Dr. AIX's POSTS — 27 August 2015

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The breaking news from Pono yesterday included a rehashing of the PonoPromise to “upgrade” any files that the labels issue at a higher resolution without charge for any PonoMusic customers. As was pointed out, the chances of being around when your favorite albums are “upgraded” is pretty slim…given the rate at which the mastering rooms are transferring old analog tapes to high-resolution PCM bit buckets. In reality, the world of music listeners is probably content with the fidelity of CD and even MP3 files…so waiting for an “upgrade” is probably unnecessary. But Pono is making a very big deal out of their promise.

The email blast says, “Most music available today is CD format (44.1/16). Record companies are sometimes capable of providing the same music at higher resolutions, making it sound superior to CD quality.
Pono, with your help, is encouraging artists and record companies to upgrade their music to the higher resolutions which the PonoPlayer can play, so that you can hear and feel all of the soul of the music, just as the artist created it.”

They’re right that most music is available in CD format (as well as digital downloads at iTunes at slightly less fidelity). But most source recordings aren’t limited to 44.1 kHz/16-bit fidelity…except for the decade of the 80s when digital recording was just starting. These were tough times for compact discs quality albums. The equipment was not nearly as good as it is today and the complaints about digital recordings were justified. However, I do find it interesting that one of the best-loved audiophile albums is Jennifer Warnes’ “Famous Blue Raincoat”, which was recorded using an early digital multitrack machine in 1986 at 44.1 kHz/16-bits! Audiophiles have been buying this album for well over 20 years. There was a 20th anniversary edition CD and numerous issues on vinyl. Does this seem like a contradiction?

Here’s Pono’s idea to increase the availability of “higher resolution” albums. They’re asking members of their community to vote for artists and albums that they want in “higher resolution”. Here’s the paragraph from their new bulletin, apparently written by Neil Young:

“You can work with Pono to encourage artists and record companies to create higher resolution music. Just visit ponomusic.com, browse the music selections, and vote for the recordings you would like to see upgraded to a higher resolution. Check “VOTE FOR UPGRADE” on your desired albums.

Your votes will be tracked on the ‘Most Requested Upgrade Chart’ and Pono will actively pursue the record labels and artists, asking them to raise the resolution of these popular albums to the highest possible level. Not all music can be upgraded to a higher resolution, because some music masters are offered at their native resolution, but with our combined efforts, we will push for those that can. The final decision to upgrade, of course, is made by the labels or artists.

The PonoPromise is in keeping with the Pono mission; making the best sound and the highest resolution available, always. To hear your favorite music best, use the industry leading PonoPlayer (powered by Ayre), available at Amazon and other retailers.

We are offering the PonoPromise to you, our community. You have supported us through purchasing your PonoPlayers and Hi Resolution music at the only hi res music ecosystem in existence – ponomusic.com. You are engaged in the Pono community and you are helping us to raise the bar. So through the PonoPromise we say thank you. Thank you for supporting the Pono mission to preserve music quality in its highest form.”

There is a real sense of confusion in those previous sentences. I’ll dig into it further tomorrow but my favorite is Neil’s claim that PonoMusic is, “the only hi res ecosystem in existence.” I guess they believe that having a player and a content website that offers 99.9% rips of standard-res CDs and 5000 high-resolution transfers from standard-resolution analog tapes that makes them unique. Give me a break.

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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.

(8) Readers Comments

  1. Why you knocking him so much? Hey at least its an attempt at trying to get the higher resolution stuff out there. Have you created your own high res player yet? We should be trying to embrace anything that gets us beyond MP3 and CD. Sure… some hype, some marketing, but that’s what those big wig corp types write all the time. I even wonder if he saw/reviewed the copy before it was sent out.

    • Because he’s been misrepresenting what is and what isn’t high-resolution since he started. The player is a fine piece of engineering…seriously flawed in the user experience…but Charles Hansen knows his stuff. The website and the whole insistence that he’s delivering high-resolution music is a sham.

  2. Mark, re your comment about your Jennifer Warnes album.

    Can you help us understand why certain CDs like that one and a few others stand so far out from the bunch, even though only 16bit 44.1kHz? (Perhaps you have explained this before – if so, a link to that please?).

    I have a great sound system and a well treated, acoustically isolated listening room, so I can really appreciate the difference between 24bit 96 kHz and 16/44.1, and I hardly ever buy CD quality now. Listening mostly to classical, there is a good supply of 24/96 coming from labels like 2L, BIS, Harmonia Mundi, etc. But occasionally I am blown away by a CD, which has no right to sound as good as it does! In addition to your Warnes album, I am thinking of CDs (from the 70’s!) like Ry Cooder’s ‘Jazz’, and ‘Tea for the Tillerman’ by Cat Stevens. What makes these sound so great?

    Rgds,
    Michael

    • Michael…if you can easily tell the difference between a CD and a NATIVE high-resolution file with your system then you are fortunate. Most listeners don’t have the ears or equipment to say that. I’ve said it previously, the magic is not in the numbers of the formats, it’s the method of production and sensitivity of the engineers and producers involved.

  3. Dear Mark,

    This is an interesting article for your evaluation: The “Bits Are Bits” Fallacy and Noise In Mixed Signal Systems, by Michael Lavorgna posted at Audio Stream.

    Read more at http://www.audiostream.com/content/bits-are-bits-fallacy-and-noise-mixed-signal-systems#SWITcrpVAWH7aXd8.99.

    What do you think about the author contesting that Bits are Bits?

    • Ron, I saw the article and have read lots of others by those that don’t understand how digital audio works. Michael has found his way to “mixed signal systems” and the noise aspects associated with it…but it’s still far from the mark. That’s why I wrote my post about whether you can tell whether the lights are on or off…the amount of smoke in the room (the noise in a mixed signal system) doesn’t make any difference nor does fixing the jitter along a USB cable when the clock is brand new at the DAC. I’ll steer clear of Michael’s articles and let him continue pushing his belief based on what he hears.

      I will be able to report more comprehensively thanks to a friend in the LA & OC Audiophile Society. He’s going to be able to lend me his REGEN box next weekend. I’ll do a full evaluation and see whether Michael is right or not.

      • Mark,

        I agree totally with you. Bits are Bits with no further comments!

        • How anyone can deny this fact is amazing to me.

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