Emory Cook (1913-2002) is widely regarded as a highly influencial audio engineer. Born and raised in Albany, New York, he joined the Army Air Corps in 1932. After his discharge in 1934 he obtained his degree from Cornell University and began working for Western Electric in the Audio Engineering Force. During World War II, while still at Western Electric, Cook supervised the creation of a fire-controlled radar "Trainer," for which he received a Commendation from the Service.
In the late 1940's, convinced he could do better than what was on the market, Cook began experimenting with making his own audio equipment. Cook Laboratories was started in 1945 when he developed a new cutting head to be used in record production. Future development of equipment brought about the discovery that he could record frequencies as high as 20,000 hertz, more than any other recording company at the time. He cut a record of piano and organ music to demonstrate this discovery, and took it to the 1949 Audio Fair in New York. When he demonstrated the record with the hopes to sell the recording equipment, he found that people were much more interested in buying the record itself. Shortly after, Sounds of Our Times, later called Cook Records, was born.
Cook Records collected many different sounds and was mostly aimed at the devoted high-fidelity listener. Cook believed that hearing was a sense often overlooked by people, and he wanted listeners of his albums to be able to hear things they might otherwise miss. In a New Yorker profile by Daniel Lang in 1956, Cook claimed that hearing was "always being kicked aside in favor of sight… There's a time and a place for everything, and that includes sound." In order to encourage listening, he put out many albums full of everyday sounds, such as Voice of the Sea, an album of noises of the ocean and Eye of the Storm, recorded during a thunderstorm. One of the most successful albums was Rail Dynamics, an album of steam trains pulling in and out of a station.
Cook Records also produced traditional music albums from its plant in Stamford, Connecticut. The label produced everything from organ music to folk, flamenco guitar, calypso and steel band. Cook had little interest in name musicians and instead searched high and low for anything he thought might be an interesting contribution to his label. He even invited listeners to send in their favorite sounds, some of which he eventually recorded.
Cook had such a large interest in Calypso music that he set up a second pressing plant in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad. There he pressed calypso and steel band music for both a Trinidadian and American audience, and most albums sold well in both countries.
In addition to the wide range of music Cook recorded, he was also an inventor. It was Cook who first came up with the idea of pressing records with powdered, rather than solid, vinyl, a technique he dubbed "microfusion." This technique not only saved money, but cut out many of the traditional crackles and pops associated with records.
He also developed the binaural system of recording and playing records, which he thought was superior to the more commonly used stereo method. Binaural was more precise than stereo, and it required placing two microphones six inches apart, approximately the space between two ears, during the recording. It was then played back with a special two-needle playing arm. Binaural recordings were thought by Cook to best duplicate the original sound.
Emory Cook died at the age of 89 in 2002 after a long hospitalization.