Dr. AIX's POSTS — 06 February 2015


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


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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