I had occasion to spend a couple hours waiting for a plane at San Francisco International Airport not long ago and happened upon a display entitled The History of Audio: The Engineering of Sound in the North Terminal. It’s a fascinating selection of objects and profiles that relate to the development of home and theater audio.
The San Francisco Bay Area certainly has been home for many key contributors to these fields. San Carlos, CA, is the home of Ampex, developer of many early commercial audio and video reel-to-reel tape recorders. Ray Dolby and Dolby Laboratories (responsible for Dolby audio noise reduction, Dolby theater stereo, and Dolby digital surround sound) have called San Francisco home for decades. George Lucas also lives just north of San Francisco and he has done much to advance the state of theater audio from his embrace of Dolby Stereo for the original Star Wars (that lead to its adoption by many theaters across the country) to his sponsorship of the THX acoustic standard.
Interesting artifacts include the bright yellow plastic prototype for one of the first boom boxes, samples of home audio equipment going back to the 1920s, displays of memorabilia for motion pictures that pioneered new audio formats (Fantasia introduced quadraphonic theater sound, for example), various pieces of commercial audio and video equipment (like an original Ampex 3/4 inch video recorder), and unusual ephemera (like a Bantha Tracks interview with Ben Burtt about the sound design of the Star Wars films).
If you find yourself with some time to kill while waiting for a plane in San Francisco before the end of May 2007, check it out. It’s cool.