back to article Billionaire engineer Ray Dolby, 80, dies at home in San Francisco

Ray Dolby, the engineer who for most of the last half century has improved our ability to record and play high-fidelity sound and who founded Dolby Labs, has passed away at his home in San Francisco after being diagnosed with acute leukemia earlier in the year. "Today we lost a friend, mentor and true visionary," said Kevin …

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  1. Inertia

    NR

    A moment of reduced noise in honour of the great man please.

    1. TXITMAN

      Re: NR

      He went quietly.

  2. MondoMan

    Another great man

    was George C. Marshall (with two l's); hence the eponymous Marshall Scholarships are also spelled with two l's.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He has been compressed to a higher plane. RIP.

  4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    No nostalgia here

    I was never a fan of Dolby processors on consumer equipment. Dolby NR required calibration that couldn't be provided by any consumer equipment, especially cassette tape players. What you got was pumping and arbitrary changes in volume. Various matrix encoding tricks to cram surround sound into two analog channels were a wreck too. It was fine for synthetic positioning from mono sources (sound effects, dialog, music tracks, etc) but it destroyed natural stereo. The licensing for the Dolby tech bumped up the price on everything, and no product came without it even if few actually turned it on.

    Dolby wasn't cool until they started putting digital bits on film, but they were not much ahead of Sony by then.

    1. John Tserkezis

      Re: No nostalgia here

      While Dolby B didn't rock my socks, I was pretty impressed with Dolby C. I recently showed off a demo of the audio that it was capable of, an (untouched) digitised version of a recording I made from analogue TV 20 years ago (metal grade compact cassette). It sounded pretty much the same as the re-runs you get today.

      I also showed off how NOT to do it. Horrendously hissy and bad sounding recordings from a similar era, cheap tapes, no noise reduction of any type, WITH subsequent digital "fixing" to clean up the mess. It helped, but was still a mess.

      "Consumer grade" covers a WIDE area, so it's not really the fault of the crappy equipment, just your choice.

    2. Chris Miller

      Re: No nostalgia here

      A bit harsh, Kevin. What 'Dolby' lacked in ultimate hi-fi quality, it made up for in convenience; and it allowed a respectable sound standard to be encoded onto a cassette you could slip into your pocket. It was perfectly acceptable for use in the car (where the only alternatives were 8-track or the radio), but I wouldn't normally have listened to it at home.

      I can remember having the same discussion at a freshers fair in 1970, where the hi-fi club sneered at Dolby. comparing it unfavourably with the sound quality from a 15 ips Revox reel-to-reel. Which was kind of missing the point, IMHO.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: No nostalgia here

      Dolby B never really worked for me on the kind of equipment I could afford back in the day (no bias adjust on my old rubbish), it just made things sound dull if it was enabled on playback. With good gear it may have worked well, but I'll never know.

      But I used it to record, and I can thank Mr D for getting me to prefer a slightly bright and compressed treble sound :)

    4. FutureShock999

      Re: No nostalgia here

      "Dolby NR required calibration that couldn't be provided by any consumer equipment, especially cassette tape players."

      Really? I am pretty sure my old Nakamichi BX-125 could calibrate it pretty accurately. I know the Nak Dragon (which I lusted after but couldn't make the jump to) could get it to near studio accuracy.

      In my opinion, what you are remarking on is that, back in the analogue days, the difference between cut-rate consumer electronics and top-end consumer electronics was MUCH more pronounced than it has become with digital. And Dolby B and C were mainstays of that analogue history, and suffered from that as much as anything else. One manufacturer could implement the Dolby circuitry cheaply, and another could use triple the components and get a more accurate playback curve. The point is, you can't blame Dolby for that, you have to blame cheapskate audio manufacturers, and the fact that you presumably spent your money on other pursuits like chasing women or buying drugs, than buying a Nakamichi (or similar) for your dorm room.. ;-).

  5. Winkypop Silver badge

    Blinded Me with Science

    Thanks for THE nothing.

    1. cordwainer 1

      Re: Blinded Me with Science

      Or to paraphrase: "He Deafened Me With Silence"

  6. itzman

    Great in the studio..

    Where proper calibration and tight manufacturing control could lead to decent results on audio tapes.

    But a total disaster in the cassette market. If you were listening to rock it was all loud anyway, except between the tracks, and if you were listening to classical you just exchanged hiss for weird transient behaviour.

    A reasonable fix for the tapes of the time, in the studio.

    Sadly irrelevant once digital sound came along.

  7. Obvious Robert
    Coat

    I think

    It probably would have sounded better with Dobly.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: I think

      You don't do heavy metal in Dobly, you know.

      1. Bod

        Re: I think

        Surprised this hasn't been mentioned more. Legondary connection to Dolby.

        The full quote -

        Jeanine: You don't, you don't do heavy metal in doubly, you know, I Mean...it's

        Nigel: In what??? In what???

        Jeanine: In doubly...

        Nigel: In dublin!?! What's that?

        David: She means Dolby, alright? She means Dolby, you know? You know perfectly well what she means.

    2. deadlockvictim Silver badge

      Re: I think

      Dobly is almost twice as good.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: I think

        I see what u did there.

  8. Dave 126 Silver badge

    I remember reading an interesting article about magnetic recording in New Scientist, but I can't find a reference online to copy-past here, the gist comes from my memory:

    Situation: Adolf Hitler wants to broadcast messages to his forces. Problem: The Allies can triangulate the transmitter and drop bombs on it, and by association on Hitler himself. Possible solution: Have Adolf pre-record his messages. Problem: Recording fidelity isn't high enough to convince the Allies that Adolf is making a live broadcast. Solution: Add a high frequency signal to the magnetic wire recordings. As it was explained to me, this HF signal excited the magnetic particles, making them more receptive to the desired signal.

    The following article makes no mention of the above application, but does describe how the technique of adding a HF signal was discovered by accident (page 4):

    www.richardhess.com/tape/history/Engel--Walter_Weber_2006.pdf

    1. Mage Silver badge

      AC Ultrasonic Bias

      Rediscovered in 1940s Germany.

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/09/history_of_magnetic_tape_part_one/

      Also read

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/09/02/compact_cassette_supremo_lou_ottens_talks_to_el_reg/

      http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/08/30/50_years_of_the_compact_cassette/

  9. rcorrect
    Angel

    He also became a billionaire after taking Dolby public in 2005, and eventually retired from the firm in 2009 to concentrate on philanthropy

    The only thing that remains after you die is other people's memories of you.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Booooo!

    No hiss :)

  11. Anonymous IV

    Genuinely surprised...

    ... to find out his first name was Ray, and not Thomas.

    1. Burch

      Re: Genuinely surprised...

      You are suffering from scientific blindness.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge
        Alien

        Re: Genuinely surprised...

        Or possibly from having his Buick eaten by aliens.

  12. Mike 16 Silver badge

    Havin a laff?

    Or are many commentards here genuinely unaware that Thomas (the blind) Dolby has less relation to Ray (the inventor) Dolby than Francis (The Artist) Bacon has to Francis (the subject of so many conspiracy theories) Bacon. At least Francis the younger was born a Bacon.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Havin a laff? @Mike 16

      Been here for more than 4 years and you have to ask?

  13. DanceMan

    I had outboard Dolby B units I used on reel to reel, and used Dolby B and C on cassette. The comments on dull highs probably apply to pre-recorded cassettes. They certainly didn't to my recordings. If the recording gear or the original recording is crap, results will be crap, Dolby or no.

    1. stu 4

      I agree

      I was never an audiophile , but I never found dolby B on prerecorded tapes to be much cop. Just sounded flat and muffled.

      But use B or C on a specific tape deck to record, and the playback on the same tape deck was very nice indeed. Especially in the early days of CDs... when taping em was the only option (rather than burning a CD I mean).

      I only ever had mid range Akai or Technics desks mind you, no Nakamichis, but it worked for me.

      stu

  14. Homer 1
    Childcatcher

    "creating value through innovation"

    Oh dear, it's bad enough when these dilberts spout their marketese gibberish at any other time, but couldn't they at at least refrain from soiling a man's obituary with it?

    1. Caesarius
      Holmes

      Re: "creating value through innovation"

      these dilberts

      Err .. hang on .. I thought it was other people who spouted marketing bullshit, and Dilbert had to suffer it!

  15. Spoonsinger
    Coat

    "Westing (by Musket and Sextant)" - Pavement.

    Dolby B and C did nothing at all to remove the hiss from that album.

  16. Caesarius

    What makes a good engineer?

    The lab technician at Cambridge told me that Dolby was "thick as two short planks", but was a success because he surrounded himself with clever people. I think that is a bit harsh, but what he had observed was mediocre marks for write-ups of practicals, and he generally predicted people's exam based on such.

    So Dolby must have been a visionary to carry it all forward, and the Dolby system must have been good enough to impress somebody (yes, I know you can pick that one apart).

    Personally, I turned off Dolby on playback and turned down the treble a bit if required. I did experiment with a cassette recorder with Dolby C, and I used fairly good quality tapes (TDK SA), but it was a profound relief when digital recording for the masses arrived.

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Saw this elsewhere...

    May he re.t in pea.e

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Dolby Surround

    And:

    - Dolby A was used for analogue satellite links, to keep the noise down.

    - Some early digital multitrack recordings were recorded using Dolby A, as it enabled the early converters to dither better.

    .

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