A restless and prolific inventor and entrepreneur, Dolby is best-known for the noise-reduction system that bears his name. In addition to Dolby NR, Dolby was also a key player in the early development of the first broadcast-quality videotape recorders.
As a teenager in the Bay Area, Dolby took a part-time job at Ampex, which gave him access to an early audiotape recorder as well as equipment with which to experiment. During college, he helped develop early prototypes of videotape recording equipment, and that led to the release of Ampex’s Quadruplex videotape recorder in 1956.
After obtaining a B.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford and a Ph.D. in physics from the University of Cambridge, he embarked on a two-year gig in India as a UNESCO science advisor.
Upon his return to the United Kingdom, Dolby founded Dolby Laboratories in London in 1965. It was there that he developed the electronic filter known as the Dolby Sound System.
The filter reduced the previously persistent “hiss” found on analog tape, allowing for more pristine and life-like recording for both music and films. Dolby A was released in 1966 for use in recording studios for noise reduction. Its followup, Dolby B, was introduced for the consumer market in 1968, allowing listeners at home to enjoy a significantly higher fidelity on cassette tapes.
Since then, the ever-evolving Dolby technologies have been utilized in movie theaters and recording studios, and for various consumer formats including VHS tapes, laserdiscs, DVDs, Blu-rays, video games and digital cable.
"An inventor knows what he wants to do," Dolby told the L.A. Times in 1988. "Inventing is a very exciting process—it must be the thrill explorers had years ago—but one must be cautious because the sudden revelation might be a trap. An inventor has to have taken out a patent. I had my first one at 19."
For his work in the field, Dolby received two Oscars for scientific and technical achievement, as well as several Emmys and a Grammy. He has more than 50 patents to his name.