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Ray Dolby, 80; inventor known for quality sound

Dr. Dolby visited the film projection booth at Radio City Music Hall in 1994.

Sara Krulwich/New York Times

Dr. Dolby visited the film projection booth at Radio City Music Hall in 1994.

SAN FRANCISCO — Ray Dolby, the billionaire American inventor whose name became synonymous with high-end home and cinema surround sound, has died. He was 80.

Dr. Dolby died Thursday at his home in San Francisco, according to a statement by Dolby Laboratories.

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He had been suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and was diagnosed in July with acute leukemia, the San Francisco-based company said.

Through the company he founded in 1965, Dr. Dolby pioneered noise-reduction and surround-sound technologies that are used in movies, cinemas, personal computers, and home theater equipment. The Dolby logo — two block-letter Ds, facing each other — became a sign of audio quality, indicating the presence of Dolby technology that reduced the hiss from cassette tapes, for instance, or added a digital soundtrack to movies.

Tom Dolby, one of his sons, said in the statement that while his father was an engineer at heart, his achievements ‘‘grew out of a love of music and the arts.’’

When Dolby Laboratories went public in 2005, its shares surged 35 percent on the first day of trading. The founder, who held more than 50 patents, received $306 million from the IPO, and his 69.8 percent stake became worth $1.65 billion. On Thursday his net worth was $2.85 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Dolby Laboratories, with about 1,500 employees, had revenue of $926 million in 2012, the bulk of it coming from technology licensing.

Ray Milton Dolby was born in Portland, Ore. He received a bachelor of science degree in electrical engineering in 1957 from Stanford University in Palo Alto, Calif., and a doctorate in physics in 1961 from the University of Cambridge. He went to work for Ampex as chief electronics designer for the first practical videotape recording system.

In 1963, he accepted a two-year appointment as a United Nations adviser in India, and then returned to England in 1965 and founded Dolby Laboratories in London. In 1976, he moved to San Francisco, where the company established its headquarters, laboratories, and manufacturing facilities.

Two 1977 blockbuster films, ‘‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’’ and ‘‘Star Wars,’’ used Dolby Stereo technology and made high-end audio an essential part of the films’ appeal.

In 1989, along with Dolby Laboratories executive Ioan Allen, Dr. Dolby was awarded an Oscar for continuous contributions to motion picture sound. He received an Order of the Officer of the British Empire from Queen Elizabeth in 1987 and the National Medal of Technology from President Bill Clinton in 1997.

Survivors include his wife, Dagmar; sons Tom and David; and four grandchildren, the company said.

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