Rumor: Apple Hires Inventor of THX to Run Audio

Apple has hired, Tomlinson Holman, the brainiac inventor behind Lucasfilm’s THX sound empire, according to a tweet from Leo Laporte. Mr. Laporte said that he had it on “good authority that Tomlinson Holman […] is joining Apple to run audio,” and that was part of a “major upgrade” that Apple is working on.

Leo Laporte Tweet

Mr. Laporte’s tweet, which reads: “I have it on good authority that Tomlinson Holman (of THX fame) is joining Apple to run audio. Major upgrade.”

Leo Laporte is a very well connected and highly respected blogger and podcaster in Silicon Valley, giving his tweets more weight than many other sources. If he’s right, this would suggest that Apple is very serious about improving the audio output in its product line, be it Macs, its growing iOS empire, or on the software side, with iTunes.

Running with the story, GigaOm provided some excellent background on Mr. Holman that might help shed some light on why this would be a big deal. Mr. Holman’s work provided the basis for all of the THX-related patents developed and owned by Lucasfilm, where he spent 15 years. THX is a standard in theater surround sound today, and among his more recent accomplishments was the development of the first 10.2 surround system. He’s currently at the University of Southern California, where he’s the film sound professor.

Tomlinson Holman

Tomlinson Holman
Photo courtesy of Vincent Diamante, distributed through Flickr

The question, of course, is what would he do for Apple. Would he be tasked with developing some kind of new surround technology, or perhaps find a way to implement THX into the company’s existing products? Is this a play for Apple’s living room hobby, the Apple TV? Does the company want to make iPhone speakers sound even better?

We don’t know, of course, and Mr. Holman’s own experience doesn’t necessarily provide any clues. GigaOm pointed to a 1996 interview with Mr. Holman — admittedly 15 years old now — where he said that he wasn’t a specialist and had experience in all areas of audio technology.

“During my career,” he said in the interview, “I’ve been in some very different areas; while they have all been related to audio, they’ve ranged from film-sound production [sound mixer at the University of Illinois Motion Picture Production Center] to high-fidelity equipment, and back to post production and sound systems for theaters. Even though it is eclectic, the one thing that links it together more than anything else is inquiry. Once it becomes a boring job, I move on.”

In other words, there’s no telling what he might be doing for Apple, if the company actually hired him.