Wednesday, April 02, 2008

Reprocessed from Monophonic

The great conversion from mono to stereo was traumatic. In 1958 all AM stations were still mono as were FMs. But in just a few years, home stereo systems were switching over to stereo even without a clear technical standard. The reason was that radio was feeling a little peer pressure in the stereo cabinet.

LPs were going stereo. Western Electric had pioneered the Westrex process called 45/45, a single groove stereophonic system. The important part is that existing monophonic equipment could still play the Lps ensuring instant consumer acceptance. It worked. Western Electric was the manufacturing arm of AT&T for the better part of a century. They started out in the 1850s making typewriters.

In the 1970s, the now flat-sounding mono records were commonly rereleased with "enhanced" sound. this was also called "Duophonic" sound after the Capitol records process. These were marketed as stereo versions of the original releases. But the monophonic master tapes had no stereo separation. So they had to fake it. The stereo effect was created through a couple remarkably simple techniques. Some audio filtering was used to separate out certain sounds to pan them. This usually produced noticeable audio artifacts. Also common were slight adjustments in EQ and phase which is what RCa seemed to focus on. An offset of 20 and 50 milliseconds was another very rudimentary change that mimicked the stereo effect.Worse yet was over-dubbing. A small trio would be brought into the studio to overdub minor parts to add stereo sound to the mono recording. There is an abominable Roy Orbison LP out there with a dubbed in accordion track that is a testament to the general badness of this idea. Also interesting is that as Stereo picked up, these old mono recordings went out of print. It left both radio and record collectors forced to either play the new clunky "enhanced monophonic" Lps or move on. Mono was essentially dead by 1978, but enhanced mono dragged out straight through the 1970s. Some Labels carried Mono, ST (Stereo) and DT (Duophonic) notations, but the collections were usually a mix of all three regardless of labling.

17 comments:

Ben Culture said...

Hi! Very interesting article. I came here via the Wikipedia article on "Duophonic", as many readers probably do.

"This usually produced noticeable audio artifacts."

This was the only line I didn't understand: What are "artifacts"?

Question: Why is "fake stereo" so universally disliked? (Or is it? Are there fans of the duophonic sound?)

Once I turned one of my four-track home demos into fake stereo by mixing it through a stereo digital delay pedal applied to the instrumental MIDI background. (I believe there was one guitar track, and the vocals were in true stereo. I may have applied the delay to the guitar, as well.) The result: It still had the claustrophobic sound of mono, but with an "overwhelming" feeling, not unlike the "Wall of Sound". The delay was actually timed in eighth-notes to the drum beat, which was, in its raw state, very simple. The feedback level was very low, less than 25%. I wouldn't do this on a regular basis, but as a one-off I really liked it.

Jose Fritz said...

well, the hatred of fake-stereo is pretty generational. When real stereo debuted, Duophonic sound was really perceived as a ham-handed knockoff. It's been a few decads and I now kind of like it for it's kitchy flair, and awkward overdubs. The 365 days project posted a Roy Orbison Duophonic track where they overdubbed accordion! It's terrible. But also amusing. http://www.wfmu.org/365/2003/301.shtml

Artifacts are just errors, dropouts, or any inadvertent alterations of the audio. In those early days of clunky studio hardware making mistakes was even easier.

Ken Charmer said...

I grew up with mono in the 60s so when Duophonic came out it was an acceptable improvement. At least you retain the original 'mix' intended by the producer and you get a better soundstage in many situations....but not all. I'm finding it hard to improve on the Four Seasons mono mix of 'I've Cried Before'( 'B' side of 'Sherry')when I create a Duo mix.

Jose Fritz said...

... you can't preserve the original mix when you overdub accordion onto a Roy Orbison single. If the original mix was mono, then by adding a 2nd channel, you are either remixing, OR preserving the artists intentions. If you duplicate the mono channel into two identical stereo channels.. that's still monophonic from my perspective. there are two channels but no "stereo data."

Randy Brown said...

This a great article...but some comments. Capitol was releasing "Duophonic" albums by the EARLY 1960s. Also, some true stereo LPs had Duophonic cuts, even when those tracks had been recorded in stereo; for example, the songs from the Beatles' "Yesterday...and Today" that were originally on the UK version of "Revolver", as well as "I Want to Hold Your Hand" on "Meet the Beatles". I didn't know until last year that Sinatra's "Where are You?" was (mostly) in stereo, having heard only mono or Duophonic versions of those songs.

The Capitol "Duo" CDs can easily be restored to mono, by dropping one channel and fixing the EQ (unless somebody added echo). This method worked fine with Dakota Staton's "The Late, Late Show" (Collectibles CD).

The fake stereo methods used by other companies were far more destructive. I've heard, for example, some early Chuck Berry tunes that were all but unlistenable. On the other hand, there were some clever fake-stereo methods that are almost convincing. Mercury added slight echo and EQ to the vocals on "Hey Paula" (Paul & Paula) and panned them to opposite channels. There's a "Whiter Shade of Pale" with the vocal up the middle and the instrumental track rechanneled and echo-ed.

Finally: Why did Motown sit on the true stereo "Fingertips" for so long? It sounds fantastic, especially without the echo that Wm. Stevenson added. And could there be a complete stereo 1963 "Motortown Revue" in the vaults?

Anonymous said...

I do something very similar to this when I'm faced with a mono music track for a commercial. Pan one track hard left, one hard right, and drag one track a few ms behind the other, according to how it sounds/mono sum issues. Add a little reverb and EQ and Viola! A flat spot becomes a wide spaced thing of beauty with L/R separation and a voice in the middle. DAW--how did we ever work with reel to reel and splicing bloscks?

Jose Fritz said...

Very, very slowly.

Little Mikey1954 said...

Hello! Allow me to share a few more tidbits on your article. Personally, I kinda like "electronic stereo" and see it as an honest attempt to create stereo from mono. Most labels were pretty upfront and honest, though many records released as "stereo" were a rip-off. A slight enhancement was an improvement as long as it wasn't being marketed as true stereo or excessively altered. Many recordings that I heard in their electronic stereo format, have been reissued on CD in true mono, some of which sounds flat without the enhancements added after the recording had been released.
When I got my first stereo in 1968, I was thrilled by the new improved stereophonic separation. I was equally angered when I bought an album with the stereo banner on the jacket only to discover that it was not in stereo at all.
Marketing a release in both stereo and in mono required guesswork and risks, since the stereo version sold for $1.00 more than the mono version. To minimize the risk, major labels in 1966, started to release a bunch of test pressings on an unsuspecting public. These test pressings were sold as "mono" (the jacket and label was listed as "mono") when they were, in fact, the stereo version. Mercury (Fontana, Smash and Philips) released mono albums with a "2" prefix, stereo with a "6" prefix and test pressings with a "2/6" prefix (found on the dead wax by the lead off groove). Columbia (Columbia, Epic and its other subsidiaries) simply gave their test pressings the mono catalog number with the stereo XSM prefix vice the mono XLP prefix in parenthesis on the label. This was to show that both stereo and mono records could be played on the same mono equipment with the same results. Next, in 1967 the major labels decided to sell both the mono and stereo LP for the same price. As a result, mono sales dropped and stereo record sales went up. So by 1968, the mono format was dropped altogether, relaced by "stereo-playable on mono".
One method of creating stereo out of mono was to simply throw the balance back and forth to get the impression that certain stand-out sounds were coming out of one side or the other. Unfortunately, the ambience shifted with the sound, giving it a horribly fake sound. Even worse was the idea of adding new instrumentation on both sides in stereo while the original mono recording came out the center.
It seemed that with the fall of mono, the labels quickly turned the available (and still popular) mono recordings into electronic stereo. When Capital Records had a stereo LP with a few selections in mono, these selections were quickly given the duophonic treatment so it could be said that all the selections had stereophonic sound.
This practice came to an end around 1972 when Phil Spector launched his "Back to Mono" movement, reissuing his old recordings in their original mono sound. Let's not forget Brian Wilson, who felt that his PET SOUNDS LP should be in true mono the way he made it. (PET SOUNDS finally got remasteed in true stereo, but not without Brian Wilson's supervision. )

Little Mikey1954 said...

Hello! Allow me to share a few more tidbits on your article. Personally, I kinda like "electronic stereo" and see it as an honest attempt to create stereo from mono. Most labels were pretty upfront and honest, though many records released as "stereo" were a rip-off. A slight enhancement was an improvement as long as it wasn't being marketed as true stereo or excessively altered. Many recordings that I heard in their electronic stereo format, have been reissued on CD in true mono, some of which sounds flat without the enhancements added after the recording had been released.
When I got my first stereo in 1968, I was thrilled by the new improved stereophonic separation. I was equally angered when I bought an album with the stereo banner on the jacket only to discover that it was not in stereo at all.
Marketing a release in both stereo and in mono required guesswork and risks, since the stereo version sold for $1.00 more than the mono version. To minimize the risk, major labels in 1966, started to release a bunch of test pressings on an unsuspecting public. These test pressings were sold as "mono" (the jacket and label was listed as "mono") when they were, in fact, the stereo version. Mercury (Fontana, Smash and Philips) released mono albums with a "2" prefix, stereo with a "6" prefix and test pressings with a "2/6" prefix (found on the dead wax by the lead off groove). Columbia (Columbia, Epic and its other subsidiaries) simply gave their test pressings the mono catalog number with the stereo XSM prefix vice the mono XLP prefix in parenthesis on the label. This was to show that both stereo and mono records could be played on the same mono equipment with the same results. Next, in 1967 the major labels decided to sell both the mono and stereo LP for the same price. As a result, mono sales dropped and stereo record sales went up. So by 1968, the mono format was dropped altogether, relaced by "stereo-playable on mono".
One method of creating stereo out of mono was to simply throw the balance back and forth to get the impression that certain stand-out sounds were coming out of one side or the other. Unfortunately, the ambience shifted with the sound, giving it a horribly fake sound. Even worse was the idea of adding new instrumentation on both sides in stereo while the original mono recording came out the center.
It seemed that with the fall of mono, the labels quickly turned the available (and still popular) mono recordings into electronic stereo. When Capital Records had a stereo LP with a few selections in mono, these selections were quickly given the duophonic treatment so it could be said that all the selections had stereophonic sound.
This practice came to an end around 1972 when Phil Spector launched his "Back to Mono" movement, reissuing his old recordings in their original mono sound. Let's not forget Brian Wilson, who felt that his PET SOUNDS LP should be in true mono the way he made it. (PET SOUNDS finally got remasteed in true stereo, but not without Brian Wilson's supervision. )

Jose Fritz said...

I feel like I'm repeating myself. there is no way to make mono into stereo without altering the original artists original intentions.

This is not to say that Brian Wilson, or Phil Spector were wrong. I am only saying that these are two totally discrete releases, comprised of two different sets of intentions.

Jose Fritz said...

I also maintain that a lot of duophonic releases sounded like crap.

jeffm12012 said...

Some "fake stereo" really was awful; like Mercury's reprocessed 50's rock oldies that sounded like they were recorded in a room with metal walls. But sometimes I think it actually helped; Hugo Winterhalter's "Vanessa" sounds awfully dry in its original mono; the fake-stereo reverb makes its "plinking" strings more resonant and livelier. Capitol's "Duophonic" was probably the best of the bunch in general. Now you have purists who (a la Spector) insist all 60's music, including records made in stereo, must be played in mono only. I suspect some of them may still long for the sound they remember from their pocket transistor radios

Ben Culture said...

>Now you have purists who (a la Spector) insist all 60's music, including records made in stereo, must be played in mono only.

[slaps forehead] That's just stupid . . . .
I think what they did with Pet Sounds in 1996 amply proved that, given the available source material and enough painstaking effort, a good mono record can be turned into an equally-good stereo record. If there was ever gonna be moment of "Mono Supremacy", the stereo mix of Pet Sounds would have been considered a laughingstock and a failure. And that, like, totally didn't happen.

Bill Lynn said...

Having started collecting records back in 1961 when literally everything was released in mono, duophonic was an improvement over that "flat" mono sound. Then, when The Beatles Parlophone records were released in the U.S. and I had the opportunity to hear them in true stereo the way they were intended, all bets were off. Besides the handful of songs that were never mixed in stereo, these are the definitive versions. Not anything Capitol or VeeJay may have done to them after the fact was legitimate. Neither is anything that anyone has attempted to do to "correct" or "clean them up" digitally since then, including the 2009 remasters.

For my money, the creative process ends with the artist and producer. Anyone else who manipulates their art afterwards is bastardizing it.

jose fritz said...

Totally agreed. After the original artistic intention ends we're only measuring from that point.. for better or worse.

Ben Culture said...

This is a little off-topic, but I believe it is only the material an artist chose to release during his lifetime, or years of activity, that should be evaluated. I came to this belief by watching what happened during and after Syd Barrett's lifetime. The man recorded a few songs he chose not to release; they got released. He did multiple takes of some songs and chose the best one; others got released too. He left the field of music altogether, and worked only in visual media, but chose to release none of them, going so far in some cases as to photograph the piece and then destroy the original. Since his death, his family has put out an insanely-expensive (over 300 English pounds) coffeetable book containing ALL his visual art (which only numbers around forty pieces), fluffed up with lots of previously-unseen pictures of Syd with the early Pink Floyd, and even copies of letters to his girlfriends! (On the grounds that he did a few doodles in them.) I find this completely disgusting. I realize that having a reclusive, agoraphobic, mentally-ill family member can be taxing, but Barrett's family is selling him out in a BIG way. I feel Syd Barrett should be judged solely on the one Pink Floyd album he did, the one song of his on their second album, and his two solo albums -- not Opel, or "Bob Dylan Blues", or any of the sub-par, previously-unreleased shit that we've been "gifted" with over the years.
And you KNOW some day Pink Floyd are going to do a big fat "official" release of "Scream Thy Last Scream" and "Vegetable Man", even though we've had the bootlegs for decades, and they're not very good songs in the first place. But any fool who's bought Dark Side of the Moon on CD more than three times will probably lap that up, too.
End of tangential rant.

jose fritz said...

I don't have a problem with the post-mortem release of unreleased material. Not only is it historically interesting but hearing what an artist chose to release and not release is biographically revealing. Besides, sometimes there are lost gems. Some of Howlin' Wolf's best sides went unreleased by Chess. Ex. "Commit A Crime."