Dumb vs Smart


It seems in many ways dumb devices are better than smart devices:

Why? Security, privacy, and quality.

Anything with a network connection can be hacked: smart TV’s, cars, streaming boxes, appliances, routers and every other smart device, or IoT device, have all been hacked.

Anything that gets a software update can get hacked. That’s called a backdoor.

Then there’s the fact that most smart devices track how you use them, and many of them upload and sell that information to 3rd parties. There is money to be made in tracking the habits of their users, and companies exist to make money.


Think about it. Look around your life. Think about what you need to do, and if that needs to be trackable, hackable, and exploitable.

Things we used to do without smart technology:

  1. Drive somewhere
  2. Watch TV or Listen to music
  3. Read a book
  4. Play a game
  5. Talk to a friend
  6. Research something

1. Insert needle into groove. 2. Enjoy!


Nowadays, most people use connected devices to accomplish these tasks. The underbelly of the convenience they promise is the tracking and exploitation these devices offer their manufacturers.

Is the world better after knowing everything you’ve watched, listened to, read, googled, browsed, and seen?  I’d argue no.

The only thing improved is the bottom line of the company selling this data, and their ability to get the device to keep you using it longer than you would have naturally.

I always feel like somebody’s watching me!

The lack of security and privacy in their software is covered up with perpetual updates.

Overall, the whole situation doesn’t feel very smart to me.

Forgotten Audio Formats: MP3

The year was 1994.

Music was as popular as ever, with rock bands like Nirvana and The Smashing Pumpkins, pop artists like Ace of Base and Mariah Carey, and soul artists like Boyz II Men and Janet Jackson selling millions of albums.

The music industry was healthy and investing in new artists. Thousands of people were employed to record, catalog, distribute, market, and keep the books for successful recording artists.

This B-side collection by The Smashing Pumpkins sold 1,000,000 copies in america in just a few months to go certified platinum. That’s 1 million CD’s sold, not youtube views.

Music could be consumed on multiple formats and most people had a mixed bag for their own collection: analog vinyl LP’s and cassettes along with digital CD’s.

Other physical formats existed like reel-to-reel and LaserDisc but were tiny markets. DAT and DSD were still years away.

File-only digital had just begun with the WAV format being released in 1991, but a CD held more data than most hard drives.


In the tech world a trend was accelerating that would forever change the music industry: hard drive price per megabyte:

1988 – $16
1989 – $12
1990 – $9
1991 – $7
1992 – $4
1992 – $2
1993 – $0.95
1994 – $0.81
1995 – $0.68
1996 – $0.21

1 CD worth of drive space would have cost $10k in 1988!

By 1994 it was $526. By 1996 you would have spent around $135 for 650mb of HD space.

But the 650mb CD cost pennies to manufacture and sold at retail for $20. Plus they were proving to be pretty durable and CD-R’s were coming down in price. CD was the digital format of necessity unless and until something drastically changed with either the bandwidth needed or bandwidth available.

Don’t forget: bandwidth = moving storage.  aka Storage = static bandwidth.


So the same software engineers who came up with lossy JPG image compression were called upon to investigate audio and video compression. Their goal – to get the file size small enough for 1990’s bandwidth.

For music testing they used contemporary music (Suzanne Vega) and developed what they called perceptual coding.

Perceptual coding targeted all the parts of mixed music that were open to perception beyond the main focus of the song (melody and beat): things like transients, pan/placement, room and soundstage size, timbre of instruments, blending of sounds, that type of thing.

Remember hi-hats? MP3 crushed them into non-existence.

These audible cues are all present in mixed music but are unmeasurable. They are all nearly impossible to explain and communicate verbally or through written language.

You may know it when you hear it, but it’s not possible to explain further in a controlled, consistent, scientific way. No matter how descriptive you are, the next person will use completely different terms.

This listener confusion and lack of terminology made the engineers jobs far easier. They found that they could remove nearly 90% of the audio data before testers consistently identified a difference using their flawed testing methods.

A few 90’s mp3 engineers, not audio engineers.

 

This gave them the green light they needed. The MP3 specification was published and started to catch on. A 50mb WAV file was now a 5mb MP3 file and life was good!

It was true – at first listen, they almost sounded like the original. It took a more critical listen, or repeated listens, to pick out the degradation, and over time many came to hate the MP3 sound. Casual listeners didn’t care as much, but professionals, musicians, and audiophile-types rejected MP3 as lossy.

Sound quality was secondary though. Finally computers could play near-full quality music! Digital file-based convenience had arrived.

Finally modems and networks could send the files around! Finally bootlegging was convenient!


MP3 was quite popular in it’s time. Nearly every device made could play MP3 files, including phone’s, video games, TV’s, and wireless speakers.

Early MP3 player

But MP3 had no artwork beyond a tiny cover. No lyrics. No credits. No booklet. No shout outs. Nothing to attach to. It was highly bootlegged and for some time, recorded music lost all value.

It also required almost no people to distribute or sell. Nothing to sell & nothing to move = nothing to promote. Nothing to invest in.

Bootlegging ran rampant and the music industry practically folded. Most musicians stopped making money from their music.

Limping along, MP3 got one quality improvement in 2009 (aac), but it wasn’t going to help much. By 2014 streaming was stealing the download market.

Streaming takes everything bad about MP3’s and extends it to the rental model.

Now you own nothing. You just pay a subscription to hear degraded versions of your favorite songs in between commercials. Don’t pay up? No music for you.


The current streaming business model is unsustainable for both the license holders and the license purchasers, but in this post-fact world it really doesn’t matter. Quality has been trumped.

Lossless formats like FLAC, around for years, finally took off around 2016, giving critical listeners an open format to rally around. Buying hi-res music from sites like HDTracks ProStudioMasters was a thing again. Hi-res hi-fi DAP’s finally emerged in many markets. 24bit FLAC continues to offer higher-resolution files with no DRM.

Bandwidth/storage is now available. I have 60+ full lossless albums on a card the size of my pinky nail. I have the bandwidth into the house to stream 24bit audio, if anyone offered it.

One can only hope that the MP3 era is the last time we accept such a massive downgrade in quality.

#SaveTheAudio

 

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?

 

That iPhone is Outmoded

Shout to Squagles!  Square Bagles!

The iPhone won’t make it to the future.  Sure it’s Apple’s cash cow right now but I see it going away in importance over the next couple of years.

Think about Apple current main product categories:

  1. smartphones (iPhone)
  2. tablets (iPad)
  3. wearables (watch/iPod/headphones)
  4. set-top boxes (AppleTV)
  5. macintosh laptops and desktops

All of those work together in the apple ecosystem. Assuming you have them hooked into your Apple account, they all work together, and can handoff all sorts of tasks between them. They continue to add iCloud features that make the lines blur more.

#2, 3, and 4 above will be the focus over the next 5 years. The smartphone will continue to become less important in the mix.  Several factors are leading to this.

  • There is almost nothing the iPhone does that is unique from the other devices. It did it first, it does it from your pocket/purse, but it’s not the only device to do those things anymore. You can call people, take pictures, stream, and do all of that from other devices now.
  • Over the last 8 years, competition has caught up to many of the physical iPhone specialties – thinness, glass quality, battery life, feature set.
  • Apple’s sweetheart deals with phone carriers which helped to launch the iPhone in it’s first 5 years are gone and not coming back. iPhone is an expensive rig no matter who you go through.
  • Automobiles and transit are beginning to roll out wifi services and built-in GPS
  • Everyone has a smartphone and you only need one max, if one at all.

13-caleb11


I see the mobile phone of the future going back to what it was originally used for in the 90’s – safety and vanity.

Safety is for the kids, the travelers, the person needing a lifeline no matter where they wander or work. The rest of us are on wifi 95% of our day and don’t need a cell radio at all.

Vanity is for the rich, the teens, the geeks, to impress us with an I don’t need wifi stance.

Perhaps security can be in here too, but it’s really hard to predict the future there. I can imagine a private cell network being more secure than a public wifi spot but there are many variables there.


We will all have tablets for the next 50 years, but the tiny pocket tablet is going away in importance soon. The wearable watch or badge or wallet will contain our cell radio (if needed at all) and all of the other devices already have wifi and location awareness.

Screen size is critical here. Walls will be screens wherever you can project onto them, so perhaps the iPhone has a future life as a pocket projector?


star-trek-communicator-pin-beam-me-up-1324783598

The design model for the future iPhone. If this thing had a cell radio, wifi, iOS, and a projector that could turn anything in front of you into a display….. well there ya go. Goodbye iPhone, hello iPin.


I guess it comes down to the iPin. This baby will have all of the iPhone’s location and connectivity features without that tiny glass screen in your pocket. If it can’t project to or take over screens in your vicinity then it will operate with voice or hand gestures.

I better get to go on a star ship. Maybe that’s why Apple cancelled the car project…?

[Squagles starts at 3:24]

Android vs iPhone – behind the scenes

200-1


From the front, the user space, this argument is tired. Both smartphones do whatever you can imagine at this point. Both are amazingly thin and packed full of sensors and features.

Behind the scenes though…. things are very different. Why does each OS exist? Who are the companies behind them, and what are their goals?

With Apple, you have a traditional computer retailer. They are a public company but very private and generally keep quiet about where the platform is headed. One thing is clear though, you can spend a lot of money with Apple. They have most of their own ecosystem – you can get the iCloud, buy stuff from their real stores or their virtual ones, get additional storage, service plans, accessories, classes, etc..  You know how Apple makes their money because you have to give it to them to get involved.

With Google, the people behind Android (since 2005), you don’t ever seem to give them any money. How can google be everywhere, doing everything, and no one is giving them any money?  It’s all targeted advertising.

Really? Ad banners make that much money?  Well yes and no.  It’s alot more than ad banners. Every bit of your movement online and on the phone is being tracked, packaged, and sold to the highest bidder. Then it’s repackaged and sold again and again. Google make untold amounts of money doing this with none of it going back to the user.

Facebook uses a similar model, without the phone hardware that google has.

It’s been claimed that Android represents choice. I take issue with that phrase.


200


Your choice is to have your profile and all your habits, purchases, locations, and interactions tracked by Google.

Your choice to have your profile sliced, diced, grouped, normalized, and sold to every Google revenue source (advertiser) possible for the rest of time with no revenue sharing going to you.

Your choice to have your history continually sliced, diced, labeled, invaded, and shared with every advertiser possible for the rest of time with no revenue going to you.

I prefer to make the advertisers work a little harder to find and profit from me. Google is ‘cool’ and hate on Apple if you want, but I trust Apple with my private digital life far more than millions of google advertisers.

Android was an awesome idea and I’d probably have one by now if Google never bought it. iPhone is an expensive rig and I barely use it anymore.

The charade here about freedom while using Android is ridiculous.

Bad guys will occasionally get into Android and iOS. Patch and business as usual. But the “good guys” are who you really have to worry about with the Android ecosystem.

Anyone can advertise with google, so nearly anyone can pay enough to access you whether you care or not.

Your future is being determined in private meetings between Google sales and 3rd parties from around the globe. None of this has anything to do with user space.

Android user space is the biggest private data collection scheme ever shipped. Which is why google paid g i i i i i i i i i llions for it when they saw it available.

Google is the biggest pay-no-attention-to-the-advertising-advertisering agency in the world, with Facebook being the 2nd. Call them search engines or social media if you want, but the scale and pace that those two data mine our personal business FOR PROFIT is alarming to me.

I either want a piece of that cut (make it non-profit so the tech is maintained but the users are paid) or give me old-fashioned private companies like apple and microsoft that I can own stock in without selling user’s souls to the wolves.


Google isn’t going to show you how/where/when they sell your data and they won’t share how much it’s worth to them.

Call it what you want…. profile, habits, demographics, searches…. it’s your online life, it’s who you are and what you do, and they have it for their own exploitation until the end of time.

“Targeted advertising” will become much more than what we think of it as now. They are just collecting all the data for free now, while they still can, and over the next couple of years will start to roll out the ‘customized content’ to sell us even more crap.

I’d rather have one point of concern/failure with my personal data, and do business with a company that derives revenue from everything else besides my private likes, dislikes and habits.

You can read google’s policies, apple, MS, whoever, and choose to opt in or opt out. You should also know that google doesn’t exist without targeted ad revenue. Apple exists just fine (fully profitable) as long as they keep you buying and subscribing to their stuff.

It’s simple to me — companies have a purpose which is to make money. They usually only have a couple of ways to make good money. Some promise free and find a way to profit beyond your control. Others just expect you to pay as you go, and with that they don’t have to hide the fact that they profit from your data, not your purchase.


200w

Anti-Audio Tech Sites, Pt. II

ak380

I’m an A&K and I take sound quality very seriously.


To followup on my rant against american tech sites like Ars Technica and how they completely ignore hi-res audio, I found some proof.

Check out Crutchfield, an american stereo catalog retailer. Crutchfield is known for their help in installing and explaining tech. They have a whole section of their catalog for portable hi-res music players.  They have a nice selection of the current products available to US consumers: Sony, Pono, Pioneer, Onkyo, A&K.


pioneerxdp100r

Pioneer making it’s pitch with a good hi-res DAP that looks like nothing else.


Head over to arstechnica.com, a site that reviews the newest tech gadgets, and search the site. You will not find a single mention of any of these devices (except for takedowns of the Pono). No reviews, no press releases, no mention in other articles. It’s as if they don’t exist.

It’s not that they don’t cover audio or mp3 players: search for headphones and get 2000 results. search for mp3- 970 results. iTunes? 8410 results.

Pono? 5 results, including 3 for the same review slamming it as ‘snake oil’. All the other DAP’s combined? 0 results.

Why do self-professed gadget lovers ignore this class of gadget. Is it plain ignorance of good sound or is something more nefarious at work?


sonynwa26

Sony has multiple walkmans, including Hi-Res models starting around $300


It’s not just Crutchfield, either, an audio specialist. Check out Amazon.com and you’ll see hundreds of MP3-only players under $100, and at least 40 different models of hi-res players starting at around $100.


pono_both

The PonoPlayer is the only one noticed by Ars Technica, and they shit on it by saying it sounds the same as an iPhone with a radio shack switcher, and by the way no one needs lossless music either. Snake oil! Audiophiles!

Humanity Becoming Pixelated

john-hurt-as-kane-in-alien-1979

Oh the humanity of a hand puppet, fake blood, and animal entrails.


The tech takeover is something we’ve been watching for decades now, and with regards to audio production and socializing I get preachy about how much we’ve lost.

Here’s a great article sowing the same seeds but covering the movie industry. By inundating us with CGI the overall effect of images being shown to us has declined.

Pixels Are Driving Out Reality

Well written stuff there, and much of it translates to audio/music consumption as well.

1468778843648993

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

 

 

Lossy Is Hurting Us

 

Cedar_Point_beach_view_from_Sky_Ride_2013_resize

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

 

Windows Phone_20130621_02520130621194354

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

 

 

The Logical End of Social Media

Tribalism based on opinion and politics. It’s inevitable.

It could abolish the economy. It could crush the democracy. It could trample on the constitution and bill of rights.

woman-holding-flag


30 years ago I was fascinated by the internet and what it could bring. A new age of enlightenment. I studied and dreamed.

20 years ago I was in the middle of it, working at a dotcom advertising agency, building the groundwork for it.

About 10 years ago I decided I didn’t want to keep playing this game with my personal profile. I’ve been online all day and most nights for 20+ years now, so I figured if my actual name was posting things about all of my interests both work and privately, well, my privacy had no way of surviving. Anyone in the future could search and learn every single thing about me without ever meeting me. This was unsettling, so even though I continued to use services I had to, I try to use aliases and anonymous services when possible, and still have never had a Facebook account.

For the last 10 years I’ve been watching Facebook, Instagram, Google, Xbox, even Apple gobble up every single datapoint they can about their users. They get plenty from me even after efforts to minimize it.

So where’s it all going?

clouds-rainbow-thumb


Analytics. Refined data at our fingertips. All to be an informed consumer, right? How much will you pay for that information?

This is big data + the cloud + commercial interests + human vanity and fear. This is our future.

Who just posted a comment? Who just read my post? Who are they? What do they like? What do they own? — We’re here already, especially if you are in advertising or know how to dig.

inline-facebook-privacy-group-photo

Next step – I want to buy something. Show me the stores nearby. Now filter to the stores locally owned. Or only certain types of neighborhoods. Or with ownership of a certain ethnicity.

Next step — [after filter to local owned] – none found. OK show corporate stores nearby that donate to a certain political cause or party.

Next step — I need a contractor. Search by political affiliation and ethnicity.


This is why people don’t put their Facebook name on Craigslist.


The logical end of this tech, once the weak privacy and fairness laws are obliterated, is total knowledge of all affiliations, history, likes and dislikes of every single person and corporate entity you encounter in your day.

pfft

Unless we are all batshit crazy before then and never make it….

The Art of Recorded Music

Studer_A80

A canvas. A monitor. A block of clay.

Human imagination is more fertile and expansive than all of them. Human imagination is where the soundstage of recorded music is rendered.

640px-Shilkret_directing_Bain_Collection_(edited)

 

Creating sound for a recording takes planning. Even a simple voice over requires quieting the room, writing a script, and a doing a mic level check. Recording a band or larger unit requires extensive planning, both technical in nature and strategic from an artistic sense.

 

Foley_Room_at_the_Sound_Design_Campus_(cropped)

 

How many sounds are we trying to create? How many instruments, voices, microphones, and additional dubs? How many tracks per song? How many songs per album? These are artistic decisions mixed with lots of technical hum-drum (a million cables).

 

Eddie_Kramer

 

As the musicians and producer start to craft the songs they are already working on many layers.

The arrangement is one layer, actually each part within the arrangement is a layer.

The type and style of sounds emanating from the instruments are another layer.

 

640px-P_Kolbe-13_Stern-Trio-1965_01

The feel or tempo of the songs is another layer.

The prominence of instruments in the mix is another layer.

The amount of soloing is another layer. I could go on [and some bands do indeed go on and on!]

640px-Mervin_Solomon

The point — there is complexity here that gets painted into the soundstage of the final product. These entire layers of creation are not only intentionally put there, but fretted over in emotionally draining recording sessions hour after hour.

There are screaming battles, insults, and hurt feelings as the artist sweats and bleeds for their art. Pure creativity buried in the mix. Artists layer sounds while recording engineers massage, place, and blend sounds through the recording system.

640px-Diana_Yukawa_at_Abbey_Road_in_Studio_1

 

The blend of the sounds is critical. Each sound works within, against, and through all other sounds.

Nothing – NOTHING, including color, mixes like sound. No medium has more depth than sound.

No other artistic medium works by fulling enveloping the participant. IMAX? IMAX is actually about 20% of your surroundings fixed in space with visible framing. A simple head turn or eye close makes IMAX no-max.

Sound has no equal. This is why I fight so strongly these days against the lossy crowd, against the phones are fine for music, buy new headphones crowd. Even my own friends. I have to remind them that reducing our music is reducing our soul and we should be very careful with such things.

 

Apple Is Fighting For Our Digital Future

The FBI is doing a criminal investigation on a mass murder committed by americans. Some call it a terrorist attack, some don’t. Either way it’s a high profile case for the Obama justice department.

The couple that committed the crimes worked for the county government in California. The investigation has requested and received all of their online records, cloud data, phone records, work data, SMS, banking, housing, and travel receipts.

The one thing the FBI hasn’t been able to get into is their work-assigned iPhones. The now deceased users had enabled full security with encryption on the most recent iOS and did not turn on cloud backup. They put in a 4-pin code like all of us and went about their business.

The FBI now wants to know what business those iPhones might have stored. Makes sense. Problem is they lost their chance to bypass the full lockdown mode, against Apple’s advice, and now they are locked out for at least a very long time, if not forever. It’s estimated it would take 20+ years to crack the iPhone using brute force, due to all of the layers of security iOS has in place in both hardware and software.

So the FBI is now attempting to force Apple to create an insecure version of iOS that could be installed on the phones that would then allow the FBI to crack the phones.

10_46-512x288


Apple is arguing that doing so would destroy the established security of every iPhone on the planet. They say it’s akin to building the master key to decrypt even the most heavily secured iPhone and they won’t do it. It’s software’s version of cancer, says Tim Cook, and he’ll fight the FBI all the way.

It’s important to note that had the FBI followed Apple’s instructions they could have forced those iPhones to do a cloud backup and then decrypted most of the data. But instead, someone at the FBI ordered the phone be reset with no backup, leaving it in a decrypted, locked, and defensive state, and they now regret that decision.

Apple losing this case could kill the iOS and it’s ability to safely store your financial, credit card, location, and health data. Apple could no longer promise you it’s your data to secure.

The ends do not justify the means.


 

tim cook abc news interview


That user could have nuclear plans encrypted on his iPhone. I support any brute force, seizure or other legal means available to the FBI to get the data.

But the FBI better not be able to compel Apple or any tech company to ship insecure products under the guise of security. The actions of one customer, no matter how heinous, cannot and should not destroy the security of millions of other innocent customers.

 

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

 

Time for Apple Watch?

chronometer-faces-01


Here’s a nice write-up from someone that has lived with the Apple Watch for half a year. He feels it’s in a similar place as the first iPhone iteration – not essential, highly flawed, yet still leaning into the future with simple and effective features he’s starting to appreciate.

I still don’t have one but his review sounds about what I expected. Apple follows a very tight script with these iOS products and all of them have gone through very similar stages of growth.


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How To Best Close Up The Internet?

If a President Trump decides we need to “close up the internet in some way” like Candidate Trump wishes, is it even possible?

[Someone not to ask is Sarah Palin. She’s gotta be steaming mad that Trump stole her act.]


internet-a-series-of-tubes


 

Ask the nerds of Slashdot.

Deport millions of illegals? Determine visitation based on religion? Build a 500 mile wall across the desert for free? Call China and ask for our money back? All are recent proposals of the yuuuge-brained Donald.


 

4x06_Double_Crossers_(27)

Which way to Mexico?


 

But close the internet?

This one has silly and serious details and made a great poll at Slashdot:

  1. Snip undersea fiber optic cables
  2. C4 or thermite on every BGP router
  3. Bulldoze, bulldoze, bulldoze!
  4. Steer all communication satellites into the Pacific
  5. Re-open the office of censorship
  6. Make unauthorized encryption a felony
  7. Ban figurative speech and nicknames
  8. Require Facebook login for everything

As of this writing, #8 was at 47%!

Let’s dissect this a bit.

  • 1 is equivalent to cutting the plug and would be considered an act of war and corporate sabotage.
  • 2 is a direct attack on the primary routers of the internet backbone and could probably be enacted by an agreement of world governments.
  • 3 is funny. Thinking the internet is a building.
  • 4 would be an awesome movie. But too much hardware up there to crash it all when they just put them all into reboot mode at the same time.
  • 5 is right around the corner if/when we elect the next religious conservative. This could also be known as the Apple Store depending on your angle.
  • 6 could be done through the legal system and seems a likely route if things continue on their current path.
  • 7 could also be done through the legal system but I don’t see how they could enforce it since every system manages it’s own user list and people could continue to use aliases.
  • 8 is the practical version of #7 which is why it is winning. BUT based on how much racism and other types of hatred are posted to Facebook every day, I don’t see the public shaming aspect of Facebook enough to control the entire population.

As usual, The Donald is clueless. He said he’d “talk to Bill Gates about this” like that would help!


Bill-Gates-Will-not-Return-to-Microsoft

Hey there sailor, nice DOS.


 

Just like talk of banning Muslims hurts more than helps, The Donald’s believe that most illegals walk here through the Mexican desert. They don’t fly, drive, float, dig or legally enter their way here, they walk. So that big dumb wall would indeed get in their way. Trump!

Only North Korea can shut down the internet in their country. US Presidents have nowhere near the power of the North Korean dictator. Is that a problem, The Donald Sir Great and All Powerful Ruler Trump?   You fucking idiot. Bring it. Tell me I’m nobody. You’re a yuuuuge assss.

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Only Stream If You Also Buy Music

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

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

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


shoplifting_charges


 

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

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

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


Porter-Robinson

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


 

 

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

A Tale Of Two Setups

I was in my new all-analog studio last night with a simple task – dump from the 4-track tape machine to something digital so I could share the tracks just recorded with the artists.


 

RS-56S_UTC_equaliser_(1950s,60s),_Abbey_Road_Studios


First I needed to do a little bit of a mix on the tracks. I loaded up tape #1, went to my cue point, rolled tape, and worked on patching in some reverb and some parametric EQ. I twiddled with that for a few minutes in the speakers until I was happy. I switched between 2 sets of speakers and then realized my headphone amp wasn’t getting signal. I patched that in and tested my mix using 2 sets of headphones: good & earbud. OK all set, let’s get digital!


 

During the work above I was using devices made over nearly a 50 year range. They all plugged into each other using standard connectors and levels. These connectors are available everywhere cheaply, made by thousands of manufacturers. Almost every device had clear buttons, lights, and panels to understand and manipulate the audio. No drivers or software was needed.


 

Time to fire up my Focusrite interface, a nice piece of digital kit that’s about 4 years old now. It’s primary job is to convert analog to digital and vice-versa, back out to analog again. I attach the firewire cable to the back of the focusrite, plug it in to the wall, and then grab my mac.

Oh damn, where’s the firewire port on this thing? I got a new mac a couple months back and hadn’t used this one for recording anything yet. No firewire port. Not even Firewire 800. Not 400. None. I guess I need an adapter to get to the lightning port. Not available to me at that moment, not standard, not used for anything else. Great, I can’t connect the interface to this mac, not tonight.


Focusrite_Saffire_PRO_14

 


OK never mind the interface, I’m coming out of the mixer in 2 track so I can just go into the line-in headphone jack and let the mac do the conversion. Bedroom producers have been doing this trick for 20 years now.

I find a RCA-to-mini plug in the drawer and run tape out from the mixing board into the mac. Launch Garageband.  Back on track.


Garageband says “thanks for purchasing garageband from the app store!” I don’t remember purchasing this. Why the excitement?

“Garageband needs to download samples and loops in order to launch.” I don’t want samples or loops, I just need to record from the line in!

But I have no choice. Garageband goes about 15 minutes downloading and installing things I don’t want or need.

Meanwhile I turn to the tape machine and roll to the next track. I decide I want compression instead of the EQ on this track so I patch in a few different compressors until I find the one I like. Write down my settings on my log paper.


 

Garageband is done installing itself again. I get a wizard offering me everything under the sun except basic recording. I select ‘Hip-Hop’ thinking this might be closest to basic. Haha, stupid! No way I need MPC’s and a thousand loops. Delete this session.


 

Studer_A810_BBC_Studio_Reel_to_Reel_Master_Tape_Recorder


OK, I find basic recording and I try to arm track 1 coming in from line in. That’s when the bad news hits:  this mac has no line in. It has a port that looks like a line in, exactly like the previous model’s, but it’s not a line in.

The only sound the mac will accept is from it’s own microphone or a microphone on an iPhone headset plugged into the mac through this mystery port. I find the documentation to back it up – I need a USB or lightning port interface to get audio in.

Damn. Apple, what were you thinking? Yes lots of people have interfaces, but lots of people fall back on their line in during emergencies or for simple 2-track needs. Big Fail.


 

So the analog world managed to cooperate and work with over 4 decades of gear. My digital world failed in under 1.

To think that you continually need a new interface every 3 years just to get audio in makes the mac far less of a production machine, and bodes bad for the digitally-dominated future.

How quickly will things go obsolete, how much will our culture suffer from a lack of backward compatibility?

Trapping Ignorance

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I’m generally against tracking and monitoring of innocent people, and I support the 1st amendment (and the rest of the amendments, and the constitution) so I’ll probably argue with myself about this one, but….

It would be so easy to identify racism, sexism, and other hatred using comment posts. Half of the commenting systems aren’t even anonymous (Facebook, google+, etc.) so it’s just a simple database back to their social security number. The fake-name systems really aren’t anonymous unless the user uses extra tactics to make them so.

We could build some community policing system so that when Dave Smith from Lubbock, TX posts raw hatred that really crosses a line for you, you could downvote or flag the guy and offer a reason.  [Sorry to other Dave Smith browsers or robots that were brought here by a search engine, it’s a made up name]


 

I’m already arguing with myself here though —  I don’t want to give you all the power to give me trouble for my opinions. In My America, if you don’t like what I’m saying you basically have three options: you move on, and/or you form your debate in words, and/or you spend your money elsewhere.

So would it be worth it? If we could flag and rate people based on how much Hateraid they spit at the world, would it be accurate enough to improve our overall performance?

The end result would be some rating, like a credit rating on how much hatred you post.


 

This is the result of me thinking about Peeple, that horrible idea of a social network also made by optimists. They just want everyone to post nice things so you can better determine who to do business with, or dammit, even be friends with.  An online reputation manager that looks like Facebook. Multiple-vector attacks are forcing them to modify their system.


 

Big-Brother-1984-5463720


 

Also – I doubt a machine can detect snark.  Can it sort through irony, examples, and mockery? This would need to be people-based, and then, who are these people? Why would I trust them? I get banned from sites that I should be honored at which proves it’s not easy to read a virtual room.

 

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


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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.

 


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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.

 

How You Hear Music

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Listening 101

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

qsm_main

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

Dawg Gone Analog

It’s happening. I’ve considered and planned and anticipated this for 15+ years. But always compromised.

I’m going analog at the studio. Direct to tape. Outboard gear. No DAW. No computers needed at all.

The real deal. Why wait any longer?

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YOLO sly, yolo

Why? One Word. Workflow. [whoo!]

New Studio’s Primary Rule: NO SCREENS = EARS MAKE ALL DECISIONS. EYES MAKE NONE.

MISSION STATEMENT:  NO SCREENS.  EARS MAKE ALL DECISIONS.  EYES MAKE NONE.

Here’s some initial thoughts –

  • I will track to tape.
  • I might live-mix bounces and direct to 2-track final mixes.
  • Patchbays!
  • I can only afford 4-track 1/4″ tape decks right now, but it could be a stepping stone.
  • Most of my vintage compressors, preamps, mics and processors can finally be put to proper use.
  • Yes…. there will be a digital interface and something digitizing stem mixes from the tape machine for backup, recall, and perhaps future use. It will be also be optional, hidden by default, and have no visible screen.

The bottom line is no screens — we will get a sound from the instrument(s), work with the mic(s) and the input, track to tape, then move onto next layer using only your ears and available dials and knobs.

 

TS_010

This is the analog version of a hard drive full of plug-ins. Except these sound better. And have knobs.

 

I know I’m swimming upstream here. It’s not my first time on that trip.

salmonswimming

Quality swimming up the river Convenience

 

Even the founder of the magazine Tape Op, the bible amongst analog types and tape ops, said on a 2014 panel “someone buying a 1980-era consumer-level 4-track is the least exciting thing to me right now”.

Someone buying a 1980-era consumer-level 4-track is the least exciting thing to me right now – Larry Crane, Tape Op Editor

A slap down from tape jesus himself! But alas, I will work to prove him wrong. My 1980’s era TEAC 4-track tape deck passed it’s exam last night and should be ready for sessions any day now. My studio is shifting into a new mode and it’s all about workflow, limitations, and performance pressure.

 

Cliff Notes on the Loudness Wars

With master quality HD audio getting into people’s ears and getting more buzz every day, I think its important to look into one of the related issues in recorded music: The Loudness Wars.

It really does get to the core of the industry vs. art debate, the present vs. the past & future.

I support a wide dynamic range and have trouble listening to most modern music because of the loudness problem. Even classic artists that I love have put out records in the last 10 years that are so friggin’ loud they crush my ears on first note, and not in the good way. Pure fatigue.

This video covers the industry pressure and competition driving the volume problem.

But there are two other battlefields in this war: the playback systems used to render our music and the production tools used to make our music. Both are bloody battles between quality and convenience.

I’ve been covering the playback side of things with iPhones and PonoPlayers for the last few years, I’m going to start covering the production side of things soon.

 

 

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.


 

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

Spotify Wants Your Profile For The Highest Bidder

While Pono makes news with their righteous promise to give you free content upgrades for life, Spotify is making news with an update to their privacy policy that informs the users of their service – particularly the free subscription tier – through a million words of legalese that they are agreeing to share their contact, photo album, location data, browsing history and Facebook profile in order to listen to music on the service.

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Give your life away to hear rented 10% music files?  Haha yeah right.

Even previously happy Spotify customers are canceling subscriptions over this new (yet totally predictable) revenue stream.

Low-vs-High-Quality-Image

 

I’ve been saying for a couple of years that the streaming services aren’t going to make it. I know they continue to get more and more subscribers, and more listeners. More 10%’ers.

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But they can’t sustain their business because there is no margin. They can barely pay the crazy-low royalties now, and they won’t be able to pay the increased royalties in the near future.  Advertisers will ruin the service trying to get those clicks.

 

 

You simply can’t give access to the world’s entire catalog of music for $0.30 a day, there’s no margin there. There’s too much good music out there with more being made every day. This model will not sustain.


 

Buy your music people, whether it’s vinyl or digital download, and try to buy the highest quality you can get. The rental model is a disaster in the process.

dgb

Spend the $120/year that used to go to Spotify on buying legal retail music and trading with your actual friends and the music industry will survive and prosper.

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Own your own music in full quality, non-tracking, files. Stop renting 10% versions for your digital sanity. Actual social media is enjoying music with other people.

It’s Bandwidth, Stupid

Everything digital boils down to bandwidth

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

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

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

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

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

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


 

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

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

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

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

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

 


 

 

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

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

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

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

 


 

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

 

 

Bad Advertising

There’s a lot of bad advertising, especially in the consumer tech world. Here’s some tell tale signs of bad marketing:

  1. Insinuating that users of other products are idiots, especially if it’s a wildly popular product
  2. Naming your competition, especially with model numbers
  3. Doctoring or otherwise faking it to make competition look worse and your product look better
  4. Flashing fine print that negates important visuals
  5. Implying magical powers are bestowed upon all users of your product

Samsung and Microsoft are two companies often guilty of most of those.

A normal Samsung phone commercial will combine all of them – a bunch of idiots with iPhones waiting in line, a quick chart showing iPhone specs, screen images simulated in fine print while bragging about their screen, and a user turning into a superhero because of this product.

samsung-ad-tv-guys-dumb

That’s a perfect 5 out of 5!  Very bad advertising. Every samsung phone ad is so bad it makes me happy about my choice of an iPhone.

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.

Why Are Tech Sites Anti-Audio?

One side story to my debates about audio quality is how the mainstream tech press – the people who cover gadgets, phones, TV’s, laptops, etc. – always seem to have their head up their asses when it comes to audio products.


 

low


Their ignorance of audio basics is shielded by an arrogance about all things consumer tech. They wrongfully assume expertise and botch their reviews.

The message boards & comments after the review are usually worse, with outright false claims masquerading as fact and characters of all stripes blaring opinions disguised as common-sense fact. I sometimes take up the challenge of straightening these arguments out and of course it usually gets me nowhere – unless the rabbit hole of internet flame battles is really a destination!

My latest attempt at education got me banned from Ars Technica, a site about technology that asked me to leave their community for claiming that MP3 is less than perfect for music. Oh the horror!  I’ve had similar luck and been told to scram from other tech sites, too.


Banning is the nerd response to having their worldview challenged. I’m trying to help these dolts. They are like the flat-earthers of the audio world. I was online when most of these chaps were in diapers!

Such a strange time warp: these ultra-modern people holding onto ancient mp3 files while their games, TVs, monitors, cameras, watches, GPS, cars, and every other digital device in their lives continues to increase in resolution, and thus  r e a l i s m.

Yet they wrongly think they can’t hear – and no one else can hear either – any increase in quality, ever!  Snake oil!  Monster cables! Rich rock stars!

Even if you are a master musician like Tom Petty, a legendary producer like Bruce Botnick, a professional recording engineer, a classical musician, or some other heavyweight in the field of professional audio, you are called a scam artist and/or deaf by these gadget loving fools!


 

reanimator_01


 

The world of good enough rules certain people. They profess fashion over substance and know that now must be the best. A classic case of experts being drowned out by idiots.

They equate recognizing music with loving, knowing, feeling, and creating music.

If you bring up the inner ear on these tech sites, they ban you. Actual bitrate, they ban you. Known psychological issues with ABX testing of music, they ban you. I have an entire list of topics that immediately get me downvoted or banned on consumer tech sites when discussing audio products.

 


 

Oh well, tell you what Ars Technica – fuck off. I’m tired of fighting. I’ve participated and read your site for over 15 years now and you ban me for stating something so obvious about a 20 year old tech compromise? Sad. I suppose much of it was time wasted since your message board is overrun by assholes that share that belief.

Ars claims to cover every advancement in the tech-gadget world yet you shit on audio products and audio professionals. Why is that?  Perhaps jealousy. Gadgets come and go but music lasts forever.

I was told by some greybeards in music production decades ago to never trust the technology world “because they have no idea when it comes to audio”. I suppose this aligns with that. Techies don’t want a debate or to be educated, they want to ban those that expose their ignorance, and they love using terms they don’t even understand in practical use. Lots of keyboard jockeys.


 

revox_display

Modern ignorance is thinking this thing can’t play music that sounds as good or better than an iPhone.


 

Hopefully this trend changes soon, since these people are so influential over mainstream music purchases. They argue their day away about whether 320k sounds better than 256k, and then ban people who say 1400k, or 5700k, sounds better. Their math doesn’t line up.

They can quote statistics showing you something is less or the same as something else. They can reference ridiculous studies attempting to capture sound quality differences with no understanding of – or concern for – musical enjoyment. So many of these people link back to xiph dot org – they are like an army of quality denialists.

But ask them to prove that something sounds better than something else. They cannot do that because their science isn’t science at all.

It amounts to a pile of garbage. Trust your own ears. Seek higher quality and you shall find it.


 

It makes sense that it would be the gadget fans first in line to explain their perceived limitations with the human body.

These are people that often look to technology to do things that they could in fact do better themselves with just a little bit of training and effort.

 

Tidal Shows The Ghost In The MP3

This is a good start. Here’s Tidal trying to explain simply why MP3 sounds worse than CD quality. They want $20/month the stream CD-quality to you, so they will strongly market against lossy compression.

How great can music sound? from TIDAL on Vimeo.

 

But it is also a bit misleading because so much music is recorded in 24bit and then down sampled to CD quality. I do believe that 16/44 is officially the start of “high-resolution” these days, because MP3 lowered the bar so much.

16/44 is just the start of high-definition (it is high definition from 1980) and if people are willing to pay $20/month to stream it, I’m all for it. If they ever add a radio to the PonoPlayer I would stream 16/44.

The Tidal proposition – $120/year for random-generated CD-quality music. That’s what you’d pay for 7-10 HD album downloads, not a bad deal.

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!

 

 

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.

800px-Relaxing


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.

450px-Fredric_Effects_Harmonic_Percolator_-_front

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.

pono-player-ces-2015-anewdomain-375x195

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

Best Thing Ever

Lofty headline, no?

Music is life. Perhaps we should all play music to each other, that might be a better world.

Instead we developed technology to record the music so we can play it on demand without musicians present.

After a few decades of standing in front of a microphone it grew into a new art form called recorded music. It’s the art form I probably enjoy the most daily, and one that I have practiced occasionally.

Here is an interesting wikipedia overview of what I love most, multitrack recording.

 

Rip 2.0

cdstack1

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!

F1.medium

 

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

Lots of Gadgets Are Spying On You

I covered it last week here. Samsung gets called out for their smart TV’s listening and transmitting everything we say to a third party. Very 1984. You might have thought ‘Samsung isn’t the only one doing it’ – and you would be right: Lots of other gadgets are spying on you.

Do you really need to talk to your devices, when a simple button press works just as well?

The Ghost in the MP3

Excellent work by Ryan letting you hear an approximation of what they are removing from MP3 files when doing “lossy” compression.

This is what the MP3 programmers deem unimportant in your music. You can play the video with it’s own lossy audio, or go here to hear the full version of what they pull from your music to make MP3 files.

Most of what is cut out is spatial — reverbs, room sound, delays, decays, fade outs, dynamics, lots of pre-delays, layering of sounds, attacks, breathes, etc..

This is the movement and the emotional content of the song. The interacting layers is the kind of data that computer programmers (and digital internet babies) can’t quite measure, so they disregard it. That’s scientific method at work – if you can’t measure or control it, disregard it.

This is important listening and will help you to understand that hearing music is more than frequencies.

I would love to see someone do this type of experiment with a 24bit mix and a 16bit mix of the same music.

 

enhanced-buzz-11125-1347395176-28

Don’t take away my reverb and delays! The power of Bonzo is a result of decay, delay, and room sound.

The Office of the Future

Many of us don’t “go into the office” anymore. New cubicle farms are not spreading across the land.

 

 

The coffeeshop is the office, the extra bedroom is a command center, or you do your work while mobile through phones and laptops, drive a truck, talk to real humans and avoid the computers. Home offices are very common and not going away.

 

So the architects are trying to figure out how to build the new modern office.  Pretty interesting read.

o-OFFICE-2-900

 

 

 

The pictures reminded me first of Starbucks…. no, a little more like a Schlotski’s…. no wait, where have I seen that place before?

 

First I gotta meet with HR about health benefits.

4607655_l4

 

 

 

 

 

Then the client is coming in for that review meeting at 11 and I have a feeling he’s gonna give us a hard time about the project.

 

 

 

 

 

ThreesCo4007

 

 

Word of the Day: Provenance

Provenance - Noun : originsourceplace of originbirthplace, fountrootspedigreederivationroot

You hear it on antiques shows and now you hear about it in digital music, and it’s actually pretty cool because it’s about credits and the people behind the music.

One of the many complaints about mp3 was “where are the credits?”.  Sorry, go to the website. But the website can update all the time, what if I just want the proper credits for my own music lover nerdiness?

There’s a more serious side to it also, one of attribution and authenticity. Algorithms can now determine what song is playing and credit the composer and lyricist, but they cannot determine origin of the file (which version from which mastering session).

As MP3 fades in popularity and we look to the next digital format, efforts are being taken to improve this issue of provenance in music. Sites like ProStudioMasters.com list details of which version you are buying but standardization is needed here.


My provenance proposal, off the top of my head:

Top level (spine):  Artist / Song / Cover art

Sub level (liner): Lyrics / Liner notes / Additional artwork

Physical level (provenance): Year / Composer / BPM / ISRC / Label / Label Number / Original Mix date / Original Mix format / Remaster Date / Remaster format


[This data could be used by next-gen streaming too, giving lots of interesting information and images to be displayed while the song streams.]

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.

12015pono2

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 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.

 

Youtube’s Version of HD Audio – My Realtime Review

Oh damn, the internet generation strikes back against pono!

5686g

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.

 

 

Bring On The Competition

Can’t wait for that Pono?

Can’t handle the power of the triangle?

Here’s the Fiio X1 finally available in the US at around $100, and that ain’t too much to pay for some serious hi-res music playback. Pono’s are gonna be about $400 and probably not 4x better sounding, since they are basically similar in important specs.

You know that iPod and that phone just don’t sound that good. Investigate with your own ears.

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 😉

Desiderius

“Anyone who looks closely at the inward nature and essence will find that nobody is further from true wisdom than those people with their grand titles, learned bonnets, splendid sashes and bejeweled rings, who profess to be wisdom’s peak.”  – Erasmus, 1515

 

NAILED IT, 499 YEARS AGO. First post?

I repost this nugget of wisdom from Desiderius for you internet travelers, reading reviews and arguments in comment sections about complicated topics. Please trust your own human senses over anything you read, regardless of the credentials or sincerity behind their argument. Put away the computer and use your ears, hands, beautiful big eyes, nose, and other senses to lead you. Trust in what was given you.

Also remember the internet generation didn’t invent any of this hot-air. After all, Desidirius named hisself that (stage name) and it literally translates to “the longed-for”. Take that Kanye.

Erasmus

Praise The Wire


In our rush to modernize and upgrade the conveniences in life we can forgo quality for convenience. Often times the better way gets out-marketed and replaced by the new way, and life goes on.

Wireless digital was the new thing in the 1990’s. In the oughts it was deployed everywhere -from offices to battlefields and mountain summits. By now we simply expect most things to be wireless, because wireless is how we do it now.

But when it comes to the world of pro audio, the wire has not been replaced, at least not yet. A wire is called interconnect and it’s going strong.

Continue reading

Studio To Stereo

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

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

Sony stages Studio to Stereo high-res audio exhibition

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

The Doors in the studio

The Doors in the studio

Pre-CD Grandeur

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

Rediscovering Maria Callas in High-Resolution Audio

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

The Diva

The Diva

Taylor Swift verses Streaming

Recently Taylor Swift made news by pulling her latest album from Spotify and other streaming music services. Her statement calls these new services “a grand experiment” and said she doesn’t feel comfortable putting her music into that system as it’s currently set up.


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I agree with her. Taylor is smart to negotiate with her record being a hot commodity right now. I believe this comes down to royalty rates, not a full retreat from streaming pop music.

Before streaming/mp3 – Old Way– you heard a new song/artist either from a friend, browsing, or on the radio. If you decided you must hear it on-demand, you bought a copy for yourself. You’d pay $10-20 for a hard copy complete with artwork and case and take it home.

How did this system sustain for 50+ years?  Old Way

1 – Radio payed royalties for every track they played, based on their total listenership. The radio earned their money from advertisers based on listenership/ratings.
2 – The $10-20 you paid for the album/cd/cassette was split up amongst the various parties that got that music to you: about $5 to the store, $5 to the record label, $3 to the distributor/warehouse,  and maybe $1 made it back to the artist. This changed based on the deal the artist had, but no artist earned below $.25 per album sale.
3 – This gave us a functioning network of music stores, music distributors, music labels, and popular recording artists that could earn a decent living from their succesful recorded work.

The streaming system works very differently: New Way

1 – Radio is still around and paying royalties, but listenership has declined steadily for 20+ years, reducing ad rates and royalty payments.
2 – If you add Taylor Swift to your streaming favorites and can hear her songs whenever you want, Spotify pays royalties at the level of $.0005 per song streamed. Let’s use this to project some earnings. Taylor Swift now needs 100,000 streamed plays to earn the same as selling 1 single CD. New Way

Out of 10k fans, if half buy the new album that earns her $5000 Old Way. To earn that from streaming she would need 10 million plays from those 10k fans, or 1ooo plays per person (20 per week) all year.  5k fans that would have bought the CD would need to stream her song 40 times a week for a year to equal the same earnings from the CD years. New Way

3 – It’s not just Miss Swift’s bank account – think of how many other jobs are removed in this model — the music store (most are long gone), the music distributor (also going extinct), the music label (down to 2 majors left), the professional music studios (paid for by the labels), all the artwork and packaging, truck drivers, etc. and on top of that artists can no longer earn the same streaming hits to people. That’s a lot of jobs wiped out by online distribution of music.

I agree that streaming won’t go away any time soon, so the major artists will continue to negotiate over rates. I don’t buy any of the crying from the streaming companies about how expensive it is to license songs. You are launching an entire business on the art/content of others and you should have to pay a rate that allows your content creators to not just survive, but thrive.

I have legally streamed my music to at least hundreds of thousands of people and I have earned < $1 in all that time. It is not a sustainable model, convenient or not.

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