DO YOU HEAR WHAT I HEAR?

For as long as I remember my parents had a record of the original Broadway cast recording of Guy and Dolls on Decca Records. It was as thick as a dinner plate and twice as heavy. My parents did not get their first turntable until 1964. Before that the album would have been played on record players.

What is the difference between a turntable and a record player? Well, a turntable is a delicate piece of equipment, A record player takes a girder, attaches a railroad spike to it, and drags the spike through a record. Record players are not healthy to records or other living things.

Needless to say that Guy and Dolls album was pretty worn out. By the early ‘70’s, my mother thought it was about time to replace it. Decca Records, at least in the US, had been absorbed by MCA. Since it was the 1970’s, the record company felt that the album just had to be in stereo. To achieve this, the left channel was the straight recording. The right channel was an horrendous reverb. “What’s what’s what’s play play play ing ing ing at at at the the the Rox Rox Rox y y y.”

Other record companies made “simulated” stereo by shifting the phase a little bit between channels.

The problem with both of these methods was that if you combined the channels, you would not have the original mono mix. In 1972, Robert Orban patented a new process by which a pseudo-stereo signal could be obtain from a mono source. In essence, the signal was put through a “comb”, spreading different information out over the two channels. Orban’s goal was to be able to recombine the two resulting signals together and obtain the original mono signal. He was successful.

Robert Orban (Photo courtesy AES.COM)

But it still was not stereo. The ability to make something that sounded like true stereo would take until the digital age. DES, or “Digitally Extracted Stereo,” achieves some very amazing results.

Chuck Berry had the DES treatment with the recording from 1958:

DES can even be done on recordings from the 1940’s, such as this one by Peggy Lee:

…and even the 1930’s, as shown by Billie Holiday:

Some applications of DES are better than others, and some seem to have some digital artifacts, although it is hard to say if those artifacts are from the DES or from the encoding for YouTube.

I know that some people do not like stereo on early recordings, even if there was originally a stereo mix. I can understand that. I like stereo because it allows me to hear different things in the recording that get lost in mono. I have found that there are many subtle things that add to a recording, and I enjoy being able to pick them out.

While you can search for DES examples on You Tube, this site has quite a few without having to search for them. Listen to them, and remember that these were derived from mono recordings. I hope you enjoy them.

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