Ray Dolby, creator of the Dolby noise-reduction system that revolutionized recording, died on September 12, 2013. He suffered from Alzheimer’s and died of leukemia in his San Francisco home. He was 80 years old.
Dolby’s creation, released in 1966, produced a cleaner, crisper sound for recording studios and record labels and considerably reduced the hiss or hum associated with recording until then. The system used a method of emphasis – pre-emphasis and de-emphasis – to reduce tape noise and noticeably improve the recording and playback process.
He also created some of the first surround-sound systems, which resulted in 5.1 and 7.1 sound for theaters and homes.
Born in 1933, Dolby worked at an audio-recording company, Ampex, as a teenager. After graduating from Stanford with a BS in electric engineering he went to Cambridge to study physics. He used the company’s machines to record musicians in his home and found that the noise and hiss bothered him to no end. Using an electronic filter he was able to reduce hiss at any tape speed. He went on to create multi-channel audio for the film industry and add surround-sound to optical media in the 1980s for home use.
Dolby began his career in England but finished it in the Bay Area where his company spearheaded further initiatives in sound quality and surround sound techniques. Dolby, in short, is synonymous with good sound. His pioneering spirit and efforts at making the status quo far better than anyone thought possible. Then, by intelligently branding his system he cornered the market in high quality sound, making his ideas a household name and his brand, in a word, legendary.