Dr. AIX's POSTS — 06 February 2015

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There’s a lot of grousing about Pono, Ponomusic and High-Resolution music in general happening around the net. I’m not surprised. The fundamental concept of high-resolution music has been hijacked, is being portrayed as something that it’s not, and the big companies (and Neil) are grabbing for every dollar they can suck out of unknowing audiophiles before the ceiling falls in.

The article in on the New York Post website has the headline, “Engineers at Neil Young’s company admit doubts on music player” and contains assertions that, “Product engineers for the shaggy rock icon’s newly released Pono digital music player have privately admitted they aren’t convinced that the high-resolution audio files it plays have any significant technical advantage over CD-quality files, sources told The Post.” Well, big surprise there…they are CD-quality files.

Brent Butterworth authored an article entitled, “Time to Reassess High-Res Audio” over at Audiophile Review. Read it here. He seems to agree with David Pogue’s position on high-resolution audio and restates some points that he made in the past regarding high-resolution audio. He’s disappointed that no one has offered meaningful answers to the following three points:

“1) You can’t construct a demo that will convince people high-res is better, at least not without a stereo salesman there to encourage confirmation bias by telling them what they’re going to hear.

2) When download sales are already declining as people switch to streaming, it seems highly unlikely that people could be persuaded to go back to downloads … and to pay two or three times as much for them.

3) Few smartphones have enough storage space to store lots of high-res files.

That article got a lot of responses, including a few from people actively involved in promoting high-res audio. Not one of them offered credible solutions to these problems. At best, I heard something on the order of ‘We hope that will get solved.’

Well, I see no evidence that these problems are being solved, or that anyone’s even trying to solve them. Nor do I see any evidence that the general public is going to embrace Pono or any other high-res audio distribution scheme.”

Here’s my “credible solutions”…

1. I present demos all of the time. In fact, during my session today, I closed out the day by playing some of my best high-resolution audio tracks in full surround in my room. The response was exceedingly positive. Everyone loved the sound, the immersive nature of the mixes, and the elevated fidelity. Whether they perked up at the format, sample rate, word length or simply the production process that I employ, everyone was impressed. We had spent the day mixing a standard CD.

2. Downloads are never going to go away for audiophiles. As I wrote the other day, CD-quality streams are all well and good. But when it comes to really pulling out the stops and relaxing in front of your system…it’s vinyl LP, Blu-ray, DVD-Audio or great sounding high-resolution files. Streaming…even at CD spec…doesn’t move the needle. And they’re never going to be enough transfers of older analog masters or new high-resolution files to fill the pipeline. Why do you think Tidal is offering millions of CD rips (and PonoMusic too).

3. The HTC One M8 HKE phone that I have has plenty of storage. This problem goes away at 128 Gigs or more…and storage is getting bigger and cheaper all the time.

What David Pogue and Brent Butterworth are missing (as well as most of the people writing the comments in support or in opposition) is the whole provenance issue. They simply haven’t experienced a real high-resolution audio track, yet they (and many others) are willing to rain on the parade based on lack of research…or because they prefer to get lots of clicks for their employers.

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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.

(21) Readers Comments

  1. I’ve solved the storage problem. I have a new Samsung Note 4 which accepts an OTG (On the Go) cable for $4 and can plug in various thumb drives of any capacity. The app Neutron plays these large FLAC songs directly from the drive and they sound great. The Apple isheep people are not so fortunate.

  2. I can’t beleive you’re still doing your best to sink the Pono ship.It’s so small-minded, and so self-serving.Let Pono sink or swim on it’s own.You must absolutely have something better to do and something better to promote, and it shouldn’t be at someone else’s expense.

    For the pot-shot you take at folks who sell good hi-fi, you should be ashamed of painting with such a broad brush stroke. The worst sales tactic anyone can use is to sell their stuff by dumping on someone else’s product, and that is the level to which you so frequently descend in your near rabid attacks on Pono. Grow your own garden Mark, and let Neil Young deal with his. Are you like, jealous or something, is that where all the bitterness comes from? This is really over the top from such a veteran as yourself.

    • You might want to look around and read what plenty of others are saying about the hocus pocus of the Pono effort that you seems to cherish beyond all rationality. I report what I know…if it informs a single person about the realities of high-resolution audio, I’m a happy guy. You should really try to avoid making personal judgements or psychological analysis and get hip to the reality. Pono is fighting an uphill battle these days because of the missteps of its CEO and the lack of transparency.

      I don’t plan to stop writing about Pono or any other company misrepresenting high-res audio.

      • Oh I forgot, everything on the Internet is true, and I don’t at all ignore the significant holes in the Pono cheese. You are validly upset at their business model, and that’s fine.

        I am simply concerned with the Pono player as a nice path into hi-res. Why get so freaked about Pono CD rips when I can download fron HD Trax, your site , or any of the couple dozen others that have hi-res available. And yes, the player sounds way better than the Sony which sells for only 100.00 less, and has an entirely different ethos behind it. Many of my highly respected industry colleagues cannot believe the vitriol and in some cases completely false statements and mis- perceptions currently found in the online press, and are as sure as I am that such does nothing but damage a sagging industry of which you are a part. This is why I keep asking you to cease your denigration of Pono, for the greater good of the greater number, and I am definitely not the only career audio person that thinks precisely this way. There have been several positive articles/reviews of the player, but you will never print any of those, because you think there is only one valid point of view on this, and it’s negative. Then please answer this: Why am I staring at a piece of your work that says both Hi-Res and that it was 24/96’ed from original analog masters. Maybe you thought no one would notice the flip-flop.Talk about holes in the cheese…OMG.

        • I’ve acknowledged that the Pono player is a good portable device. I have no plans to purchase one myself but I have spent time listening to one and was pleased at the sound. I have to chuckle when you say your friend are upset at the press about “completely false statements” but you don’t seem particularly bothered by the falsehoods coming from Neil and his camp.

          The answer to your final question must be referring to the Deacon John release that I put out for a close friend in New Orleans. It’s unique in my catalog. I didn’t record it but was willing to release it in my “Vintage Analog” series. Make what you want of it.

        • The last thing we need is another site shilling for the electronics industry and its salespeople. They have always had a voice though their marketing departments and in stores. I find this blog essential precisely because it doesn’t do what you so desperately want him to do. Why on earth should Mark turn his blog and website into a promotional tool for anyone? (By the way don’t answer that, I don’t care what your answer is.) Mark has a unique voice in this debate and I want to hear it. I’ve heard electronics companies and salesmen make their points all my life. It’s nice to have a different perspective, thank you very much. I’m sure it’s a drag for you that he’s not helping you move gear. Boo hoo.

    • As an interested third party observer, I just want to recognize that Craig Allison has made his same point about a hundred times now. We get it. Why he continues to come here is what I don’t understand. Mark has also made his points in response and they’re clear and this is his blog. If a reader continues to not like the same thing over and over AND OVER please move on. We’re not here for you. Hopefully Mark will refund your money. Oh, wait…

      • Thanks Devin. Craig has a position and seems to believe that repeated commenting that I should lighten up on Neil and Pono for the “greater good or the greater number” is not how I operate. If something is fishy, I’m going to point it out. I prefer the truth to the “greater good”.

    • Craig, The majority of those here stand by Mark’s position of truthfulness and honesty
      In a business model. When Neil promotes his upscaled CD rips as true high definition products and charging premium prices he is cheating his customers and doing a disservice to the advancement of HDA.
      If you are so displeased with this blog maybe you’d be better off playing Pono fanboy over on their forums since you never seem to understand the very valid criticisms discussed here.

  3. 1. Instead of Neil running around playing back High Def Bucket CD rips in his car he should be putting on A-B demos of TRUE High Def recordings against the CD Blue Book version of the same on a SOTA system and proving that the difference can be heard and is worth the extra money. Mark you and the others involved in the High Def market should be working to do the same. OR is everyone afraid that the truth is that the average user can’t hear the difference between true hi def and bluebook even while using the best of everything to compare.
    I admit and as I told you in a email about your test files I couldn’t hear the deference but my equipment isn’t SOTA and my 65 year old hearing has taken it’s lumps over the years so I’m no one to judge and forget about the rest of the BabyBoomer old guy audiophiles, their hearing is mostly shot now too. Bring in some young to middle age listeners to SOTA rooms at all the shows and prove HDA’s value.

    2. Your right on target there. Even I who’s proven to myself I couldn’t hear the difference, has spent the extra $ for HD downloads from you and HDTrack when TRUE HD recordings of music I listen to was available with the proper provenance. And even a couple I know came from analog tape masters, it just make me feel good to know I have the best available source even if I wouldn’t have heard the difference between Pink Floyds .Endless River on CD or HDTracks download. Will always buy the best long as the $ dif didn’t break the bank. But I’m an audiophile and care about good sound. but until the HD industry can do #1 and prove the value to Joe Average, HD sales will probably remain in a small niche market

    3.Yep, storage space is already a non issue getting more so every day.

    Question for you, what’s going on in your end of the industry as regards to doing recordings in a TRUE HD manner? Are the engineers switching over to HD digital recording and mastering equipment, or are they mainly (mostly) sticking to pulling out the old analog tape recorders and tools? All the good marketing for HD in the world will do little to help when all the labels have to offer is a Low Def product in a large bit bucket. We know what you do but seems like most of the old highly renowned mastering engineers are stuck in the old school ways. Your end of the stream needs a revolution in their way thing are done.

    The whole issue boils down to two small things.
    1 Make the HD product in the first place.
    2 I’m from Missouri, Show Me. 🙂 LOL

    Thanks for all that you do!
    Sal

    • Thanks Sal. I’m desperately trying to get a system together and the funds to do a rigorous and proper test. It’s going to happen. As for what’s going on in the studio here and around town…the same old thing. There’s no new initiative to make high-resolution recordings. Engineers might be recording at higher sampler rates using longer words but the end result is the same over processed, distorted masters. It’s the business of all loud all the time.

  4. Yes, yes, another good article hitting a few nails on the head (although I will never understand why you elevated vinyl above CD and into the “really pulling out the stops” category — have you read all your past posts about vinyl?).

    It’s almost like we are getting to the point of needing numbers after ‘HRA’ to indicate how high is high. HRA1, HRA2, HRA3 etc

    HRA1 = 7 discrete (no upmixing) horizontal channels minimum, plus native height/Atmos mixing, plus minimum 24/96 bitrate throughout, lossless audio

    HRA2 = 5 horizontal discrete (no upmixing), no height, minimum 24/96 throughout, lossless

    HRA3 = 2 horizontal, no height, minimum 24/96 throughout, lossless

    HRA4 = CD standard stereo, DDD

    HRA5 = Any analog at any stage

    HRA6 = Anything that would have qualified above but does not comply with R128 of BS1770

    HRA7 = Lossy compression, complies with R128 of BS1770

    HRA8 = Lossy, not R128

    Then a ‘+’ after each of the above if provenance is guaranteed i.e. from the original mic feed to the downloaded file, it meets the designated minimum resolution and documents the actual resolutions used in each step.

    I know it would have been better to call them ‘resolution levels’ because only the top 3 and some 5’s meet the new definition of ‘high resolution audio’, but ‘HRA’ is out there now, and, as you describe it, people are abusing it wantonly.

    cheers
    Grant

    P.S. is this worth an article on its own?

    • I don’t think I elevated vinyl LPs above CDs, did I? I was being polite to include vinyl LPs…but oh well. I like the list but it’s just not simple enough to pass muster.

    • Yes Mark, you did put vinyl above CDs . I came to the website to see how many people pointed this out to you after your numerous posts where you categorically place vinyl below CDs when it comes to their audio capabilities.

  5. I understood that Meridian MQA was going to enable the streaming of Hi-Res by, for example, TIDAL, as such material becomes available? It’s just a matter of time?

    Also, there is the interesting experiment of DSD steaming to be held on 2 dates in
    April? See url DSD.st

    Julian

    • Tidal and Meridian have been talking. The problem is there just isn’t enough content to make a real HD-Audio streaming service matter. Even if you included all of the new transfers, you’d only have 10,000 tracks. I couldn’t care less about DSD…it’s a complete waste of time.

      • Thank you Mark.

        Yes, critical mass of recordings is required, irrespective of how you buy your music.

        As for DSD, I am keen to hear this Berliner Philharmoniker/Sir Simon Rattle experimental broadcast.

        • You know Julian, a live broadcast or a straight to stereo/surround capture of a live event are the perfect uses for DSD. There’s no post involved and the sound of the room full of mics is what you need to deliver. Case closed. DSD doesn’t work for traditional record production.

  6. Naxos has already started offering HD streaming. As they distribute most of the independent classical labels, their catalog should include the majority of true high-resolution audio out there.

    • They do using OraStream and MP4 SLS. They are my distributor and have invested in OraStream…it will interesting to see how it goes.

  7. “They simply haven’t experienced a real high-resolution audio track, yet they (and many others) are willing to rain on the parade based on lack of research…or because they prefer to get lots of clicks for their employers.”

    Hi, Mark. If I haven’t experienced a real high-resolution audio track, that’s your fault, because I have attended your demos, own some of your DVD-As, and used your DVD-As as demo material when I was promoting DVD-Audio as the director of consumer technologies marketing for Dolby Laboratories. And of course, I own high res files from HDTracks, and even a few 24/96 recordings I’ve made myself.

    My opinion of high resolution audio wasn’t the point of the article. In fact, I didn’t express an opinion. I stated that there are major problems preventing mass acceptance of high resolution audio, and that no one’s working to solve them. None of the counterpoints you made present viable methods for selling high res to mainstream consumers, unless you’re going to invite them en masse to your studio. Which would be a fantastic experience for them, but obviously isn’t going to happen.

    Thanks for the link and the shout-out — always appreciated, even if we disagree on this particular topic.

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