Meeting Topic: Dolby Laboratories Turns 50!
Moderator Name: Ken Hunold
Speaker Name: Ken Hunold, Technical Marketing Manager, Dolby Laboratories
Meeting Location: Dolby Laboratories NY Screening Room 1350 Ave of the Americas Main Floor
Chartered on May 17th 1965, Dolby was set up as an American corporation by Ray Dolby, but located in offices in Crabtree, London, SW6.
In May of 1966, a recording of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing Mozart A301 with Dolby Type A noise reduction was made. This process was only applied to the audio on the B side of the LP. This made for a very straightforward A/B listening test of the Dolby process.
In April of 1967, the idea of B type (consumer) noise reduction, utilizing 6 transistors, was first discussed.
In November of 1967, Dolby opened its first office in the USA at 333 Avenue of the Americas, in a space that was sublet from friend and part time office manager Marc Aubort of Elite Recording. Marc was also the first Dolby dealer in North America. This was also when A type noise reduction was introduced and purchased by Decca.
A type noise reduction was wideband and for professional use. It had a signal-to-noise ratio of 60dB (1000:1). It was a process that focused only on the noise instead of the whole audio signal. It used a syllabic limiter with four frequency bands, which seemed right and practical as we heard an interview Ray Dolby did with the AES Historical Committee in September of 2000. The only criticism he had of the system so many years later was that band 3 should have been lower. Dolby addressed that one point with the introduction of SR noise reduction in March 1986. It had bands that could be moved.
In June of 1968, the KLH Model 40 open-reel deck becomes the first with Type B noise reduction.
In September of 1970, Dolby introduced the Model 360, a type A noise reduction module for multitrack recorders. On November 15, 1970, the first tests of A type for cinema sound were done with the movie "Jane Eyre".
The key to Dolby's success in cinema sound, according to Ioan Allen, senior vice president at the time, was the use of EQ to flatten out speaker response, which then made their noise reduction work.
Other notable dates in the history of both Dolby and cinema sound include:
December 1971 - A type noise reduction used on pre-mixes and masters for "A Clockwork Orange"
September 1972 - M series was introduced
September 1973 - cat64 EQ was introduced
October 1975 - "Lisztomania" becomes the first movie with Dolby Stereo optical (LCR) soundtrack
December 1976 - "A Star Is Born" becomes the first 35mm film with a Dolby stereo surround soundtrack
November 1979 - "Apocalypse Now" becomes the 70mm film with a Dolby stereo soundtrack
June 10, 1994 - "Speed" becomes the first movie with a Dolby Digital soundtrack
While all of that cinema sound history was being made, Dolby moved its HQ to San Francisco, CA for administration, R&D, marketing, licensing, and North American sales in January 1976. Engineers were based in both Hollywood and New York City. In January 1980, the California office was moved to 100 Potrero Avenue. In April 1983, manufacturing was moved to another California location.
In the consumer space, Dolby's competition was dbx noise reduction, which had less perceptible noise. In another AES Historical Committee clip from September of 2000, David Robinson, then Chief Engineer at Dolby, explained that Dolby's C type noise reduction had twice as much noise reduction as B type because C type was effectively two B type circuits in series. This explains why consumer equipment had B/C switches. It also meant that there was too much processing with C type noise reduction to have pre-recorded tapes.
Dolby has lead into and continues beyond its 50th anniversary with advancements in other areas. Dolby Voice is a teleconferencing partnership with British Telecom (BT). Dolby Vision is a layered (high dynamic range) HDR system that works with standard dynamic range (SDR) displays. Coming to a theater near you eventually is Dolby Cinema, which is the combination of Dolby's Atmos (object-based audio) and Vision (HDR video) utilizing laser projectors in a movie theater setting.
Written By: Jonathan S. Abrams