ELECTRONICALLY REPROCESSED STEREO. What is it and why do so many Elvis fans hate it? And what is “rechanneled stereo” and Duophonic stereo and why does everyone hate them, too? Before addressing these questions, I want to mention a few things about stereo records. Most people—including music historians and record collectors—take stereo for granted, but it has a lengthy and interesting past.
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 survey. This new chart had only thirty positions, but it showed that stereo was established as a part of the LP market in America. Billboard maintained the stereo survey until August 17, 1963, when the stereo and mono charts were merged into one.
The bulk of the sales of LPs in the ’50s and early ’60s was among (white) adults, who bought a lot of popular (white) vocals, easy-listening, and even Broadway and movie soundtracks. We youngsters got our kicks from 45 rpm singles, which remained almost exclusively a teen-oriented commodity.
Elvis was in the Army from 1958–1960, missing the first two years of the new stereo recording process.
By 1966, sales of stereo albums were outpacing those of their mono counterparts—due almost entirely to teens now buying rock albums by such top-selling artists as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, the Stones, and Dylan.
By 1967, the practice of issuing new albums in both mono and stereo was doomed: American record companies stopped manufacturing LPs in mono and stereo in 1968. The UK and Europe followed in ’69.
One of three classic mono recordings by Toscanini boldly claiming to be a “Electronic Stereo Reprocessing of This Historic Recording” at the top of the front cover. These albums featured a dynamic for of reprocessing that was very different from the static form of reprocessing used on pop albums like Presley’s.
Elvis is back and in stereo
With a few exceptions where a binaural machine was running as backup, Elvis Presley recorded exclusively in mono in the ’50s. His first sessions recorded on more than one-track were in March and April 1960. From these, RCA Victor issued ELVIS IS BACK, the first Presley album in stereo.
Needless to say, it sold well in mono and stereo, returning Elvis to the top portion of the best-selling LP charts. Later in 1960, G. I. BLUES reached #1 on the stereo LP survey, and BLUE HAWAII did the same in 1962. His other albums during this time all reached the Top 10 on both surveys.
But Presley earlier LPs, among the best-selling pop albums ever, were available only in mono. These albums were a potential goldmine for RCA Victor in the new stereo market, but there was little that could be done.
That changed in January 1961 with the introduction of three Toscanini titles in the company’s new Electronic Stereo Reprocessing (ESR) system.
The first Elvis album in stereo was ELVIS IS BACK in 1960. Arguably Elvis’s best album, it was issued without a hit single. Consequently, it failed to top the charts and was a relatively modest seller. The two albums that followed, G.I. BLUES and BLUE HAWAII, which had the advantage of hugely popular movies to expose and promote them, outsold ELVIS IS BACK many times over.
A brief history of time in stereo
But before I proceed, here’s a brief look at a few key events that led to the establishment of the 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 website.
Conductor Leopold Stokowski recorded and transmitted a performance in binaural stereo 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, reel-to-reel stereo tapes. They were priced at $18.95 at a time when a similar mono LP would sell for as little as $3.95. 3
Audio Fidelity Records introduced the first mass-produced 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 selling stereo LPs to the 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.
RCA Victor introduced fake stereo to the world by issuing three Toscanini albums using their Electronic Stereo Reprocessing system (ESR). This dynamic system produced a good semblance of stereo and was received with mostly positive reviews—and dramatically increased catalog sales.
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 stereo?
Fake stereo is a derogatory term given to any technique for altering monophonic signals to simulate stereophonic effects. Most fake stereo sound just plain old ugly. RCA Victor’s original Electronic Stereo Reprocessing (which sounded good) was replaced by a static system they called Electronically Reprocessed Stereo (which didn’t).
Apparently, all of Victor’s pop albums were issued ERS instead of ESR. Between 1962 and 1965, the nine Presley albums from the ’50s were reissued inElectronically Reprocessed Stereo and sounded just plain ugly. But all nine titles picked up sales in their gawdawful stereo reincarnations.
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.
Every major record company followed RCA and developed a method for making fake stereo. To achieve this fake stereo effect, various “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.
Fake stereo is also known generically as electronically rechanneled stereo or simply rechanneled stereo.
Duophonic stereo is the clever name that Capitol Records coined for its fake stereo process.
Elvis recorded the music for the movie King Creole at Radio Recorders in Hollywood in 1958. The studio had been recording in stereo for months, so why wasn’t Elvis recorded in stereo? No one knows. The KING CREOLE album was released in fake stereo in 1962.
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 static stereo reprocessing system.
In January 1962, RCA released its first batch of Elvis albums in fake 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 by changing their original mono prefix (LPM) to the new stereo prefix (LSP). To differentiate fake stereo records from real stereo records, they added a small ‘e’ in parentheses after each number. Thus Elvis’s first album was LPM-1254 in mono and LSP-1254(e) in stereo.
These titles sold well and the other four LPs from the ’50s were reprocessed stereo in 1964-1965:
LSP-1951(e) Elvis’ Christmas Album
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 that sounded just plain ugly.
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.” 4
For those readers who have never heard these records, the original signal was grossly distorted. The echo added to Presley’s voice made him sound years older than he did on the original mono records. Unfortunately, many of us who grew up in the ’60s wanted everything in stereo, so we grew up listening to the fake stereo and thinking it was normal!
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, a phenomenal amount in the pre-Beatles era. The ad also announced the release of LSP-1951(e), the electronically reprocessed stereo version of the album. The new stereo record sold 300,000 more copies for Christmas ’64!
The good, the bad, and the ugly
Few critics of the early ’60s took the industry to task for these awful records. Since reviews in magazines like High Fidelity and HiFi/Stereo Review focused on new product—and mostly on music that adults preferred, such as classical, soundtracks, and easy-listening—Elvis and other rock and pop records were rarely noticed. Today, most critics, historians, and fans look at them with disdain. 5
“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.” 6
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.” 6
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! 7
The jacket with the black border at the top of the front cover above was first used with the initial stereo copies of LSP-1707(e) in 1962. Later pressings of the record can be found in this jacket due to overstock.
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.
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 “STEREO” in staggered letters above “Electronically Reprocessed” at the bottom. These pressings are not rare, but they are difficult to find in NM condition and can sell for $60-100.
The first pressings of LSP-1951(e), LSP-1990(e), and LSP-2011(e) from 1964-1965 have the standard glossy black labels with “STEREO” in normal letters above “Electronically Reprocessed” at the bottom. These pressings are not rare, but they are difficult to find in NM condition and can sell for $30-50.
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 are difficult to find in NM condition and can sell for $30-50.
They were replaced by identical orange labels (1971-1975) but pressed onto incredibly thin, flexible vinyl. So flexible, that you can roll them into a tube so that one opposite side touches the other. These flexible pressings and later brown (1975-1976) and black label (1976-1989) pressings are easy to find in NM condition and do not carry a high price tag.
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 first issued Elvis albums on compact-disc in 1984, the initial 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 stereo-ness 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.
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.
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”:
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. These records held little interest to most record buyers.
3 $18.95 in 1954 dollars would be $175-350 in 2018 dollars, depending on which standard of inflation you use.
4 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.
5 Jazz music had its own world, including their own magazines to review new releases, notably DownBeat.
6 From the book Living Stereo: Histories And Cultures Of Multichannel Sound edited by Paul Théberge, Kyle Devine, and Tom Everrett.
7 Used record stores were very uncommon outside of a few big cities in the ’60s and early ’70s. Finding used copies of old mono albums required a lot of luck or a lot of hours spent at yard sales.