Dolby noise reduction system

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Dolby NR is the name given to a series of noise reduction systems developed by Dolby Laboratories for use in analogue magnetic tape recording. The first was Dolby A, a professional broadband noise reduction for recording studios in 1966, but the best-known is Dolby B (introduced 1968), a sliding band system for the consumer market, which helped make high fidelity practical on cassette tapes, and is common on stereo tape players and recorders to the present day. Of the noise reduction systems, Dolby A and Dolby SR were developed for professional use. Dolby B, C, and, S were designed for the consumer market. All the Dolby variants work by companding, or compressing the dynamic range of the sound during recording and expanding it during playback.


How Dolby noise reduction works

Dolby noise reduction is a form of dynamic preemphasis employed during recording, plus a form of dynamic deemphasis used during playback, that work in tandem to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. While Dolby A operates across the whole spectrum, the other systems specifically emphasize the audible frequency range where background tape hiss, an artifact of the recording process that is similar to white noise, is most noticeable (usually above 1 kHz).

The Dolby preemphasis boosts the recorded level of the audio signal at these higher frequencies during recording, effectively compressing the dynamic range of that portion of the signal, so that quieter sounds above 1 kHz receive a proportionally greater boost. As the tape is recorded, the relative amplitude of the signal above 1 kHz is used to determine how much pre-emphasis to apply - a low-level signal is boosted by 10 dB (Dolby B) or 20 dB (Dolby C). As the signal rises in amplitude, less and less pre-emphasis is applied until at the "Dolby level" (+3 VU), no signal modification is performed.

The sound is thus recorded at a higher overall level on the tape relative to the tape's overall noise level, requiring the tape formulation to preserve this specially recorded signal without distortion. On playback, the opposite process is applied (deemphasis), based on the relative signal component above 1 kHz. Thus as this portion of the signal decreases in amplitude, the higher frequencies are progressively more sharply attenuated, which also filters out the constant background noise on the tape when and where it would be most noticeable.

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