Dr. AIX's POSTS — 31 December 2014

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It’s official! I just received an email announcing that, “Rock icon Neil Young and PonoMusic will hold a special press briefing on High Resolution Audio on Tuesday, January 6 from 3:30-4:30 PM at the Hi-Res Audio Workshop”. That’s the same venue and room that AIX Records/iTrax will be demoing and offering our high-resolution audio products. The High-Resolution Audio Marketplace, which will be located on Level 2, Bellini 2001-2002, will feature, “A showcase of clearer, crisper audio on the most advanced high-resolution audio (HRA) devices that are more convenient, compatible and cost-effective than ever before.” Although there will be fewer companies presenting at this years event (AIX/iTrax, Acoustic Sounds, HDTracks, and Auro Technologies), the number of sessions has increased. There will be two sessions each of the three days of the show AND the just added press event with Neil Young.

Here’s the schedule from the CEA website:

Tuesday, January 06
11-11:45 AM / Hi-Res Audio for Mobile Lifestyles
2:15-3 PM / Meet the Hi-Res Music Creators [Note: this is the one that I will be on]
3:30-4:30 PM / Neil Young and PonoMusic “Special Press Briefing on High-Resolution Audio”

Wednesday, January 07
11-11:45 AM / Hi-Res Audio: Breaking the Barriers
2:15-3 PM / The New Business of Hi-Res Music

Thursday, January 08
11-11:45 AM / Hi-Res Audio: The Retail Perspective
2:15-3 PM / Hi-Res Audio: CES Power Panel

In addition and undoubtedly because Neil is a “rock icon”, he will doing a SuperSession led by Rolling Stone executive editor Nathan Brackett on Wednesday, January 7 from 10:15-11:15 AM at the LVCC, room N257. Neil Young has become the de facto voice and face of high-resolution audio. His appearance at the Venetian Hotel, Bellini Ballroom 2001-2002 will eclipse everything else that happens during the HRA Marketplace…and will deliver to the press and attendees a consistent message about this important and emerging market segment.

There is no doubt that Neil Young will give an upbeat assessment of his company, their Pono high-resolution players, and the still in beta PonoMusic website. What you will not hear is how 99% of the Pono catalog of “so-called” “master quality” albums or “high-resolution albums” will be nothing more than rips of standard resolution compact discs. I doubt that Neil will talk about his belief that using different sampling rates creatively during the recording process or the fact that his own catalog will never be available in high-resolution audio (because it wasn’t recorded in high-resolution!).

I have great apprehension about Neil Young becoming the poster boy for high-resolution audio. I acknowledge that he’s done more than anyone else to bring awareness to the perils of highly compressed MP3 digital files. But what he offered as a solution to the problem…a better portable player and 20 million standard resolution CD rips…is the wrong approach.

I’ve never heard him speak about the provenance of the tracks that are available through PonoMusic. He promises to his supporters to upgrade all of their standard resolution purchases to the “highest resolution available” when they are made available but fails to inform his followers that this doesn’t mean they will ever get real high-resolution audio files. They won’t get what the “artist intended” either. Consumers will be upgraded to a new transfer of an older analog master when they are made available by the labels at 192 kHz/24-bits. And the number of those newly transferred albums is less than 15,000 as of today. They are what the mastering engineer “intended” and are not (according to my sources at the mastering facilities) approved by the artists or labels.

It will be exciting to see Neil evangelize on the merits of high-resolution audio at the 2015 International CES show. He could be the perfect spokesperson if he wasn’t so intimately tied to his Pono company, which depends on perpetuating the myth of high-resolution to sell more hardware and software. Just tell it like it is Neil and things for 2015 might look rosier. As it is, we’re going to get more of the same old spin regarding HRA and the whole initiative will fail.

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I’m still looking to raise the $3700 needed to fund a booth at the 2015 International CES. I’ve received some very generous contributions but still need to raise additional funds (I’ve received about $3500 so far). Please consider contributing any amount. I write these posts everyday in the hopes that readers will benefit from my network, knowledge and experience. I hope you consider them worth a few dollars. You can get additional information at my post of December 2, 2014. Thanks.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a “binaural” electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art.

As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more.

Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com.

A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, “High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback”. The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(16) Readers Comments

  1. I love Neil Young. I have since I first heard his music back all those many years ago. One thing about Neil, he is with you, then you are without him. He led the charge for DVD-Audio, saying that his music would never again be on CD. 6 DVD-A’s in, he then dumped DVD-A for DVD-V discs included with his CDs. He then went all in on BluRay, selling his ‘Archives One’ box at $300+ with promises of more to come, stating BluRay was the best format for his music and output. Time marched on and the “next” BluRay NY releases never came.

    And now Pono………………..,”next?”

    • I’m a huge fan of Neil Young as well. I’ve worked with him on one of the two Gold DVDs that I have on my wall. And I applaud him for striking out for better sound. But he’s involved in a business venture right now and scrambling to meet expectations and numbers. He’s compromising his own standards for audio quality to increase the available catalog of high-resolution audio on the site.

  2. Neil has issued his “final” Kick starter update and in it he implores artists to give Pono their masters in order to have them redone in Pono High Resolution. It can be read at either the Kickstarter page or on the Pono site in the Pono Gazette. I would be interested in your take of the whole ordeal. Thanks and Happy New Year.

    • And then we can discuss Charles Hansen’s “burn-in” opinions…

      • Oh boy…

    • I just read it as well. I’ll parse it carefully and let you know asap.

  3. So – two giants will meet (or at least be at the same event).
    I am quite sure, who is the real giant….
    ….but I am also quite sure, who will steal the show – alas!

    Neil – please stick to making your music.

    • Thanks for the ego boost…but I know where I stand in the world of high res music.

  4. The anticipation prior to the Pono launch was widespread in the high end audio community. But it soon became clear that it was something of a smoke and mirrors exercise, with some early sales success not doubt fueled by Neil Young’s long standing reputation as the nemesis of the corporate mindset. How could it fail! Surely if Neil was behind it all there would be a genuinely alternative approach and real salvation for the digital music age!

    Thus far, however, the project hasn’t yielded any ground breaking development whatsoever, so I’d say that much depends on Neil’s appearance at CES, hopefully making some sort of announcement that finally moves the game forward. If this fails to materialize then the temptation to dismiss the Pono as a busted flush may well become irresistible. Sadly, however, a public that generally has no idea about what high res audio actually is can be very easy to impress. I expected better from Neil – but maybe this story has a sting in its tail – MQA?

    • In the final analysis, it comes down to business and money. Neil has done well as a “rock icon” but he’s not a crazy wealthy guy. I believe he was honest about his passion for the sound of music…although he (and most of his rock star friends haven’t every heard a true high-resolution audio track like those produced by myself and others). He’s loving the spotlight, the press, and the chance to be seen as the savior of better sound. But he’s bitten off a lot and has to churn dollars to keep his vision going. So he compromised, which isn’t necessarily all bad but he’s not being honest about what he’s doing…that’s the part I can’t swallow.

      • I agree with so much of what you have said… until I saw this line: (and most of his rock star friends haven’t every heard a true high-resolution audio track like those produced by myself and others

        Now you sound condescending. He has heard it, that is why he started it. I am a huge fan of DVD-A/SACD/HiRes from back when I first read about Neal talking about DVD-A. I bought a player and discs and was thrilled when I found that you could finally download hires flac from sites a few years ago. I am also a musician and producer/engineer. At the time I reworked my entire studio to do Hi Res audio and started doing all of my recordings in hi-res. I know the benefits as both a listener and as an engineer.

        Please don’t ruin your good message with negative comments like these. It does not get us to the end that so many of us want… great sounding music.

        • Scott, I got a nasty note from a musician/engineer the last time I said that I don’t believe the commercial artists even know what a high-resolution file sounds like…and I stick to that statement. Just because someone transfers an analog master to a large digital bit bucket doesn’t mean they’ve hear hi-res. Nor does operating your entire studio at 96 or 192 kHz. The world is full (in fact, most so-called “hig-Res” downloads and discs) of standard resolution music pretending to be high-resolution. I hope you’ve had a chance to download the free tracks on my FTP site. Take a listen and tell me if they sound like commercial tracks.

  5. Don’t cut yourself down Mark. Go there and make a good presentation on provenance. The facts are the facts and you can’t make a silk purse from a sows ear..
    Ripped Red Book files can never be up sampled to HD and anyone with common sense will understand that.

    • I’ll let those that listen hear my side of the story. But I can already tell you that the watered down version advocated by the DEG, CEA and Recording Academy will rule the day.

  6. Hi Mark,

    You make some interesting and valid points, but as a reasonably satisfied Pono Kickstarter consumer/funder, I chose the Pono for the following reasons:

    1. Kickstarter price-point came out better than similarly priced products the Fiio X5 and Ibasso DX90, it also had a bigger capacity
    2. The product was backed and designed by a high-quality American audiophile company Ayre Studios.
    3. and of course the unenviable endorsement of a MUSICIAN who has made interstellar recordings and know what he wants his audience to hear, over say Apple corporation who have screwed the listening audience for way too long with their I-tunes compressed/crap music delivery model..and now Spotify…

    TO be honest, I was in the dark with the whole ‘loudness wars’ / ‘compression’ argument, it’s like Climate Change, it ‘seems’ far too complicated for people to understand or care about, unless they are shown the REAL issue in the correct circumstances, far too many people are happy for crap ‘conveniences’…

    There already is quite a large on-line community dedicated to ‘HiDef’ listening, and there are numerous affordable DAPs than can deliver what the Pono does, in all fairness the PONO sits above most of these products in terms of audio quality across formats (eg: via headphones, integrated amplifiers and even in car stereos via 3.5mm cable, which I can attest the Pono excels in spades!). The Pono does not match the Anstel and Kern products, mind you was are x3 the price.

    Ultimately I see what Neil Young is doing is similar to the Criterion Collection have done for home movie viewing, providing a music listening ‘standard’ that Apple Corporation and the music industry just don’t care about, and which many musicians have complained about for many years. Whilst Neil has the capital and industry clout to achieve this for his own works, compared to the struggling indie artist, it is still a profound and noble endeavour.

    • Thanks Aaron. There are two different things going on here. The first is the hardware component. Sure, the Astell & Kern is a really great piece of engineering as is the Pono device. But they are only as good as a portable device can be (limited power etc). I think Charles Hans did a great job. I’ve heard some of my tracks on the Pono device and they sound amazing.

      The second part of the story is the provenance of the source files that you play in the device. It’s in this area that Neil and Pono are not living up to their commitments. Ripped CDs make up 99% of their catalog…this is disappointing.

      The Criterion Collection wasn’t about better DVD players…it was about presenting classic films in the best possible way. They researched, restored, and meticulously attended to every detail. And the films in their collection are the ultimate versions of those standard definition films…that’s what HDTracks offers. Criterion doesn’t shoot new HD or UHD-Video programming in high-resolution surround sound…but I do. That’s why one reviewer called AIX Records “the Criterion Collection” for audiophiles.

      I lament the continuing confusion over what is and what isn’t high-resolution audio. Neil’s effort hasn’t clarified that…in fact, PonoMusic has made it worse.

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