Ray Dolby changed the way we hear sound

Billionaire American engineer and inventor Ray Dolby died this week at age 80. The wide-scale adaption of his technology changed the way almost everyone listens to music and movies.

Ray Dolby Dolby Laboratories

In 1965 Ray Dolby founded Dolby Laboratories and pioneered the noise-reducing and surround-sound technologies used throughout the film and music recording industries. He died in San Francisco at 80 this past Thursday. Dolby perfectly fit the form of "American Inventor" -- he was first and foremost a problem solver.

Dolby introduced A-Type noise-reduction for professional analog tape recorders in 1965 and it quickly became the de facto, worldwide standard. Three years later Dolby B Type consumer noise reduction followed the same course, and in the 1970s nearly every cassette player featured Dolby processing. Starting in 1975 Dolby Stereo brought multichannel sound to a much broader range of movie theaters than was possible with the older magnetic multichannel cinema format, and in 1987 Dolby Pro Logic heralded the beginning of home theater. Pro Logic was an analog based technology, but in 1995 Dolby Digital was a major advance in home theater sound. The company never stopped innovating, and while Dolby Labs isn't a tech giant like Sony or Apple, the wide scale adoption of Dolby technology has changed the way almost everyone listens to music or movies.

Film editor Walter Murch summed up the man's contributions to film sound this way, "You could divide film sound in half: there is BD, Before Dolby, and there is AD, After Dolby." Ray Dolby held 50 U.S. patents and won several Emmys, two Oscars, and a Grammy.

About the author

Ex-movie theater projectionist Steve Guttenberg has also worked as a high-end audio salesman, and as a record producer. Steve currently reviews audio products for CNET and works as a freelance writer for Home Theater, Inner Fidelity, Tone Audio, and Stereophile.

 

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