originally published: March 03, 2015
This article is republished in memory of Jim Fosgate who recently passed away on December 9th, 2022. A true industry icon is gone but NOT forgotten. This article is a historical account of the battle for Dolby Prologic II and Jim’s involvement with the development of a revolutionary surround upmixer and it’s impact on home theater.
development of pre-digital surround sound through the experiences of someone
who was there for a big chunk of it…
Surround Sound Upmixer History Youtube Discussion w Roger Dressler
It was 1971 when I decided to upgrade my audio system from an 18-watt Knight
integrated tube amplifier to a Dynaco SCA-80Q integrated, in kit form. I
preferred assembling my audio electronics, more for the aesthetics than
anything else. Despite the glowing reviews you can find online extolling the
natural, powerful performance of this amplifier, it was a fairly pedestrian
Dynaco SC-80Q 4CH Amp
I had this
setup for about a year before I tried an unused feature of this Dynaco
amplifier; Dynaquad. This simple passive matrix was based upon a Hafler circuit
that retrieved ambience and simulated “quad” by sending information through
additional amplifier channels to two more speakers. It was a bit unnatural and
gimmicky, but I was mesmerized by the effect.
my SCA-80Q failed rather dramatically one evening, with a loud “POP!” accompanied
by a bright flash, a mini-mushroom cloud, and, finally, the familiar aroma of
burnt carbon. I replaced the charred amp with a Crown IC-150 preamp (famously known
as “a straight wire with grain”) and a Phase Linear 400 power amp. It was a
significant sonic improvement, and I completely forgot about 4-channel sound…for
the time being.
I retired as
a professional drummer on New Year’s Eve, 1978-1979, finishing the last night I
would be paid to play drums with a raucous ten-minute solo. The band packed up
all the gear on that snowy early Chicago morning, and a day later, I was the
manager of a suburban Chicago audio/video store, wearing a tie, and feeling severely
disoriented. It was my love of hi-fi that fostered my love of music, and things
had come full circle. I was now selling hi-fi; Yamaha, Nakamichi, Gale,
Dahlquist, McIntosh, Revox, B&O.
The Audionics Space & Image Composer was conceived in 1976, and was produced from 1979 to 1980, when the Tate chipset supply was exhausted.
A year into
my new career, a rep brought in an array of electronic components from a small
company known as Audionics of Oregon. There were three components; the BT-2
preamp, the CC-2 power amp, and a peculiar piece with the esoteric moniker
“Space & Image Composer.” While glancing at the front panel, I noticed an
SQ control, and my eyes lit up: Quad!
about dead by this time (1980), but this interesting device did something far
better than decode SQ. It could generate four discrete channels from any
two-channel source, and the effect was dramatic. Every record (or soon, CD) in
one’s collection was now 4-channel. I sold almost two dozen systems using the
Space & Image Composer with accompanying Audionics amps and a preamp, to
the delight of my customers. All of them ran out to buy “Dark Side of the Moon”
and “Crime of the Century.”
was the president of Audionics of Oregon, and we quickly hit it off. We are
close to this day. The Audionics of Oregon Space & Image Composer was one
of the world’s first two commercially available SQ/Surround processors
utilizing the Tate Directional Enhancement System. The key phrase was “surround
processor.” It was an active-matrix device, with steering logic based upon the Tate
chipset, which is long extinct. The effect was far more dramatic than Dynaquad
or Hafler technology, because those were passive matrix designs that were very
simple, and they pretty much just extracted ambience and directed it to the
rear. The Tate chipset actually would pull hard left and hard right sounds in
the mix to the side or rear creating an unnerving, discrete 4-channel sound.
another industry visionary, Jim Fosgate, had developed a processor at the same
time, the Tate 101. It used the same chipset, offered about the same
performance as the Composer, and it was priced about the same; around $1,100.
In the mid-1980s, Audionics of Oregon was absorbed by Fosgate, and the company
Fosgate-Audionics was born in Heber City, Utah. Jim Fosgate continued
developing and perfecting his own surround technologies, surpassing what the
Tate technology could do. Charlie Wood joined Jim as his sales manager,
marketing manager, PR person, etc. They designed, manufactured, and sold surround
products in a modest facility in quaint Heber City.
I stayed in
touch with Charlie Wood through this period, speaking with him at least once a
month. We would trade war stories, and he often said he wished he could divest
himself of sales responsibilities to concentrate on marketing, product
development, and “not talking to people on the phone.” During an especially
nightmarish retail day, Charlie called me and asked if I wanted to be a
national sales manager. I jumped at it. A few days later, I made a non-stop
21-hour drive from Chicago to Heber City and interviewed for the job. I gave my
3-month notice at Columbia Audio Video and in 1989, we moved to Utah.
1980s, surround sound really came into its own, primarily used for VHS
soundtracks. Dolby Surround was a passive matrix, like the Hafler circuit, and it placed ambient mono information
in either one or two rear speakers. (Dolby Stereo was a crude active matrix pro
surround technology used in theaters.) Because separation was only about 3 dB
(front to back) with Dolby Surround, front channel information in the rear
channels was subdued by rolling the highs off. Dolby Pro Logic was introduced
in 1986, and it used an active matrix, with slow steering logic and processing.
However, unlike the Fosgate and Audionics pieces that had already been around
for seven years, Pro Logic had a mono rear channel that was also bandwidth
limited to 7 kHz. To remove unwanted artifacts, Dolby threw the baby out with
the bath water. By focusing on eliminating artifacts, detail, speed, and
separation were compromised. Jim Fosgate’s designs used full-range, stereo rear
channels, the control voltages were such that attack and release times were
much faster, and Jim continuously toiled to eliminate the audible artifacts
such as pumping, breathing, random glitches, etc. We honestly felt our
little-known technology was superior to the industry standard, Dolby Pro Logic.
At this same time, Lexicon had developed very robust surround processors using
Pro Logic that they had cleverly implemented in the digital domain. Lexicon was
Fosgate’s main competition, and their products were solid. My arch-rival at the
time was my friend Buzz Goddard, an industry icon even today. If you bought a
high-end surround preamp in 1990, it was most likely either a Fosgate-Audionics
or a Lexicon.
Jim Fosgate’s Tate 101a was developed in parallel to the Audionics Space & Image Composer, and they were the first two commercially available active-matrix surround processors.
At this time,
Fosgate-Audionics had a who’s who of surround sound giants working in our
modest facility. In addition to surround legends Charlie Wood and Jim Fosgate,
we also had Martin Wilcox. Martin had worked for Wes Ruggles who started Tate
Audio. CBS provided some early funding to Tate because they recognized it was superior
technology to CBS’ own SQ steering logic developed at CBS Labs. Bob Popham
implemented many of Jim’s designs, and he was invaluable at Fosgate-Audionics.
Bob previously worked for Audionics of Oregon as a teen, and he is still
repairing vintage units at his shop in Grand Junction, Colorado.
We rolled out
new surround processors, and eventually, the Fosgate Audionics THX System,
which may have been the first audiophile-quality complete THX system, including
processor, amps, dipole surrounds, and subs. The speaker system was designed
for us by the legendary John Dunlavy, a truly nice man who knew how to design
was cooking. And then due to poor cashflow because of exploding sales…we ran
out of money. This is common with businesses that are under-funded and grow too
quickly. Jim’s wife Norma and her daughter Lezlee Cameron did a masterful,
courageous juggling act with the finances to keep the company alive.
and I scrambled to find a big company to rescue us, and it came down to
Rockford Corporation, Harman International, or International Jensen. It was
Martin Wilcox who had a contact at Harman. My last choice was Harman, based
upon how other small companies had fared, and sure enough, they acquired us.
The experience wasn’t bad, though, because the Harman person who became our
boss was the bright, hilarious, and very human Michael Heiss.
As I had
anticipated, other than Mike Heiss, our corporate overlords couldn’t grasp what
we were doing. They downsized the company to a handful of people, moved
production to a large Utah facility that had never manufactured products this
complex, and our business was disrupted and in disarray. It was then that Dr.
Harman, a man I liked and respected a great deal, decided that the accolades
Fosgate-Audionics was getting should be awarded to a company with more of a
Harman lineage. The name Fosgate-Audionics was retired, and new products were
launched under the Harman Kardon Citation name.
The new Citation
electronics—a premium processor and two multi-channel amplifiers—were
exquisite, performed well, and sounded quite good. But the real star was Jim’s
newest incarnation of his surround technology, 6-Axis. It worked almost
flawlessly. With attack and release times as much as 100 times faster than Pro
Logic, full-range rear channels, freedom from artifacts, and superb fidelity,
Jim Fosgate had hit it out of the park. Not only was it very effective on movie
soundtracks, 6-Axis added a new dimension to listening to music, and it almost
replicated quad from a stereo source. This was also a period in time when most
surround enthusiasts (and the Dolby folks) realized that Dolby Pro Logic was
long in the tooth and needed an upgrade.
The Citation 7.0 preamp/processor was the first audio
component to use Jim Fosgate’s propriotary 6-Axis processing, which was the
precursor to Dolby Pro Logic II.
of Harman’s acquisitions was Lexicon, a highly respected name in the pro
business as well as in the consumer market. Their processors were very good, but
they were stuck with the aging Pro Logic. They were, however, developing a new
surround technology, Logic 7, a product of the brilliant David Griesinger. Harman
now had the two leading alternatives to replace Dolby Pro Logic, and Harman executives
in sales and engineering became divided on which one would emerge, if in fact
either would. As time went on, it started to look as if Logic 7 would become Pro
Logic II, due to a higher level of support within Harman. Jim and his
technology were being viewed as superfluous.
Logic 7 would win, Harman management did something that in retrospect was
unwise. Jim Fosgate was terminated. Wisely, he exempted and retained the rights
to some key patents he felt would be useful in the future, and he was correct.
Charlie Wood offers a first-hand explanation: “Post Harman, Jim continued to
work on the technology and evolve what was 6-Axis, employing the patent rights
he withheld. Jim and I got Roger Dressler of Dolby Laboratories over to hear
what Jim had developed. Roger returned to Dolby and convinced others there,
including Ray Dolby, that Jim’s technology was superior and that if Dolby tried
to re-invent it to avoid patent infringement that it would be a futile effort.
Dolby then signed a generous licensing agreement with Jim and made his 6-Axis
system the new Dolby Pro Logic II. That development made him a wealthy
man, with over 300 million pieces of gear produced worldwide with his Pro Logic
II and IIx technology incorporated within…”
I would have
felt schadenfreude towards those at
Harman who leveraged so hard for Logic 7, except they are good, talented people,
and many are still friends of mine. Logic 7 would have made a good Pro Logic II, but for the decades and decades of tireless work without reward that Jim put in, he definitely earned it
A few years
later, Jim Fosgate and Charlie Wood were reunited with Rockford Corporation,
and a new surround preamp was launched. I was given two beta versions for
evaluation, and it was a nice piece, but the reality was Jim had little to do
with it. It was virtually the same as an Outlaw processor, with no proprietary
circuitry to distinguish it as far as I know. A few of us contributed marketing
suggestions which were ignored, and the brand died, and with it, the name
The End of an Era?
We all knew
that at some point in time, digital implementations of surround sound would
replace the analog versions, and that PLII was a stopgap before the demise of
analog surround. Once in a while, I’ll still use Pro Logic II or Pro Logic IIx
to watch a movie, and the sound and imaging are pretty close to Dolby Digital,
despite much shallower separation. Television programs that are broadcast in
stereo automatically switch to PLIIx in my surround preamp. And although I usually
listen to music in pure stereo, there are recordings that come alive when
played in Pro Logic II Music mode. As with all other developing technologies,
digital surround has eclipsed analog surround and will someday replace it
entirely. I am not so eager to see that happen.
Did Dolby made the right choice for Pro Logic II? Please participate in our Dolby Pro Logic II forum discussion and let us know what you think.