Skip to main content

Remembering audio innovator and technology pioneer Ray Dolby

audio innovator and technology pioneer ray dolby dies at age 80 site pic edit
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Ray Dolby, the great audio innovator and founder of Dolby Laboratories, passed away last Thursday from complications of Leukemia at his home in San Francisco. He was 80 years old. Dolby left behind a legacy that is etched in the annals of the audio and film industry, changing the face of studio recording, and blazing a path for high fidelity and surround sound in both movie theaters and the home that is still being followed today.

The launching pad for Dr. Dolby’s remarkable career was crafted from the same catalyst as that of most great innovators: a problem. In Dolby’s case, the problem was tape hiss.

Dolby spent his early years working intimately with tape recording prototypes as a consultant with Ampex, while also pursuing his B.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford. After receiving a PhD in physics from Cambridge University in 1961, he worked as a technical advisor to the United Nations in India. He returned to England in 1965, and decided to put his vast knowledge of audio technology to work by founding Dolby Laboratories that same year. By 1966, he had laid the groundwork for success by creating his historic noise reduction system, Dolby NR.

Dolby NR uses sonic principals to compress tape hiss at higher frequencies, which allowed for an unprecedented level of fidelity in tape recording and playback to be achieved. The process spawned several variations, including the Dolby B system for consumer use, and Dolby SR, which transformed the film industry with its vividly clear sound, making an impressive debut in the Kubrick film A Clockwork Orange.

From there, the successes kept piling up. Dolby Laboratories’ noise reduction technology was adopted in nearly every facet of the audio industry, and the later invention of Dolby Stereo laid the groundwork for modern surround sound, helping to transform big budget films into visceral experiences. Dr. Dolby received over 50 U.S. patents in his tenure, and for his efforts was presented with several awards throughout his career, including an Oscar, a Grammy, and the National Medal for Technology and Innovation from President Clinton.

Ray Dolby’s legacy continues today in the digital world, with Dolby Laboratories’ ongoing innovations in the fields of professional and consumer digital sound. We will remember the man for his immeasurable impact on the entertainment industry, changing the idea of what recorded audio could be, and forever altering the world of sound.

Editors' Recommendations

Ryan Waniata
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Ryan Waniata is a multi-year veteran of the digital media industry, a lover of all things tech, audio, and TV, and a…
Sonos adds Dolby Atmos Music and hi-res audio support for Amazon Music
Man holding the Sonos Roam portable speaker.

Sonos users who subscribe to Amazon Music can enjoy Dolby Atmos Music and lossless, hi-res audio on select Sonos speakers starting today, December 7. To get these new features, you'll need an Amazon Music Unlimited account and the latest Sonos software, which you can grab by opening the Sonos S2 app and going to Settings > System > System Updates > Check for Updates.

Dolby Atmos Music tracks from Amazon Music will work on Sonos' two Dolby Atmos-compatible speakers, the $899 Sonos Arc and the $449 Sonos Beam Gen 2. However, if you have these speakers grouped with non-Atmos-compatible speakers when you play your desired tracks or playlists, the streams will default to the highest quality, non-Atmos format supported by all speakers in the group.

Read more
What you need to listen to lossless audio and Dolby Atmos Music on Apple Music
A woman wears Apple AirPods Max.

Apple Music is now home to Dolby Atmos Music tracks (thanks to Apple's Spatial Audio technology) as well as millions of tracks available in lossless audio at up to 24-bit/192kHz, and all subscribers will get access to these new formats without paying an extra dime.

That sounds like a sweet deal, right? So long as you have the right equipment to actually make use of that improved audio quality, then sure, your ears should feel the serenade. But it may not be quite as simple as grabbing your existing headphones or earbuds -- there are a few caveats that go with all the new sonic goodness.

Read more
The Lucid Air EV becomes the first car with Dolby Atmos sound
Lucid Air

March 2021 is, apparently, a big month for car audio. Audi kicked things off with its announcement that its 2022 Q4 E-Tron will be the first vehicle with a Sonos-tuned sound system, then McIntosh trumpeted its return to car audio with the 2022 Jeep Grand Wagoneer, and now Dolby Labs is taking the wraps off of a partnership with Lucid Motors that will make the Lucid Air the first car to feature a Dolby Atmos sound system.

It's a 21-speaker, 800-watt, dual-amplifier system that Lucid has dubbed "Surreal Sound."  It will be standard equipment in every Lucid Air Dream Edition and Grand Touring trim models, and optional equipment for the Touring and Pure trim levels.

Read more