Another audio technology pioneer has passed away. Ray Dolby started at Ampex, working on magnetic tape recorders that were based on German machines captured at the end of WWII by Jack Mullin. Later, Dolby made major contributions to Ampex’s development of the first video tape recorder. In the 1960′s, when recording studios went from four to eight tracks — leaving less surface area on the tape for each track — hiss was the result, and the Dolby A noise reduction system was developed to alleviate the problem. Dolby B was the consumer version of the circuit. Today, every HDTV has Dolby Digital decoding built in. I know somebody who worked at Dolby Labs. I’ll see if I can pry out a comment about the man.
Addendum: Somebody who worked at Dolby Labs says…
He was a very very nice man, quiet, extremely intelligent, good-natured. The company under his leadership was a marvelous place to work, where engineers had the ability to follow ideas, where the technology was cutting edge. He was also an extremely good businessman, and understood the power of licensing. His engineering contributions to early recording were ground-breaking.
Amar Bose has died. I drive past the Bose headquarters almost every day, and I felt obliged to buy a Bose Wave Music System after having the porch remodeled. There really is no other product that does what the Wave does for its size.
Bose 901 Series II loudspeaker
In high school, when I was bitten by the stereo bug, the Bose 901 speakers were a big deal. It became a joke that if you walked into a stereo store you were guaranteed to hear Edgar Winter’s Frankenstein played full blast on a pair of Bose 901′s.
Personally, I never cared for the sound of the heavily-equalized Bose 901, preferring instead the designs of Roy Allison, but I have to admire Amar Bose for his marketing savvy and his profit margins. He had the vision to lead the home audio trend away from ever-bigger box speakers by introducing tiny stereo satellites that were coupled with a dedicated bass unit that could be hidden under an end table. The innovative and imitated Bose noise-cancelling headphones are very successful.
Greater Boston has a great and grand tradition in audio, but now it’s mostly in the past. Acoustic Research, KLH, Advent, H.H. Scott, EPI, Genesis, Allison, Snell, ADS, Cizek, Avid and Apt are long gone. Boston Acoustics was sold years ago and NAD is in Canada. Only the Bose Corporation endures with its name and heritage intact, and that is a testament to the leadership of Amar Bose.
Addendum: In 1971 Bose sued Consumer Reports for libel, because its review of the 901 Series I loudspeaker stated that the stereo image “wandered around the room.” Not yet knowing of the CU lawsuit, but having read the review at the library, I had the exact same impression of the Series I when I heard it in early 1972. A year later the 901 Series II was introduced and the “ten feet tall violin” effect had been tamed. I assumed Bose had taken the criticism to heart and fixed the problem, which can also be affected by speaker placement, so I was surprised when I learned of the lawsuit in one of the hi-fi magazines I devoured in those days. Bose should have dropped the case, but it dragged on for over ten years and went all the way to the Supreme Court, where Bose lost.
In 2011 BBC Radio 4 presented Brian Sibley’s superb radio drama adaptation of Mervyn Peake’s fantasy saga, The History of Titus Groan. The series is available from Amazon as an Audible book. It makes for particularly good listening on headphones.
Radio 4 now has another outstanding adaptation, with Neil Gaiman’s Neverwhere. The series features James McAvoy, who is known to comic book fans as Charles Xavier in X-Men: First Class, and Natalie Dorman.
Natalie Dormer in “The Tudors”
Neverwhere is available through this week, until March 29. The first episode is an hour long, and for convenience I’ve put it on the audio player. Parts 2-6 are 30 minutes and they’re on the BBC iPlayer.
With the move to an online world without physical media — the so-called “cloud” — I wonder what sort of evidence of our existence there will be hundreds of years from now. NPR has this feature on what the Library of Congress is doing to preserve America’s audio past and present for the future.
Hey, WGBH in Boston. Where did your live streams go? The Jazz Decades feed is still there, as is WCAI for Cape Cod, but your primary station is g-o-n-e not only from TuneIn, but also from direct URL entry. What’s up?
Follow-up: It’s back. It was gone for at least 24 hours, and before posting this I had written to both the station and to TuneIn.
Once again, the landscape of Boston radio is changing and, like the return of Barnes Newberry, it’s found on the Internet. The Boston Globe is going back to what some major city newspapers did way back in the 1920′s, by starting its own station. It’s called RadioBDC, which I’m taking to mean “Radio Boston Dot Com.” The station is online only, and it’s essentially picking up where alternative Rock station WFNX left off, when it was sold to Clear Channel earlier this year.
I’m not the target audience for RadioBDC, but I’m hoping it succeeds. It doesn’t have a TuneIn listing yet, and I don’t have a direct URL for it, so for now I can’t play it on my Logitech Media Server network and the only way I can hear RadioBDC is with the station’s Flash player on a computer, which means I won’t be listening to it a lot. But I’ve already heard something I like a lot — Champagne Supernova, by Oasis. I was never one looking to get high, which apparently was a priority for these guys, but drug references in song lyrics have never phased me. For somebody who had bell bottom pants and a paisley shirt in the seventh grade, this is good stuff.