stereo versions of Presley’s albums] put boom in one channel and scratch in the other. Even more plainly, it sounds louder than the mono original. Because of the reverb and delay applied, sounds explode all over the place. The fake stereo Elvis is highly unstable.” 7
Nonetheless, there is a certain sense of nostalgia for these albums among those generations who were raised with them as their sole source of Elvis recordings. (Of course the monos were available, but few of us could afford to buy two copies of each album.) There are even connoisseurs of the process among modern listeners:
“Yet the volatile instrument placement and explosive reverberation carry a certain appeal, particularly on the raucous cuts. Ironically, having famously entombed Presley’s voice in heavy reverberation in a failed effort to duplicate the mysterious aura of Elvis’ legendary Sun sides, here RCA had finally created an echo that successfully signified the sizzling excitement of rock ‘n’ roll.” 7
In 1968, RCA Victor dropped all mono albums from its active catalog, meaning the only way to buy and hear Elvis albums from the ’50s was in gawdawful fake stereo. Elvis’s ’50s albums were unavailable in “true mono” taken from original mono source tapes until the 1990s!
The jacket above was first used with the initial stereo copies of LSP-1707(e) in 1962 (the staggered STEREO records). Later pressings of the record can be found in this jacket due to overstock. By the end of the decade, changes had been made in the cover: “RCA” was in the upper left corner with “Victor” in the upper right. The orange label records with stiff non-flexible vinyl can be hard to find, while records with orange labels on flexible vinyl are common.
The Avid Record Collector
The nine Presley LPs from the ’50s remained in print in fake stereo into the ‘80s. Most of these have very little value outside of the nominal amount any old album has on the market. But there are two exceptions: the first pressings of the decade releases and the last.
The first pressings of LSP-1254(e), LSP-1382(e), LSP-1515(e), LSP-1707(e), LSP-1884(e), and LSP-2075(e) from 1962 have a unique label variation: at the bottom of the standard glossy black labels with Nipper at the top can be found “STEREO (Electronically Reprocessed).”
There is a certain sense of nostalgia for the fake stereo Elvis albums among those generations who were raised with them as their sole source of Elvis recordings.
The word “stereo” is in large caps with the every other letter in super-text, giving the word a staggered look. These staggered STEREO pressings are not rare, but they are difficult to find in NM condition and can sell for an easy $100.
In 1969, most of Presley’s albums were pressed with the new orange labels on traditional thick, non-flexible (or rigid) vinyl. These were in print less than two years and were replaced by identical looking records (the same orange label) but on incredibly thin, flexible vinyl. These non-flexible pressings can sell for an easy $50 in NM condition. 8
Note that while the front cover of the first CD versions of this title look normal enough, the back cover reads “Stereo effect reprocessed from monophonic” below the list of song titles. This applies to the other three fake stereo CDs from the same time. These discs were manufactured in Japan, as there were no plants in the US at the time.
Fake stereo Elvis compact discs
When RCA issued the first Elvis albums on compact-disc in 1984, the first titles kept their original catalog numbers but were given a PCD prefix. The first titles to be released were predictable:
PCD1-1254 Elvis Presley
PCD1-1707 Elvis’ Golden Records
PCD1-2075 Elvis’ Gold Records, Volume 2
What was not predictable was that they would be released in Electronically Reprocessed Stereo, so each of those catalog numbers should have a wee ‘e’ in parentheses tagged to their ends!
These four numbers were in and out of print in a matter of months, replaced in 1985 with CDs using RCA’s new “digitally restored to original mono” process, which I will address in a separate article.
The four CDs in fake stereo are among the rarest of all commercially issued Presley compact discs. Few copies are offered for sale in any given year, so establishing a reasonable NM value is difficult. Copies have sold on eBay in the past few years for as little as $160 and as much as $425! So I am comfortable assigning a rather wide spread of $200-400 each.
As Brian Wilson recorded everything in mono, most of the Beach Boys catalog was issued in Capitol’s fake Duophonic stereo. This is the 1965 album BEACH BOYS’ PARTY! proudly blaring its phony stereoness across the top of the front cover.
Related articles on fake stereo
If you’re interested in reading fans and collectors argue over fake stereo Elvis LPs and CDs, try “Other sources for Elvis Presley reprocessed stereo songs” on the Steve Hoffman Music Forums site.
Not all albums with fake stereo notices on their jackets or labels are fake stereo; learn more by reading “Blue Note and Electronically Rechanneled Stereo.”
For a technical guide to fake stereo, refer to “A Review and an Extension of Pseudo-Stereo for Multichannel Electroacoustic Compositions: Simple DIY ideas” by P. A. Gauthier.
POSTSCRIPTUALLY, here is another look at the fake stereo CDs by collector Keith Hirsch devotes more space to the fake stereo CDs with a four-part series on “The Rare Reprocessed Stereo Elvis Presley CDs”:
FEATURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page is a candid photo of Elvis taken while he was stationed with the Army in Grafenwoehr, Germany, in the winter of 1958. Presley was a soldier from March 1958 through March 1960, missing the first two years of the new stereo recording process.
1 A lot of experimentation went on in the 1930s and ’40s, with stereo making its way to movie theaters for the soundtracks of new movies. But little attempt was made to introduce stereo records to the market.
2 Cook Records primarily recorded sound effects (railroad sounds and thunderstorms were big) and were geared towards collectors referred to as golden-ears and later as audiophiles. These records held little interest to most record buyers.
3 $18.95 would be $150-300 in 2017 dollars, depending on which standard of inflation you use.
4 Released for the 1964 Christmas season, the stereo reissue of ELVIS’ CHRISTMAS ALBUM sold 300,000 copies in two months!
5 Hah! Every claim in that statement can be challenged, but it should be read as advertising for RCA Victor, not as a genuine scientific argument.
6 In the UK, RCA did not begin issuing Presley platters in fake stereo until 1970.
7 From the book Living Stereo: Histories And Cultures Of Multichannel Sound edited by Paul Théberge, Kyle Devine, and Tom Everrett.
8 The electronically reprocessed stereo Elvis LPs remained in print on with orange labels on flexible vinyl (1971-1975), brown labels (1974-1976), and non-glossy black labels (1976-1986). They generally sell for $5-10 in NM condition.