Humanity Becoming Pixelated

john-hurt-as-kane-in-alien-1979

Oh the humanity of a hand puppet, fake blood, and animal entrails.


The tech takeover is something we’ve been watching for decades now, and with regards to audio production and socializing I get preachy about how much we’ve lost.

Here’s a great article sowing the same seeds but covering the movie industry. By inundating us with CGI the overall effect of images being shown to us has declined.

Pixels Are Driving Out Reality

Well written stuff there, and much of it translates to audio/music consumption as well.

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Youkill Audio Youtube

lossless-jpg

Lossless data on the left. The right side is a visual representation of what we’ve been listening to for 20 years now.


Deets on Youtube’s audio handling:

Audio is streamed at either 128k or 320k mp3.

Everything defaults to 128k. You can only get the 320k audio stream by selecting the HD video quality. Some videos start in HD but most don’t. It’s also hard to embed HD youtube into other sites since it seems to default to the basic stream.

It appears there’s no FLAC streaming allowed and no lossy streaming of any kind.

The 320k mp3’s can sound decent, especially coming from 128k, but once you go lossless you won’t want to listen to lossy anymore.


deubert_fig06

Which is better? Neither. The compression on the left appears to have slightly fewer artifacts but neither is close to the original.

The Next Era of Music

Direct_Drive_Turntable_System_SL_1200GAE_3.0

Hello old friend:  The new Technics 1200SL turntable.


 

On the playback side, not the creation side….

Turntables have been selling well the past few years but there was one big dark spot on that record – the iconic Technics 1200, the stratocaster of turntables, was discontinued a few years back.

This  made the so-called vinyl revival seem a bit gimmicky without the classic deck represented. Anyone that was anyone had 1200’s and probably half the other decks were knockoffs of the 1200. I own a decent 1200-clone from Gemini, the PT2000.


gemini-pt-2000-ii-direct-drive-turntable


 

The 1200 is back! Technics is bringing it back along with 1200 editions of a beautiful collectors version. Very nice.

There’s also this new turntable from Sony that takes your vinyl right to hi-res audio – very cool!  Of course you could do this before with a combination of gear – a turntable, an interface, a good DAC, a DAW, and knowledge of recording and sample rates, etc..

But the Sony PS-HX500 makes it easy, providing software to take you right into hi-res from vinyl. It even does both accepted hi-res formats – PCM/FLAC and DSD.

Screen Shot 2016-01-10 at 11.32.14 AM

Son’y new turntable features the Hi-Res Audio badge because using included software it will transfer (rip) your vinyl into hi-res digital format (either PCM or DSD).

A Tale Of Two Setups

I was in my new all-analog studio last night with a simple task – dump from the 4-track tape machine to something digital so I could share the tracks just recorded with the artists.


 

RS-56S_UTC_equaliser_(1950s,60s),_Abbey_Road_Studios


First I needed to do a little bit of a mix on the tracks. I loaded up tape #1, went to my cue point, rolled tape, and worked on patching in some reverb and some parametric EQ. I twiddled with that for a few minutes in the speakers until I was happy. I switched between 2 sets of speakers and then realized my headphone amp wasn’t getting signal. I patched that in and tested my mix using 2 sets of headphones: good & earbud. OK all set, let’s get digital!


 

During the work above I was using devices made over nearly a 50 year range. They all plugged into each other using standard connectors and levels. These connectors are available everywhere cheaply, made by thousands of manufacturers. Almost every device had clear buttons, lights, and panels to understand and manipulate the audio. No drivers or software was needed.


 

Time to fire up my Focusrite interface, a nice piece of digital kit that’s about 4 years old now. It’s primary job is to convert analog to digital and vice-versa, back out to analog again. I attach the firewire cable to the back of the focusrite, plug it in to the wall, and then grab my mac.

Oh damn, where’s the firewire port on this thing? I got a new mac a couple months back and hadn’t used this one for recording anything yet. No firewire port. Not even Firewire 800. Not 400. None. I guess I need an adapter to get to the lightning port. Not available to me at that moment, not standard, not used for anything else. Great, I can’t connect the interface to this mac, not tonight.


Focusrite_Saffire_PRO_14

 


OK never mind the interface, I’m coming out of the mixer in 2 track so I can just go into the line-in headphone jack and let the mac do the conversion. Bedroom producers have been doing this trick for 20 years now.

I find a RCA-to-mini plug in the drawer and run tape out from the mixing board into the mac. Launch Garageband.  Back on track.


Garageband says “thanks for purchasing garageband from the app store!” I don’t remember purchasing this. Why the excitement?

“Garageband needs to download samples and loops in order to launch.” I don’t want samples or loops, I just need to record from the line in!

But I have no choice. Garageband goes about 15 minutes downloading and installing things I don’t want or need.

Meanwhile I turn to the tape machine and roll to the next track. I decide I want compression instead of the EQ on this track so I patch in a few different compressors until I find the one I like. Write down my settings on my log paper.


 

Garageband is done installing itself again. I get a wizard offering me everything under the sun except basic recording. I select ‘Hip-Hop’ thinking this might be closest to basic. Haha, stupid! No way I need MPC’s and a thousand loops. Delete this session.


 

Studer_A810_BBC_Studio_Reel_to_Reel_Master_Tape_Recorder


OK, I find basic recording and I try to arm track 1 coming in from line in. That’s when the bad news hits:  this mac has no line in. It has a port that looks like a line in, exactly like the previous model’s, but it’s not a line in.

The only sound the mac will accept is from it’s own microphone or a microphone on an iPhone headset plugged into the mac through this mystery port. I find the documentation to back it up – I need a USB or lightning port interface to get audio in.

Damn. Apple, what were you thinking? Yes lots of people have interfaces, but lots of people fall back on their line in during emergencies or for simple 2-track needs. Big Fail.


 

So the analog world managed to cooperate and work with over 4 decades of gear. My digital world failed in under 1.

To think that you continually need a new interface every 3 years just to get audio in makes the mac far less of a production machine, and bodes bad for the digitally-dominated future.

How quickly will things go obsolete, how much will our culture suffer from a lack of backward compatibility?

Quality Hiding In Plain Site

54cab076bc5e5_-_blindness-ld-md

Derp.


 

Why the hatred of quality music and sound right now?  Is it really the machines taking over?


 

Little_Wizard_Stories_of_Oz,_1914


 

Consumer audio suffers this weird delusion. It seems to be a digital blindness.

It started in the 80’s but was a small segment of the listening population. Simple nerds.

In the 90’s it was distracted by the creation of the internet. They built the infrastructure while the arts flourished (money helps), and the digital babies sprung up everywhere.

[note – I’m one of the early ones. By 1991 I was pretty convinced computers were going to run just about everything by Y2K so I learned them, made a career of them, and continue to this day to be a technology worker, user, and lover.]

Then the iPod hit. “Good enough” took over for a nice ride that I figured would have run it’s course by now. Of course they would get better at playing music!  (ok once). Of course digital would figure out how to sound better than a 2001 mp3 on a 2002 iPod (it has).


Apple_historic_iPod

Even Steve Frickin’ Jobs didn’t think people would stand for the quality of mp3’s.

 

 

I don’t know, did 9/11 knock everyone into everything is a matter of life and death, and if my iPod gets better sounding, well that is shallow thinking?


 

Change_of_Authority_Ceremony_at_Joint_Service_Station_War_Eagle,_Baghdad,_Iraq_DVIDS159745

Sound quality is not life and death, it’s about life only.


 

It’s been 15 years of this downward turn in quality. Even the best artists working now release things that are so loud, so pumped, so faked (in some cases) that no one really even trusts them anymore.

The gods of music are long gone and there are no new ones that aren’t vintage re-do’s. OK very few. I blame the digital machines and our willingness to accept their flaws in quality.


1980 Curtis Mathes TV 1-13-12 002

I’m a 1980 TV. I should be good enough quality forever, right? Oh no, I’m not a stereo, haha!


 

Meanwhile, TV has been upgraded at least 4 times in the USA since the CD shipped.


 

PIONEER_SX_1980

I sound way better than a phone you downgraded suckers!


Now Jay Z, pushing his Tidal service, is forced to talk sound quality. That’s the only thing Tidal has over competitors – BITRATE. They stream the same stuff, they just stream it at 5x the data rate. CD quality.


 


 

If he cracks the code and gets mainstream person to understand that 1400k > 256k EVEN IN AUDIO, and you guessed it, 5800k > 1400k too.  See how easy?

The Danger of Perceptual Coding

Perceptual coding is responsible for data loss that is greatly misunderstood and perhaps even dangerous to society.

What is perceptual coding ? It’s a data compression concept used in audio, video, and streaming technologies.

 


 

send-to-zip

ZIP is a lossless compression like FLAC. To permanently reduce media size, MP3 and AAC use perceptual coding to determine importance of data and permanently reduce it.


 

Why does perceptual compression exist? Native media files tend to be large. In the 90’s it was difficult to move these files around because they were too large for the network speed and storage prices of the time. Extreme data compression was needed.

A CD might hold 10 songs at 40mb each for a total of 400mb. How to get that 40mb song file small enough to fit through a dial-up modem and play on the other side in real-time?

The answer was perceptual coding, the trick behind lossy compression. It has been used for decades in voice transmission compression. You have to go inside the audio data and start throwing sound away.

 


 

PerceptualCoding

PerceptualCoding.pdf


 

 

But what sounds can be thrown away? How do you go inside of a mixed piece of music and delete things? And how far can you go before people notice a quality drop?

Perceptual coding can’t do things like delete the 2nd guitar solo or reduce the backing vocals, that can only be done in the mix of the song.

Perceptual coding also can’t make the song acoustic or shorter in length, those can only be done in the mixing stage.

What perceptual coding does do is analyze the sounds in the song and prioritize them. The programmers determined which sounds are more important on the scale.

First it locates the lead sounds – the main instruments/voices in the material.

There might be 5 primary sound makers in your song, let’s say drums, bass, guitar, keys, and voice. Perceptual coding manages to quarantine those and only removes small amounts of their identifying data.

This allows a listener to quickly ID the melody, the lyric, the artist, and the song since these primary elements are only slightly degraded.

 


 

lossy


 

But you can’t achieve 90% overall data reduction by only slightly degrading the material. Perceptual coding achieves the brunt of it’s loss from outside of the primary sounds.

This includes everything not inside the primary sound including the echoes and delays of the primary sounds. In fact all reverbs, delays and room sounds are attacked and removed. Other things outside the primary sound are timbre characteristics, breaths, string and instrument noise, room shape and activity, and soundstage timing cues. All of this is shorthanded to “the tone” and “the soundstage”.

By masking and/or deleting all kinds of sounds that they believe are unable to be reliably perceived* by listeners they achieve massive size decreases.

*What the smart DSP programmers behind perceptual coding understood is that while people can easily hear this loss in the music, most can’t identify it reliably and consistently using the same terminology, and good luck having any of this come out in the whacked-world of ABX listening tests.

If most can’t identify what is gone, but can identify the song and sing along, the codec is considered a success. And MP3 was and still is a huge success by those metrics.

But listen to Ghost in the MP3 to hear an idea of what perceptual coding takes away from your music.

 


MGUI1k_oNjN-Jy6LJbYYVTl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBV9ip2J1EIeUzA9paTSgKmv


 

The destruction of all of the natural movement, transients, and timing cues has a long lasting effect on our music, which has a long lasting effect on our psyche.

The things that perceptual coding deems unnecessary and inaudible are in fact the critical emotional elements of the music.

This amounts to a perceptual loss in all modern music and is the reason behind two trends: 1- robotic voices with fake instruments, and 2- hyper-fast switching of sounds from disparate sources with heavily active pan and audio limiter settings.

When your end result is forced to be artificial and limited in size and range, hip producers know to co-opt the weaknesses and make them strengths. The more artificial and huge you can sound the better.

No point in producing realism when there is none at the distribution.


 

256px-Lichtenstein_jpeg_difference

An approximation of lost data from this image after lossy compression.

24 Bit Goodness

I’ve been picking up one 24bit release per month to enjoy on the PonoPlayer, and while they have been slow to be released (my theory on why is below), I do really enjoy the ones I have.

My current 24bit collection includes:

  • Hotter Than July by Stevie Wonder
  • Let It Bleed by The Rolling Stones
  • III and Physical Graffiti by Led Zeppelin
  • This Boot Is Made For Fonk-n by Bootsy’s Rubber Band
  • The Cars by The Cars
  • Quadrophenia by The Who
  • Portrait of a Legend – Sam Cooke
  • Slave by Slave
  • Machine Head by Deep Purple

 

The reason why labels aren’t quick to put out 24bit FLAC files is because this in effect gives away their masters with no copy protection.

Labels know and understand that the album, the CD, and mp3 were not the full (master) version of the music. These are called consumer formats, and they are created from the master but are degraded from the master.


classic3studioclive_l


Vinyl degrades as it is played and it also cannot be copied easily. With MP3 the degradation is obvious to most. The CD format tricks many because they were marketed as being more than they are, but most music was recorded in a way that provided more detail than a 16/44 CD translates.

Along comes Pono pushing for selling the full masters with no copy protection. Some labels will drip some stuff out but I doubt they will open the vaults.

24bit FLAC IS the vault – and they can fashion new profitable file formats from it. FLAC is open with no DRM or loss.

This is why I think the labels, along with Apple, will get behind (buy?) the new MQA encoding and push it as the next audio format. It uses MP3-like concepts in the encoding layer to allegedly deliver HD-quality at regular bitrates, and more importantly, it needs a new DAC, making it not backwards compatible.

MQA is claiming they can get near CD-quality PCM (1200k) into 320k MQA format. They are also claiming they can get 24bit PCM quality (2000-4000k) into a 1200k MQA encoding. Very few people have heard this yet, and it’s a longshot to make it as the next consumer encoding format, but it is intriguing.

I think the MP3 engineers made some very poor audio decisions and no one has revisited them since the early 1990’s. MQA’s claiming to address them.

Loudness Wars Research

I’ve really been exploring my music collection lately* and along with the playback quality of the PonoPlayer, I’ve learned some things about the hated concept of “loudness wars”:

 

  1. I can really hear it start up in the early 90’s with hard rock records from G’NR, Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, those types. There is a noticeable louder average volume but there are still dynamics. Instruments still sound natural, just amplified and then compressed analog, and the final mastering mix is pumped up. I suspect they tracked with tons of headroom and let the mastering engineer pull most of it out and boost away since the CD format could handle it. You can still hear natural distortion and plenty of natural room interplay.
  2. By the late 90’s, dance music (especially from the islands) was pumped and exploring automated multichannel compression provided by digital recording systems. Most American rock was dying at the hands of rap-rock and drum replacement software.
  3. By 2003, software that could do extreme compression and trickery was prevalent, so it ends up as artist and producer choice, and most went all-in with digital and robotic, looped music makes headway. MP3’s and iDevices took over the listener market in these years.
  4. By 2010 releases appear about 50% louder than their early 90’s counterparts, and laptops are on stage as well as in the studio, and most people have accepted the sonic downgrade masked as the modern sound. These years appear louder and bigger at first, but immediately tire your ears and upon further listening the mp3 “scratchy paper bag” sound is heard. Trickery is the main game in town in all popular genre’s.
  5. In 2015 the general public seems to be open to an improvement, even though most new releases are very much guilty of being too loud. No one is impressed by music (mp3) anymore. It’s everywhere, plays from anything, and usually sounds horrible. My generation is burdened with the “oh yeah” whimsical look when someone mentions sound quality.

 

Luckily, I’m not the only one noticing this. Check out this amazing ditty about the last 30 years in music creation:

 

 

*After spending the last couple of years exploring online collections, I’ve discovered that I have a pretty amazing collection of over 3000 pieces of music built over the last 35 years and that it’s primary problem has been it’s total lack of organization. Only 5% made it into iTunes as lossy files. So I’ve begun to put all of my digital music into a single lossless collection and am also finally building a computerized index of my vinyl.  When complete, I’ll have a single database of all the music I own, and that’s very exciting to me!

 

 

Recording Quality Rule Of Thumb

Allow me to speak some truth about the recording arts — the overall quality of music production has been going down since before I started. I’ve done nothing to reverse the trend ;-).

This is due to multiple factors not least of which is the march of technology and the reduction of overall recording budgets bootlegging has brought us.

How much would you spend on producing an album that most of your actual fans won’t even purchase?

Continue reading

Just For You – Not Too Late To Save Yourself Musically

The more stuff I put on my PonoPlayer, 16/44 and higher, it is sounding so amazing that I’m discovering things in my own CD collection. Things I haven’t heard before!

In some cases it’s parts, instruments, & entire background melodies that every other player hid from me. In some cases it’s entire songs that I usually skipped or bailed after the intro, but when playing on the Ponoplayer those songs must render so pleasantly that, much like a live band, I don’t want the song to end!  Cool stuff. This is not just the upgrade from mp3 back to cd, this is the brilliant audio chain in the PonoPlayer doing this.

This is also the opposite of the MP3 experience for me. 15 years ago we were so excited to have a not-quite version of our CD library in our pocket. I’m perhaps more excited now having my full quality digital library at my fingertips playing through the best sounding playback device I’ve heard.

It’s literally makes every speaker system I’ve plugged into it sound the best it ever has.

Side note – Holding 500+ CD’s per thumbnail-sized card is so wonderful, and has nothing to do with Pono. Those of you that have had this for a few years I wish you would told me it was possible 😉

PTY

 

Still on the fence about getting a DAP like the PonoPlayer?

  • You… only stream through your phone and don’t currently possess cd’s. 

    You might be the hardest sell for this type of device. You would need to start ripping someone else’s cd’s and/or buying new music in high definition.

  • You… only stream through the phone/computer and never really listened to cd’s because you are young. 

    This is worth hearing, I think you will be very interested in the sonic enhancement compared to what you grew up on. You’d fill it with every type of file you found and start getting higher def as your favorite bands provided it.

  • You… have a ton of MP3’s and very few cd’s. My MP3’s really do sound better on the PonoPlayer. It’s not revelatory but it’s noticeable. 16/44 shows a surprising improvement, repping the redbook format and showing how poor most cd players sounded for 30 years. I’m not sure it’s worth $400 to hear my mp3’s sound better, but so far has been worth it to hear my existing cd’s sound better. Who knew?
  • You… believe terms like ‘audiophool’ and ‘snake oil’ and think all of this is ridiculous. You think your phone plays mp3 perfectly & there is no better these days. 

    You are my nemesis in this department. Stop the FUD! Quality and convenient digital is possible in 2015.

 

If you want facts there’s more and more getting out, and it’s all good. Excerpted from the excellent review by Tyll Hertsens

EVERYTHING from DAC to jacks is DC coupled. No coupling caps anywhere.

Everything is TRULY balanced from the DAC chip all the way to the output jacks. There is no virtual ground needed, as we have true +/- rails from the switching power supply. The raw rails go to SUPER low noise regulators, of which there are a TON.

The audio circuitry has their own dedicated +/- regulators. All of the digital circuitry runs off of positive voltage only, but three or four separate dedicated regulators there — one for the audio master clocks, another for the digital side of the DAC chip and a third for the rest of the digital circuitry.

NOBODY builds portable players that are fully-discrete, fully-balanced, and zero-feedback. This all makes a huge difference.  

— Charlie Hanson of Ayre Audio, designers of the Ponoplayer audio circuitry

 

That’s what happens after the DAC, in the analog stage. Regarding the file quality and DAC behavior before the analog stage, more details from Charlie:

a) Brickwall filtering creates massive time smear. b) The human ear/brain is already known to be exquisitely sensitive to time smear. c) DBT and AB/X are really only sensitive to differences in frequency response. Using these tools for anything to do with music is like pounding a nail with a screwdriver. Ain’t gonna work.

Specifically, one of the massive benefits of a higher sampling rate is not extended bandwidth. Instead, it allows for gentler filters to be used. In the case of the Ayre QA-9 A/D converter, the anti-aliasing filters have zero ringing or time smear for double and quad sample rates. (Only one cycle of ringing for single rates — something has to give somewhere…)

When Ayre designed the PonoPlayer’s audio circuitry, we held back nothing. We gave it everything that could fit within the constraints of the budget, physical space, and battery life. Every single secret we discovered went into the PonoPlayer. The digital filter is taken directly from our own products.

PonoPlayer with Sennheisers

Ya hear?  Someone finally bothered to give this audio goodness to us poor stupid consumers, better late than never. If you live near a Fry’s Electronics you can find them there, otherwise you need to meet someone with one to test it out.

Or just trust me and buy one, your ears will appreciate it.

Extended Playlist Mentality

So I prayed on it a bit, and I am starting to like the idea I’m calling “Extended Playlists” to organize my digital music library v2.

The idea is simple – develop several playlists 30-50 songs deep. They can be anything, no restrictions on theme or content. The only rule is that once I use an artist I can’t use them in another playlist. This is because their entire catalog will be on the card with the playlist, and 1 playlist will spawn 1 128gb card.

Subsequent playlists will have to select from available artists, until all of the artists are used up.

The end result would be cards stocked with vaguely relatable artists, but a rather random selection of music once their entire catalogs are included. The playlist doesn’t need to be played at all, it is just a method for organizing the cards by artist. It can be played, and it might be fun to construct additional playlists using just the contents of that card.

This also allows for grouping of solo artists with their group, as well as style runs of songs that would keep artists together on the card when wanted.

This breaks for compilations and composers. A compilation has many artists per album and a composer is on albums from multiple artists.

Lookups (I need to hear xyz) will require an index of who is one what card, but I should end up with about 10 cards total, so it’s a simple index.

Still though – constructing interesting playlists that build an entire card’s worth of albums (400+) is intriguing. It tweaks both my DJ and radio programming skills, and could make for some pretty interesting Pono listening sessions for the next decade and beyond.

Now that's a music library

Now that’s a music library

The Ultimate (Final) Digital Music Collection

I’ve got my DAP that plays everything wonderfully. It’s got expandable storage and prices are low enough that I think it’s time to abandon the iTunes catalog I’ve spent 15 years curating to the smallest size possible and build a full-quality digital music library to last me the rest of my life.

This will be moved from my various hard drives to MicroSD flash storage using 64gb and 128gb cards. I am going to start at ~ 1.3tb and grow from there, achieved with 10 128gb cards.

images-1

The tech is all simple and affordable. I’m looking at $40 for a multi-slot card reader and storage book for the cards. The reader plus my laptop will give me 3 slots for easy file management.

The cards themselves are priced about $60 for 128gb right now, so I’ll eventually spend about $600 on media. For $650 and lots of feeding discs into the ripper I will have all of my digital music in a single booklet, forever available at the highest quality I own.

Here’s the challenge, I call it my #1 modern problem — how to index/organize the cards?  I have been thinking on this for weeks now, and have asked several people’s opinions, and here’s a chart laying out how I see my various options:

How to organize 10 terabytes of music?

How to organize terabytes of music?

 

As you see, I’ve already excluded 2 methods A & B, leaving 6 more suggested ways to file all this music away. Each has pros and cons and none are scoring ahead of the others based on listenability, findability, and variety.

I will post more on this as I work out this problem. What are you thoughts on the best way to organize over a 1TB of music?

Also, see previous post on this topic of new storage space and great Rip 2.0

Project Overview: 

Combine 1000+ CD collection with a 20gb-sized MP3 collection, ripping the CD’s as 16/44 FLAC, (replacing any lower resolutions), purchasing some new 24bit albums, and storing it with a single index across 10+ MicroSD cards. Managed either manually or with JRiver/Ponomusicworld client.

The PonoPlayer contains 64gb of fixed memory plus the MicroSD card slot. I plan on using the internal storage as my “favorites” library and then I can load an additional separate card for separate occasions. If I’m stuck without a card I will still have over 100 of my favorite albums on the internal storage.

 

The New Kid On The High Resolution Block – MQA

Well this is getting interesting. British company Meridian has come up with something that goes beyond just a format or delivery mechanism, and also involves lossy compression, yet it still looks like a potential future audio technology we need to pay attention to.

Continue reading

PonoPlayer Review Is Posted

I have a few revisions to make but I thought I’d get this thing posted so I can start sharing out the link next week. Enjoy my long-form run through what a PonoPlayer is, and why you might want one:

http://wfnk.com/blog/ponoplayer-review/


Just a symbol or a way to hear cymbals again?

Just a symbol of hype or the return of hearing cymbals?

 

Walkman IV – The Return of Fidelity

[deep ominous movie trailer chord]

Walkman 1 (1980) – by Sony – stereo cassette – 2 headphone jacks – powered by 2 AA batteries for runtime of 20 hours.

sony_walkman

Finally private jams!

Walkman II (1984) – Discman by Sony – compact disc – 1 headphone jack – powered by 2 AA batteries for runtime of 30 hours.

d111-1

Finally digital private jams!

Walkman III (2001) – iPod by Apple – digital file player w/max resolution of 16/44 – 1 headphone jack – powered by rechargeable internal lithium polymer battery for runtime of 10 hrs per charge

ipod-first-gen-5gb-accessories

Finally bootlegged private jams with no skipping!

Walkman IV (2014) – Pono Player – digital file player w/max resolution of 24/192 – 2 headphone jacks with 4 output configs – powered by rechargeable battery for runtime of ? hrs per charge

pono_ponoplayer

Finally master-quality in my ears like the artist intended!

You know I’ll have a review as soon as I get mine.


walkman

My HD Digital Audio Life Begins Soon

My new sexy little digital audio player (aka DAP) is arriving at the end of this month. I was an early supporter of PonoMusic and their PonoPlayer on kickstarter, so not only will I have one of the first Pono’s out in the wild, but I was extended a pretty awesome benefit as an early investor – free file quality upgrades for life!Three_Ponos_02_773

That means any purchases I make from the Ponomusic store are guaranteed to be the highest native resolution available. If this is not the case (say the artist puts out a new version at higher native resolution, or licensing changes and Pono gets access to a better version) Pono Inc. will offer me the choice of a free upgrade if I want the bigger files.

This is VERY cool, and a big part of why I signed up. Sadly I don’t believe this feature is going to be available for all customers, at least not at the base price. They should offer it – the “lifetime” digital version. If 32bit/384k audio is all the rage in 2030 it would be great to not have to purchase half my collection again.

They are also claiming they will launch their store with over 2 million HD songs from the 3 major record labels so we will see. Initially PonoMusic and HDTracks will be the go-to places for HD audio, but I think Apple, Sony, etc. will be moving into HD Audio in the next year.

Here’s a pretty and concise (if not totally accurate*) chart showing you the amount of audio data that the formats move:

Pono_Chart_Revised

Note that the blue box above is soon to become the standard for streaming, which is the low-end of the market. If you are storing the media you expect the highest quality possible

[*My issue with the chart is how it ignores bit depth change for sample rate promotion. If you understand what the “24-bit” part of that signal means, the jump from the blue box to the light yellow box, shown as a small jump on this chart, is actually much larger of an improvement to our ears because so much of it deals with timbre, spatial, room sound, overtones, decays – aka the hard to quantify but easy to recognize side of music and recording. The chart shows raw data bandwidth but nothing about sound accuracy and quality.  That said, it is titled “Music quality spectrum” which is misleading and probably applied by marketing people. But I also haven’t heard Pono yet, so maybe it is 5x better than CD!]

I am also developing a strategy for how to buy digital music again, and what exactly to seek in HD. My current idea is to buy 1 album/month, and to alternate between new (to me) and re-buying existing stuff that I only have at low-res mp3 or damaged vinyl. If I own it on CD I’ll probably just rip 16/44 WAVs again, since the jump in quality from 16/44 to 24/96 is not worth $20 to me.

imagesFor storage I plan on having several 64gb cards to swap in and out of the Pono, but how many albums per card, and how to organize those cards is still up in the air. It’s a new world!

The Pono Player is a new type of consumer device (at least in audio) – a portable digital device that performs at a very high level but focuses solely on it’s core task and does not include many other features. The Pono Player plays portable digital music at a very high quality level. It does not stream, in or out. It doesn’t have any cell, wifi, or bluetooth radios on board. It does not play games. It does not run a smartphone OS or multitask. It doesn’t even have an inline music store on the device.

It just plays music at the highest quality available for a <$500 device, from crappy mp3’s, to ripped CD’s, to super high def 24/192 flac files. It has headphone and line-out. It syncs through a cable to your computer for side-loading of tracks like the first iPods. In fact it reminds me alot of the early iPods except with vastly greater sound quality, which is why I refer to it as “iPod Pro”.

Once it’s in my hands I’ll post some pics and my version of a review, but I can’t wait to hit people with the sound of this thing, either in their headphones or over speakers. The power of music is strongest when the music is the purest and most accurate it can be, and hearing such things in the last 10 years has required that you know a music snob with lots of money invested in their system. Pono brings the pure audio to the portable masses, and I can’t wait!

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HD Apple Rumors Swirling

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Rumors are flying that Apple is about to include 24-bit audio in it’s new iOS products, both from the software end of things and hardware – updating the Lightning cable for faster interconnects when HD Audio is being used with external devices, and designing some new earbuds to capitalize on the higher quality source.

This isn’t immediately tied to their rumored acquisition of Beats Music, but it certainly affects the same markets.

Reading through internet opinion it’s heartening to see many applauding a focus on sound quality. But the usual suspects are pushing xiph.org’s “science” saying <= 16/44 is all you need. I sense a shift that those people are being grouped with the claimants of “1080p is useless”.

Arguing against higher digital resolution is arguing against a reality that will always pass you up. We are still learning about sound and hearing and these bad assumptions of the past will fall into disuse as time marches on.

Other interamus’ claimed that “the 10 people that bought a pono must be upset”. Actually, no, this validates Pono’s cause, and if iOS products can play 24-bit files the market for HD audio will open wide.

Pono will always sound better than an iPhone or iTouch, because there’s several more parts of the signal chain that pono goes upmarket on, and Apple goes general purpose.

Hi There I’m Walkman 2014

Neil Young’s preaching has been working — Sony recently announced their latest WalkMan, the 35th Anniversary model, and it’s pretty bad-ass. Save the Audio!

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That little slab of gadget-lust has got hi-fi audio specs (DAC, amp, wiring, shielding), excellent build quality, and it plays high resolution digital!

This is the proof that there is a market for true music playback systems again. If Sony’s 35th anniversary walkman plays HD audio it immediately differentiates it from the “low-fi” phone and iPod world we’ve been in for the last 10 years.

Some general information, in case you are interested in purchasing one:

  • available in Japan and Europe late 2014, street price expected around $700 US
  • plays up to 24 bit, 192k FLAC and other formats
  • 64gb on-board memory, not expandable
  • runs the full android OS with app installation allowed, including outside music stores
  • wifi and bluetooth expected for non-audio features. not clear if it can send audio over bluetooth

 

Compared to the Pono player, I think we will have some choices in this emerging market:

  • available in the US late 2014, street price expected to be $400 US
  • plays up to 24 bit, 192k FLAC and other formats
  • 64gb on-board memory + card slot for swapping 64gb cards (128gb cards coming soon)
  • runs a proprietary OS with audio only features. no apps or internet connectivity
  • no wifi or bluetooth. Neil says you can’t take away the wires if you can’t replace what originally went through them 😉

 

There’s two other DAP’s I found on the market in the US, one from a company called Fiio and one from an upscale stereo maker whse name is slipping my mind. But the Fiio one was around the $400 price point and looked to be an impressive device. The other one is high-end all the way, with the player over $1k and even the cables were $100+, so no thanks on that.

 

 

 

Resolution, Not Frequency Range

Anyone arguing about audio and getting stuck on the overall hearing range of humans is actually missing the point.

What digital audio has really been doing is giving us lower resolutions on the sounds we can hear.

Have you ever had a car radio with a dial that won’t go to the exact volume you want? The ‘chunks’ are too big to get it exactly where you want it? That’s a lack of resolution in that volume knob. Put that lack of resolution throughout every part of the audio program and the overall effect is perhaps not easily heard, but it seems to be easily felt. – Excerpt From Save The Audio

HD audio is really about the resolution, not the frequency range. The color’s won’t be brighter, there will just be more of them available. Having more available means you leave the computer to guess about less.

The whole “no one can hear above blah blaah” is just a diversion from the fact that we can all hear and do indeed miss what the computers have been removing from our music.

ResolutionBandwidth_sta

Bad Science + Business Interests = Trouble

Computer geeks know lots of things. The sheer breadth of stuff that geeks have crammed in their head is impressive.

But their major mistake is often not acknowledging their own ignorance. Many have come up in a world so digitally driven that they forget they are analog animals.

They forget sound, light, smell, touch are all analog. These are things computers don’t do natively.

In fact it has taken 40+ years of digital advancement to even start competing with original (analog) methods of creation.


NEM U87AISETZNI

Hi there I’m analog


Most computer nerds know nothing about professional media production. They might know the basics or have clicked around a bit with an app, but they know nothing of producing high quality media for a living.

On the other hand, most producers these days have to know their computers, especially the parts critical to creating professional media. I believe some nerds don’t like the competition so they declare themselves experts on everything digital.

Experts are the people that do it for a living, not people tasked with spreading false information on the internet.

A computer programmer/nerd believes there is a digital solution to everything.

Then they build on this bad foundation the fatal flaw of believing a digital copy of something analog will somehow be superior. Many sub-measurements of that digital file might be superior to the analog, but remember to always step back and say “what is this trying to solve?”.

Music is created to get an emotional response from us and that requires as much audio data as possible.


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All consumer digital music, from the CD in 1978 on, has been a compromise. When you hear analog playback you are hearing a reflection of the recording, that is, an analog copy that is slightly degraded but overall intact and whole.

The original sounds hit the microphone in analog and it will hit your ears in analog.  It has not been broken up and re-assembled, and no computer decided what to keep and what to throw out.

Nature does degrade the signal to a certain extent (magnetism in a tape or physical dragging movement on vinyl), but no programmer had to determine mathematically what parts of your music to throw out.

Computer nerds trust in the computer to decide what’s important in our audio signal, more than they trust their own intuition or senses.

Computers don’t have skin, hair, ears, or emotions, so what do they know about music? Nothing. Nada.

Programmers with agendas are behind much of this nonsense, and it is all based on a total misunderstanding of how we hear, and what we actually get from music.

Familiarity is just step 1. “I can recognize that song I like!” is not the same as hearing the whole thing the way it was intended.

Check out this cool article about a guy that helped design the Pono Player.

 

 

The First LP… ever

The year was 1948. The funk was about to go mobile.

Colombia dropped the first 33 1/3 RPM long playing vinyl disc.

Some serious fiddle by this guy playing this. The breakdown run at 0:34 is amazing. The audio linked is not from that vinyl however. See the actual label and read more info here:

http://www.33audio.com/enter/ML4001.html

Portable_78_rpm_record_player

This format lasted 40 years as the market leader before digital compact disc outsold it in the late 1980’s. The CD format offered a lower noise floor, no dust issues, more portability, a wider allowable temperature range, more capacity, and instant access without manual cue. All great advances, and within 10 years of it’s introduction, CD’s were the market leader.

The CD format was a step back in three very important categories, however — sound quality, durability, and sustainability.

Durability is in the archival sense – stored correctly, vinyl LP’s appear to have an infinite life. I have records over 50 years old that play as they did when made. CD’s (which consist of a thin piece of foil filled with millions of holes sandwiched between clear plastic) on the other hand, have been exhibiting foil rust, mold, rot, cracking, and total failure at a alarming rate.

A "new era" indeed, complete with Lasers and Lightning

A “new era” indeed, complete with Lasers and Lightning

There is also the issue of playback for future generations: the vinyl record requires no computer, software, laser, or integrated circuit, even electricity – to be read. It is unknown if CD playback will be possible in 50, 100, 500 years. It is known that a stick can be dragged through a groove under a cone forever.

Sustainability is an issue in that CD’s are practically indestructible little plastic objects that are nearly non-recyclable. We have been warned about throwing them in the trash, and many recycling centers in the US don’t even accept them. Vinyl records (PVC) aren’t always recycled either, but they do not contain any harmful materials.

 

Through Being Cool

Bob Casale, guitarist and programmer for DEVO passed away yesterday. Here’s a tribute from his brother.

DEVO is one of the most important bands in history. They are not the easiest to listen to. They don’t have the largest catalog of hits. And they surely are odd to watch.

But Devo is short for de-evolution, and as an american art project it’s right on point. Starting in the early 70’s, Devo forced us into the modern world. Punks with sequencers when no one had an idea what a sequencer was. These guys were so early in the game they were practically building their own digital instruments, and then playing them in sync with guitars, drums, and keys. Very sick, very ballsy.

devo1

Their remakes of classic rock riffs put the post-modern touch to the heavy and serious tone coming out of the Vietnam era (finally), while at the same time celebrating them at the expense of current dance music trends. Their version of Satisfaction blew me away.

Devo the band was composed with a set of 2 brothers from Akron Ohio, an interesting lineup, and one that stayed intact the entire 40 years!

The Rise of High Definition Audio – Save The Audio!

Hear My Pixels

If eyes were treated like ears.


Ah finally, I’m not alone on the internet! Someone agrees it’s time to retire the MP3 and bring on high def digital audio.

We keep upping the resolution of our digital lives but seem to have neglected sound for 30+ years now.

Sound is more fundamental to our mental and emotional state than a flickering image. Eyes close, turn away, and can lose focus after a few feet. Created images bring no physical vibrations to our body, and we do not create images for our guttural, natural communication.

There’s a layer of abstraction when creating images as opposed to creating sound. You just did it now (made sound) and you can’t stop doing it. Neither can our machines or mother nature. Don’t forget sound in the pursuit of vision.

Don’t forget quality, even when compromising for convenience.

Continue reading

I Support Pono

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Neil getting full balanced goodness into his ears

I love this idea.

Neil Young finally got his wish to attempt to restore audio fidelity to our lives. They are calling the thing Pono and most of the press reports on it present it as a battle with Apple’s iTunes world (which is currently living on the 256k mp4 format).

But most modern ears miss the real battle Young is waging – Continue reading

Better 3 Years Late Than Never?

sony-nw-99-02-500x500The music industry, ever pro-active and cutting edge, has finally decided to try and sell music in a digital file format.

I have heard some good and many bad things about this new scheme (mainly that it won’t do much to stop digital bootlegging, which has already won) that they are calling “Echo”.

What do you think, would you pay $18 for a couple hundred megs of a downloadable music with full copy-protection and other big-brother tactics? Read more at Rolling Stone.


[including original comment from Wonder B, posted 02-02-2003:

Hell no!!!!!!! (Score: 1)
by WonderB (FunkMeUp@damnyourspam.com)
 on Feb 02, 2003 – 05:11 AM
(User info | Send a message) http://
I really must be an old fart because I can’t imagine paying for virtual music…
I have been raised on vinyl and buying something that is not real, meaning that if you will have to burn the CD yourself, is something that I just cannot even understand…!
I don’t even buy the CDR’s that are for sale by a lot of artists who do not have a recording contract so I won’t buy the stuff especially if it’s money to be given to the record industry which denies the funk so much…
By not signing any of the artists I love I cannot see myself giving them more money for them to put out more American Idol and stuff of the same ilk (note that I am being very polite on the subject, a thing that would totally change if we had this conversation live in the open! LOL)
NO sincerely I think that the record industry is trying to jump on the bandwagon which left years ago so their try to catch it up is just plain ridiculous I think.
Imagine how much more profit the industry could get from this way of selling???????? No CD’s to be made? no artwork to be printed? No jewel case to put everything in, and more than that, no costly distributors… Hell I think they still would have the better end of the stick!!!

Wonder B