The Problem With Experts Indeed

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Interesting take over on RealHDAudio taking shots at a music producer.

I read and replied to his post but it’s not publishing over there, so here is:


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Timing, timbre, and room sound.
Timing, timbre, and room sound.
Timing, timbre, and room sound.

These are things that you can’t scope or measure or chart. These are the basic building blocks of music.

This is why record producers, mastering engineers, and artists with a good ear are the experts here.

They are the only ones who understand mixed music. Not test tones. Not frequencies alone and isolated. Every bit of music is a complex stew of multiple tones, some heard, some hinted, some masked, some over/under ringing.

If the people in the studio that did the session say the 16/44 version sounds the best, then it does. If they prefer the 24/88 or 24/192 versions, they are the best. Creators privilege. Only they heard it as it was being made, aka what it originally came from. (They can all be different mixes of the song too, they don’t have to tell us that.)

The rest of us just take it for granted and enjoy it. Unless you are making the mix, or making the original sound being mixed, you are a secondary expert.

Mixed music is a tremendously complex collection of tones, all affecting each other, all containing critical timing, timbre, and layers upon layers of complex sound.

That’s why it’s so powerful. The power of music is ignored in these scientific discussions. If the 16/44 version moves you emotionally, that’s good. If the 24bit version does it more so, it’s a better version. Whichever packs the most in it is the best.


Even for sparse music, acoustic music, whatever…. more data = more sound = more vibration = more enjoyment. It’s simple.

I do think there’s a limit though. I hear some advantage at 24/192 on very good rigs but it does not make 24/88 or 24/92 sound degraded.

The pointless 16/44 is the degradation that we need to remove.


 

Too many people these days try to hear with their eyes and understand with their computer screens.

 

Which is music?

This:

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Strawberry Fields Forever, by The Beatles

 

or the audio track in this?

 

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.


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Promises Fulfilled

I don’t think I ever posted this – this is from a guy that spends his life testing high-end audio devices – things like $15k Amps and $5k headphones. This ain’t my market as you know.

He ordered a PonoPlayer and by the time it arrived he was so sick of the hype, the politics, and the nerd battles raging online about Neil Young’s latest business venture that he skeptically pressed play.

Read his review to get a real nice impression of the impression this device leaves on people. Even the professionals.

He also has the technical chops and the connections to get into the nitty gritty of what is going on when you press ‘play’ on this odd shaped thing.

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Image from Inner Fidelity

How You Hear Music

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Listening 101

1. Directionality – Where is that sound coming from? Where exactly is that hi-hat sitting in the mix? Is the band in front of me or all around me?

2. Delay/Roomspace – Am I in a large room, small room, outside? Was this music recorded in a large room or small room? Was the recording room rounded, square, long?

3. Quality/timbre of instruments – Is that an electric guitar? Do I like the tone of it? Do I like that keyboard patch? How about the singer’s voice?

4. Stereo soundstage – Do I hear 2 guitars doubling each other, or 1 guitar with a wide delay? Is the singer front and center, or is he singing 2 parts, 1 left, 1 right? How wide are the drums set in the mix?

5. Timing of musicians and recording – Do the various delays work together musically, or are they clashing and changing the feel of the song? Are the drummer and bass player locked in? Is the 2nd percussion player ahead, behind, or on the beat?

6. Quality of recording – Is this the best version of this song? Is the distortion in the track intentionally added by the artist or is it in the format?

7. Clarity and breadth of EQ – Are most of the pleasing frequencies present, and are the harsh, brittle frequencies diminished?  Do the various instruments and voices blend and work with each other as layers, or do they cover each other?

8. Noise floor – Is there a hum or buzz in this recording? Is it from a bad recording, or a loud instrument, or something wrong in my system?

9. Phase – If things were recorded in phase you don’t notice it. If things are out of phase with each other, various comb filtering and aliasing artifacts appear in your music.

10. Digital loss/compression – Has this file been reduced from the original? Did they remove things they hope I can’t hear to make the file smaller?  Are there compression artifacts in the mix.

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There’s 10 things to listen to without even thinking about frequency range. 10 things most internet audio experts never take into account.

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.

New Listening Test – A Proposal

It’s time for a better listening test. It’s time to use our understanding properly.

A proper listening test…

  1. needs to use all available sensory data from a modern smartwatch/ wearable CPU device
  2. needs to be portable and self-contained to allow for mobile use/multiple playback locations
  3. needs to account for the musical style preference of the test subject
  4. needs to stress half-song units as it’s shortest measurement, rejecting fast-switching between samples
  5. needs to be blind without altering the listeners normal and natural listening state
  6. needs to avoid comparisons between a memory and a real sample
  7. needs a moniker as easy to remember as ABX or Blind

 

Why is this needed?

Continue reading

The Problem With A-B’ing And Why Neil Young Is Right About Sound Quality

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Great Tape Op post that’s thinking big about audio, music, and hearing.

The main crutch of the good enough team is what is called the double-blind listening test (shortened to ABX). When doing studies based on perception, it is the great measuring stick, and perhaps the only way they can start to squeeze some numbers out of human sensory perception.

It’s basic – here’s source A, here’s source B, maybe switch back and forth a couple of times, now make your decision. Which one was better? Can you hear a difference? Do you like one better than the other?

But as the article states, every ABX test is flawed because of it’s short sample time, and building out theories on these short ‘taste-test’ findings has led us to this mess of bad science and bad assumptions.

Since we live with and love music in intimate ways we cannot accurately write or describe, the author proposes that for any “double blind” tests to be valid the subjects should actually get to keep and live with their music collection for a month or two, then report their feelings towards it.

Much like how a sugary treat tastes better than anything next to it, but if you lived on sugary treats all month you would be feeling much worse than the person with the quality diet. Often the lesser files are close enough on initial inspection to fool enough people, and the ABX test stops right there. No one is doing long-term ABX tests, we all are doing taste tests, not nutrition tests.

Neil Young and the high-def audio movement is about getting the nutrition back into your music. There’s industrial white bread, and then there’s all those other breads. They both hold the sandwich together but living off the nutrition inside of it leads us to different outcomes.

 

Critical Listening of Soundscapes

Besides music as created by humans, sounds of all kinds fascinate me. The vibration underlying sound is, in my opinion, the most underrated and sometimes disregarded human stimulus.

To that end, I discovered an amazing site called Aporee that celebrates the wonder of sound. It’s amazing how much ambient sounds can tell you about places and people.

Check out http://aporee.org/maps/ for an amazing tour of our planet using your ears. You can browse around a googled earth but instead of trivial data about the locations for you to read, you get glorious sound!

Pure sound, usually recorded in stereo, for free to take yourself right to those places. No HDTV or even film experience can get close to what pure sound can convey.

Close your eyes and it’s amazing how you can travel to that place and learn so much through just your ears.

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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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