She Blinded Me With Dolby

Sound of the 80's

Several days ago I wrote about the sound of the 80's being the Yamaha DX7 synthesizer. In the intervening time I realized that the *real* sound of the 80's is Dolby-B encoded music played back on non-Dolby equipment. Cassette tapes were de rigueur in the 80's, and 99% of prerecorded tapes had Dolby noise reduction.

Hissssssssssss But did the tape deck in your mom's Plymouth have Dolby? What about the Radio Shack all-in-one stereo in the living room? Your cheap Walkman knock-off? Your sisters ghetto blaster (*there's* a term I haven't heard in years!).

Dolby B encoding had its own distinct sound. The high end hiss of companded tape noise added a little sparkle to otherwise dull cassettes. You got so accustomed to the effect that you almost missed it when it was gone.

When I finally used a tape deck that actually had Dolby NR, it was anticlimactic. You could switch on Dolby B and a percentage of the tape hiss would go away. But so was the high end sparkle. Dolby B encoding was the poor man's Aural Exciter. Yes, I said it. Aural exciter.

Now before all the jokes get going in your head, listen to this audio feature (you'll have to click the play button twice to use it depending on the security settings of your browser).

Paul McCarney used the more expensive Aphex Aural Exciter on the Tug of War album ("Ebony and Ivory"). "Trouble at Madame Dong's" was an audio ad on the B-side of a Keyboard Magazine "SoundPage". In the mid-80's Keyboard included an Eva-Tone flexidisc in each issue. EvaTone is still in business. I drove by their office in Clearwater Florida just last week.

Exiters and enhancers are alive and well in modern audio production, albeit generally as software and not hardware. BBE and the SRS WoW effect are two examples often found in consumer-level equipment. Although some audiophiles will try to warp the space-time continuum to tell you that BBE is not an exciter...that's exactly what it is.

So as I see it, you can use an exciter like everyone else, but if you want to be really different, encode your CDs and MP3s with Dolby B Noise Reduction.

Or if you want to be really obscure, use JVC's compatible ANRS system

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