I’ve been prompted to take another look at Omnifone by several readers. They sent links to the Omnifone website in the hopes of clarifying some of the “ambiguous” claims about the 35 million high-resolution tracks that they claimed in the press announcement with Pono and Neil Young. So I followed a link to the section of their site that explains the ingestion and publishing area of their business.
They are obviously a very big player in this space…if being big is important…claiming the ability to ingest, prepare and publish of 100,000 per day. Knowing what it takes to carefully identify, produce, check and deliver a properly handled high-resolution track, I’m not terribly impressed with large numbers. This feels a little like the “millions and millions served” sign below each of the thousands of McDonald’s franchise restaurants rather than the professional mastering services offered by a very limited number of qualified engineers. Quantity isn’t the prime consideration when you’re looking for quality.
The first step of the production line is to “ingest” the source content form “thousands of sources”. All I was able to find on their site were references to “media sources” without any further detail regarding the format of the “media source”. I would prefer to read about a careful process of transferring the “best master available” (Pono’s description of their acquisition process) to a high-resolution 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC with or without human intervention. I imagine Omnifone’s process as a vast automated factory with hundreds of machines, lots of blinking lights and not a human ear or speaker in sight. Ingesting means taking a disc or other digital source and copying the digital data into the front end of a series of processors and encoders that spit out endless varieties of the same file for use across all applications.
The chart below shows some of those formats:
Figure 1 – A chart of the audio codecs, bitrates and packaging available at Omnifone.
The most interesting part of this chart is the obvious gap between 320 kbps lossy encoded music and “High Resolution”. What happened to standard resolution analog tape, compact discs or vinyl LPs? They’ve simply disappeared in the new age of “everything ever recorded is high-resolution”.
In the adjacent paragraph, the copyrighters at Omnifone state, “High resolution audio represents the musical work as originally intended by the artist in the studio.” This definition flies in the face of logic and common sense…but it means that there are already millions of “high-resolution” sources ready to back up Ponomusic or any other site powered by MusicStation. I must applaud HDtracks and the other high-resolution download sites for at least providing content that was specifically prepared for their sites. The content may be great at times or flawed at other times…but at least they’re giving you the stuff that the label’s are retransferring to 192 kHz/24-bits.
Statement like “as originally intended by the artists in the studio” mean nothing with regards to whether a track is high-resolution or not. If it did, then every track ever recorded qualifies as a high-resolution track…making the term meaningless, which it pretty much is after the announcement by the DEG, CEA, NARAS and labels.
The McDonald’s model of quantity over quality shouldn’t have a place in the distribution of music to quality conscious listeners. If the masses want fast food, then they can keep listening to HD-Radio and their ear buds. But for those of us that want the best possible music experiences, “fast music” simply won’t cut it. If I was one of Pono’s KD campaign supporters, I would start worrying.