Ray Dolby, sound pioneer and Dolby Labs founder, dies aged 80

Ray Dolby, sound engineer, founder of Dolby Laboratories and "the godfather of surround sound", has died aged 80.

The BBC reports Mr Dolby had been diagnosed with leukaemia this summer having suffered with Alzheimer's Disease for several years. He died at home in San Francisico.

Born in Portland, Oregon, Ray Dolby was an electrical engineer who went on to pioneer noise-reduction technology and subsequently surround sound audio.

The Dolby name is synonomous with cinema sound, Ray Dolby having founded Dolby Laboratories in London in 1965. Later that year, the first Dolby Sound System was invented.

A year later, Dolby's noise-reduction system was introduced to the recording industry, with Dolby A, developed by Ray Dolby, becoming the industry standard.

The better-known Dolby B, released in 1967, was the noise-reduction system for the consumer market, aimed at reducing the hiss commonly found on casette tapes. It too became the industry standard.

Subsequently, under Ray Dolby's guidance, Dolby Laboratories took its audio expertise to the cinema, initially applying its noise-reduction technology and then adding extra audio channels, and in so doing giving birth to surround sound and home cinema.

A Clockwork Orange, released in 1971, was the first film to come with Dolby noise reduction, while films such as Callan, Lisztomania and A Star is Born were the first to pioneer Dolby Stereo, which offered centre and surround audio channels.

By the mid-1980s, some 6,000 cinemas worldwide were equipped with Dolby Stereo sound.

The Dolby sound was brought to the hi-fi and home cinema industry with the launch of Dolby Surround in 1982 and the superior Dolby Pro-Logic in 1987.

Dolby Digital, the "5.1 sound" now mandatory on DVD and Blu-ray players, was launched on the laser disc release of Clear and Present Danger in 1995, signalling a new-wave of interest in home cinema, subsequently boosted by Blu-ray and HD audio formats such as Dolby TrueHD.

Ray Dolby was given an Oscar in 1989 for his contributions to cinema. He also received a Grammy award in 1995, and Emmy awards in 1989 and 2005.

Mr Dolby's son, filmmaker and novelist Tom Dolby, said: "Though he was an engineer at heart, my father's achievements in technology grew out of a love of music and the arts.

"He brought his appreciation of the artistic process to all of his work in film and audio recording."

Remember your first Dolby experience? Share your thoughts on this Forum post.

by Joe Cox

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Joe Cox
Content Director

Joe is Content Director for T3 and What Hi-Fi?, having previously been the Global Editor-in-Chief of What Hi-Fi?. He has worked on What Hi-Fi? across the print magazine and website for more than 15 years, writing news, reviews and features on everything from turntables to TVs, headphones to hi-fi separates. He has covered product launch events across the world, from Apple to Technics, Sony and Samsung; reported from CES, the Bristol Show, and Munich High End for many years; and written for sites such as the BBC, Stuff, and the Guardian. In his spare time, he enjoys expanding his vinyl collection and cycling (not at the same time).