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Ray Dolby

Ray Dolby

American engineer and inventor of the noise reduction system
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American engineer and inventor of the noise reduction system
A.K.A. Ray Milton Dolby
Countries United States of America
Occupations Engineer Inventor Audio engineer Electrical engineer
Gender male
Birth 18 January 1933 (Portland)
Death 12 September 2013 (San Francisco)
Residence Palo Alto, Portland
Spouse: Dagmar Dolby
Children: Tom Dolby
Education San José State University, Sequoia High School, Stanford University, University of Cambridge
The details

Ray Milton Dolby, OBE (January 18, 1933 – September 12, 2013) was an American engineer and inventor of the noise reduction system known as Dolby NR. He helped develop the video tape recorder while at Ampex and was the founder of Dolby Laboratories.

Early life

Dolby was born in Portland, Oregon, the son of Esther Eufemia (née Strand) and Earl Milton Dolby, an inventor. He was raised in San Francisco and attended Sequoia High School (class of 1951) in Redwood City, California. As a teenager in the decade following World War II, he held part-time and summer jobs at Ampex in Redwood City, working with their first audio tape recorder in 1949. While at San Jose State College and later at Stanford University (interrupted by two years of Army service), he worked on early prototypes of video tape recorder technologies for Alexander M. Poniatoff and Charlie Ginsburg. As a non degree-holding "consultant", Dolby played a key role in the effort that led Ampex to unveil their prototype Quadruplex videotape recorder in April 1956 which soon entered production.


In 1957, Dolby received his B.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford. He subsequently won a Marshall Scholarship for a Ph.D. (1961) in physics from the University of Cambridge, where he was a Research Fellow at Pembroke College.

After Cambridge, Dolby acted as a technical advisor to the United Nations in India, until 1965 when he returned to England, where he founded Dolby Laboratories in London with a staff of four. In that same year, 1965, he officially invented the Dolby Sound System, a form of electronic filter, although his first U.S. patent was not filed until 1969, four years later. The filter was first used by Decca Records in the UK.

Dolby was a Fellow and past president of the Audio Engineering Society.


Dolby died of leukemia on September 12, 2013, at his home in San Francisco at the age of 80. Dolby was survived by his wife Dagmar, two sons, Tom and David, and four grandchildren. Kevin Yeaman, president and chief executive of Dolby Laboratories, said "Today we lost a friend, mentor and true visionary." Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, said Dolby had "changed the way we listen to music and movies for nearly 50 years" and that Dolby's "technologies have become an essential part of the creative process for recording artists and filmmakers, ensuring his remarkable legacy for generations to come."

In his will, Dolby bequeathed more than $52 million to Pembroke College at the University of Cambridge, the largest single donation received by the University's current fundraising campaign.

Dolby noise reduction

The analog Dolby B noise-reduction system works by compressing and increasing the volume of low-level high-frequency sounds during recording and correspondingly reverses the process during playback. This high-frequency round turn reduces the audible level of tape hiss.

Awards and honors

  • 1971 — AES Silver Medal
  • 1979 — 51st Academy Awards — Academy Award, Scientific or Technical (Scientific and Engineering Award) [plaque]
  • 1983 — SMPTE Progress Medal For his contributions to theater sound and his continuing work in noise reduction and quality improvements in audio and video systems and as a prime inventor of the videotape recorder
  • 1985 — SMPTE Alexander M. Poniatoff Gold Medal
  • 1986 — honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE)
  • 1988 — Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor from the German Eduard Rhein Foundation
  • 1989 — 61st Academy Awards — Academy Award, Scientific or Technical (Academy Award of Merit) [statuette]
  • 1989 — Emmy Award by the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS)
  • 1992 — AES Gold Medal
  • 1995 — Special Merit/Technical Grammy Award
  • 1997 — U.S. National Medal of Technology
  • 1997 — IEEE Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award
  • 1999 — honorary Doctor degree by the University of York
  • 2000 — honorary Doctor of Science degree from Cambridge University
  • 2003 — Charles F. Jenkins Lifetime Achievement Award by the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences
  • 2004 — inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and the Consumer Electronics Hall of Fame
  • 2010 — IEEE Edison Medal
  • 2014 — Induction into the Television Hall of Fame
  • 2015 — Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

U.S. patents

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