Lossy Is Hurting Us

 

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Summer fun in full resolution: Cedar Point, Ohio looking out over Lake Erie.

 

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If you stream music or buy lossy files, here’s your version of summer fun. Close enough, right?

 

If you own a ponoplayer or another fancy modern 24bit digital audio player, you can experience this. Full resolution for all the music you love will return you to the quality you deserve.

 


Note 1 – I bet your browser showed the compressed image first. That’s why data compression exists – to get the file to you faster. Once they are both loaded, was the wait worth it?

Note 2 – Image is not audio. Audio has more detail, more nuance, and packs far more emotional cues than visuals.

#SaveTheAudio

 

 

PonoPlayer is the Stereophile 2015 Digital Product Of The Year

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Ignore those who wouldn’t know good sound if their life depended on it.

The PonoPlayer is winning awards and impressing nearly everyone who hears it.

I’m referring to those that have some idea what they are doing and hearing. First the Rocky Mountain Audio Product of the Year, now Stereophile’s Digital product of the year.

It’s sad but understandable that rave reviews from all kinds of audio blogger types against 2 bad reviews by mainstream tech blogs (Yahoo! and Ars Technica), that those bad reviews would spawn more snark and negativity from uninformed bloggers who have never even heard the device.

These tech sites are all hooked into Googleverse and generate the highest page views, so when you search PonoPlayer you see negative results listed ahead of good reviews.

Here’s what you need to know: Stereophile just awarded PonoPlayer their Digital Product of the Year.

They said it was the least-close category, that’s how impressive the PonoPlayer is at it’s price point.


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Here’s plenty more good reviews if you need convincing that this is the best sounding $500 device made:

Scot Hull – Part-Time Audiophile – 11/19/14
Michael Sawh – Trusted Reviews – 1/8/15
Rick Schmidt – Home Theater High Fidelity 2/9/15
 What Hi-Fi? – 2/13/15
Ty Pendlebury – C-Net – 3/12/15
Sam Berkow – SIA Acoustics – 3/16/15
John Atkinson – Stereophile – 3/23/15
Raymond Wong – Mashable – 3/23/15
Tyll Hertsens – Inner Fidelity – 3/26/15

 

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.


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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.


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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

Making Records In The Age of Pono

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Great blog post covering Pono and the trends in music from a well known music producer. There is a lot of work to still be done in ending the era of bad sound quality but I like how he acknowledges that Neil Young has been leading the fight with a Pono-shaped machete, hacking away at low quality playback habits wherever he sees them.


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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!

 

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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.

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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!

 

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MP3’s are for hosers!

 

 

PonoPlayer Doing Well At Amazon

During my recent shopping experience I’ve found Amazon reviews to be pretty accurate once enough people use that product and report back.

The Pono Player has been for sale up there for a while and people of all types have been posting reviews. Check it out.

4.2 out of 5. Over 80% very satisfied. Not bad!

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Read it and understand in many other’s words what I’ve been telling you about.  This little thing is a game changer.

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

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

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.


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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.

Life With PonoPlayer

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I’ve been playing this thing daily for 5 months now. Here’s more thoughts on living with it (and some new pictures):

  • The form/shape is still nearly perfect. The only thing it doesn’t like is working out with tight clothing. If you workout with loose clothes (or don’t work out at all) you can usually find a pocket or ledge for it. It’s far better than a slab phone shape at most things: sitting up, sitting down, displaying, passing around, holding in your hand, using from inside pocket, not ruining your headphone jacks, coexisting with keys. The soft-touch plastic also feels better as it wears, and the buttons are easy to understand and operate in any environment. Nearly perfect design for an audio player.
  • Sound quality is still amazing and every day several things in my collection surprise me. I have about 400 CD’s ripped to it now and it’s astonishing how much of a sonic downgrade we accepted in the name of convenience when MP3 was introduced.
  • I have a hard time even listening to an MP3 now, I want a decent version immediately, and if I’m online I see if a 24bit version is available. I’ve re-bought 2 albums so far, knowing that I gave Apple $10 for the MP3 version a few years ago but it was a mistake. I find myself turning down MP3’s on the pono because it can’t work magic. One of my favorite moments lately is when I replace MP3’s with FLAC’s and delete the MP3’s forever. It’s like waking up from a musical nightmare.
  • Most people don’t notice it when I have headphones on, there’s so many devices out right now. As far as the folks that are curious, it’s about 50/50 whether they seem to understand it immediately. I’ve had a few people go “oh wow that’s a Pono!?!”. One guy said he didn’t want to hear it because he doesn’t want to have to buy one! I kinda get that, but he’ll own one eventually.
  • It’s magical when you bring it out amongst friends who are phone-listeners. Find any song they know and play it on speakers and they nod and smile, then immediately focus in and ask you to turn it up. They get big eyes, and start to bop, move, grin. They usually look at me like we are making a discovery together. Often times we both lock into and zone out for most of the song, something almost never done when playing MP3’s. I now have friends who want to share a song apologize to the group for playing music from their phone 😉
  • Most people understand “it sounds better” but they don’t all care to understand the details. The curious ones usually know about either lossy compression or deficient playback hardware, but usually don’t see both in their current rig until they’ve experienced the pono smile.
  • I like how owning a DAP has freed my phone from doing something it was not really cut out to do. I have not had a song interrupted by an alert, a phone call, or another app in 5 months. I play my music while waiting on hold. I have not forgot to play the next song or gotten a headache from too much music. I don’t have to keep turning it down from loudness wars and digital ear fatigue. I’ve cleared 10gb and counting from my phone by deleting those horrible mp3s
  • It’s not all good: The main round button is suspect. Mine is currently working correctly but it’s not the smoothest, and I am not confident it will operate properly for decades. This button does play, stop, next, last, sleep and wake so it gets a lot of use.

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The OS needs a few minor UI features, and I think they can add them without ruining the focus of the device. My suggestions to Pono Inc:

  1. A “Go To Album” link when shuffling songs, since shuffle on the Pono almost always triggers me to want to hear more from that record.
  2. Sleep/Lock could use more refinement. Being aware of charge-state would be great – I want separate prefs for battery or wall power.
  3. The song/artist banner across the top covers album artwork in landscape mode. It should autohide after a few seconds and reappear upon button touch. You know your own stuff and should see 100% artwork when the music plays.
  4. After adding a lot of music it has to rescan the music library and can take over a minute to do so. I have been adding batches of 15-20 CD’s and the artwork also glitches on first scroll through album covers, by shifting artwork amongst the items. It clears up after the first pass though. [*Update* Haven’t seen this issue since the last firmware upgrade]

 

I definitely recommend getting a PonoPlayer – it’s the best thing to ever happen to my ears and my CD collection, and the handful of 24bit albums I’ve bought so far all sound better than their 16bit counterparts.

There’s just more there, and you can hear it quite literally sound like more. Not louder, more. With a high quality playback device you can better enjoy high resolutions, and it’s very portable.

Hopefully soon I’ll pick up a $100 Fiio and do some Pepsi challenges against the Pono, and so my wife isn’t killing her ears and mood anymore with MP3s.

If you took part in the MP3 revolution like most of us you might still be there (streaming or local), so you have to hear lossless files on a PonoPlayer. You won’t want to go back.


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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

Breathophile

I love air. I really enjoy breathing, and I do it everyday.

It’s what drives me and is perhaps the most important thing in my life.

I don’t want it constricted or contain some odor of unfamiliarity.

Chiang Mai Open Sewer

I won’t accept known poison unless, of course, I like the way it feels.

This is why it’s important to keep it clean. This is why I am a breathophile.

You can accept poor smelly air or you can move to somewhere better.

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I love music. I really enjoy making it, and I play it every day.

It’s what drives me and is perhaps the most important thing in my life.

I don’t want it constricted or contain some odor of unfamiliarity.

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I won’t accept known poison unless, of course, I like the way it feels.

This is why it’s important to keep it clean. This is why I am a audiophile music lover.

You can accept poor quality mp3’s on phones or you can move to somewhere better.

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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

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.

 

Rip 2.0

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Hello old friends, it’s been awhile

Rip your CD’s again.  Do it right this time.

Most of us went through ripping phases where we created gigs of MP3 files and either traded back in our CD’s or hid them in the basement. We’ve been walking around living with MP3 for over a decade now, either from our files or streaming from the network.

When we ripped our CD’s, we wanted the music from the CD in a small file. The file had to be small because our hard drives were small. A CD holds 0.7 GB, so if you wanted to rip 50 CD’s without compression you needed 35GB of space for them.

If you wanted to rip 300 CD’s like me and you didn’t have 200 GB of space for music – and no iPod/iPhone could hold that much anyway – you made them MP3’s.  Nearly all of us did it. And we could appreciate our music, understand it, sing to it, dance to it, enjoy it in MP3 format. It was the iPod decade.

But this is the thing — that MP3 is actually just a photocopy of the real thing, and the second you go back to using the original CD quality file (16/44) you really hear it.

If you have a real good player, such as the PonoPlayer or Fiio, you can really hear an advantage at 16/44.

So I’ve begin the process of ripping my favorite CD’s again, this time as 16/44 FLACs, loading them onto my DAP, and am finding myself enjoying these CD’s more than ever before.

Then there comes the moment that has come to define this process: I have the FLAC’s next to the MP3’s and I can delete the MP3’s forever, just a bad memory of years past. Like a faded photo of someone you didn’t like much anyway. See ya! Got a better version now!

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BTW – this image of the spaghetti — that’s the various parts of the brain used to process sound and vibration.

That’s why when you feed it degraded quality it knows, and it affects your psyche in ways they have yet to trap for.

 

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

Right, Natural, and Real

I’ve been telling you all about my snazzy new music player. And I’ve been fighting the good fight with online math geniuses that claim there is no such thing as hi-res. Here’s another review of the PonoPlayer, along with a response from pono’s head engineer and the designer of the audio chain inside of it. Good stuff.

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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.

 

Hi-Def HardFunk aka 24bit or Bust!

Was browsing around the Ponomusic store the other night, and found some good funk at full 24bit:

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 4.08.59 PMScreen Shot 2015-04-10 at 4.10.44 PMBootsy: Playa of the Year and Ahh The Name is @ 24/192 for $21.79

Stevie Wonder: Songs, Musiquarium, Talking Book, Music of my Mind, Innvervisions all at 24bit for around $20 per album.

Most of Otis Reading’s career at 24/192

6 different Ray Charles LP’s at 24/192

Slave’s self titled debut from 1977 at 24/192 for $24

Donny Hathaway Live @ 24/192 for $24Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 4.09.53 PM

Sly’s There’s A Riot Going On @ 24/176 for $25 (listen to that tape buzz!)

Monk’s Genius Of Modern Music vols 1 & 2 at 24/192 for $21 eachScreen Shot 2015-04-10 at 4.12.05 PM

4 Sam Cooke albums at 24/88, some of them less than a $1 per track

There seems to be more 24bit material every time I search, but in some cases 16/44 is the best you are gonna get for some time. It still sounds a lot better than what’s the norm these days, and ponoplayer plays 16/44 FLAC as good as anything in the world.

Youtube’s Version of HD Audio – My Realtime Review

Oh damn, the internet generation strikes back against pono!

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

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

Hear My Pixels

Early 21st century art

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

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

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

 


 

 

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

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

Tears again, damn this thing is really hitting me.

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

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

 


 

So what to do about it?

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

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

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

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

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

The modern file formats.

The modern file formats.

 

 

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.

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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

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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Buying Musical Product – What Do You Want?

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So the CD is dead, the mp3 is going nowhere fast, everyone seems to stream or listen to their mp3 libraries, the HD Digital files are just starting to gain traction, and analog records keeps chugging along towards their 100th birthday.

What’s a music lover to do with their money these days? Many that I know go to shows whenever possible, buy vinyl, both new for around $25/LP and used around $2/LP. Many pay Apple, Google, Spotify or whoever to buy or stream an mp3 version. One strange dude I know still goes to BestBuy to buy new CD’s. Indie shops and truck stops still have random cassettes.

I’m getting a first generation Pono Player any day now, so I’ll be soon buying some HD digital albums to expand on the 5-10 I own now. I’ll also be re-ripping some of my favorite CD’s as 16/44 WAV’s to load onto the Pono Player – it’s high-end amp and DAC should make them fresh and new after years of mp3’ing my ears to death.

Figuring out what to buy from the world of music (and sadly, the fraction of it that is available in HD digital) will be tough but I’m all about getting as close to the “album” model of listening – put it on and let it play, in order, with no random access cueing, for 12-20 minutes, with an endless side. Then flip the side and play the rest.

Then’s there’s the issue of storage…. do we want nearly permanent discs of plastic, to be read by either vibrating stylus or laser light, for our precious music? Do we want to own nothing and just rent everything? Somewhere between those two extremes lies the answer.

More to come on this topic soon…