“Inventing is a skill that some people have and some people don’t. But you can learn how to invent.” – Ray Dolby

Dr. Ray Dolby, whom I consider to be sound engineering royalty, sadly, passed away on September 12th, 2013 after battling leukemia since July of last year. Dr. Dolby was a pioneer in the invention of the noise reduction system called “Dolby NR” (among many other things), and co-invented video tape recording while he worked at Ampex, as well as founding the company Dolby Laboratories.

Over a very long career, the Dolby name is everywhere from high end theaters to personal cassette players and became a stigma for high fidelity. He has over 50 patents and has received many awards for his pioneering including an Oscar, several Emmy’s and a Grammy. He was also awarded the National Medal of Technology and Innovation by President Clinton and was appointed a Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II.

Ray Dolby

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Dr. Dolby started Dolby Laboratories in 1965 and in 1966 developed the first version of his noise reduction technology called Dolby NR. The analog Dolby noise-reduction system works by increasing the volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and correspondingly reducing them during playback. This reduction in high-frequency volume reduces the audible level of tape hiss.

Decca Records was the first to buy the technology and the technology quickly grew in popularity with the major record labels. By the 1970’s, film studios began using the system, and in 1971 the film “A Clockwork Orange” was the first to utilize it. In the 1980s, the company introduced its digital surround-sound technology into home entertainment.

Dr. Dolby and his company has since revolutionized the way we hear and experience films in theaters and at home today. He took over the analog world and was a trendsetter into the transition to digital audio. Since the beginning his company has created Dolby NR, Dolby Stereo, Dolby Surround, Dolby AC-1, Dolby SR, Dolby Pro Logic®, Dolby AC-2, Dolby AC-3, Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby E, Dolby Pro Logic II, Dolby Virtual Speaker, Dolby TrueHD, Dolby 3D Digital Cinema, Dolby Axon, Dolby Surround 7.1, and of course, my personal favorite, Dolby Atmos™.

See the full Dolby Laboratories timeline here.

Not only was Dr. Dolby an amazing inventor, but from what I have read and researched, he was an amazing man as well. Very smart and extremely talented at motivating others to reach their highest potential. Dr. Ray Dolby to me, as a young professional audio engineer, is what Eddie Van Halen or Jimmie Hendrix would be to a young guitar player. He is an idol and his technology will live over for many years to come.

Remebering Ray Dolby:


Learn More About Ray Dolby:

Dolby Laboratories

Post Written by James Alire

An accomplished musician and consummate professional, James Alire brings education, passion, and a wide range of experiences to the sound table. He has functioned as an IT specialist, recording engineer, and sound mixer/ editor in many arenas. He lives in Chandler, AZ, where he is expanding his company, 5J Media, to include web design and audio/sound services for musicians and filmmakers. For quotes or to hire James for audio and web services contact 5J Media.