The Problem With Experts Indeed

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


 

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

 

Which is music?

This:

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Strawberry Fields Forever, by The Beatles

 

or the audio track in this?

 

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

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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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The Resolution Wars

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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.


 

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


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

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

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


 

There's a lot going on inside your ears.

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

The Pono Promise Is Real

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

More crazy ideas!

 

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

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

 

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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!

 

 

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 Complicated World of Hearing

What do you hear?  

Everything you can. 

How do you hear?  

Binaurally through the ears using mechanoreceptors in the form of tiny hairs called follicular receptors. Additional data is picked up by other mechanoreceptors throughout your skin including under every hair follicle and inside many of your joints. Our brains then use both heard and felt sound data to understand what we are facing.

What are properties of binaural sound?  Also known as sound localization, this details the time- and level-differences between both ears, such as

  • Spectral information
  • Timing analysis
  • Correlation analysis
  • Pattern matching

This overall intelligence of the 3-dimensional sound helps form the timbre, room ambience, and performance dynamics of the sound. This happens whether the sound is a lawnmower outside your window, an oboe solo, your cell phone buzzing, or all three at once.

This binaural data is all added to frequency when we determine a sound and its total quality.  Frequency is the note being played and the sound tone being generated on a measurable scale – basically wavelength at a particular moment in time.

The problem is that modern science only has reliable measurements for frequency. Frequency, besides being easily measured, is easily displayed on our 2D displays, and thus has been studied thoroughly for over 70 years. The field of Digital Signal Processing (DSP) is based on the study of frequencies and human’s interactions with them.

But there’s much more happening when you hear a song you love than frequency analysis and musical recognition, and modern math has yet to capture and replicate it. This leaves people that insist on having math behind everything in the natural world in a bad place, disregarding most of this sound data as being outside their realm of importance.

But the spatial and sizing data is critical, in some ways more than frequency. Examples: You always know if what you hear is real or a cover band. If it is the original artist you also know if it’s been degraded at either the source (a bad copy), or on playback (bad headphones, bad cable, bad reception, etc.).

If it’s a playback problem you start looking for the damage to correct it asap. If it’s damaged source you usually just accept it as all you have and try your best to enjoy it. This all happens without thinking and without training or education. We just understand it as how the physical world works.

When music you love comes to you, regardless of the quality, it lands. Since you can only comfortably take in 1 version at a time you eat it up.

 

There's a lot going on inside your ears.

There’s a lot going on inside your ears.

 

Complicated stuff, right? There are lots of variables. All of this independent to you and you only. I have totally different listening spots, gear, and favorite songs than you do. We all do. Emotionally we are all different, minute by minute, week after week, living within our altering moods.

I can project that this “hearing thing” is perhaps impossible to measure with all of the variables.


 

So how else to model this? The marketplace is one way, which will both benefit and hurt the argument.

The fine art market has experts, moneyed customers, and various business interests building value on pieces of art, which as you know sell  from dollars to millions of dollars per piece. These experts hunt down and remove fakes to protect the quality of the masters at any cost.

More people bought Justin Bieber posters last year than fine art. That’s the marketplace, that’s mass duplication.

We can’t let the digital generations burn and loot the art vault with resolution assumptions based on bad science. We have a century of recorded music that could be upgraded and distributed to this centuries people, and it should be done in highest quality 21st century digital can offer.

Imagine if in 1978 two paper companies invented a printing method that output 2,200 colors at 160dpi, perfectly matching their new poster stock, and then sold millions of fine art posters at that resolution. Then for the next 40 years people walked around saying “it’s the same as the original” and couldn’t even accept there was any better quality possible. This is exactly what has happened with CD audio.

 

The point of all of this: Team Ear, baby! Don’t let technology worship cloud your views of what the human body is capable of.

The human ear has an extraordinarily large sensitivity range of a trillion to one, allowing us to hear a rocket launch or the footfalls of a cat on a carpet.  According to Werner Gitt, the ear is our highest-precision sense organ, capable of responding over twelve orders of magnitude without switching (The Wonder of Man, p.21).  Some of this sensitivity is amplified by the eardrum and middle ear ossicles, but the paper reported above shows even more fine-tuning inside the cochlea.  Gitt’s book is highly recommended for generating a profound feeling of awe over the design of our senses.  Proverbs said, “The seeing eye, and the hearing ear, the Lord has made them both” (Prov. 20:12)

Read more details on one of the studies of the cochlea here.

 

 

HD Apple Rumors Swirling

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

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

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

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

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

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