Proper Digital Audio Playback

The PonoPlayer got it right, whether they survive as a business or not.

There is a right way and a quick way to build a digital audio playback circuit.

The following information comes from Charlie Hansen, the designer of the Pono audio chain, and the excellent review by Tyll Hertsens. I’m putting it into it’s own post so other audio device builders get inspired.

  • 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
  • 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

That’s what happens after the DAC, in the analog stage.



Regarding the file quality and DAC behavior before the analog stage, we have more details from Charlie:

 

  • Brickwall filtering creates massive time smear.
  • The human ear/brain is already known to be exquisitely sensitive to time smear.
  • 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.

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.

Only Stream If You Also Buy Music

If you stream and don’t buy anything ever, you are hurting us all.

We all do it, or know those that do. Since about 1999 (the early Napster era) the idea of actually paying for your music collection has been passé.

There has been an entire generation that expects music product for free.


shoplifting_charges


 

It’s no coincidence that most of their time is spent listening to fake instruments, fake voices and fake sounds made by a laptop operated by a guy fake playing – aka pretending to be working much harder than he really is. You can sit at your desk as I am now and computer DJ.

I’m a DJ, I know. There’s no reason a computer DJ should ever sell more tickets than a proper traveling band. But that’s the norm these days.

The computer DJ’s have won and it’s sad. I was a computer DJ 20 years ago and I didn’t want to win I just wanted an outlet, a slot, a chance to get my creations heard. Now it’s everywhere yet rock and soul played by actual musicians emoting right in front of us is harder and harder to locate.


Porter-Robinson

I used to computer DJ to 20 people 20 years ago. These guys are hotter than rock bands now, so I suppose I won and lost. Where are the great new bands? Killed by the computer DJ.


 

 

Anyway, find $10 for a CD or a digital download (preferably hi-res) of a classic album, or something from a new artist that does it for you, and just purchase the damn thing. Restart your collection. It’s better than giving to charity.

Guide To Hi-Res Audio

The momentum continues, as more publications pick up on this new push towards quality in consumer audio.  MP3 won’t die without a fight, but it’s 15 year grip on the music industry appears to be loosening.


1015prov.hands

 


 

Check out the Consumer Technology Association’s Guide To Hi-Res Audio for a nice wide overview of the hi-res music market as it stands now.

 

Free Upgrades For Life

Funny how reality got in the way of the Pono bashing and Neil Young hating that was all over the internet in 2013-2014.

The emperor has clothes. He usually wears yellow.


 

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Oh internet, you can be so stupid sometimes.  No snake oil. No streaming service. No emperor. When you scroll down to the next 10 reviews you find raves.

 


 

  • They claimed Young was trying to make us all rebuy our music in a new proprietary format. Yet Pono chose DRM-free open sourced FLAC as their file format.
  • They claimed Young was a shyster and would never even ship the thing. Yet they sold out of PonoPlayers faster than they could make them.
  • They claimed it was nothing more than marketing and it would sound no better than an iPhone. Yet everyone (except a few notable tech-bloggers at the top of google) is impressed with it’s sound. Read reviews from stereo hi-fi and music production types and you’ll see nothing but raves and it’s already won some industry awards in it’s first year.  Hear it yourself and you’ll know.
  • They claimed that hi-res titles were overpriced and no one would accept those prices for music. Yet most 24bit albums are <$20, most 16bit albums are <$15 and people are buying again, some getting an album for the 4th time in what could be a final digital format.
  • They claimed that the ‘whole hi-res thing’ was a scam of upsampled files being marketed to fools. Yet Pono puts out the Pono Promise and works hard to discover the provenance of each album, buyers are educated, and the company is standing by it’s provenance by guaranteeing you free upgrades if the label raises the bar.

 

Reality bites. I’m sure there were more attacks I haven’t debunked here. I just wanted the record to show that no matter what happens to Pono Inc. in the long run, they delivered on their promise and more, slapping all the haters and skeptics right in the jaw. Bravo for Neil, Bravo for Pono Inc. and bravo for music.


FullSizeRender 2

 

Quality Hiding In Plain Site

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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 Resolution Wars

256px-Lichtenstein_jpeg_difference

Visual representation of “lossy”. These pixels are what is lost when this image is compressed using mpeg.


MP3’s are dying, thank god. MP3 is a transitionary technology that has overstayed it’s welcome. If you believe lossy MP3 is all you need for music, goodbye. Come back when you want to listen. Yes 320k is better than 192k or 128k. Yes it’s getting close to CD quality. It’s still less than half the data (Not to mention CD is 37 year old digital technology!). MP3/MP4/AAC is a lowest common denominator. It has no place in a discussion about quality.

CD quality is 600-1400k so you can just get CD quality these days, even streaming with Tidal. Once you leave the world of lossy and get to real resolutions, you won’t go back.

Confused with all the combinations of bit depth and sample frequencies available: 16/44, 24/44, 16/48, 24/96, etc.?

So what do you need?  Avoid buying expensive 16 bit. Don’t pay new prices for it, unless it’s the best that material ever hopes to be released at. Demand 24 bit versions and pay full price for 24 bit versions.

  • 24/44 is awesome enough for The Beatles and The Cars, two amazing bands
  • 24/88 and 24/96 are the emerging standards for hi-res audio
  • 24/192 is the highest resolution anyone works at and is starting to become popular

I haven’t heard 16/48 in 20 years but I can assure you that 16/44 is not able to deliver the full audio signal -if- the material is from higher resolutions or analog masters.


 

31-14_static

One part of one inner ear – the most amazing vibration detector I can imagine. Every component does multiple tasks with such detail and subtlety that some of our finest machines could only hope to match it some day.


To spell out audio resolutions in human terms: you need at least 18bits of space to store the data and you need about 30k of undamaged samples per second.

If they had a format of 20/60 it would have been perfect for CD, but they didn’t, so we have to overshoot a bit since the format is just the container. The music is the content and you don’t want the container smaller than the content. In 1977-78 when the CD was being designed, this was a necessary compromise for reasons that have long since expired.

This 18/60 threshold is about the total of what we can detect as humans, so to me, 24 bit is the indicator of true high-resolution audio.  Higher sample rates might give you slightly more detail and audio data, but to my ears 24 bit is the primary upgrade.


 

There's a lot going on inside your ears.

At a micron level inside of the human inner ear. There are thousands of these tiny hairs positioned into arrays at multiple depths, each able to detect certain frequencies and timbres. Each hair sways, the entire mechanism can move, and opposite this area there is a mysterious fluid that appears to defy physics while it adjusts it’s location and density based on the sound. Some researchers believe this fluid performs a liquid-based form of compression/limiting/expansion as well as EQ and is controlled by still unknown forces. That’s serious resolution right there – self-organizing liquids and moveable micron-microphone arrays?  320k/sec is not holding that, nor is 1400k/sec.

The Pono Promise Is Real

TORONTO, ON - JANUARY 12: Young walks into the press conference. Famed singer, Neil Young held a news conference on Jan. 12 to tout his benefit concert that same day raising money and awareness for the Athabasca Chipewyan First Nation Legal Defense Fund. The event was held at Massey Hall. January 12, 2014. (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

More crazy ideas!

 

This crazy old rock star started another company. He named it the Hawaiian word for righteousness. He has long hair, wears jeans and a leather coat, it’s a for-profit small business, and he is hated by conservatives.

The goal of the company is not modest — just to save an art form. The art of recorded music is under attack and good old Neil Young has swooped in to try’n save it!

 

Pono_1394708212_crop_550x296

Dave, I just care so damn much. Look at this cute little thing.

 

Bullshit right? Nope. They just posted the policy that anything you buy from their store will be upgraded for free if a better native version becomes available in the future.

 

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The new best store ever.

That’s ballsy. They are basically promising their customers are getting the finest goods from them and there isn’t a better version hidden away somewhere waiting to be sold to you again. And again.

 

I know I’m buying everything from Ponomusic.com from now on so I have that upgrade available if the labels release better versions than what I was sold.

Their text:

Free Album Resolution Upgrades

The PonoPromise

Because we love and appreciate our Pono community of music lovers so much, all music purchased at PonoMusic.com will now be upgraded for FREE when a label offers a higher resolution upgrade of the same recording.

That is the PonoPromise.

People have had to deal with changing and eroding quality formats over the years, starting with vinyl, then eight tracks, cassettes, CDs, MP3s and now streaming services. Music lovers have been forced to buy or “rent” their music over and over and over again. We here at Pono, think that sucks…. But with Pono, those days are over.

Now, when you buy your favorite music at PonoMusic.com, the PonoPromise means you will never have to purchase it again, ever! If and when a higher resolution album you have already purchased becomes available, it is yours for FREE!

 

That’s righteous.

IMG_7842

Buy buy buy and save save save the audio

 

I didn’t get too deep into the fine-print regarding other formats and remixes but I love the concept. It’s so hippy dippy it just might work!

 

o-grande-sucesso-de-neil-young-em-1972-1

MP3’s are for hosers!

 

 

24bit or Bust: Bill Withers & Led Zeppelin

They trickle out slowly but at least they are finally coming:  24bit versions of classic albums by classic artists, ready for purchase for under $20. This is the full-quality studio master for your library so don’t pass up these opportunities.

Two classic artists that have gone 24bit lately are Led Zeppelin and Bill Withers. Jimmy Page, guitarist and leader of Zep, has completed his remastering project where all 9 of the legendary band’s studio albums have been given the modern HD treatment.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.12.43 AM

This includes versions with the original track list but remastered to 24/96, and a deluxe version of each record complete with outtakes, alternate versions, demos, and other rarities. The remasters come in under $20, the Deluxe versions are about $25 each, and you can even buy the whole catalog on vinyl, CD, or HD-digital download, with the physical media including the digital downloads. Very nice.


 

The Bill Withers albums didn’t receive any rare add-ons, but it sure is nice to see them at 24bit and most of them are under $15. Bill is a traditionalist, so his piano, his voice, his guitar, and the rest of the arrangement should sound very warm and intimate at 24bit. Real instruments, real voices, real soul.

Screen Shot 2015-08-04 at 10.03.57 AM

 

Check out PonoMusic for the Zeppelin and Bill Withers pages.

 

It’s Bandwidth, Stupid

Everything digital boils down to bandwidth

  • how much you have
  • how much can you use
  • how fast the data can move through it

Bandwidth comes in several forms. The network connection is the obvious one because we already use the term bandwidth to describe this. This determines how fast one computer can communicate with another computer through a network.

Storage space is another form of bandwidth, if anything needs to be stored. Even streaming files through the network will require some local storage and files saved to your device require space. There’s the raw space, and also the read/write time of the storage volume – both are a form of bandwidth.

There’s plenty more places to measure bandwidth inside of, and plugged into, the computer such as the motherboard busses between the various chips, the ports in and out of the computer, and the video output. All of these have a known bandwidth and engineers must take this into account when designing circuits.

If it's digital, it's a "computer". This shows the motherboard and the components of the early CD player.

If it’s digital, it’s a “computer”. This shows the motherboard and the components of the early CD player.


 

The entire digital audio format debate boils down to bandwidth.  How much sound bandwidth can your body pick up?

37 years ago when Phillips & Sony were working on the audio CD they knew that bandwidth would be a major issue. Digital audio generated very large file sizes and required lots of bandwidth to reproduce accurately. 50mb was literally HUGE in 1978, and that’s only 1 5-minute song on CD. This is a time when $500 hard drives were 10mb! The draw to the optical disc was the huge storage space it provided on cheap plastic discs.

Which brings us to the bandwidth of the disc and file format selected. The new CD design could hold roughly 600mb of data. What resolution to store the audio as became the driving force in finishing the standard, with engineers deciding a nice compromise was a 44k sample rate stored in 16bit files, allowing for about 60 minutes of runtime per disc, or just enough to hold the president of Sony’s favorite symphony (a rumored requirement of the new format).

This is the thing: bandwidth = cost.  More money gets you more of it, especially in components. Want a motherboard with higher bandwidth? Costs more. Want a chip with higher bandwidth? Costs more. A port and cable that can move more data? Costs more.

So the engineers and designers of the CD knew there were better quality resolutions than 16/44, but the overall cost of making a player to play higher resolutions, and total bandwidth of the storage for them, just wasn’t there in 1980’s tech.  Early digital production systems did use 20bit audio with sample rates from 40 to 88k, but they were expensive and specialized, not for the consumer.

 


 

 

By the 1990’s the price of higher-bandwidth components had come down enough to attempt a format upgrade, but like many things in the 90’s, the internet changed everything.  Instead of consumers moving to a new optical disc holding higher-quality files and played through better players (SACD), the trend was to smaller, mobile files that could be moved around the internet and played on smaller and smaller devices.

The visual engineers who developed the JPEG compression format stepped in and put together an audio specification for shrinking CD-quality files down to something 90’s era computers could handle. This became known as MP3, and at first it seemed magical. How could that 50mb song from a CD become 5mb and play back almost perfectly from my hard drive? Impressive.  Overall sound quality was deemed “good enough” because of the huge boost in convenience mp3 provided.

As we lived with MP3 and listened closer, many consumers were less than impressed. But time marched on, napster was built to trade illegal MP3, iPod shipped, then smartphones and tablets, and MP3 became the new consumer format in the early 00’s.

This, of course, is not the first time we consumers have taken a quality downgrade in the name of convenience.

 


 

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The deets on bandwidth used. Netflix HD shows how much more video (TV+film) is valued compared to music. Netflix will be 4k soon, perhaps the 7th upgrade to consumer digital video as compared to no upgrades to digital audio.

 

Now is now. Almost all limits of bandwidth from the last 30 years are gone, as is evident with Netflix streaming everywhere, people running very fast computers packed with memory and fast storage on broadband network connections. There are now millions of servers talking to hundreds of millions of devices, each little device packing more bandwidth than a $50,000 computer from 1980.

The bottom line – We no longer need to reduce the art to fit the distribution. If an artist makes a record at 24/192 you should be able to buy it, store it, and play it at 24/192.  If you want a lesser version for a lesser device/use you can easily make it yourself.  If the artist makes the record at 16/44 that’s fine too, buy that one.

The point is that reducing from the audio master was only done in the name of bandwidth restrictions that are now gone.

 

We can store 100's of full-quality albums on this tiny card.

We can store 100’s of full-quality albums on this tiny card.

 

 

 

Progress Being Made Towards High Definition Audio

Finally! The recording and music industry is discussing standards and practices for proper high-resolution audio, which will hopefully lay the groundwork for mass acceptance by consumers.

This is 20 years past due. Better late than never.

All of this vibration won't compress to 256k.

All of this vibration won’t compress to 256k.

The various entities are having trade shows, panel discussions, demonstrations, and are talking standards, consumer education, and branding for music of all qualities.

Here’s an overview of the talks taking place.  Here is another tech overview. Here is a mainstream consumer view on it.

The keys here are A) provenance and B) final resolution.  Provenance covers the origin of the recording while final resolution is what you are actually being sold. How it got from A to B is important when pushing quality and asking consumers to buy something that many have devalued.

The industry has recommended the following grades that they are calling Master Recording Qualities:

  • MQ-A: From an analog master source
  • MQ-C: From a CD master source (44.1 kHz/16 bit PCM digital), could be up-sampled
  • MQ-P: From a PCM master source that is 48kHz/20 bit PCM or higher (typically 96/24 or 192/24)
  • MQ-D: From a DSD/DSF master source (DSD encoding)

Similar to the 3-letter code on vinyl telling you if it’s sourced from analog or digital, this should inform the consumer and allow the labels to sell guaranteed quality.

This could be a big step towards the mainstream adoption of high resolution audio (HRA).

 

Note: This has nothing to do with Meridian’s new encoding format dubbed MQA (their acronym for Master Quality Assurance, I think) which is built to be a replacement for PCM, the encoding used for most digital audio. If anyone ever records in MQA, it could perhaps become MQ-M above.

Technically Tripping Over Feet

One of the most contentious nerd debates online is about audio quality, and those that believe there are no differences in quality always point to AB tests as their primary justification.

This guy explains why this is fatally flawed, and he nails it:

http://www.aletheiaaudio.com/Double-Blind-Testing.html

Sometimes it's what you don't hear

Sometimes it’s what you don’t hear

I already put this link into our Save The Audio series. Good stuff.

1000k and Beyond

Control the terminology, control the message.

I am listening to Sam Cooke right now. It’s stunning. Through $24 computer speakers. You think I’m kidding?  Try it yourself.

It’s a 3000k bitrate file. That’s sure helps.

It’s being played on the ponoplayer and it’s amazing analog circuitry, that helps a lot too.

Those two, combined, are what you need to achieve musical playback bliss.

  1. 1000k and up bitrate files (1000k is roughly CD quality up to 6000k studio masters)
  2. capable playback device (not a phone tablet or computer)

Apple’s iconic iPod ads had the uncontrollable movement part right, just the wrong device playing the wrong files.

Totally Wired

Totally Wired

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

Triangle Love

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More random reasons to love the PonoPlayer, the more I live with it:

  1. It has no EQ. Thank you. The mix is perfect, or at least final. You can buy different headphones/speakers, or run an external EQ if you insist, but the PonoPlayer stays pure and presents the files without any EQ or degradation. From artist to you, perfect.
  2. It will shuffle all songs or playlists, but won’t shuffle albums or songs within the album. So it doesn’t break continuity of an album, has lossless playback, and let’s you concentrate on something other than the screen as the album plays. I sometimes miss the iPod shuffle features but you can make it work if you like specific types of shuffles. Playlists can take care of most custom concepts, but PP likes to play traditional album/CD style by default.
  3. They’ve just about worked out all the minor kinks with the 2 firmware updates. Rotation is still frustrating because a triangle divides a square perfectly, leaving you right in spin zone all the time, so I lock it to landscape.
  4. The mac version of desktop client has also been updated 3+ times since 12/2014 and is becoming quite pleasant. It (“Ponomusicworld” is a rebranded version of JRiver Media Center) really kicks iTunes ass when it comes to library management and tag editing. It’s growing on me.
  5. A few more good reviews are out there, and the attacks against me in online forums have dwindled as people at least acknowledge basic signal chain -aka it sounds good. No matter politics or beliefs in audio science, it very simply sounds nice and it’s hard for people to hate on that.
  6. This thing doesn’t have a great battery. That sucks, but it is standard and easily replaceable so I’m sure someone will recommend an upgrade as these first generation batteries age. Thus even the bad battery is a net positive because you’ll be able to pop any number of 3rd party batteries into PP and get better performance than what I’m seeing for many years to come. Note that I have the kickstarter NY001 version, so they may have already moved to a better battery.

 

FUNK @ 24/192: Oh My!

But of course, why did I ever doubt it?

I worry. More than my cool attitude allows.

I worry about incompetence and greed getting in the way of a good time.

I worried that the high resolution thing would pass by my beloved funk music.

I just purchased Slave’s debut record at 24/192 (one of the few of their peers to go all the way)  and OH MY….

You want a better commercial for HD audio? I don’t think there is one. The space, the timing, the bite of the instruments, the interplay, the growl of the bass, the polyrhythms, the horns…..  Very impressive. My new favorite album on HD.

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24/192 funk – OH YEAH.   Please funk bands (and Rhino) if you are reading this – go back to the tape and put out 24/192 asap. I will buy all that I can.

Because this is the sickest funk around, in my pocket. Very powerful. Best my ears have heard in quite some time.

ResolutionBandwidth_sta

Pono In Cars, Coming Soon

Pono and Harman announced they reached a deal to bring the Pono audio goodness into cars, and this could be the mainstream breakthrough Pono needs. The more people that hear it the better because it’s the best marketing possible. Hear it, like it, maybe love it and cry a few tears, then buy it. The “low-def years” come to an end.

No details about how they are going to work this out, but Neil has hinted that they are going to share their signal chain engineering with Harman to allow it to be built into their various products, with Pono certifying it for quality. Harman is the corporate owner of the audio brands Infinity, AKG, JBL, Harman Kardon, Becker, Lexicon, Crown, dbx, Soundcraft, Studer, Revel, DigiTech, Mark Levinson, and a few more. That’s a whole lot of market coverage.

It appears that most of the engineering talent in the Pono is the stuff designed by Ayre Acoustics, and the PonoPlayer identifies the Ayre brand, so I would think this is the technology that they will license to Harman.

As long as it sounds sweet and easily takes a MicroSD card so we can share libraries with our other players, I’m all for it. I’ll test drive and consider purchasing any car that has Pono built in.

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Hi-Def Storage Space Explained

I did the math for you since there’s some confusion out there about how much space hi-def music takes. Here’s what you can store on 64gb cards:

Remember storage compromised? Mostly gone as 128gb cards are coming soon for <$100. That's over 1000 studio masters on your fingertip.

Remember storage compromises? Mostly gone as 128gb cards are coming soon for <$100. That’s over 1000 full quality studio masters on something the size of a pinky nail. Amazing.

 

MicroSD is small and efficient.

 

Studio To Stereo

Here’s something really cool – a bunch of people are putting together an interactive event in London that details the process of creating music in the studio and then releasing it to the public, using iconic artists, classic albums, and high definition audio displays.

Who’s the consumer tech company behind it? Sony, a small Japanese startup you might not have heard of.

Sony stages Studio to Stereo high-res audio exhibition

Black Sabbath, The Doors, Pink Floyd — in the studio, behind the scenes and in HD, damn someone want to fly me to London?

The Doors in the studio

The Doors in the studio

Pre-CD Grandeur

Great write up on a classic opera recording finally being released properly in HD/Hi-Res audio:

Rediscovering Maria Callas in High-Resolution Audio

Internet experts continue to argue and debate about hi-res, but music lovers that consider themselves real listeners (not just background music) have heard a nice improvement when going to 24 bit for a long time now.

The Diva

The Diva

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.

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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

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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

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

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


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Will Apple Go HD in Audio?

Rumors are swirling that Apple will soon announce a major upgrade to it’s iTunes Music Store, and one of the features will be 24-bit lossless files for sale!

They might even use Led Zeppelin to push the new higher quality, which is pretty exciting.

I bought a Pono player and it is supposed to play Apple’s ALAC’s (their version of FLAC), so more stores selling HD files is all good for me!

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Apple still sells 10% music files! Well they don’t sell much anymore. They missed the hi-res moment.

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.

 

 

 

The Challenge of Uncompressed Audio Formats

Good overview of the situation I’m heavily interested in (see “Save the Audio” section) – the battle between quality audio and convenient audio. Since the late 90’s most of us have accepted worse-sounding audio in the name of convenience, whether it be small mp3 files downloaded or even smaller mp3 files streamed – both pull more and more important audio out of the worlds music.

Neil Young’s Pono Service Illustrates Hi-Def Audio’s Problems.

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4k UltraHD Visuals Coming Soon – Where’s The Audio?

TV’s advance in resolution again – HD, 1080p HD, and coming soon 4k UltraHD. This thing can push 2160p to your eyeballs but it’s gonna cost you $5k for the small one, and $6k for the larger.

So this is the what, 3rd major format upgrade for TV in 15 years? Meanwhile we downgraded our audio format in the last couple of decades.

It’s a crying shame that music – which goes anywhere while encouraging activity, concentration, expression, and emotional fulfillment — is completely overlooked in the digital age in favor of again increasing our television performance.

Watching screens generally discourages activity, concentration, expression, and emotional fulfillment.

Shows where our priorities (ahem profits) are.

 

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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.

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