I had a great day yesterday at the CES. For starters, I walked right past the HRA ballroom at 9:00 and visited the Sands Hall for about an hour. I know there were some folks that came by the booth during that time…I’m really glad that I made the effort. The first area was filled with health and fitness stuff. There’s something for every aspect of your health way beyond Fitbit. I happened on a group that was offering bone conduction headphones. They are worn like a reverse set of glasses with the active driver pressing on your temples. I put on a pair and the booth person started up a selection of music. I wasn’t impressed…and that’s not because I’m used to high-quality headphones like the new Sony’s or the Oppo PM-1s that I use at my booth. There was no high end. I mean these sounded like a set of speakers with the midrange and tweeters blown. So I asked if he could play something with lots of high frequencies. He switched the track with no improvement. Their “engineers” claim 20-20 kHz response…but they’re dreaming.
My next encounter was very interesting. I noticed a set of headphones with a whole bunch of sensors arrayed across the headband. The attendant explained that these headphones detect your brain waves in addition to supplying “24-bit” wireless audio. A light went off in my head. Perhaps these could be part of the research project that so desperately needs to be done regarding high-res making a different in your ear or brain. I don’t know much about the brain measuring stuff but ended up talking with the guy at the booth that does. He seemed very interested in working with me on seeing it the brain “hear” 96 kHz/24-bit PCM audio different than CD res or MP3s. This should be interesting.
After listening to Neil Young’s position that “higher numbers are better” (meaning sample rate and word lengths), my resolve in trying to determine whether that true or not was reinvigorated. Neil believes that he’s already proved it. Here’s an extended quote from his press event on Tuesday (I will provide an audio file once I get back to LA for you to listen to but for some reason I’m having trouble importing videos into my laptop).
“Our base level is 44 – 16 and we go up to 192 – 24…which is good for you audiophiles. If you’re not an audiophile, a larger number is better than a smaller one. Things go a lot faster, there’s a lot more happening. And it’s more fun to listen to. We proved that it’s more fun to listen to. So we don’t have to prove that anymore. All the musicians that I know, about a hundred of them got in my car where we played back our stuff. We had a little device that would switch back and forth between the songs and you could switch between all of the resolutions. We had four resolutions starting with the lowly MP3, and going up to the 192. They all came to the same conclusion…we didn’t have to tell anybody anything. We had a 100% win at 192…over 96, over any compressed files that were supposedly going to playback at 192 quality. Some of them came close but they didn’t come all the way. For some scientific reason, I can’t really explain why…musicians can all hear what some scientists say we can’t hear…but that’s OK. The main thing is musicians can hear this. Musicians make their music in the studio. That’s why I did this because I love what I hear.”
This “study” that Pono did would be a groundbreaking addition to the science of acoustics and audiology and even a great AES paper. It would put the question to bed once and for all. But I don’t I’m alone in being a little skeptical about his process, tools, procedures, and results. Stepping in to a 1972 Cadillac with a tricked out sound system driven by a Pono doesn’t exactly instill a lot of confidence in the results. I think more needs to be done.
I want to establish the same thing as Neil Young does…although I believe 96 kHz is more than enough. But it’s going to take more than his assurances to make me a believer. And if he has indeed proved that 192 kHz is the spec that is “more fun to listen to” then why are there only 15,000 albums of the total of 2.1 million available on the PonoMusic website available at that resolution?
Got to run.