Happy B’Day Ray Dolby: The Man Who Engineered Mankind’s Entertainment Desires

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Distinguishing the sounds of various musical instruments or experiencing a war scene was not magical until the foundation of Dolby Laboratories, Inc. (NYSE: DLB) in 1965. The Dolby logo, which may be found at the end of movie credits or on high-end speakers and gadgets, is a symbol of Ray Dolby’s legacy. His creative vision, along with his in-depth knowledge of the science behind sound production, paved the way for the entertainment industry. His undying passion for flying indicates that he was a spirited man who craved adventure.

Mainly, though, I was fascinated by the technology of music; how organs worked, how reeds vibrated, why things sounded the way they did.

Full Name: Ray Milton Dolby

Born: January 18, 1933, Portland, Oregon


Died: September 12, 2013, San Francisco, California

Net Worth: $2.3 billion (At the time of his death)

On his 89th birth anniversary, we bring a few amazing yet less known facts about the man who modernised the entertainment industry:

  • Early Life: Ray Dolby was born to Earl Milton Dolby and Esther Strand, in Portland, Oregon in the United States. His family, however, moved to California when he was a child. Ray Dolby attended the Sequoia High School, class of 1951, in Redwood City, California.
  • Love for Music instruments: At the age of ten, he began playing the piano, and later the clarinet. He was constantly fascinated by the origins of musical sounds produced by these instruments.
  • Alexander Poniatoff, a well-known electrical engineer who founded “Ampex“, the company that pioneered audio tape recorders, played an instrumental role in shaping Ray Dolby’s future career. Poniatoff had come in Redwood City to showcase some movies to members of a mental-health society. He requested for a projectionist from Sequoia High School, where Ray was a student. Ray volunteered in exchange for a free meal and a $5 payment.
  • First Job: In 1949, Ray joined Alexander’s business Ampex when he was only sixteen years old. He used to work at Ampex for five hours at a time, after attending school for three hours. At Ampex, he worked on the first practical video-tape recording system, while simultaneously pursuing a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the Stanford University.
  • Education: After graduating from Stanford in 1957, he left Ampex, as he received a Marshall Scholarship and a fellowship from the National Science Foundation in the United Kingdom. He went to Cambridge for his post-graduate studies in Physics, becoming the first American to be accepted as a fellow of Pembroke College. In 1961, he received a Doctor’s degree from Cambridge at the age of 28.
  • Career In India: In 1963, Ray was designated as the scientific advisor to the Government of India. While working as a representative of the United Nations, he was the in charge of establishing a national research laboratory to develop scientific instruments in India. Ray, a music enthusiast, often invited sitar performers to his house, and organised live recordings of their compositions.
  • Foundation of Dolby Laboratories: In 1965, Ray Dolby returned to London and founded Dolby Laboratories, with a team of four. During the same year, he introduced the A-type noise reduction units for the professional market. He first tasted success when Decca Records, a famous recording studio placed the first order for nine units of the Dolby A-301 professional noise reduction system. In 1968, Ray introduced the B-type home noise reduction system for consumer products. Vladimir Ashkenazy, the Pianist, was first to use Dolby noise reduction.
  • Success: Film studios started investing heavily in Dolby equipments. The 1971 film “A Clockwork Orange” by Stanley Kubrick was the first film to use Dolby encoded sound. In 1974, the Callan became the first film with a Dolby-encoded optical soundtrack. The next breakthrough came when George Lucas, the director of Star Wars, used Dolby Stereo.
  • Passion for Flying: At the age of 57, Dolby revived his interest in flying airplanes and started subscribing to aviation-related magazines and journals. He purchased a Cessna Turbo 206 at the age of 60, followed by a TBM 700 in 1993. While trying a somewhat hazardous landing in his TBM 700 in Truckee, Nevada County, California, he had an accident. He flew all over the world, including the United States, Europe, and Africa, and completed 15 Atlantic crossings. By 1999, he had added a Pilatus PC-12 to his fleet.
  • Philanthropy: Ray made a $36 million donation to the University of California to support stem cell research. About $23 million was given to California Pacific Medical Centre and the Alzheimer’s Association for research and treatment of the disease.
  • Awards and Recognition: In 1987, Ray Dolby was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth 2. In 1989, he received an Academy Award for his contribution to motion picture sound. Another feather in his crown was an Oscar statuette awarded by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in 1989. In May 2013, Ray Dolby, aged 80, made his last public appearance at the 56th International Film Festival where he received the prestigious George Gund 3 Award from the San Francisco Film Society.
  • Dolby remained the chairman of the company for over 34 years since its inception in 1965 until his retirement in 2009. He secured 50 patents during his career, the most recent of which is Dolby Atmos, which delivers commands to individual speakers.
  • Ray Dolby died on the 12 September 2013, at his home in San Francisco. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was diagnosed with acute leukaemia a few months before he passed away. He was survived by his Wife Dagmar Bäumert, who now controls family’s Dolby shares, and their sons, David and Tom.

To be an inventor, you have to be willing to live with a sense of uncertainty, to work in this darkness and grope towards an answer, to put up with anxiety about whether there is an answer.

The post is a part of a B’day Series where we celebrate the birthday of renowned personalities from the Tech Industry, very frequently. The series includes Entrepreneurs, C-level Executives, innovators or renewed leaders who moved the industry with their exponential skill set and vision. The intent is to highlight the person’s achievements and touch base the little known, but interesting, part of his life. You can see the list of all earlier celebrated tech personalities, including Mark Zuckerberg, Marissa Mayor, Sean Parker, Andy Rubin, Julian AssangeSir Richard Branson, Sergey Brin by following this link or subscribe to your daily newsletter.


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