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Remembering Ray Dolby

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Ray Dolby 1933-2013The news of Ray Dolby’s death yesterday at the age of 80 hit me on a more personal level than the deaths of most industry legends do. Not that I knew Mr. Dolby personally, mind you; I only met him once in passing. But in a roundabout sort of way he — or, at least the company he founded — was the spark that ignited my career in consumer electronics journalism. At the time, I was purely a hobbyist, writing for a DVD news and review website for fun while I slaved away at a civil engineering job that was slowly devouring my will to live. But Dolby Labs invited me out to San Francisco to check out some new audio technologies — including DVD-A and a new file compression format you may have heard of called AAC –  and while I was there, I met Brent Butterworth, who not only taught me everything I know about writing and gave me my first paying gig in journalism when his tenure at Dolby came to an end, but also became one of my most cherished friends.

So it’s no surprise that it’s Brent’s ode to Ray Dolby that resonates with me the most. In a new post at About.com (where he has taken over as the new Stereo Guide), Brent gives us Ray Dolby: The Real Story — a reaction to what he considers to be inaccurate portrayals of the man’s true talents:

The news media is portraying Ray as an audio genius who became an icon because of his innovative engineering. If he had passed away in 1980, they’d have gotten it right. But the Ray Dolby they’re describing is the millionaire whose noise-reduction circuitry turned the cassette into a practical recording medium.

The Ray Dolby who isn’t being discussed or remembered is the billionaire business genius. In the 1980s and since, Ray’s importance wasn’t in his engineering — to my knowledge, he had no significant hands-on involvement in any technologies other than analog noise reduction. The major news outlets and even audio-oriented websites are wrong when they say that Ray invented surround sound. He didn’t. But he was smart enough to hire the guys who did, and to create an environment where engineers were free to develop new technologies to their own exacting standards, with a minimum of commercial pressure.

Do read the rest.

And for more on the man and his accomplishments, check out this official memorial from Dolby.com, which includes reminescence from those who worked with him, those who followed him, and those who’ve benefited from his technologies, like legendary sound designer Ben Burtt:

Read: [Ray Dolby: The Real Story]

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