Alan Blumlein, inventor of stereo sound recording

Inventor of stereo sound to be honoured with technical Grammy award

The groundbreaking work of British engineer Alan Dower Blumlein, recognised as the inventor of stereo sound recording, is to be posthumously honoured by the Recording Academy in the USA with the Technical Grammy award at a special ceremony to be held later this year.

Born in Hampstead, London on 29th June 1903, Alan Dower Blumlein was one of the most prolific inventors of the 20th century and transformed the worlds of audio and recording technology, television and airborne radar.

In March 1929, aged 25, he joined Columbia Graphophone, a forerunner of EMI. During his time at Columbia and EMI Blumlein thrived as an inventive and innovative engineer, filing 128 patents in the space of 13 years.

On 14 December 1931, Blumlein filed a patent for a two-channel audio system – what subsequently became known as stereo. It included a “shuffling” circuit to preserve directional sound, an orthogonal “Blumlein Pair” of velocity microphones, the recording of two orthogonal channels in a single groove, stereo disc-cutting head, and hybrid transformer to mix directional signals.

Blumlein brought his equipment to Abbey Road Studios in 1934 (then known simply as EMI Studios) and recorded the London Philharmonic Orchestra to demonstrate his new recording technique.

Tragically, on 7th June 1942 during World War II, Blumlein’s life was cut short aged just 38 in an aircraft accident, whilst testing the H2S airborne radar system the team he was leading had developed and which was soon deployed throughout the RAF’s fleet.

Given the top-secret nature of H2S, Blumlein’s death was never officially acknowledged and so despite this major contribution to the Allied war effort, as well as his groundbreaking work in sound recording and television, his accomplishments are not widely known.

Speaking about the Grammy recognition, Simon Blumlein, Alan Blumlein’s son, said: “It is a great honour for my father and the Blumlein family to be recognised with such a prestigious award. We’re so immensely proud of him and how his work transformed sound recording. He’s always been held in the highest esteem by recording engineers and so to now receive this acknowledgement from the wider music industry is simply wonderful.”

Sir Lucian Grainge, Chairman and CEO of Universal Music Group, said: “Alan Dower Blumlein and his prolific period of invention whilst at EMI, not only transformed audio and music recording technology, but also helped shape modern media communications for generations to come through his pioneering work in television. We are delighted that the Recording Academy has chosen to honour his legacy with this posthumous Grammy award. His work, productivity and lasting scientific impact continue to entertain, educate and inspire millions today.”

The life and work of Alan Dower Blumlein is being developed into an as-yet untitled film project by Universal Music Group, which also supports and maintains The EMI Group Archive Trust at Hayes, Middlesex, home to much of Blumleim’s pioneering work, inventions and artefacts.

Blumlein was previously honoured in 2015 by EMI and Abbey Road Studios at a special ceremony held at the legendary studio complex in St. John’s Wood, London.

The IEEE commemorative Milestone Plaque – only the fifth in London – was unveiled by Howard Michel, president and CEO of the IEEE, Isabel Garvey, managing director of Abbey Road Studios and Alan Blumlein's son Simon and grandson Alan. The plaque was awarded “in recognition of Blumlein's enduring influence in recording technology”.

A blue plaque honouring Sir Edward Elgar, the first conductor/composer to record at the EMI studios, was already in place on the front of the building, to the left of the entrance. Blumlein's plaque was installed to the right.

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