The Pono Express just keeping on running. This morning they’re inching closer to the $5 million dollar mark with over 14,000 backers. The pace of new supporters signing up has slowed somewhat, at least compared to the opening flurry, but the Pono enterprise should have plenty of money to get their units manufactured and set up their music store.
There were a couple newsworthy items relating to Pono that I noticed since my last post on them. The first is a graphic entitled “Pono Music Quality Spectrum” that shows the relative merits of different music formats and delivery channels. I’ve included it in today’s post as figure 1 below (with full credit to Pono).
Figure 1 – Pono Music Quality Spectrum [Click to enlarge]
The 3D chart purports to show how Pono stacks up against “other digital music options”.
The various levels of music fidelity according to Pono are as follows:
1. CD lossless quality recordings – 44.1/16-bit PCM files encoded as FLAC, WAV or AIFF files (when uncompressed).
2. High-resolution recordings – 48 kHz/24-bit FLAC files (when uncompressed)
3. Higher-resolution recordings – 96 kHz/24-bit FLAC files (when uncompressed)
4. Ultra-high resolution recordings – 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC files (when uncompressed)
[NOTE: You might ask why the insistence on the accompanying “when uncompressed” parenthetical phrase at the end of each designation. This applies to the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) format downloads, which will dominate the Ponomusic site. The specifications listed only apply AFTER the file has been decoded…not to the packaged “losslessly compressed file”. There is some controversy among audiophiles about FLAC files sounding different than uncompressed .WAV or .AIFF files. I discussed this issue in a post several months ago (read more).]
It appears that the music that Pono customers will be able to access at the Ponomusic.com store will be at least Redbook or CD standard. I think the choice of “CD lossless quality recordings” is unfortunate because there is chance for misinterpretation. Sites the sell downloads aspire to CD fidelity and use “CD quality” in their wording to make customers think they’re getting Redbook standard when they’re not.
Just how much of the music that Ponomusic will offer will be at this level of fidelity remains unknown. From what I know of the existing transfers that have been done by the major labels…it’s not a lot. Is this really a format that will put the soul back into the music? Neil has railed against CD sound for decades…his Ponomusic site will has a lot of CD quality sound.
Their second tier is called “High-resolution” and pushes the sample rate to 48 kHz and increases the word length to 24-bits. I’m encouraged that this is their baseline for HRA. MY recent definition uses this as the minimum standard for HRA (I refer 96 kHz though). It remains to be seen just how much music is actually available at this level…and whether the tracks actually use the full 24-bits of dynamic range given the output from most mastering rooms.
The “Higher-resolution” category is where I fall out with Neil and Pono. Why have we switched from absolute standards with associated specifications and suddenly they introduce a relative term like “higher”. Isn’t this still “high-resolution” audio? Saying higher doesn’t get you anything. We need to avoid relative terms and stick with absolutes. The CEA used “higher” in their definition too…it’s doesn’t mean anything.
Then there’s the “Ultra-resolution” recordings at 192 kHz – 24bits. It makes me wonder what terms they’ll come up with for 384 kHz/32-bit recordings (oh yes, they’re coming…even though they’re meaningless!). I like “Super Ultra High Resolution”. What do you think?
The whole chart talks about delivery specifications. I’ll get back to you with a chart that ties the source side of the music produced in various formats to these categories.