Ponomusic is planning to make available “high-resolution” audio tracks in October. Neil Young is now the CEO having replaced John Hamm a few weeks ago. John was the one who dreamed up the Kickstarter idea and successfully launched the whole enterprise…and now he’s out. I don’t know the reason and I haven’t talked to John since he was replaced as the CEO but perhaps he and Neil had a falling out over the direction of their new company and the partnerships that are forming. If the oft professed goal of Pono is to “revive the soul of music” by making available high-resolution audio tracks in 192 kHz/24-bit PCM bit buckets encoded as FLAC, then why isn’t anyone asking where the source files are coming from?
The recent announcement that Neil Young has partnered with the UK’s Omnifone as the backend provider of the music is noteworthy. And the headline that made the rounds on the online news services stated that Omnifone’s MusicStation cloud-based solution contains 35 million “high-resolution” tracks. Here’s what Omnifone’s site says about MusicStation:
“Omnifone was selected to power the PonoMusic store because of its award-winning cloud music platform and its industry-leading audio expertise and commitment to audio quality. Standing at 35 million tracks, MusicStation – Omnifone’s cloud music platform – hosts the industry’s largest catalogue of high resolution content, obtained from rights holders in all corners of the world. This rich collection of premium quality audio – and its distributed delivery from the cloud – will enable PonoMusic to achieve global scale quickly.”
It seems they’ve moved the goal line (the definition of high-resolution audio) in order to make their existing catalog conform to the needs of the marketing department at Pono. Neil Young has been a staunch advocate for high-resolution audio AND has condemned the fidelity of standard CDs (44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM) for decades. And the only way for Omnifone to get to 35 million (standard definition) tracks is to ingest them from the CDs that they got from the labels.
There is a website called FindHDMusic.com that lists all of the high-definition music tracks at all of the online digital music services offering so-called HD-tracks. As far as I can tell from looking at that site, speaking with David Chesky and the guys at the major labels that are doing the transfers of their catalogs to HD, there are around 100,000 – 150,000 high-resolution tracks in existence (And as we know, even these tracks are not real high-resolution audio since they were produced on analog tape). So how can Omnifone make the claim that they have 35 million tracks ready to go for Ponomusic?
They can’t unless they believe that ripping a Redbook CD and then upconverting it to 192 kHz/24-bit and encoding it as a FLAC file qualifies.
The page on their website even uses the term that I first introduced into the music lexicon:
“Omnifone is providing the scalable music acquisition and delivery infrastructure but we are also working on some funky stuff such a technique to verify the provenance of the audio and its end-to-end signal path from the studio to the listener via the cloud.”
This verification stuff was also included in a response from an Omnifone employee over at AudioStream.com. Just what sort of automated technique or algorithm could “verify the provenance and its end-to-end signal path”? David Chesky told me that the labels don’t routinely provide that information because they don’t actually know the production path of many of their titles. Is Omnifone going to check the spectra of the files or calculate the dynamic range of a track? Maybe they’re going to look for the ultrasonic bias frequency in a master.
All they have to say is where they got their “masters”. If they got the right analog tape masters and did new transfers of 35 million tracks, then why are the engineers at the labels struggling to produce 10 new albums per week (according to David Chesky). Something doesn’t add up.
I hope Neil Young hasn’t given up the good fight…but I fear that he’s taken the easy route and that Ponomusic won’t be offering any real high-resolution downloads.