Ssssss….. Did you hear that?
If you’re at the movies or listening to music, chances are, you didn’t hear the sssss. Thanks to Ray M. Dolby, Ph.D., California Gamma ’57, who invented the analog Dolby B noise-reduction system. The Dolby system works by compressing and increasing the volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and correspondingly reverses the process during playback. This high-frequency round turn reduces the audible level of tape hiss.
Dolby’s first U.S. patent was filed in 1969 and the filter was first used by Decca Records in the UK. Decca was home to many jazz artists and made the earlier recordings for the Rolling Stones. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the patent for Dolby Laboratories.
Upon his death in 2013, Forbes reported in his obituary that the Stanford and Cambridge educated engineer first became fascinated with sound when studying the vibrations of his clarinet reeds as a child. As a young high school student he worked for Ampex, a video recording company. Dolby went to school three hours a day, and worked five hours at Ampex. He contributed to the development of their first audio tape recorder launched in 1949. Even as a young man, the non degree-holding “consultant” played a key role in the company’s effort that led to unveiling a prototype videotape recorder in 1956.
Dolby’s dual loves of the cinema and music served him well throughout his life as he made his living in electronics and mechanics. When he founded Dolby Laboratories, movies and television featured only one channel of sound, and record producers were limited to a handful of audio tracks. Much of what happened since then to improve the sound of entertainment can be traced to the efforts of Ray Dolby—not just his technical innovations but the impact they had on artists.
“Dolby’s work changed the way movies were made,” said director Philip Kaufman, “because sound became a powerful artistic element, and you could do things with sound that had never been done before.”
Though Dolby retired several years ago, his company has continued to make innovations, with the new Dolby Atmos system using 64 speakers — with some sounds programmed to come out of just one speaker. The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey was one of the first to use the new system.
At a ceremony honoring Dolby in 2012 film editor Walter Murch said, “you could divide film sound in half: there is BD, Before Dolby, and there is AD, After Dolby.
Today, the company founded by Dolby announced the next generation of Dolby Sound as part of the Atmos line of products for in-home entertainment through Sony virtual technology. Since 1956, the inventions of Ray Dolby and Dolby Sound has been part of recording production and sound reproduction for audio, video, film, radio, television, and for your personal use.