Dr. AIX's POSTS — 25 July 2014


A reader sent me a recent news item regarding Pono and their new relationship with Omnifone, a large UK-based aggregator of digital music tracks. Neil Young is pictured with two of the principals of the company beaming about their new collaboration. Omnifone is a supplier of digital music. They take care of the back end chores for a variety of download music sites and will be handling the same responsibilities for Ponomusic, when it launches in October.

Every website that is delivering music files (of any other type of files) needs to have a server to store the files AND to process purchases. For iTrax.com, my own high-resolution digital music site, I maintain my own server at a local company. There are more than 6 terabytes of ultra high-resolution music contained on the hard drives attached to my machine, which sits in a cage somewhere near the airport.

HDtracks uses servers provided by Amazon. There cloud services are distributed around the country and scalable. The thousands of tracks that they sell are spread across the Amazon cloud so that they’re close to their customers. I asked David Chesky about how many albums they ingest and process at HDtracks. He told me that they get ten or more albums from their licensors per week…and that there are many thousands of albums available on their site.

The announcement over at Audiostream boasted that Omnifone has over 35 million high-resolution files available now. Once the Ponomusic site is designed and functioning, the Omnifone servers will provide all of these “high-resolution” tracks for sale.

But wait a minute! If HDtracks has been provided around 10,000 albums by the major labels and other independents where did Omnifone get their high-resolution materials? The fact is they don’t have 35 million high-resolution tracks unless you accept the definition that was recently revealed by the DEG, CEA, NARAS and major labels, which accepts anything ever recorded as “high-resolution”. The tracks that Omnifone has on its servers are ALL standard-resolution and were probably ripped from compact discs.

Of course, it’s possible that they’ve received the same files that HDtracks gets but that’s a far cry from 35 million…in fact, it’s a far cry from 100,000.

So what’s going on here and what can we expect from Omnifone or any of the other aggregators of digital music tracks? Certainly not 35 million high-resolution tracks. That’s not to say that getting uncompressed CD quality music or standard-definition files is a bad thing. It’s the expedient thing to do if you’re trying to get a large number of albums online in a very short time.

I remember John Hamm ex-CEO of Pono telling me that they wouldn’t be in the business of remastering or retransferring old master tapes. The decision by new CEO Neil Young to plug into an existing catalog of tracks will ensure that purchasers of their Pono players will have plenty of content to consume. It’s just unfortunate that it won’t be the fidelity that will “return us to the soul of music” as they’ve claimed for many months.

Photo credit by Omnifone

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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.

(5) Readers Comments

  1. It is interesting reading some of the comments about the Omnifone decision on the Kickstarter page as there does seem to be some skepticism about the decision. One person seems pretty naive, though, openly wondering if “Pono has our (backers) best interests at heart”…while I assume Pono doesn’t want unhappy customers, I can safely say that Neil Young and his partners interests come first.

    • The whole “high-resolution” initiative has be hijacked. The record companies and others have decided that there is real money in re-selling “HD” versions of the same old stuff…and it can be done so that we get Master Quality or an improvement, but that means retransfering and/or remastering. It seems that the Omnifone people and others have simply moved the goal line to make everything that is not a lossy compressed MP3 file “high-resolution” thus everything they’ve got in their catalog is now a viable candidate for Pono and others.

  2. It has been hijacked to be sure, which is why one had to be rather selective in what one purchases. Can be a daunting task to be sure to make sure you get the best possible quality. Great to see you in D.C. Mark. I hope you sell out your table!

  3. Doesn’t look good. Very disappointing, in fact. A lot of hype and a wasted opportunity. Well hello Mr. Sold!

    • I’m going to reach out to the Omnifone people and see what I can find out.

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