×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Walk of Fame Honor: Ray Dolby Changed the World’s Soundtrack

Tech genius dropped the bomb on noise

Ray Dolby wasn’t the only person to have had a life-altering “ah-ha” moment while traveling in India.

But his, which came in the early 1960s while listening to scratchy recordings he’d made, may be one of the few that altered the soundtrack of the world. On Jan. 22 Dolby will be honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Dolby’s epiphany was that he could reduce the noise inherent on analog tape without degrading the recorded signal. He turned that revelation into the Dolby noise reduction system, which debuted for pro audio recording in 1966.

Over the past 50 years, that single-channel technology has grown from mono to stereo to surround to immersive, and today it’s used on the vast majority of entertainment.

SEE ALSO: Ray Dolby’s Legacy Lives On In Dolby Labs’ Approach

“At the heart of each of those steps is a Ray Dolby invention,” says Ioan Allen, senior VP, cinema industry relations, Dolby Labs.

Dolby’s influence in cinema can be felt back as far as 1971 when Dolby noise reduction was used during the post-production of “A Clockwork Orange.” The first film released in Dolby Mono was “Callan” in 1974. “A Star Is Born,” released with Dolby Stereo in 1976 was the first step to surround sound.

But it was “Star Wars,” a year later, that changed the sound of film forever and Dolby was a key part of that.
“Ray’s pioneering work in sound played a pivotal role in allowing ‘Star Wars’ to be the truly immersive experience I had always dreamed it would be,” said director George Lucas in the San Francisco Chronicle after Dolby’s death in September 2013.

Dolby earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from Stanford in 1957 and a postdoctoral degree in physics from Cambridge in 1961. He spent two years in India as a science adviser for Unesco, setting up laboratories.
Then came Dolby Laboratories in 1965 and, with it, a collection of talented engineers that shared Dolby’s passion.

“Ray had a habit of walking around (the office), just as you were thinking of leaving for the evening and asking what you were doing,” recalls Ken Gundry, who worked at Dolby from 1972 to 2013. “You’d explain the problem you’d been working on and he’d say, ‘Have you thought of such-and-such?’

“Of course, that was the solution you’d been searching for. Ray Dolby was technically a genius. Alarmingly so.”
At the same time, says Allen with a laugh, “Ray didn’t believe in business plans,” Allen recalls. “He was very opportunity oriented. He said, ‘I’m going to do some great engineering and I need my own company to do that.’ ”

More Scene

  • Don Cheadle and Andrew Rannells Black

    Don Cheadle, Andrew Rannells Talk Snorting 'Coke' on 'Black Monday'

    “Black Monday” show creators David Caspe and Jordan Cahen divulged an intriguing detail to come later in the first season of the new Showtime comedy at its world premiere, held at the Theatre at Ace Hotel on Monday night in Los Angeles. “The fourth or fifth episode opens with a sexual harassment seminar, which very well [...]

  • Alfonso Cuaron attends the 44th Annual

    Alfonso Cuarón to LAFCA: 'Thanks to Your Help We Can Break Down Walls'

    Inclusion was the big winner at the L.A. Film Critics Association Awards, which was held Saturday night at the InterContinental in Century City. “This year’s winners are the most diverse in LAFCA’s 43-year history,” announced its president, Claudia Puig, adding that 14 out of their 18 awards were won by women and people of color. [...]

  • Mandatory Credit: Photo by Max Malandrino/REX/Shutterstock

    Hollywood Power Players Assemble to Save Iconic Deli Nate 'n Al

    A group of Hollywood executives and celebrities have banded together with the intent to save Beverly Hills deli and star haunt Nate ‘n Al, a stone’s throw from tourist destination Rodeo Drive. A consortium of investors including music kingpin Irving Azoff and wife Shelli, Universal Filmed Entertainment Group chairman Jeff Shell, and Rande Gerber and [...]

  • Charlie Collier, FOX Chief Executive Officer

    'The Passage' Team Talks Diversifying Races, Genders and Ages of Book Characters

    “The Passage” star Saniyya Sidney was unaware that the book version of her character was originally white until her father, a fan of Justin Cronin’s apocalyptic trilogy, informed her during the audition process. “I was like, ‘Oh, she is?'” Sidney told Variety at Thursday’s series premiere in Santa Monica, Calif. “And when I got it, [...]

  • KiKi Layne and Stephan James'If Beale

    Regina King Praised by 'If Beale Street Could Talk' Co-Stars for New 50/50 Initiative

    Two days had passed since Kiki Layne and Stephan James had attended their first Golden Globes and the “If Beale Street Could Talk” co-stars were still trying to wrap their heads around having been there. “It was such a special night — and pretty unreal,” says James, who was also nominated for his work opposite Julia Roberts [...]

  • Steven Van Zandt, Edie Falco, Tony

    'The Sopranos' 20th Anniversary Reunion: Cast, Producers Remember James Gandolfini

    Jan. 9’s 20th anniversary reunion of the cast and producers of HBO’s “The Sopranos” was a raucous family gathering from its first moments. “I saw a picture of myself in the newspaper,” series creator David Chase said at the start of the event. “And I thought, 20 years. Jesus Christ.” “People come up to me,” [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content