Inventor of Stereo Sound Alan Dower Blumlein to be Honoured with Posthumous Grammy®

Pioneering British Engineer and Inventor of Stereo, Alan Dower Blumlein to be Posthumously Honoured with the Recording Academy® Technical Grammy® Award

The ground-breaking work of British engineer Alan Dower Blumlein, inventor of stereo sound recording, is to be posthumously honoured by The Recording Academy® with the Technical Grammy® award at a special ceremony to be held later this year.

Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) photo courtesy of THE EMI Group Archive Trust

Alan Dower Blumlein (1903-1942) photo courtesy of The EMI Group Archive Trust

The news of Alan Dower Blumlein’s posthumous Grammy® received widespread interest from mainstream media outlets including Sky News, BBC Radio 4, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and the London Evening Standard.

Born in Hampstead, London on 29th June 1903, Alan Dower Blumlein was one of the most prolific inventors of the twentieth century who transformed the worlds of audio and recording technology, television and airborne radar. In March 1929, aged 25, he joined Columbia Graphophone, one of the forerunners of EMI. During his time at Columbia and EMI he thrived as an incredibly 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, or stereo as we call it now. 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 and recorded the London Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was honoured in 2015 with a commemorative plaque by the IEEE for his work in advancing technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity.

Tragically on 7th June 1942 during World War II, aged just 38, Blumlein’s life was cut short in an aircraft accident, whilst testing the H2S airborne radar system that the team he was leading had developed and which was soon deployed throughout the RAF’s fleet. Given the top secret nature of H2S his death was never officially acknowledged and so despite this major contribution to the Allied war effort, as well as his ground breaking work in sound recording and television, his accomplishments are not widely known.

Alan Dower Blumlein is one of the great unsung heroes of British science and technology in the 20th century.

The life and work of Alan Dower Blumlein is currently being developed into an as-yet untitled film project by Universal Music Group, which also supports and maintains The EMI Group Archive Trust.

Found out more about the work of Alan Dower Blumlein on the EMI Archive Trust Blog.

Watch and listen to Alan Dower Blumlein’s early stereo sound recordings

‘Trains at Hayes Station’ – Universal Music Group YouTube Channel

‘Walking and Talking’ – Abbey Road Studios YouTube Channel

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Alan Blumlein Stereo Model

Video

Lets say that you are a scientist, a physicist and mathematician. You are a genius and have just invented a new technology that could revolutionise the music industry… How would you pitch the idea to the directors and business team of your company, they are not scientists, but hold the power to release the funds you need to finish off the work?

Well if you were Alan Blumlein and had just developed stereo technology at EMI’s Central Research Laboratories, you’d create a large scale model. His model showed how one needle in a specially cut groove on a record could give out two signals simultaneously resulting in a more stereophonic sound. Here is a short video of that model in action. Notice the difference in readings between the two dials.