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Digital Stereophonic Sound – Giants of Innovation

Author: Mark Dixon
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
2:24 am

Sometimes my mind plays pleasant tricks on me. Early this morning, I awoke from a very realistic, though very odd dream where I was working for Dr. Amare Bose while he was building his first stereo loudspeaker. I never really worked for Dr. Bose, but enjoyed the dream. Of course, we know and love Dr. Bose for his innovative loudspeaker design and founding the Bose Corporation, whose noice-cancelling headphones have become the jewelry du jour of the first-class traveller set.

My dream triggered another pleasant memory – this one very real. In the fall of 1977, my wife and I attended an IEEE lecture on the campus of the University of Utah where Dr. Thomas Stockham demonstrated his digital recording techniques by playing a digital recording of the Boston Pops Orchestratra, which was very popular at the time. The lecture was held in a concert hall on the U of U campus. I remember the recording being so clear and vivid that when I closed my eyes, I could have sworn that the whole orchestra was on the stage in front of us. Dr. Stockham was the first to make a commercial digital recording. His pioneering work revolutionized the music industry.

Both of these audio pioneers stood on the virtual shoulders of Dr. Harvey Fletcher, who has been called, if somewhat inaccurately, the “Father of Stereophonic Sound.” I attended some of my very first engineering classes in the old Fletcher Building on the campus of Brigham Young University, where Dr. Fletcher was the Founding Dean of the BYU College of Engineering.

Dr. Fletcher was one of the first to investigate stereophonic sound recording and reproduction: “One of the techniques investigated was the ‘Wall of Sound,’ which used an enormous array of microphones hung in a line across the front of an orchestra. Up to eighty microphones were used, and each fed a corresponding loudspeaker, placed in an identical position, in a separate listening room.” A few years later, Alan Blumlein developed and patented the two channel stereophonic method used widely today.

So, whenever you crank up your iPod, just say a little prayer of thanks for these giants of innovation who paved the way to your current digital stereophonic enjoyment!

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