The 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.
Born in Hampstead, London on 29 June 1903, Blumlein was one of the most prolific inventors of the 20th 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 what we now know 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 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 7 June 1942 during WWII, aged 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.
Speaking on the honour, Simon Blumlein, 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, added: “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 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 – Home to much of Blumleim’s work, inventions and artefacts in their purpose built historical archive in Hayes, Middlesex, UK.