Robert B. Ingebretsen was an inventor and award-winning pioneer in the development of digital sound. He was a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Ingebretsen was born on March 30, 1948, and showed his genius in his teens by building robots and primitive computers that could talk. Younger brother Richard Ingebretsen recalls, “When I was a kid we were always going to award ceremonies for my brother.”
As a University of Utah computer science graduate student, he assisted Dr. Thomas G. Stockham in the development of his restoration technique for sound and images. He restored scratchy old recordings by opera great Enrico Caruso by transferring musical sounds into computer codes and back again. This work led to the RCA’s release of “Caruso—A Legendary Performer.”
In 1972, Ingebretsen and Stockham also worked with Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull to produce one of the first digital films, a 20-second portrait of a human hand.
After graduation in 1975, Ingebretsen joined his mentor Stockham at Soundstream Inc., a Utah company where Ingebretsen wrote the software for the first practical digital audio editing system. They invented the technology that translated analog sound into a digital format—a discovery that eventually led to the development of compact discs (CDs and DVDs). Soundstream briefly operated an editing studio at a Paramount Pictures studio lot in Los Angeles, California. Ingebretsen commuted from Utah to Los Angeles, where he supervised the new digital recording for the 1982 re-release of Disney’s Fantasia.
Soundstream lost out to consumer electronics giants Sony and Philips in the race to produce CDs and players. Ingebretsen, Stockham, and hardware engineer Bruce Rothaar never patented the digital audio editing technology they created, costing them untold millions. Soundstream dissolved in 1985. Ingebretsen spent the next 15 years in near anonymity in Salt Lake City, founding a series of small high-tech companies.
In 1999 Ingebretsen and Stockham received a Scientific and Engineering Award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for their pioneering work in digital audio editing.
Ingebretsen also helped pioneer satellite communications technology. In his final years, he worked for a Centerville, Utah-based startup that develops software for hand-held computers.
He died of heart failure on March 2, 2003, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was the father of five children.