Inventor of the Week Archive
for a different Invention or Inventor
Dolby® Noise Reduction System
Ray Dolby, creator of his namesake audio system, was born
on January 18, 1933 in Portland, Oregon. He began playing
the piano at the age of ten and later took up the clarinet.
As a youngster, he took an interest in sound, how it worked,
why the musical instruments he played sounded the way they
did. He also developed an affinity for movies and photography.
As a teenager he met Alex Poniatoff, who had founded the tape
recording company Ampex. Soon Dolby began working part-time
for the company, where he contributed to the development of
the first videotape recorder and gained an understanding of
audio technology. He continued to work with the company until
That year Dolby was awarded a B.S. in electrical engineering
from Stanford University. He continued on to Cambridge University
in England where he completed a Ph.D. in physics in 1961.
He traveled to India for two years as part of a United Nations
team sent to set up a scientific instrumentation lab. It was
there while helping to record some local traditional music
for UNESCO that he first dreamed up and idea for noise reduction
on audio tape recordings. He returned to England and in 1965
started his own company, Dolby Laboratories, in London.
Dolby set to work creating the revolutionary Dolby®
noise reduction system, which electronically reduces tape
“hiss” and other noise that is inherent in analog
audio tape recording and playback. The process involves passing
sound through an encoder as it is recorded, then the sound
is played back through a decoder. This reduces background
noise dramatically, with no adverse side effects, so that
a crisp, clear, true sound is produced for the listener.
Decca Records became the first recording company to use
the Dolby system. By 1967, major record labels including RCA
and MCA signed on to use it, too. Soon the Dolby name was
known throughout the recording industry. Dolby moved the company
to San Francisco in 1967 and added manufacturing and research
facilities. In the 1970s he and his team began developing
technology for film production and other industries, among
them the Dolby Digital Surround Sound system used by tens
of thousands of movie theaters worldwide. To date, more than
850 million Dolby-licensed products have been sold and the
company’s technology is part of virtually every music
cassette, cassette recorder, pre-recorded videotape and DVD
In recent years Dolby Labs has developed digital technologies
including home theater systems, digital music file transmission
systems, and sound technologies for PCs and computer games.
Ray Dolby continues to serve as the company’s Chairman.
A holder of more than 50 U.S. patents, he was inducted into
the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2004. Among his numerous
honors and awards are the Alexander M. Poniatoff Gold Medal,
the IEEE's Masaru Ibuka Consumer Electronics Award, and in
1997, the U.S. National Medal of Technology. In 1986, he was
named an honorary Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the
British Empire (OBE). He has also been honored with a Scientific
and Engineering Award in 1979 by The Academy of Motion Picture
Arts and Sciences, and has received an Oscar, an Emmy and
a Grammy Award.