Dr. AIX's POSTS — 03 February 2015

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This is a continuation of yesterday’s post. Here’s a link to the first half. Yahoo Tech editor David Pogue reviewed the Pono player and did an informal test comparing the sound of a “regular resolution file” from Apple’s iTunes and a “high-resolution” version from PonoMusic’s web store.

David Pogue used a Radio Shack A | B switch (that costs $16.99) to alternate between the analog outputs of an iPhone 5 and the analog output of the Pono. The 15 subjects in his “study” were free to switch between the two sources and evaluate which sounded more pleasing to them. The results favored the iPhone. The fancy electronics of the Pono player that had all of Neil’s rock star friends amazed did nothing for the average music listener on the street. It doesn’t surprise me at all.

For on thing, the custom audio system that was installed in Neil’s 1972 Cadillac must have been very impressive. Robert Stuart told me that he had the opportunity to sit in the car and it was impressive…loud, immersive, and heavy in the bass department. Was it capable of high-resolution audio playback? Probably not, but it certainly was better than using ear buds or Sony MDR 7506 headphones as David Pogue chose to do.

David, a self proclaimed “former professional musician” and someone that claims to “know how to listen”, didn’t play any high-resolution audio in his evaluation of high-res vs. iTunes audio. All three of the sources were originally recorded on multitrack analog tape machines, mixed to stereo masters (also analog tape) and mastered using analog tape. By blindly accepting that the PonoMusic website is actually selling high-resolution audio tracks, David Pogue actually played “regular resolution” audio tracks packaged in a high-resolution bucket vs. very good quality Apple AAC versions. What conclusions can be drawn from his flawed approach? None. David and the Yahoo Tech site are all about pageviews and by the looks of comments (currently 440 plus); he’s managed to keep his employers happy.

David continues his review by pointing out that “Pono is going to extraordinary lengths to acquire remastered versions of the songs in its catalog. ‘If we are looking for a popular master and find it has not been sampled at the highest rate, we try to access it and, with the cooperation of labels and artists, maximize the recapture at the highest resolution,’ replied Neil Young. What are extraordinary lengths? By Neil’s own admission 99.99% of the available downloads are CD spec (not the 90% that David stated)? They get what they get from the major labels and sprinkle in a few dozen tracks that they have deemed worthy of new mastering session (“the most popular ones”). From what I’ve been able to find out…they have less than 10 albums that have been remastered.

In explaining high-resolution audio, Mr. Pogue once again veers immediately from the facts. He makes the tired claim that “higher numbers are better”…which is only true to a point. But my favorite line is the statement, “The songs you buy from Pono, on the other hand, go as high as 24 bit/192kHz. That means more bits of data per instant of sound, and more (smaller) instants per time period: higher resolution. It’s like having more color data and more pixels per inch in a photo. Yep, there it is again. The analogy that PCM digital audio is similar to digital imagery is simply not the case. Perhaps the tech geek at Yahoo should do a little more research before spewing misinformation in his reviews.

And his inclusion of the Meyer and Moran study as a “scientific study” is further proof that Mr. Pogue is an entertainment writer and not a reliable source of tech information. His assessment of the Pono player and PonoMusic web store has some valid criticisms…and I’m not shy about pointing out the flaws in Neil’s plan. However, there’s a lot more that David Pogue missed.

Near the end of his review he states, “When conducting the test with today’s modern music files, I couldn’t find even one person who heard a dramatic difference.” What’s modern about analog masters from the 70s? Try again David…or better yet let someone with some relevant skill in the area do it.

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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.

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