Ray Dolby dies

Back in 1970, I’d guess it was, I dropped by my Uncle Jerry and Aunt Libi’s apartment on 104th St. and Broadway. They were both show biz types; in the early 1960s Jerry won an Obie for his direction of the musical “Fly Blackbird.”

Uncle J. wanted me to listen to his new cassette deck, which had a button that turned on something called “Dolby.” When he engaged it the improvement in the quality of the sound was dramatic — a marked drop in hiss with little, if any, loss of frequencies. Anyone who listened to recorded music before this era knows the contribution that Ray Dolby, who died Sept. 12 at the age of 80, made to the science of recorded sound.

How Ray Dolby achieved this stunning breakthrough remains something of a mystery to all but the most technically refined among us; the process involved boosting the frequencies most susceptible to hiss when transferring audio from the original masters, and then dropping this band down to its original level. Some additional filtering was clearly involved, which allowed the process to effectively eliminate the undesirable content without significantly degrading the signal.

Dolby Laboratories (www.dolby.com) has had a profound impact on theatrical and home theater sound as well. A successful businessman, Dolby was worth about $2 billion at the time of his death. The company he founded in the 1960s remains a leading agent in the development of audio technology.