An inventive life lived surrounded by sound

Ray Dolby put cinema-goers in the middle of the action with his revolutionary stereo system, which burst on the scene in Star Wars

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 September, 2013, 3:21am


Audio pioneer Ray Dolby, who has died at the age of 80, will be remembered for helping to reduce the hiss in cassette recordings and bringing Star Wars to life on the big screen in Dolby Stereo.

He died in his home in San Francisco on Thursday after suffering from Alzheimer's for several years and being recently diagnosed with acute leukaemia.

Dolby founded his namesake company in 1965 and grew it into an industry leader in audio technology. His work in noise reduction and surround sound led to the creation of a number of technologies still used in music, films and entertainment today.

"Today we lost a friend, mentor and true visionary," Kevin Yeaman, CEO of Dolby Laboratories, said. He said Dolby had invented an entire industry around delivering an experience in sound.

Dolby held 50 US patents and won several awards, including two Oscars and a Grammy.

He was awarded the National Medal of Technology from then- US president Bill Clinton and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in the US and the Royal Academy of Engineers in Britain, among other honours. Last year the theatre that serves as home to the Academy Awards was renamed the Dolby Theatre and the Ray Dolby Ballroom was named in his honour.

"Ray really managed to have a dream job," said Dagmar Dolby, his wife of 47 years, "because he could do exactly what he wanted to do, whichever way he wanted to do it, and in the process, did a lot of good for many music and film lovers. And in the end, built a very successful company."

Dolby was born in Portland, Oregon, and his family eventually moved to San Francisco. It was there that he started his professional work at Ampex. working on videotape recording systems while still a student.

After graduating from Stanford University, he left Ampex to study at Cambridge University. Following his time as a United Nations adviser in India, he returned to Britain and founded Dolby in London. In 1976, he returned to San Francisco, where the company established its headquarters.

Dolby's co-workers described him as an inspiring and thoughtful man who cared passionately about engineering.

"To be an inventor, you have to be willing to live with a sense of uncertainty, to work in the darkness and grope toward an answer, to put up with the anxiety about whether there is an answer," Dolby once said.

He is survived by his wife, Dagmar, sons Tom and David and four grandchildren.

Associated Press