In recent weeks, rumor has it that Apple has hired Tomlinson Holman to run the company’s audio initiatives. Apple hasn’t confirmed it, but that makes sense. It could tie into the company’s speech recognition plans (see yesterday’s op-ed), improve iTunes files, or result in better speakers on Apple products.

Holman is an American film theorist, audio engineer, and inventor of film technologies, notably the Lucasfilm THX sound system. He developed the world’s first 10.2 sound system. Earlier, Holman developed what was known as the Holman Preamplifier, for the Apt Corporation. He holds a Bachelor of Science from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Holman is currently a professor at the University of Southern California; he holds an Academy Award for technical achievement and an IEEE Masaru Ibuka Award. Holman is also the holder of 7 U.S. patents, and 16 patents in other countries, as well as the author of several books on audio.

He certainly sounds like someone Apple would hire. So what might Holman do at Apple? Probably beef up the sound from iOS devices, including the iPad’s weak internal speakers. Perhaps the next round of iOS devices will have a frequency range wider than 20 Hz to 20,000 Hz.

Holman might also help improve the quality of files at the iTunes Store. Apple and other digital music retailers have reportedly been talking with record labels to improve the quality of the song files on these stores. As noted by “CNN” (, professional music producers generally capture studio recordings in a 24-bit, high-fidelity audio format.

Before the originals, or “masters,”, are pressed onto CDs or distributed to digital sellers like the iTunes Store, they’re downgraded to 16-bit files. From there, the audio can be compressed further in order to minimize the time the music will take to download or to allow it to be streamed on-the-fly over the Internet.

Most models of Mac computers can play 24-bit sound, and iTunes can easily handle such files. But most portable electronics, and some computers, don’t support 24-bit audio. To make the jump to higher-quality music attractive for Apple, the company would have to retool future versions of iPods and iPhones so they can play higher-quality files, notes “CNN.” Perhaps Holman will help with that.

Also, I’d love to see Holman be involved in the development of some great iMac speakers. The speakers in the current system aren’t bad. But wouldn’t it be great to have speakers that sport high-def 5.1 channel audio? With perhaps an optional sub-woofer? After all, the iMac now has a FaceTime HD camera and a high def display, so we need even better sound.

— Dennis Sellers