20 thoughts on “The Pono Explanation: Part I

  • September 15, 2014 at 7:27 pm

    This is about the same kind of BS that Sony/Philips, the creators of CD used 30+ years ago to make us buy players and discs. It took them a lot of time to realize that we are pretty used to crappy sound; this is what FM radio.has given us for what, half a century? It’s all about cost. If it’s FREE, we’ll take it.
    I have every conceived format of my favorite recordings: 8-track (yes, I’m that old), LPs, K7, reel-to-reel tape, CD, DVD-audio and video, and of course digital backups all over the place. And I am stupid enough to embrace another ‘high-resolution’ format, although I can’t hear above 14 khz any longer.
    Guess I am just stupid…

    • September 16, 2014 at 10:22 am

      I’m not saying that Pono isn’t an improvement or isn’t worth while. I’m just disappointed that they started with the best intentions and have sadly retreated to the safety of making money instead of issuing quality…as they promised. Getting to CD quality is a step…but a very small step. My issues are about the honesty and marketing spin that tries to cover up the truth.

  • September 15, 2014 at 7:47 pm

    Based on what I know, which isn’t everything, the best analogue recording does not eclipse today’s best digital capture of the source material produced. The next link is the transfer of the recording to distributable consumer medium. If it’s of the highest quality, the quality of a consumer’s playback equipment is of course the next issue. It might replay a cd file to the satisfaction of most. But if a consumer wants the best of reproduction of what the recording equipment captured, he or she will want equipment that can replay the consumer medium to the highest resolution possible. However, acquiring that equipment may be financially irresponsible, especially if acquired all at once.
    The point is that I want to hear the people make the music that I love. But it’s most always via a recording or streaming, and I want the best recording or streaming that’s possible. Although my playback equipment is not high end, it’s good enough to tell the difference a lot of the time among the various mediums available to me. Therefor, I want the highest resolution consumer medium available to me for a piece of music I want to listen to in my home. Pandora subscription is much better than the free service, so I pay $5 a month for Pandora. I won’t be buying mp3 files, but I’ll listen to them because I’m not going to buy a cd for every artist I like in every genre I like.
    I think if one is serious about quality reproduction in home audio, the objective is to acquire the most accurate reproduction equipment that he, she or I can afford, and then add to a collection of cds, computer files and good quality original issue vinyl pressed before cds obliterated that medium. In other words, home audio can become a serious hobby, and serious hobbies can get expensive.
    As far as Pono and the people who are pushing it, they may be all wet in a lot of respects, but the plus is they’re getting the word out that the consumer is being cheated when it comes to the quality of the playback medium. As to their product, I can’t see it being a success in the long term. The black hole that is the smart phone will gobble it up like it has cameras, both still and video.

    • September 16, 2014 at 10:24 am

      Very well stated….thanks.

  • September 16, 2014 at 8:07 am

    As a very long time audio enthusiast and hobbyist who has eye witnessed audio’s evolution, it is disturbing to see how the industry first set the audio resolution bar lower with lossy files and is now declaring CD quality high resolution in comparison. This was not a planned conspiracy of course, but it might as well have been.

    I read there is a movement afoot in the industry to come up with a standard definition of high resolution. All well and good, but I fear even that won’t put a stop to the obfuscation and spin.

    • September 16, 2014 at 10:32 am

      A definition of high-resolution audio was drafted, discussed, and approved by the DEG, the CEA, NARAS, and the labels. I was on the committees that went through the process for many months. And they punted the whole thing with a definition that means nothing. Be prepared for more spin.

    • September 17, 2014 at 2:09 pm

      Hi Phil, as a respected 40 year industry veteran, here are a few facts that you might find useful. Going back to the “Perfect Forever” hype to analogize today’s scenario is like constantly talking about the Holocaust decades later. The two mediums that have made most of the world happy for a long time, LP & CD, are both limited signal capacity mediums with attendant plusses and minuses .I have personally made both audiophile-grade LP and CD. If the full capacity of either is properly utilized, somehow these less than perfect formats can still offer quite a satisfying listen. Considering that the general median of publicly available sound quality is at an all-time low due to MP-3 data reduction and the compression “loudness wars,”, if all Pono and then I-Tunes did was go to straight 16/44, that would still represent a major shift for the better.CD has been vastly over-maligned, and most of the time it is folks making a simplistic (useless) analysis of a complex subject, a type of dialogue which I detest. As yet, there is no proof either way of what Pono will or will not provide. As I commented in another post, until you have downloaded some well-known music from Pono and directly compared the playback to an actual CD, all claims of upsampled 44.1 are just as questionable as what actually constitutes hi-res. Be so kind as to read my article on the subject in the September issue of enjoythemusic.com online, and I’ll be happy to get your response. Yes, this industry has shot itself in the foot many, many times, and making a mess out of the availability of master tape grade sound for home enjoyment, the Holy Grail of Hi-Fi, and it may happen again. I am simply communicating a message which will not prevent the public from hearing noticeably better sound. Considering how many hefty CD collections are now ignored in favor of Pandora etc, just standardizing everything folks download at 16/44 wouldn’t be anything but a substantial improvement, the legacy of the physical CD, one might say. Too much of this discussion has really been more about semantics than better sound for EVERYBODY.I for one, sure as heck know which is more important for those of us who have spent our professional lives furnishing folks much better sound and enhanced enjoyment of music. That’s what this should be about, not who gets capital H and who gets small h, Hi-Res-wise.

      • September 17, 2014 at 4:21 pm

        For those who downloaded the MP3 vs. CD versions of “Mosaic”, it’s abundantly clear that the difference in fidelity is not “noticeably better sound”. In fact, from the feedback that I’ve received, on average systems most people couldn’t tell them apart.

        CD do a terrific job when the previous production stages have been done well. And so can a high bitrate “lossy” compresses file. The world of “Real” high-resolution is finally a step up from the very good sound world of CDs and even vinyl LPs. But the public and even audiophiles will be very disappointed if the only thing offered is uncompressed 44.1/16-bit PCM ripped from 2.5 million CDs. We deserve and need to demand better.

        Consumers should be able to hear “master tape” fidelity…and that’s what HDtracks has been trying to do for many years. And it looked like Pono might get there as well…but there simply aren’t enough remaster HD master to populate a new download service so let’s recast or redefine standard resolution audio as “high-resolution”. It’s misleading, confusing, and inaccurate. Definitions should mean something.

  • September 16, 2014 at 3:19 pm

    I totally agree with your overall message. I quibble with one statement, that when written more accurately, makes the overall message even more powerful.

    You stated “All sound is analog. It doesn’t matter whether it’s music, spoken words, a love poem, or cacophony. It doesn’t matter whether it’s processed and stored in analog or digital form. What gets to your ears is always analog and has always has been.”

    Actually, all sound is digital. All things and processes ever discovered or measured are inherently digital. This was one of the findings when Planck came up with his “quantum of action” theories and his famous constant. Put another way, anything related to sound will require the exchange or the lack thereof of whole electrons/protons/neutrons- that’s digital. Many are confused by these basic concepts because much of what we observe in the world exceeds the “classical limit” where quantum (i.e., digital) effects can be modeled accurately using classical physics that can look and feel like infinitely variable items that really aren’t at the most fundamental level.

    Applying that perspective, what we call “analog sound” is really a more crude and tougher-to-manage form of digitized information, its “digital resolution” so-to-speak limited by the granularity of the magnetic particles on tape, noise levels of non-digital logic circuits, etc. So I think of “analog” sound processing as a more difficult thing to do for high performance than digital sound processing because “analog” processing does not deal as well with the underlying inherently digital way all things work. Put yet another way, no one has ever, ever proposed (much less proven) that anything in existence is an exception to the principles of quantum of action. A Nobel Prize awaits the first person to refute Planck. I doubt it will be anyone at Pono.

    • September 17, 2014 at 7:28 am

      I hope you know that going into the quantum level of digital vs. analog is going to open another long discussion and argument. I think electrons moving continuously through wires vs. samples of amplitude values is ok for our discussion.

      • September 17, 2014 at 1:47 pm

        Those “samples of amplitude” are still analog voltages running through the wire.

        • September 17, 2014 at 4:14 pm

          But they represent very different forms of information. Just because an analog voltage is used to communicate digital information from one place to another doesn’t make the results “analog”.

  • September 17, 2014 at 10:37 am

    Hi Mark, I was away for two weeks. I have no reason to further extrapolate on our minor schism as to what constitutes Hi-Res. Be so kind as to read my own article in the September issue of enjoythe music .com. A far bigger issue is at stake here. Even if the entire music consuming world agreed with you, your small output/ sales volume will not be influencing the public at large one iota. By dissing Pono as you have essentially done in a quasi- diplomatic manner, you are only doing one thing ; reducing the chances that the public will notice and buy better-sounding music, and as I’ve said before, Pono is the last chance to raise the median level of sound quality and/ or force I-tunes to go to truly good sound IMHO; strongly rumored BTW. No, CD quality cannot clone master tapes, but do you have any idea how many folks have large and neglected CD collections, ignored while they listen to Pandora. If they to get back to optimized Redbook standards through Pono downloads, they would still have made a large jump in sound quality .Finally , until you have absolute proof that a Pono download is being falsely labeled hi-res when it is actually upscaled 44.1, meaning not the info you’ve written about, but an actual Pono download of music you know well compared to the actual CD playback, your dire predictions are nothing but harmful and self-promotional and hold no more water than any claims being made by Pono when put under the microscope. “Innocent until proven guilty.” Mark, please think of the Big Picture, not just what you see from the AIX dock. Best, Craig

    • September 17, 2014 at 4:09 pm

      Craig, welcome back from your vacation. I have read the piece on the Enjoy the Music site. In fact, I’ll going to be on Steven’s podcast tomorrow morning talking about the world of high-resolution audio. We’re just going to have to disagree on the whole elevation of a first generation recording being considered “high-resolution”…you can repeat endlessly but it doesn’t make it true. Going with that sort of thinking and original Edison cylinder would qualify as hig-res…not in my world.

      The only way that consumers can get better fidelity is to get uncompressed music from the various vendors. HDtracks and others do a wonderful job of providing the “master quality source” when they can get it…but they struggle to get the master tapes. I know, I’ve spoken to both ends of the chain…the mastering studios at WB and to David himself.

      I have stated that I believe CD can handle everything that analog tape can muster…and they can without a doubt. Moving everyone up to uncompressed CD quality would be a marginal step in the right direction. Since the untrained and unequipped masses can’t tell the difference between a really good MP3 files and a CD, I’m not sure getting to CD quality is going to thrill anyone.

      Pono promised to get us back to the “soul of the music”…but unfortunately they punted and went for the money. I know some of the things going on inside the Pono organization and it’s not pretty. By the time they get their player out, Tidal and Deezer will move the needle up on streaming to match anything Pono can deliver.

      I’ve been steadfast in my adherence to meaningful definitions. I’m not going to cave and let you or other redefine things so that it’s convenient for new sellers of old content.

      • September 17, 2014 at 6:54 pm

        No sweat Mark, I completely respect your position, and now you have fully assimilated mine. I will only add that many highly regarded industry high-end audio folk see 100% sensible logic to my position IN THE REAL WORLD. I’ve posted another comment re: how we will actually find out what Pono delivers relative to claims, and that is the floor I stand on. If the Pono download of a 44.1 track sounds significantly, evidently better than the physical disc played on a top end player, that’s the only proof in the pudding that will matter to me. We all have learned that we don’t hear specs, and that you can’t judge the wine by looking at the label. I always love learning even after 40 odd years of this trip, but I have certainly seen that folks who know a lot don’t always agree despite shared fundamental knowledge and awareness. This whole discussion is about ears here, not numbers. I have repeatedly experienced the following scenario dozens and dozens of times over my career; a potential client comes in and loves music but immediately states that they have one hearing impairment or another so they don’t think they will hear the difference. I am always happy to spend extended time with these clients in order to help them . The 100%, absolutely incontrovertible fact that has come from so many of these interfaces is very simple: If guided properly, every single one of those w/ impaired hearing were completely able to detect the presence(more) or absence(less) of distortion. I actually enjoy 320 to a fair extent, but it is still nowhere good enough to cause the reaction that motivates folks to get back to good sound and intent listening. The welded-in transient IM products inherent in these data-reduced, highly compressed file formats preclude full emotional involvement and the “gates” to your deepest psychoacoustic and emotional perceptions remain shut. Why? One of the world’s most highly respected audio scientists who detests tweak nonsense spoke these words to me when I asked him if the full package of physical and mental wellness benefits that are available from intent listening to great music/great sound would also be available from lo-fi. His reply was instant” NO Craig, the brain has to work much too hard, too much mental processing to get the tiny bit of nutrition from a hot dog. The ears just say no.”” At that very time, this universally revered audio semi-god was researching what happens “after the ears.”, so my question was timely. It was his response that allowed me to put up the PAtH,Pure Audio to Health website knowing my content was and is valid. So… folks with funky ears can hear the difference between a higher or lower distortion playback, but the other zillions of people won’t? Again Mark, I admire and respect your fine work, but I keep detecting a cynicism that in the simplest of terms just won’t help the cause of advancing better median sound quality. So I can and will happily move towards you out of professional regard for accurate knowledge and fine hard work, and you should consider moving towards me because we both ( hopefully) wish that everyone has access to way better sound than the garbage dump of data reduction and loudness wars, NOT JUST AUDIOPHILES. Good sound for Everyman is far more important in the big picture/long run than perfectionist sound for the few. Printing, speaking, anything that will prevent better sound for Everyman from flowering and the full value of music to once again be on Main Street where it lived for so long in this country, not on the ludicrous , death row/ivory tower spot which is the public’s current placement of folks who love great music and hi-fi, simply does not make positive sense at this time. The problem is not provenance. Since you were so nice as to read my article, we can now meet in the middle of the road. As you read at the conclusion, the problem is that it should never have been called Hi-Res in the first place, because that opened up this can of worms. It should simply have been called “First Gen Sound.” You do have to admit that for many years the vast majority of music that we boomers and others will download will have been recorded analog. By your logic, there are then precious few Hi-Res recordings out there except yours and a relative handful of others. Only one problem; the top talents almost never touch base, so the musicians and performance quality is frequently,but not always, only so- so regardless of audio quality. I’d rather hear an old hissy Sarah Vaughan recording than a new Patricia Barber etc., any day of the year. Mark, the sound and the music are two different things. The sound is just the carrier for the artists’ expression and intent, which is the music, and I know you know this. It is the combination of great music and great sound that has driven us all for so long. And I bet that hearing that Edison cylinder would be a thrill far surpassing any snazzy-sounding recording of semi-lame music. I really think we have been discussing semantic differences, not value differences. Hell, I’m a perfectionist too, but it’s about what works in the real world, not what is theoretically optimum, and Pono should not be flayed for bending to reality. Perfect Forever was far more of a false claim,but only snobby, luddite audiophiles would still be carping today when CD technology is in it’s Golden Age. PF sure did not prevent the public’s long love affair with this format . Hi-Res sound for everyman by your definition will never happen. First Gen Sound for Everyman is and will be available, and don’t sell the public so short please. We’re all in the same car; if it goes off the road it won’t matter who’s driving.

        • September 18, 2014 at 1:16 pm

          Craig, I think I’ve found someone that writes as much as I do. Can I get a paragraph break…although I did read all of your comment. I had a great time speaking with Steven Rochlin of EnjoyTheMusic.com this morning. Our conversation should be uploaded sometime today or tomorrow on Youtube. I was certainly pleased that he seems to agree with me about many issues including the need to know what the labels are providing (the Provenance). You can watch the 30 minute piece if you’re interested.

          I think we can reach common ground if you accept, as I do, that “master quality” or “first generation” sound is what WE as audiophiles want and what will hopefully turn ears around in the general music listening population. “First Gen Sound for Everyone”…OK. It’s true that the vast majority of content that comes through HDTracks and the others aspires to be transferred from the “master”, whatever that master might be. But automatically elevating every “first generation” recording to high-resolution status, as you propose, is a non starter for me. It confuses the absolute value of a quality or fidelity level with a subjective/emotional measurement that by definition remains personal and limited.

          A definition such as Ultra HD Video has specifications that must be met. I believe we need the same kind of definition and rigor for high-resolution audio. Today’s post is about the “Definition of Hi-Res Audio Product” and whether a product qualifies for the JAS (Japan Audio Society) logo. They put the minimum requirements at 96 kHz/24-bits from the microphone to the speaker. They got it right and I heartily agree with them. It would nice if the DEG and CEA would up their meaningless definition to match. But that won’t happen.

          Use whatever words you want to talk about “master quality” or “first generation” audio. Just don’t confuse CD spec or analog tape with High-Resolution like Deezer/Sonos. The word I go back from CEDIA is the Deezer was called out on their false advertising and is willing to back down. There’s still hope.

          • September 18, 2014 at 9:25 pm

            Thank you so much. It’s always my intention to look for the truth in the middle when positions are extreme. You do thankfully and sensitively agree that we can never ask for anything better than an accurate, identical transfer of the original recording, regardless of medium. And I now can contextualize your totally cogent point: first gen yes, but only can be labeled HRA if specs are met. We have untangled the knot now. This view accommodates both better sound for Everyman and Great sound for the few.

            So all I will ask is that you make clear your own awareness of the need for the public at large to have sound no worse than CD, while simultaneously leading those who have the interest and money to have Mt. Everest audio quality. I will not be so long-winded in the future. Very Best, Craig.

          • September 19, 2014 at 10:40 am

            I’m pleased that our messages have finally meshed…CD specification is a great place to set the bar. But it’s not the end all for new recordings that can benefit from the new technologies.

  • September 19, 2014 at 3:16 pm

    No question of your points. I am much more into accord than discord. I still fell like I took a hit re “:everybody feels good,” because that is precisely what needs to happen. So although I’ve certainly made my feelings clear, let me ask you and please respond, What do you believe is more important in this era of sonic garbage and what is most needed for increased large-scale public enjoyment of better sound; better sound for Everyman or awesome sound for the few? Simple question, simple answer requested. Your response may require you to detach a bit from the hard-core, but I’d be grossly disappointed if your answer is the latter. Best, Craig

    • September 19, 2014 at 3:48 pm

      The “everyone feels good” comment points to the efforts by the DEG and others to make everyone happy…that’s why their definition is so useless. I’m certainly for upping the fidelity of the tracks that the masses listen to and getting everyone to hear at least CD quality seems like an admirable goal. I doubt they can tell the difference or care about lossy vs. lossy files…but if we can give them something better then we should do it. But elevating the art with state-of-the-art recordings and delivery is equally important so we can demonstrate dramatically better sound. The art needs to improve as well. This is where surround sound and virtualized rooms for headphones will be important. I don’t feel obligated to choose on over the other. I live to push the envelope and hope that the masses will come to recognize that there is something better.

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