The Next Era of Music

Direct_Drive_Turntable_System_SL_1200GAE_3.0

Hello old friend:  The new Technics 1200SL turntable.


 

On the playback side, not the creation side….

Turntables have been selling well the past few years but there was one big dark spot on that record – the iconic Technics 1200, the stratocaster of turntables, was discontinued a few years back.

This  made the so-called vinyl revival seem a bit gimmicky without the classic deck represented. Anyone that was anyone had 1200’s and probably half the other decks were knockoffs of the 1200. I own a decent 1200-clone from Gemini, the PT2000.


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The 1200 is back! Technics is bringing it back along with 1200 editions of a beautiful collectors version. Very nice.

There’s also this new turntable from Sony that takes your vinyl right to hi-res audio – very cool!  Of course you could do this before with a combination of gear – a turntable, an interface, a good DAC, a DAW, and knowledge of recording and sample rates, etc..

But the Sony PS-HX500 makes it easy, providing software to take you right into hi-res from vinyl. It even does both accepted hi-res formats – PCM/FLAC and DSD.

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Son’y new turntable features the Hi-Res Audio badge because using included software it will transfer (rip) your vinyl into hi-res digital format (either PCM or DSD).

Vinyl Sales Continue To Grow

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

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

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

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

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

Remember WFNK Funk Supersite!

There were several branding attempts on WFNK.com over the years, including the “funk e-griot”, “funk supersite”, “no fake afros”, and the not-so-modest “center of the online funk universe”, whatever that means.

The point was to use this new technology to build a community of music lovers around the expansive, beautiful exploration of anything funky, by any means necessary.

Many trends have come and gone since WFNK.com launched 18 years ago, but the goal remains the same (even if diluted through the current anti-facebook format): WFNK.com brings the funk to the masses and represent the funky music and lifestyle that is key for survival on planet earth.

Plus we do it daily and free of charge, and have for almost 2 decades now.

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To that end, a new project has started that should really hit that target: I’ve begun plans to digitize and videoize some of my record collection in HD. It’s a time consuming process and they could always pull it down so it will be 1 song at a time, but it should be fun to hear and see the true vinyl and discuss the funk within.

Maybe we get some contributors to the cause, or link to some existing stuff where people post funk vinyl playbacks?

I know of some new places on the web that will be cross-posting this stuff, and if y’all tweet or share it that would be all we need.

 

 

PonoPlayer Review Is Posted

I have a few revisions to make but I thought I’d get this thing posted so I can start sharing out the link next week. Enjoy my long-form run through what a PonoPlayer is, and why you might want one:

http://wfnk.com/blog/ponoplayer-review/


Just a symbol or a way to hear cymbals again?

Just a symbol of hype or the return of hearing cymbals?

 

My HD Digital Audio Life Begins Soon

My new sexy little digital audio player (aka DAP) is arriving at the end of this month. I was an early supporter of PonoMusic and their PonoPlayer on kickstarter, so not only will I have one of the first Pono’s out in the wild, but I was extended a pretty awesome benefit as an early investor – free file quality upgrades for life!Three_Ponos_02_773

That means any purchases I make from the Ponomusic store are guaranteed to be the highest native resolution available. If this is not the case (say the artist puts out a new version at higher native resolution, or licensing changes and Pono gets access to a better version) Pono Inc. will offer me the choice of a free upgrade if I want the bigger files.

This is VERY cool, and a big part of why I signed up. Sadly I don’t believe this feature is going to be available for all customers, at least not at the base price. They should offer it – the “lifetime” digital version. If 32bit/384k audio is all the rage in 2030 it would be great to not have to purchase half my collection again.

They are also claiming they will launch their store with over 2 million HD songs from the 3 major record labels so we will see. Initially PonoMusic and HDTracks will be the go-to places for HD audio, but I think Apple, Sony, etc. will be moving into HD Audio in the next year.

Here’s a pretty and concise (if not totally accurate*) chart showing you the amount of audio data that the formats move:

Pono_Chart_Revised

Note that the blue box above is soon to become the standard for streaming, which is the low-end of the market. If you are storing the media you expect the highest quality possible

[*My issue with the chart is how it ignores bit depth change for sample rate promotion. If you understand what the “24-bit” part of that signal means, the jump from the blue box to the light yellow box, shown as a small jump on this chart, is actually much larger of an improvement to our ears because so much of it deals with timbre, spatial, room sound, overtones, decays – aka the hard to quantify but easy to recognize side of music and recording. The chart shows raw data bandwidth but nothing about sound accuracy and quality.  That said, it is titled “Music quality spectrum” which is misleading and probably applied by marketing people. But I also haven’t heard Pono yet, so maybe it is 5x better than CD!]

I am also developing a strategy for how to buy digital music again, and what exactly to seek in HD. My current idea is to buy 1 album/month, and to alternate between new (to me) and re-buying existing stuff that I only have at low-res mp3 or damaged vinyl. If I own it on CD I’ll probably just rip 16/44 WAVs again, since the jump in quality from 16/44 to 24/96 is not worth $20 to me.

imagesFor storage I plan on having several 64gb cards to swap in and out of the Pono, but how many albums per card, and how to organize those cards is still up in the air. It’s a new world!

The Pono Player is a new type of consumer device (at least in audio) – a portable digital device that performs at a very high level but focuses solely on it’s core task and does not include many other features. The Pono Player plays portable digital music at a very high quality level. It does not stream, in or out. It doesn’t have any cell, wifi, or bluetooth radios on board. It does not play games. It does not run a smartphone OS or multitask. It doesn’t even have an inline music store on the device.

It just plays music at the highest quality available for a <$500 device, from crappy mp3’s, to ripped CD’s, to super high def 24/192 flac files. It has headphone and line-out. It syncs through a cable to your computer for side-loading of tracks like the first iPods. In fact it reminds me alot of the early iPods except with vastly greater sound quality, which is why I refer to it as “iPod Pro”.

Once it’s in my hands I’ll post some pics and my version of a review, but I can’t wait to hit people with the sound of this thing, either in their headphones or over speakers. The power of music is strongest when the music is the purest and most accurate it can be, and hearing such things in the last 10 years has required that you know a music snob with lots of money invested in their system. Pono brings the pure audio to the portable masses, and I can’t wait!

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Music Hoarding Future

OK I’m doing some serious internet-style scientific research (aka asking friends) on the future of buying music, discussed in this post. Here’s a few ideas so far on the future of music product packaging:

Idea 1-  The “All of the Above” set — for $40 you buy the release and receive a vinyl record, a CD, and download codes for both HD and MP3 digital files. Nothing new here but it’s a nice spread of the existing formats and gives you redundancy and multiple formats for different locations, loaning out, etc..

Idea 2-  The “21st Century” set — for $30 you buy the release and receive a Blu-Ray disc and also download codes for all of the content. The disc contains the stereo mixes and 5.1 mixes (if available), and plays in a standard BluRay setup. The data portion of the disc contains the HD and MP3 versions of the stereo mix. The download codes are for those without a BluRay drive in their computer. This gives you a new format (5.1) and doesn’t include any vinyl or CD’s. The entire thing can also be sold w/o a disc (dl only) for $20.

Idea 3- The “Sponsor/Crowdfund” system — this isn’t a product per say, but a new twist on an ancient system for funding music. For maybe $100 you become a sponsor/superfan/investor/subscriber for the artist for a period of time, maybe 2 years. In that timeframe you receive a few things: their new musical output for nearly free (maybe just cost of materials and shipping, or free online); free tickets to any of their shows in your region (you will drink alot that night and the venue will make money); some usual fan club stuff like stickers, swag, and behind the scenes stuff, and a more personal relationship with the artist.

An artist would have fans that were invested in their art and it’s output, and the fans just wouldn’t renew if they weren’t feeling the value of that relationship. 10k facebook likes could be 1 million dollars, which would fund many mid-sized artists for 2 years and cover the shipped product, and doing 25 shows around the country has the potential for 400 fans per gig before you even show up.  Those people bring friends, the place is packed, everyone makes some money, and music lives on (and everyone gets laid that night :-)).

Also, because you want them to succeed and make more music for you before your subscription expires, the artist is invigorated by this direct correlation between output and revenue and the fans demand excellence. A really amazing release where the artist pushes farther and better than before would up their capital immediately. Lazy and misguided artists would find their capital dwindling.

 

Each of these have pros and cons but I thought it would be fun to start thinking about such things.

 

Buying Musical Product – What Do You Want?

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

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

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

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

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

More to come on this topic soon…

The First LP… ever

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

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

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

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

Portable_78_rpm_record_player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Crate Digging – The Dells Cover Ain’t No Sunshine

I’ve been buying more vinyl lately and also reorganizing my own collection, so I’ve decided in 2013 to use WFNK.com for some crate digging finds.

I picked this up the other night, what a killer cover:

Support whatever is left of local music retailers. Anyone who carries vinyl is cool with me.

13,000 Records Lovingly Washed and Saved


Sound of the City: Last Night 13,000 Norton Records Were Lovingly Washed and Saved By Adoring Fans of the Label

Here’s a great story about a small record label in Brooklyn that was flooded by Hurricane Sandy. They decided to save their rare vinyl inventory with an army of volunteer record lovers, rubber gloves, and lots of dish soap.

The pollution-filled salt water from a nearby canal rose over 10 feet and made easy work of album covers and the rest of their warehouse. Everything electronic was ruined. Everything organic-based was rotted and stained.

Vinyl albums can hold out a bit longer, but mold and mildew will eventually grow in the grooves so it was decided if they were going to save the records, they needed to act fast.

Well done, Norton. So many things a storm destroys can be replaced and some of it wasn’t loved much in the first place. But in this case seeing thousands of rare and obscure pressings lay to rot would have been a sad event, given the wonders of dish soap on records.

 

 

Why Analog Matters

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In reply to a thread on CNet about Record Store Day, I laid out a long reply to the idea that buying vinyl these days is pointless, especially if the artist records digitally. The poster implied that the CD format was the gold standard and that prompted my reply. It was too long for their system so here’s the whole thing:

The issue with the cd format is not that it’s digital, it’s that it’s 16bit/44k digital. This is not even close to the full analog sound as produced in nature. This number was chosen because it was all the data they could cram through the DAC’s built in the late 1970’s. The “CD format” as you know it is the best digital audio format that computers (actually IC’s) could handle 32 years ago. Anything else a 32 year old computer is “good enough” for these days?

So why do most people think CD is actually the top standard, and that mp3 is “good enough”? Brilliant engineering, understanding commerce, and counting on people’s horrible (and often damaged) ears. Let me explain:

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Northside Nights – Cleveland Music Night @ The Duck!

Northside Nights - Cleveland Music Night @ The Duck

Looking good, feeling good. Celebrate yourself!

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Cleveland, Ohio – May 19, 2010 – Looking to support local artists and start a new community service, multi-media and genre-jumping DJ Raz is launching ?Northside Nights – Cleveland Music Night? at The Duck Island Club on the first Thursday of every month.

The elusive DJ Raz has over 15 years experience spinning records at clubs, on the radio, opening for bands, and has logged time in just about every form of DJ?ing invented. The common theme, he claims, is the community building and artist promotion.

?Spinning records used to mean a bit more, pre-iTunes. Having millions of songs accessible to mere mortals does not make everyone a DJ. But it does spoil us and to a certain extent, makes us lazy, when it comes to how we consume our music. I hope to put all the tenets of DJ?ing into the Cleveland Music Night: promotion, spontaneity, and community. We want local bands to take part, to hand-deliver their latest tracks so we can give them a spin.?

There are no genre or year restrictions on Cleveland Music Night, so you can show up with requests or music of your own. If it ties to Cleveland we will celebrate it, promote it, and give it some spins.

?I?m hoping this will act as an incubator, or at least a sounding board, for local talent? says Raz. ?Back in the day local DJ?s had a big part in local promotion, and in most genres that is now history. Plus, I?m hoping to expand my knowledge of the local scene. Not many DJ?s would take on an all-genre gig, but that?s just how I roll. There?s too much artistic talent in Cleveland to let this void go unfilled.?

Artists, fans and street teams are encouraged to bring their tracks to the Duck Island Club, located at 2102 Freeman Avenue (off West 20th) on the first Thursday of every month, or email materials to raz@wfnk.com.

WHAT: Northside Nights – Cleveland Music Night
WHERE: The Duck Island Club, 2102 Freeman Ave.
WHEN: 9-close; 1st Thursday of each month: June 3, July 1, August 5…
WHO: DJ Raz ?http://wfnk.com ?raz@wfnk.com

Headtronics: The New Doo Review

Headtronics


Funky fresh and it’s about time…. If you want to see what music and live performance can be, get down with some improvised art and dance yourself silly then it pays to catch the project dubbed “Headtronics” if it comes near your domain.

Genre jumping has been popular among musicians for quite some time (and popular on the charts the last decade or so), but actually jumping ‘modes’ still proves difficult and rare. Headtronics, a strong trio of players consisting of DJ Logic, Freekbass, and Steve Molitz, is one of the first projects I’ve seen to successfully go “mixed mode”.

See, there’s several ways for Joe Citizen to enjoy himself some music when he leaves the house in the evening. In what mode he ends up consuming music that night depends partly on his tastes, partly on social constructs and then venue requirements.  We know he probably won’t catch a symphony at a loft party, a rock band on the corner, a solo sax in a dance club, or a performance art piece in the corner bar. It’s more than likely he won’t get out of his comfort zone at all.

For this dilemma DJ’s were created, and this was good.

Any music you want anywhere you want it is the promise. Musical taste gatekeepers blah blah blah. Some musicians hold a confrontational attitude towards DJ’s, and from a purely financial perspective it is understandable as they are fighting over the same beer markups. But ultimately those that love the music are at least as important as those who make the music, so DJ’s became important parts of the music ecology.


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In our categorization of everything we have put musicians on one side and DJ’s on the other, but this masks the fact that the best of each share many qualities. More on that in a minute.

Eventually our technology and transparency led us to this postmodern moment of ‘so, what’s new anymore?’. And if it’s new and cool, I already downloaded that, wiki’ed that, googled that, and I feel like I know all about that… that thing you just told me about.

Then I will forget about it nearly as quick as I ‘interlearned’ it.

Where does Headtronics fit into this? Several angles – this is a rant after all!

DJ’s do a set ultimately to keep people dancing / zoning out / chasing the blues from their day. They change tempo if and when needed, leave no dead air, do not focus on a piece but on the whole.

A great DJ does alot of things during a great set that musicians don’t do and don’t even need to consider most of the time. Musicians do a set to play each piece to it’s fullest, to perform their musical parts to their satisfaction, to connect with the audience, and keep their project’s name and songs in the fan’s memory forever. They construct sets but in a different way than a DJ, with different purposes.


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No project to my knowledge has been able to successfully deliver the holy fusion of DJ’ing and playing live music, while improvising it all, until Headtronics.

Yes, melodies, textures, and even rhythms were improvised and explored during pieces within a set as a whole. Logic had full scratch and break moments. Steve had space for perfect textures and melody lines. And Freekbass put out flavor and variations while sitting in a big fat pocket. They achieved the perfect measure of success in both DJ’ing and live gigging: the nicely mixed crowd danced for two hours straight and good times were had by all.

I will wrap this up because you get the point — go see Headtronics, see if you can dig what I’m talking about. I’ve seen DJ’s in bands, and I’ve seen musicians play over a DJ, but this is both and neither. It’s a whole new thang as they say, and it just feels right. It’s about time.

ezraz

ps — much respect to Urban Dance Squad and DJ DNA for blind ambition 23 years ago.

Posted via email from 2M :: REAX