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Bob Heil, Whose Innovations Enhanced the Sound of Rock, Dies at 83

Bob Heil’s career as a groundbreaking sound engineer who brought thunder and rich sonic coloring to tours by rock titans like the Grateful Dead and the Who began behind a pipe organ in a 1920s movie palace.

Mr. Heil, who helped usher rock into its arena-shaking era by designing elaborate sound systems that allowed rock juggernauts of the late 1960s and ’70s to play at volcanic volumes, first learned to appreciate the full spectrum of musical tones as a teenager, when he took a job playing the massive Wurlitzer pipe organ at the opulent Fox Theater in St. Louis.

“We had to voice and tune 3,500 pipes, from one inch to 32 feet,” he said in a 2022 video interview with the audio entrepreneur Ken Berger. “Voicing taught me to listen. Very few people know how to listen. Listening, you’ve got to mentally go in and dissect.”

Mr. Heil died on Feb. 28 of cancer in a hospital in Belleville, Ill., his daughter Julie Staley said. He was 83. His death was not widely reported at the time.

Although he worked behind the scenes, Mr. Heil was enough of a force that the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland credited him with “creating the template for modern rock sound systems” In 2006, the Hall installed a public display containing his mixing boards, speakers and other items.

Mr. Heil developed some of the first effective sound systems for large rock concerts in the 1970s.Credit…via Heil Sound

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