Quest For Perfection
Music is recorded for enjoyment without the musicians present. The primary goal of the recording engineer is to record the material as accurately as possible, so that when you play the music back you feel as close to the artist and their work as possible.
If it’s accoustic music it is supposed to sound like you are in the room with them. If it is electronic music it’s supposed to deliver exactly what the artist created, from their ears to yours, from their studio to you.
For 80 years the audio marketplace steadily provided upgraded specifications in consumer audio. Styli that read the source disc, amps that amplify it, and speakers that vibrate it to our ears all received continual improvement.
The introduction of digital components in the 1980’s accelerated this trend with regards to convenience, price, and quantity, but introduced limitations in formats as pinch points.
The 16/44 CD (PCM-redbook) standard is the most obvious example of that.
Buyers would continue to upgrade everything in their rig except this 16/44 file format. The initial format is the most critical piece of the playback signal chain, since it’s first.
It is critical that we understand signal chain.
Signal chain is how audio flows. Signal flows not unlike water in a river – it is not parallel or virtual, that is, it must go in serial order from beginning to end. In the simplest playback form, the chain starts with the source, then the amplification, then the speakers.
Signal chain (analog playback): 1-Analog Source—> 2-Amplifier—> 3-Speakers–> 4-Room
Amplification and speakers are analog so a digital source must be translated back to analog before being amplified. This is accomplished by a hybrid chip known as a Digital to Analog Converter, or DAC. The DAC does what it’s name implies, it turns the digital file into analog signal, a critical task.
All DAC chips are not created equal.
Signal chain (digital playback): 1-Digital Source—> 2-DAC chip—> 3-Amplifier—> 4-Speakers– > 5-Room
Audio engineers have a favorite saying, their ‘golden rule’ if you will:
“Garbage In = Garbage Out”
This rule is to reinforce the concept of signal chain, and that you can affect much more change at the beginning of the chain. Bad source is impossible to truly fix down the chain.
This is the fundamental argument behind hi-res music, and Pono’s business model. Start with the source.