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.

Movie Lovers Coalesce The Vapors Around Streaming

It’s not just music lovers realizing that streaming has a long way to go to match physical media.

Film lovers see the same issues:  degraded quality, no extras, no ownership, unknown/ temporary access.

We give up a lot for the convenience of streaming.  #SaveTheAudio ?  #SaveTheVideo


The Problem With Experts Indeed

studio


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:


vocalize


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:

beatles_wave

Strawberry Fields Forever, by The Beatles

 

or the audio track in this?

 

The Power of Labels

Degrade -d  

  • treat or regard with contempt or disrespect
  • lower the character or quality of
  • reduce to a lower rank, especially as a punishment

Synonyms: demean, debase, cheapen, devalue, shame, humiliate, mortify, abase, dishonor, dehumanize, brutalize, lossy

 


Original   

  • present or existing from the beginning; first or earliest
  • created directly and personally by a particular artist; not a copy or imitation

Synonyms: authentic, genuine, actual, true, bona fide, kosher, archetype, prototype, source, master, lossless

 


Do you think mp3 would be nearly as popular if it was called the devalued version or dehumanized version? 

Do you think lossless would be ignored by the masses if it was called the original version or the true version?

Of course not – this is the power of labels. Marketers and politicians understand this and use it against us. We must see through the subtle brainwashing, this trick of words.


TLmatched

This is not an audio wave but it caught your eye didn’t it?


Lossy sounds like a cool nickname on purpose. It’s all marketing. They figured out how to sell us less for the same and have been doing it for nearly 16 years now.

The various limitations requiring degradation of our fucking music have expired – leaving only greed.

dictionary-page

 

 

Team Eye vs. Team Ear Part 1 – TV Sets Through History

il_340x270.469154305_ttbe


Recording allows us to store and replay something. It is the first time-shifting. It’s been around for ~ 200 years but it wasn’t until the last 100 that they really started making tangible progress for commercial applications.

Images were first. Then sound. Then moving images. By 1930 they were all combined into “talkies” – narrative moving pictures with synced sound.

These independent technologies progressed through the 20th century: Phonograph was invented and perfected to bring recorded music into the home; TV was invented to bring moving pictures into the home. The march of progress was obvious. Each new era brought better tech with better specs.

Today we are going to look at the advancement of the TV set over 70 years.


 

[infogram id=”aHKoRm07UAUDaUs5″ prefix=”Yry” format=”interactive” title=”TV Set Historical Averages”]


You can see that overall screen size has risen linearly while pixel size has grown exponentially. Weight has come down and price, after adjusted for inflation, has come way down.

How do you think TV set history will compare with music playing equipment? Stay tuned to this series to find out.


 

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Youkill Audio Youtube

lossless-jpg

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


Deets on Youtube’s audio handling:

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

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

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

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


deubert_fig06

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

Streaming’s Shortcomings

Unknown-1images UnknownIf everyone got their music from streaming?  That is a big problem.

Streaming…

  1. has no cross promotion with local events or the local economy.
  2. has no cross promotion with local unsigned bands.
  3. has no direct connection back to the artist.

  4. completely ignores the purchasing power of the listener.
  5. has a limited and unstable (ever changing) catalog.
  6. pays a lower royalty per listener than other performance licenses.

  7. is the worst sound quality of all distribution platforms.
  8. has no production credits or copyright information.
  9. has no writer, composer, or publishing credits.

  10. has no human interaction for discovery of new music.
  11. assumes genre and style over all else when mixing music.
  12. assumes what you liked yesterday morning is what you will like Friday night.

  13. avoids selecting album/deep cuts and non-hits nearly as bad as top 40.
  14. requires multiple subscriptions (network and provider) to be active and paid up.
  15. cannot be rewound and reviewed for additional enjoyment.

  16. cannot easily be recorded or mixed into playlists and sets.
  17. contains only a low-resolution cover image, not complete artwork.
  18. contains no lyrics or artist notes.

  19. just got The Beatles this year.
  20. requires almost no paid humans to get it to your ears.

 

I’ve been around streaming for literally 20 years now, and have programmed it and listened to it since the beginning. If it truly is taking over the music industry we have to be honest about it’s shortcomings. That’s the only way we can start to address them.

Another internet casualty

Another internet casualty

 

More Hi-Res Rumors For Apple

imagesI guess this is good – rumors are floating again that Apple Music is moving into Hi-Res Audio.  Being a rumor there are very few specifics but a few people more influential than me are saying that 24/96 streaming is coming, along with the lightning port replacing the headphone jack on Apple’s mobile products.

It’s not all good because although Apple is the market leader in the consumer tech space, doubters and ignoramuses far and wide are commenting on music formats in the comments section.  It gets pretty ugly with the nonsense spouted there.

No surprise, many who have never heard hi-res digital refuse to believe it exists. Most ignore it completely, or they’ve tried 1 hi-res file on their laptop or phone.  Of course those devices can’t render hi-res properly, so the user reaffirms their belief that this is all a scam devised to charge them more for the same thing. Stupid users!

If you can’t hear that 256k bitrate < 1000k that’s your problem, not mine. If you don’t believe that 5800k > 1000k this lack of mathematical logic is also not my problem.  Your lack of awareness and listening ability should not hurt my ability to enjoy good music. Perhaps your taste in music also needs an improvement?


Pono_Player_Photo_BlindTestingGear


 

Finally, if you won’t accept that each Netflix/Youtube/Hulu stream is 3000k+ you will never understand that most of us have plenty of bandwidth and storage for hi-res audio.  We just value video far more than music on the internet.

Basic Apple nerds are very anti-hi-fi audio because they have been hooked into the lie that is MP3/AAC, where convenience trumps quality every time. Even the late Steve Jobs couldn’t believe how fast MP3 took over, he thought the quality was too low to fully replace previous formats.


 

PerceptualCoding

PonoPlayer is the Stereophile 2015 Digital Product Of The Year

050415-PonoCables-600


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.


ponoplayer6


 

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.


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.


 

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 9.19.02 AM

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

54cab076bc5e5_-_blindness-ld-md

Derp.


 

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


 

Little_Wizard_Stories_of_Oz,_1914


 

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

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

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

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

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


Apple_historic_iPod

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

 

 

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


 

Change_of_Authority_Ceremony_at_Joint_Service_Station_War_Eagle,_Baghdad,_Iraq_DVIDS159745

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


 

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

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


1980 Curtis Mathes TV 1-13-12 002

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


 

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


 

PIONEER_SX_1980

I sound way better than a phone you downgraded suckers!


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


 


 

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

Headphones or Speakers

One thing I think is lost during audio debate and discussion these days is whether we are discussing listening on speakers or headphones. I find them to be very different.

Music is very complex vibration. When it is made by an instrument or voice it agitates the air and sends sound waves in all directions. We receive this vibration through multiple inputs:

  • our ears
  • our hair including eyelashes, facial hair, and body hair
  • our chest cavity (pressure)
  • our joints (vibration)
  • our skin (secondary vibration/touch/air movement)

The ear uses a very complex liquid-based limiter/expander inside of the spiral-shaped cochlea, after being amplified by the mallet/anvil/stirrup, which is after the tympanic membrane on the input chain. Thousands of microscopic hairs in triangle shaped clusters determine qualities of the sound, and the binaural earbrain works with amazing precision and speed to stereoscopically place sounds in spaces.  I could spend my life studying the Organ of Corti: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Organ_of_Corti


31-14_static

Welcome To The Cochlea. We hear you.


 

If the sound or the overall space you are in changes you know instantly, for this is the primary tool of survival.  You can hear a door open, a presence in the room, a misfiring speaker cable, etc..

This signal, when played through speakers, enters the actual room and becomes part of the room sound. The listeners head moves, turns, walks around, and otherwise is constantly changing axis’ and distances from the speakers and from the reflections of the wall/floor/ceiling.

Our ears use all of their evolutionary powers to decode the sound in the room and by moving about we are getting different versions of the sound with every movement. This is all stored subconciously.

The speakers themselves are moving air around the room, vibrations into the room, and all of the vibration inputs of your body are activated. The table, the floor, the plants, the computer keyboard – it’s all vibrating along with the music.

 


250px-Junior_Walker

Moving air for fun.


 

When listening with headphones the actual room is removed from the experience. All inputs outside of the ears are removed from the experience.  There is very little ability to move around the sound or the room the sound is in. The virtual center of the soundstage does not exist in front of you and have real dimension, it exists inside of you, somewhere between your left and right headphone, with dimensions that must be imagined.

If the drums sound huge you know they can’t actually fit inside of your head, even though that’s where the sound originates from. You must suspend disbelief to even enjoy headphones.

Note here that I do indeed enjoy headphones. This is not a takedown of headphones, just making the point about the differences.

 


Cervin_vega

Also moving air for fun.


 

 

With speakers the huge drum is almost living in your room. Close your eyes and it might appear.  You can even move around it if you want.

The total amount of data that is transmitted from speakers > headphones.

The total of amount of data received and processed from speakers > headphones.

Headphone listening is both necessary and enjoyable, but it is very different than speaker through air listening.

I hope we remember this when talking audio: vibration requires movement to work. Headphones are tiny snapshot of vibration injected directly to our middle ear, which is not a natural listening experience.

 

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.


cover_tapeop53

Youtube’s Audio Specs

Finally got my answer about Youtube’s audio specification — there isn’t one, really.

The only have a video policy.  Audio stream quality is a part of the video spec.

So here’s the details:

  1. Audio streams as 128k or 320k MP3 only
  2. 320k is only played during videos streaming in HD of 720p or higher
  3. The video must start in HD to get the 320k audio, and most players will not reload the higher audio stream if the user switches video quality during playback.

The end result is that most of youtube is streaming 128k mp3 audio, aka garbage.

The high quality portion of youtube can get 320k MP3 to you but it’s not automatic. They have to force the player into high-quality, which is against the youtube platform defaults.

Low-vs-High-Quality-Image

The FLAC folks on Youtube? They force the 320k MP3 and perhaps they are encoding the video with a high resolution flac as the audio source? Or they are just misrepresenting themselves?

The two I contacted about their sources never answered me, so I don’t know. From what I’ve read youtube cannot stream FLAC or even lossless audio.

262px-Flac_logo_vector.svg_

And yes, 320k MP3 sounds pretty good, it’s almost CD quality. But there’s still digital loss, artifacts, and a fatigue from listening.

CD’s usually push about 800k bitrate at you, so the perceptual coding at 320k sounds pretty close to the original.

But once you up that lossless original to between 2000-6000k (24bit audio) you really hear it pop and become realistic as compared to 320k.

8af9

Relatively accurate representation of some of what is LOST: things masked by louder sounds, aka the feel of the space as the note plays.

Here’s to hoping youtube allows lossless streaming soon, or at least defaults to 320k mp3.

 

The Danger of Perceptual Coding

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

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

 


 

send-to-zip

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


 

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

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

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

 


 

PerceptualCoding

PerceptualCoding.pdf


 

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

lossy


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


MGUI1k_oNjN-Jy6LJbYYVTl72eJkfbmt4t8yenImKBV9ip2J1EIeUzA9paTSgKmv


 

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

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

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

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

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


 

256px-Lichtenstein_jpeg_difference

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

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 Sad State of Consumer Audio

There is a lot of technology available today, some at very affordable prices. Choice appears abundant but it’s a false narrative.

Why is choice a false narrative? Because most of the choices are already compromised and the actual quality of the product is clouded with confusion.

Continue reading

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.

 


 

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 1.20.24 PM

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.

 

 

 

Vinyl Sales Continue To Grow

More vinyl albums were sold last year than any year since 1991. This is because of quality not irony.

The mainstream music world has moved to streaming, locking in low-quality expectations. Streamers don’t even talk about sound quality anymore because it’s the elephant in the room.

Vinyl sounds better than streaming. 24bit digital sounds better than streaming. CD sounds better than streaming. Even radio sounds better than streaming.

Vinyl delivers artwork, lyrics, and a physical connection to your beloved music like streaming cannot.

Plus you own vinyl forever. Not a single penny needed in the future to hear it again and again.

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

Apple’s Upcoming Music Announcement

Will it have anything to do with sound quality?  I doubt it.

Apple likes to roll out new products with slick presentations touting all of the improvements in the product, or how the new product improves upon an existing solution.

This new rumored streaming audio service (a re-branded Beats Music service) looks like more of the same – random, computer generated playlists or hunt & peck streaming at a compressed rate, trying it’s damnedest to sell you that same compressed copy to own.

No one wants to buy those compressed little MP3’s when you can stream them. If they were smart enough to offer an HD version of the song I bet people would buy more when streaming. I know I would.

A new walkman sounded better than the old one. What happened?

A new walkman usually sounded better than the old one. What happened?

Since iPod shipped 14 years ago, I can recall one single upgrade to the sound quality in Apple’s iTunes ecosystem. This was around 2009 when they introduced the “mastered for iTunes” program, that allowed you to deliver files in 24bit lossless but they would not sell the HD version, they reduce it to 320k AAC (apple’s version of MP3) and sell it for $1.29 a track instead of $.99.

All of this is why I have a PonoPlayer and haven’t looked back. iTunes was always a toy musically, and since they’ve made absolutely no effort to really improve sound quality in 15 years, it’s even more of a toy.

The sad thing is how popular it is, with millions of people listening to tinny, distorted audio devices playing horribly compressed files. None of it is necessary anymore but it lives on as “The modern way”.  A huge decrease in quality in the name of perceived convenience.

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!

 

 

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.

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.

Screen Shot 2015-03-17 at 11.41.48 AM

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

Pure Sound Quality

Quality:

  1. GoodMusic as MP3  =  sounds pretty good – get your jam on!
  2. GoodMusic as 16bit FLAC  or   CD  =  sounds better – damn listen to that bass! – time to dance – pure and clean and timeless
  3. GoodMusic as 24bit FLAC  or  Vinyl  =   oh wow am I in the studio? Is the artist in my room with me? Am I crying? This is outstanding and I don’t want to go back.

vs. Convenience:

  1. GoodMusic as MP3  =  easiest and everywhere
  2. GoodMusic as CD  =  barely surviving in cars and clubs
  3. GoodMusic as Vinyl  =  you are a manual no mix/playlist throwback and can’t take that mobile at all, totally dusty and crusty
  4. GoodMusic as FLAC   =  as easy as MP3 if you load onto your player, because it’s not going to stream reliably anytime soon

 

If you are willing to swim back up that river just a little bit – to owning and carrying your own music on a little player – you can enter a whole new world of sound quality and not lose much convenience at all.

 

gotta do what you gotta do

gotta do what you gotta do

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.

DSC_9341

 

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.

Lecture: Quality Sound Matters

Stop listening to internet experts and listen to real experts. Here’s a panel of mastering engineers talking about quality sound and consumer trends. Interesting, informative and correct!

Bonus fun is that they invited a guy from streamer Rdio who has to defend 320k streaming in this room full of quality experts. I bet he’s the young one on the end looking exasperated 😉

Walkman IV – The Return of Fidelity

[deep ominous movie trailer chord]

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

sony_walkman

Finally private jams!

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

d111-1

Finally digital private jams!

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

ipod-first-gen-5gb-accessories

Finally bootlegged private jams with no skipping!

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

pono_ponoplayer

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

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


walkman

Righteous Audio – Finally!

pono_main


I love knowing I’m not alone in my rants. I have been complaining about digital audio compromises since the 80’s, and now, finally, a product is coming for people like me. It’s called “Pono” (Hawaiian for ‘righteous’) and its basically the iPod redone with no audio compromises. Just like the classic iPods, it will cost under $500 and play all your various media types, but everything played through it should SOUND TRULY BETTER.


 

050415-PonoCables-600


The difference is the sound. The whole difference. How could people discount the sound quality as non-critical? MP3’s are “good enough” for much use, like streaming, but if you want to hear music the way it was intended when created, you have to go beyond the CD standard and go higher with high-def audio files. Pono does this, and then uses hi-end electronics and amplification to round out the package.

The Pono player looks like perhaps the last portable digital music player I’ll ever need to buy. It has 64gb built-in, with 64gb cards to swap in and out more music library. A 64gb card can hold hundreds of hi-def tracks depending on how hi you def. The Pono has hi-end audio circuitry designed for audio only. It has 2 outputs for either headphones or powering a real system with low-noise line level (as opposed to running out your headphone jack like many of us do with our portables now).

Anyone complaining or shooting down this concept (and they are out there) must have some sort of problem with either Quality, or Their Ears.


pmLStXf


Why would people push back against a higher-quality version of something, a version that the original artists approve of? Ignorance or previous investment, I would think. All these jokers own HD TV’s too, too stupid to miss the obvious in front of their eyes. Higher quality digital sound than was possible in 1977? Yeah right!

Listen, don’t buy the Pono if you don’t want one, but I personally purchased my last mp3 file last year. The quality is horrible (and no liner notes!) to have to own that thing forever. I’ve been slowly buying or re-buying the classics in HD digital or vinyl.

If Pono succeeds in making the general public aware of what they’ve been missing for 30+ years – what every pro musician anywhere knows – that there was a lot of good stuff removed from music in the 1980’s, and that we can now bring that back along with the digital conveniences – well that’s something I fully support. I’m buying one of these little tablerone’s of musical goodness.


ResolutionBandwidth_sta


Coupla random opinions on the matter:

24/48 tracks should not cost more to purchase than 16/44 – the so-called “lossless” CD standard. Sorry marketing titles, it’s already lost much. CD’s & 16/44 should be discounted because it’s 37 year old digital tech.

24/48 is as low as you can go for “HD” marketing label. 16/44 was a compromise in 1977 and of course it still is. 24/48 is what most producers work at these days, and is the audio-for-video standard.

24/96 is the comfortable place for a modern digital audio standard, at least in popular music. Studios rarely record, mix, or master the originals at higher than that, and at 24/96 there is enough data to really get close to the total experience. You’d have to have an great listening environment, amazing music, and really good ears to get into hearing the improvement at 24/192. Classical fans with money to spend, maybe. Or cymbal tests in isolation. Both will show an improvement going up to 192.

These numbers 24/48, 16/44 are used alot, but keep in mind that they include all your dynamic range (loud to quiet), all your panning and depth (soundstage), all of your overtones and timbre (still impossible to quantify), all of your reverberations (tons of math!) along with the raw frequency response. There’s a lot of data in audio, and the computer chips of 1977 could only do so much. Going to 24/96 gives all needed variables more storage room, and you can feel it in the music.


 

Totally Wired

Totally Wired

The First LP… ever

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

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

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

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

Portable_78_rpm_record_player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Save The Music One Hertz At A Time

OK I have been listening to mp3’s for about 15 years now, and I have to say I’m ready for the next digital format. I want 96k minimum range (192k preferred) so it almost sounds as good as my albums. I want 24 bit so it makes my modern multi-speaker systems work at all volumes. I can cheaply have enough storage to handle it. I want my music’s emotion back!

WOODSIDE, CA - DECEMBER 15: CEO of Apple Steve Jobs sits at his home in Woodside, CA on December 15, 1982. IMAGE PREVIOUSLY A TIME & LIFE IMAGE. (Photo by Diana Walker/SJ/Contour by Getty Images)

WOODSIDE, CA – DECEMBER 15: CEO of Apple Steve Jobs sits at his home in Woodside, CA on December 15, 1982. IMAGE PREVIOUSLY A TIME & LIFE IMAGE. (Photo by Diana Walker/SJ/Contour by Getty Images)

I primarily listen to funk, rock, hip-hop, soul, and only a bit of classical, and I miss the full range of Bootsy’s bass, Eddie’s guitar, and Al’s voice. Friends who listen to opera, voice and classical probably avoid MP3 already, but the real culprit is the concept of “CD-quality”. This equals 16/44, and this is simply not sufficient in 2012. It was not even sufficient in 1973 when everything was analog. Only the convenience and laserness of CD’s convinced us that this was about as good as we were going to get. Real technical limitations of 1982 CPU technologies made it the best we could get cheaply.

This was 1982 people. The mp3 format is built on top of the CD format, and audibly it’s a disaster. We have nearly regressed back to the dynamic range of a 1920’s turntable. All those compressors (yeah you dubstep) just make it worse. Remember when the meters really moved?

If you could measure music’s emotional content in a data unit it would be clarity through it’s full range. The days of compressions built on top of dead formats should end.

michell_gyrodec_mki_courtesy-Michell-Engineering

I support any movement to improve the sounds entering our ears. All we want to hear is the same thing in the Steve Jobs photo above.

#SaveTheAudio