Ray Dolby

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Ray Dolby

Dolby (left) being inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 2004
Ray Milton Dolby

(1933-01-18)January 18, 1933
DiedSeptember 12, 2013(2013-09-12) (aged 80)
EducationStanford University (BE)
Pembroke College, Cambridge (PhD)
(m. 1966)
Engineering career
DisciplineElectrical engineering, physics
InstitutionsDolby Laboratories
ProjectsDolby NR
Significant designSurround sound
Military career
Service/branch United States Army

Ray Milton Dolby Hon OBE, HonFREng (/ˈdlbi, ˈdɒl-/; January 18, 1933 – September 12, 2013) was an American engineer and inventor of the noise reduction system known as Dolby NR. He helped develop the video tape recorder while at Ampex and was the founder of Dolby Laboratories.

Early life and education[edit]

Dolby was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of Esther Eufemia (née Strand) and Earl Milton Dolby, an inventor. He attended Sequoia High School (class of 1951) in Redwood City, California.[3] As a teenager in the decade following World War II, he held part-time and summer jobs at Ampex in Redwood City,[4] working with their first audio tape recorder in 1949. While at San Jose State College and later at Stanford University (interrupted by two years of Army service),[5] he worked on early prototypes of video tape recorder technologies for Alexander M. Poniatoff and Charlie Ginsburg.

In 1957, Dolby received his B.Sc. in electrical engineering from Stanford.[6] He subsequently won a Marshall Scholarship for a Ph.D (1961) in physics from the University of Cambridge, England, where he was a Research Fellow at Pembroke College.


As a non degree-holding "consultant",[5] Dolby played a key role in the effort that led Ampex to unveil their prototype Quadruplex videotape recorder in April 1956 which soon entered production.[5]

After Cambridge, Dolby acted as a technical advisor to the United Nations in India until 1965, when he returned to England, where he founded Dolby Laboratories in London with a staff of four. In that same year, 1965, he invented the Dolby noise-reduction system, a form of audio signal processing for analog tape recorders. His first U.S. patent application was made in 1969, four years later. The system was first used by Decca Records in the UK.[7]

The Dolby B consumer noise-reduction system works by compressing (boosting) low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and expanding (decreasing) them symmetrically during playback, which also decreases inherent tape noise. This reduces the audible level of tape hiss.[7] The professional Type A system operates on four different frequency bands, and the final SR system on ten.

After his pioneering work with audiotape noise reduction, Dolby sought to improve film sound. As Dolby Laboratories' corporate history explains:[citation needed]

Upon investigation, Dolby found that many of the limitations in optical sound stemmed directly from its significantly high background noise. To filter this noise, the high-frequency response of theatre playback systems was deliberately curtailed… To make matters worse, to increase dialogue intelligibility over such systems, sound mixers were recording soundtracks with so much high-frequency pre-emphasis that high distortion resulted.

The first film with Dolby sound was A Clockwork Orange (1971), which used Dolby noise reduction on all pre-mixes and masters, but a conventional optical sound track on release prints. Callan (1974) was the first film with a Dolby-encoded optical soundtrack. The first true LCRS (Left-Center-Right-Surround) soundtrack was encoded on the movie A Star Is Born in 1976. In fewer than ten years, 6,000 cinemas worldwide were equipped to use Dolby Stereo sound.

Dolby then developed a digital surround sound compression scheme for the cinema. Dolby Stereo Digital (now simply called Dolby Digital) was first featured on the 1992 film Batman Returns. Dolby Digital is now found in the HDTV (ATSC) standard of the United States, DVD players, and many satellite-TV and cable-TV receivers.[8][9]

Dolby was a Fellow and past president of the Audio Engineering Society.[10]

Death and legacy[edit]

Dolby died of leukemia on September 12, 2013, at his home in San Francisco at the age of 80.[11] Dolby was survived by his wife Dagmar, two sons, Tom and David, and four grandchildren.[12][13] Kevin Yeaman, president and chief executive of Dolby Laboratories, said, "Today we lost a friend, mentor and true visionary."[12] Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said Dolby had "changed the way we listen to music and movies for nearly 50 years" and that Dolby's "technologies have become an essential part of the creative process for recording artists and filmmakers, ensuring his remarkable legacy for generations to come."[14]

In his will, Dolby bequeathed £35 million to Pembroke College, Cambridge, reportedly the largest single donation received by any college in the university's history.[15] In December 2017 it was announced that his family had donated a further £85m from his estate to Cambridge University's Cavendish Laboratory[16] which funded a physics professorship and the building of the Ray Dolby Centre, to be completed in 2023.[17][18] In 2022, the Dolby Family Fund for Excellence in Physics was expected to fund further academic posts and PhD studentships, as well as an annual symposium.[18]

Awards and honors[edit]

U.S. patents[edit]

  • U.S. patent 3,631,365, Frequency selective, symmetric signal compressor/expander (Dolby noise reduction); application filed October 20,1969, patent granted December 28, 1971


  1. ^ Schudel, Matt (September 15, 2013). "Ray Dolby, 80. Audio pioneer changed sound of music". The Washington Post. p. C8.
  2. ^ "Ray Milton Dolby". Newsmakers. Detroit: Gale. 1986. K1618001948.
  3. ^ Bishop, Shaun (March 27, 2009). "Sequoia High School alumni inducted into Hall of Fame". The Mercury News. Retrieved April 6, 2018.
  4. ^ "Biography of Ray Dolby | Simply Knowledge". Simplyknowledge.com. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  5. ^ a b c Wolpin, Stewart (Fall 1994). "The Race to Video" (PDF). American Heritage of Invention & Technology. 10 (2). ISSN 8756-7296.
  6. ^ Singer, Natasha (September 12, 2013). "Ray Dolby, Who Put Moviegoers in the Middle of It, Is Dead at 80". The New York Times. p. A20.
  7. ^ a b Williamson, Marcus (September 13, 2013). "Ray Dolby obituary: Inventor whose noise-reduction technology transformed sound reproduction". The Independent.
  8. ^ "Ray Dolby: A life in sound". Teufel Audio Blog. January 15, 2016. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  9. ^ "Ray Milton Dolby | American audio engineer and inventor". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  10. ^ "Ray Dolby". Forbes. Retrieved March 31, 2020.
  11. ^ "Founder and Director Emeritus of Dolby Laboratories Dies at Age 80". Dolby Laboratories. September 12, 2013. Archived from the original on September 15, 2013. Retrieved September 12, 2013.
  12. ^ a b Vincent, James (September 13, 2013). "A minute's silence: audio pioneer Ray Dolby dies aged 80". The Independent.
  13. ^ Kaufman, Debra. "Remembering Ray Dolby: A Life of Invention". CreativeCow.net.
  14. ^ "Audio pioneer Ray Dolby dies aged 80". BBC News. September 13, 2013.
  15. ^ "American inventor bequeaths largest-ever donation to Cambridge's Pembroke College". Cambridge News. December 3, 2015. Archived from the original on December 8, 2015. Retrieved December 4, 2015.
  16. ^ "Dolby estate gives Cambridge University Cavendish lab £85m". BBC News. December 6, 2017.
  17. ^ "University of Cambridge Receives $114 Million From Dolby Estate". Philanthropynewsdigest.org. Retrieved August 24, 2021.
  18. ^ a b "Dolby family extend their support to create a new fund for excellence in physics". The campaign for the University and Colleges of Cambridge. Retrieved December 6, 2022.
  19. ^ a b "AES Awards". Audio Engineering Society. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  20. ^ a b "Academy Awards Database". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Archived from the original on September 13, 2013. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  21. ^ "SMPTE Progress Medal Past Recipients". Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  22. ^ "The Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor Recipients". Eduard Rhein Foundation. Archived from the original on July 18, 2011. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  23. ^ "Technical GRAMMY Award". National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. October 19, 2010. Archived from the original on October 26, 2014. Retrieved April 20, 2015.
  24. ^ "Medals, Technical Field Awards, and Recognitions". Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers. Retrieved September 15, 2013.
  25. ^ Benzuly, Sarah (September 1, 2003). "Ray Dolby Receives Emmy Engineering Award". Mix.
  26. ^ "Dolby, Ray Milton". UK Who's Who online. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.U13870. Retrieved October 7, 2023.
  27. ^ "Ray Dolby is inducted into the Television Academy Hall of Fame". Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. March 8, 2014.
  28. ^ "Ray Dolby was Honored with a Posthumous Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame". Hollywood Walk of Fame. January 22, 2015.

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