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GENIUS! #10: Ray Dolby and noise reduction

You don’t do heavy metal in Dubly, you know

There aren’t too many figures in pro audio who can be said to have crossed over into the mainstream and become household names. But the late Ray Dolby – whose remarkable 50-plus US patents had a seismic impact on both consumer and professional audio – was indisputably one of that select band.

In the professional studio world, it will be for Dolby’s pioneering work in noise reduction technologies that he will be most fondly remembered. The first of these Dolby NR (Noise Reduction) systems, Dolby A, came into use in the mid-1960s at the same time as multitrack recording was becoming ubiquitous, and quickly became a recognised benchmark in studios worldwide. Subsequent versions, such as Dolby HX-Pro, served to broaden its usage considerably.

While the company he founded in 1965 and which bears his name, Dolby Laboratories, retains a strong presence in the studio market, its position in cinema audio now seems particularly unassailable. Having launched the Dolby Digital surround sound compression scheme in the early 1990s, the company has gone on to introduce widely-adopted systems for 5.1 and 7.1 configurations. Now it looks set to usher in a new era for both cinema and home audio with Dolby Atmos, its object-based audio technology designed to deliver three-dimensional sound that has already been implemented in hundreds of cinemas.

Confirmation of Dolby’s popular status was abundant in his later years, with the Hollywood venue that hosts the Oscars being renamed the Dolby Theatre in 2012. Slightly less exaltedly, he was also the influence for a setpiece joke (“You don’t do heavy metal in Dubly, you know”) in classic 1984 rockumentary This is Spinal Tap.

Described as a “friend, mentor and true visionary” by current Dolby Laboratories president and CEO Kevin Yeaman, Ray Dolby passed away aged 80 in September 2013.

Hail to the boffins! Genius! is all about celebrating those clever people whose inventions have transformed the world of professional audio. Mailed out with the February print edition of PSNEurope, the 36-page supplement is also available to read in handy digital-edition form. Read it online, or download as a PDF, at