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A Sound Education

The Father of Hi-Fi

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Arthur Haddy may not a household name, but his achievements are. Haddy is considered by many to be the "father of hi-fi." He may single-handedly be responsible for some of the greatest consumer audio advancements of the late 20th century: High-fidelity recordings, Stereo LPs, and Cassette Dolby noise reduction.

You could say that Arthur Haddy's leap into high fidelity began on a dare. Arthur was born in Newberry, England in 1906, educated in electronics, and eventually became a radio engineer at Western Electric. While attending a 1929 recording session of his future father-in-law, the singer Harry Fay, he found the recording equipment appallingly primitive. He jokingly remarked that he could build something better on his kitchen table. Six months later, the director of that studio at the Crystalate Company (the Rex and Panachord labels) challenged him to do just that. After he delivered on his promise, Haddy was hired at twice his Western Electric salary.

During his early years at Crystalate, he worked to improve the fidelity of cutting heads and dynamic cartridges. Wax disk frequency ranges at the time were limited to about 8,000 Hz (AM radio quality), but his developments greatly increased recording clarity. In 1937, the Decca Record Company bought Crystalate. Haddy continued his long career with Decca and made his greatest accomplishments while there. In 1939, he was just beginning work on a new extended range disk cutter when World War II broke out. It was by sheer luck that the British armed forces needed an extended range recorder for identifying differences between friendly and enemy submarines and airplanes.

Now working for the war effort, Haddy and his team at Decca were able to extend the high-frequency fidelity of wax discs from 8,000 Hz to 12,000 Hz (somewhere between AM and FM radio quality). One particular operation this helped with was for intelligence and training teams examining the subtle characteristics of water movement of German and Allied submarine propellers.

After the war, Haddy and his crack engineers at Decca were able to parlay their military advancements even further, now thankfully for entertainment and not war. The wax disk's frequency range was extended to 16,000 Hz, better than FM radio. Decca marketed this new "full-frequency range recording" as ffrr. Not very catchy, but it took the world by storm and others had to play catch up.

Arthur Haddy then turned his attention reducing the noise floor in records. His application of pre-emphasis (boosting weak frequencies during recording, de-emphasizing them during playback) was an early form of noise reduction that is employed on all records today (RIAA standard). By 1950, Haddy and his engineers were considered the best in the industry.

He developed many other improvements to the sound quality of disks, disk cutters, phono cartridges, and other components of the turntable that are taken for granted today. His developments allowed Decca to be the U.K.'s first company to release long play (LP) records. As stereo recordings gained popularity, he guided the audio industry to use the now-standard 45˚ by 45˚ record groove (instead of the sidewall and floor of the groove for left and right channels).

When Dolby A noise reduction was introduced for recording on reel-to-reel multi-tracks, Haddy championed its use during the mastering and dubbing stages as well, furthering his quest for noise-free recordings. Among other improvements to audio cassette technology, he also pioneered the use of Dolby B noise reduction in cassette players and recorders.

Arthur Haddy was a huge proponent of digital recording, and was even a pioneer of the first video disc in the late 1960s. Haddy devoted his life's work to making high quality, low noise recordings for entertainment.

Haddy received many accolades from the industry, including the AES Emile Berliner Award, was an AES fellow, and was awarded the OBE from Her Majesty the Queen. He retired from Decca in 1980 and passed away in 1989. Let's all spin an LP on the old hi-fi for our "father." Maybe "Arthur's Theme"?