09 June 2009
Dolby noise reduction
The invention: Electronic device that reduces the signal-to-noise ratio of sound recordings and greatly improves the sound quality of recorded music. The people behind the invention: Emil Berliner (1851-1929), a German inventor Ray Milton Dolby (1933- ), an American inventor Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931), an American inventor Phonographs, Tapes, and Noise Reduction The main use of record, tape, and compact disc players is to listen to music, although they are also used to listen to recorded speeches, messages, and various forms of instruction. Thomas Alva Edison invented the first sound-reproducing machine, which he called the “phonograph,” and patented it in 1877. Ten years later, a practical phonograph (the “gramophone”) was marketed by a German, Emil Berliner. Phonographs recorded sound by using diaphragms that vibrated in response to sound waves and controlled needles that cut grooves representing those vibrations into the first phonograph records, which in Edison’s machine were metal cylinders and in Berliner’s were flat discs. The recordings were then played by reversing the recording process: Placing a needle in the groove in the recorded cylinder or disk caused the diaphragm to vibrate, re-creating the original sound that had been recorded. In the 1920’s, electrical recording methods developed that produced higher-quality recordings, and then, in the 1930’s, stereophonic recording was developed by various companies, including the British company Electrical and Musical Industries (EMI). Almost simultaneously, the technology of tape recording was developed. By the 1940’s, long-playing stereo records and tapes were widely available. As recording techniques improved further, tapes became very popular, and by the 1960’s, they had evolved into both studio master recording tapes and the audio cassettes used by consumers.Hisses and other noises associated with sound recording and its environment greatly diminished the quality of recorded music. In 1967, Ray Dolby invented a noise reducer, later named “Dolby A,” that could be used by recording studios to reduce tape signal-tonoise ratios. Several years later, his “Dolby B” system, designed for home use, became standard equipment in all types of playback machines. Later, Dolby and others designed improved noisesuppression systems. Recording and Tape Noise Sound is made up of vibrations of varying frequencies—sound waves—that sound recorders can convert into grooves on plastic records, varying magnetic arrangements on plastic tapes covered with iron particles, or tiny pits on compact discs. The following discussion will focus on tape recordings, for which the original Dolby noise reducers were designed. Tape recordings are made by a process that converts sound waves into electrical impulses that cause the iron particles in a tape to reorganize themselves into particular magnetic arrangements. The process is reversed when the tape is played back. In this process, the particle arrangements are translated first into electrical impulses and then into sound that is produced by loudspeakers. Erasing a tape causes the iron particles to move back into their original spatial arrangement. Whenever a recording is made, undesired sounds such as hisses, hums, pops, and clicks can mask the nuances of recorded sound, annoying and fatiguing listeners. The first attempts to do away with undesired sounds (noise) involved making tapes, recording devices, and recording studios quieter. Such efforts did not, however, remove all undesired sounds. Furthermore, advances in recording technology increased the problem of noise by producing better instruments that “heard” and transmitted to recordings increased levels of noise. Such noise is often caused by the components of the recording system; tape hiss is an example of such noise. This type of noise is most discernible in quiet passages of recordings, because loud recorded sounds often mask it.Because of the problem of noise in quiet passages of recorded sound, one early attempt at noise suppression involved the reduction of noise levels by using “dynaural” noise suppressors. These devices did not alter the loud portions of a recording; instead, they reduced the very high and very low frequencies in the quiet passages in which noise became most audible. The problem with such devices was, however, that removing the high and low frequencies could also affect the desirable portions of the recorded sound. These suppressors could not distinguish desirable from undesirable sounds. As recording techniques improved, dynaural noise suppressors caused more and more problems, and their use was finally discontinued. Another approach to noise suppression is sound compression during the recording process. This compression is based on the fact that most noise remains at a constant level throughout a recording, regardless of the sound level of a desired signal (such as music). To carry out sound compression, the lowest-level signals in a recording are electronically elevated above the sound level of all noise. Musical nuances can be lost when the process is carried too far, because the maximum sound level is not increased by devices that use sound compression. To return the music or other recorded sound to its normal sound range for listening, devices that “expand” the recorded music on playback are used. Two potential problems associated with the use of sound compression and expansion are the difficulty of matching the two processes and the introduction into the recording of noise created by the compression devices themselves. In 1967, Ray Dolby developed Dolby Ato solve these problems as they related to tape noise (but not to microphone signals) in the recording and playing back of studio master tapes. The system operated by carrying out ten-decibel compression during recording and then restoring (noiselessly) the range of the music on playback. This was accomplished by expanding the sound exactly to its original range. Dolby Awas very expensive and was thus limited to use in recording studios. In the early 1970’s, however, Dolby invented the less expensive Dolby B system, which was intended for consumers. Consequences The development of Dolby Aand Dolby B noise-reduction systems is one of the most important contributions to the high-quality recording and reproduction of sound. For this reason, Dolby A quickly became standard in the recording industry. In similar fashion, Dolby B was soon incorporated into virtually every highfidelity stereo cassette deck to be manufactured. Dolby’s discoveries spurred advances in the field of noise reduction. For example, the German company Telefunken and the Japanese companies Sanyo and Toshiba, among others, developed their own noise-reduction systems. Dolby Laboratories countered by producing an improved system: Dolby C. The competition in the area of noise reduction continues, and it will continue as long as changes in recording technology produce new, more sensitive recording equipment.