Youtube’s Version of HD Audio – My Realtime Review

Oh damn, the internet generation strikes back against pono!

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I just fired up my old iPhone 4, hit youtube, searched for flac, found ihearttflac and flacsgreatesthits, and was forced to admit after a day of reflection and jamming on my beloved PonoPlayer that I needed to be real about Pono’s chance for success.

This youtube FLAC stuff, whatever it is, sounds pretty good. I didn’t know the Apple/Youtube/mainstream ecosystem could deliver good audio over my average home setup, but I hit it with my PS4 over speakers and then iPhone in headphones and they both are showing a marked improvement over mp-anything. It’s real music, alive again, and it got me moving and emotional like no other youtube video or mp3 has. CD’s sometimes can, but not really. Only vinyl and pono, so far.

Hear My Pixels

Early 21st century art

If this Youtube FLAC is actually CD quality or below perhaps my excitement that is was working at all enhanced my experience. [Edit: a few days later and I still am not sure what Youtube was delivering me. I am still researching this]

So then I went looking for my precious, the PonoPlayer that the tech press is fawning over right now (gee, little old me managed to jump a trend for once!). Except she had a dead battery and this battle of “cool thing” -vs- “thing already in everyone’s pocket” was looking grim for the yellow triangle of pleasure.

Which was actually a good pause because it gave me a few minutes to collect my thoughts on what I had just heard:

The cloud is capable of delivering higher-quality audio over the existing mp3 infrastructure, something I was unsure of. All of my speakers are wired and not noise canceling, I don’t mess with junk on my audio. So I’m focusing on the delivery from network to device, if you go wireless on the speakers that’s another set of problems.

 


 

As I listened to several songs, a couple of jams, some numbers, and a prelude I started to hear a buzz and a bit of flatness overall in the dynamic range, especially on the iPhone. I admit I turned it up and the music hit me pretty hard, dulled by years of suffering in this low-def world. But it wasn’t perfect, I felt some restriction and narrowness, some loss of a clear L/R/Center, and more fatigue than expected. I’m going to read up on what I was actually hearing after filing this true review.

Not sure if youtube cuts it to 16/44 or something lossy, not sure what’s going on but I appreciated the music and heard no obvious digital tells. Yet I felt I needed to turn it down by the end of the song. Most importantly I heard the music, felt the music, but was also aware that I was blasting music and fatiguing my ears a bit.

So the PonoPlayer charged and although I don’t have the same material as is streamed from above sources, I can’t wait to hear the PonoPlayer after the youtube challenge….

 


 

 

Bam! Knockout, Tyson style. This PonoPlayer sounds bad-ass, and you deserve to have one. Earn some tips, give up chocolate for a month, whatever, you should own one of these players if you need music to be you.

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The soundstage is HUGE. Crystal clear. Not just the entire drum set, the tuning and pan and wood of each drum. Amazing. Crash cymbals just decay perfectly, trust me I use them often. Bass is low and round and totally natural. To apply extra “boom” on bass is not the job of the player, you have various other ways to enhance the low end. Chances are the mix is perfect.

Tears again, damn this thing is really hitting me.

It really loves full volume, 70-100% really shines. And I’m just running straight through the single minijack output, unbalanced iPod/phone style. Every voice, every instrument just sits perfectly, nothing masks unless the player (or mixer) wanted it to.

Not a hint of digital tells, OK maybe still some hi-hat smashers like Chad Smith can make you think you hear digital, but it’s so rare and hard to track (at least at 24/96). Yeah no doubt, the PonoPlayer is still the best digital I have ever heard, anywhere.  Plus I have yet to hear it in balanced mode, which everyone swears is a major improvement.

 


 

So what to do about it?

  1. First, hear one for yourself and if you don’t hear it by the second song, sorry about your luck.
  2. Second, remember iHeartFLAC and it’s type on youtube and the fact that the “new school” method of streaming from the internet CAN provide a real upgrade from not only MP3, but the few I played surpassed most CD quality I’ve heard in nearly 30 years. So please let’s try to push that standard up, and if they can stream FLAC on spotify while still paying the artists, I guess I’m for it.

It’s not one or the other to me as long as everyone gets an audio upgrade. The MP3 trickery is real and subtle, but it’s robbing you of the full experience no matter how much they hype it. It was built for dial-up modems and we are so past that. This streaming FLAC thing is a bit of a game changer for me.

But does it sound better than a PonoPlayer? Oh hell no. PonoPlayer is the real deal, Holyfield and Tyson playing both the standard 16/44 files you already own (and are still the most common HD format, sadly) and true HD files. When you make that jump to 24/44, then up the sample rates to 96 or 192k, oh yeah, it gets intense.

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To those rare ones that scream(type) “yeah but when will it stop, 32bit, 64bit, 128bit?” I say chill. 24bit word length is plenty to blow you out the water.  There are limits to our natural hearing and emotional abilities. 16 million readings might be all the resolution our bodies have. My science fans should let me know on that.

MP3 built a horrible McMansion on a toxic 16/44 swamp pretending to be true audio and the whole investment is sinking slowly into oblivion. FLAC seems to be the first digital format for real music, and I suggest you get it while you still can.

The modern file formats.

The modern file formats.