Many of you have seen/heard me on Scott Wilkinson’s excellent webcast “Home Theater Geek”, which is part of the twit.tv network of webcasts. I was alerted to another show hosted by the head guy at twit Leo Laporte called Triangulation because Neil Young was the guest. I watched the whole thing late yesterday afternoon. It’s time for an update on Pono and the Ponomusic website.
Coinciding with the new interview…and demonstrated on Leo’s show…was the release of the “PonoRevealer” application. According to the Pono website, the PonoRevealer allows listeners of any “high-resolution” song to instantly switch between different formats and different specifications. I’m not sure whether Pono Revealer is two words or not…the video tutorial has it as two but the emails and notices make it one word.
Neil used a version of the Revealer prior to the Kickstarter campaign last year in his souped up Cadillac to impress his rock star friends. Any tune in your Pono library can be prepared for the Revealer. This means that the original 192 kHz PCM files is downsampled and converted inside the player. It’s not as they claim as simple “resolution” change…whatever that means…it’s doing a sample rate conversion from 192 kHz to both 96 and 44.1 kHz AND format conversion from high-resolution PCM to AAC (the format for iTunes downloads including “Mastered for iTunes” processing) and MP3 (at the same quality offered at Amazon). The bitrate of both iTunes and Amazon is 256 kbps, although AAC is generally acknowledged to provide better fidelity than MP3 files at the same bitrate.
Neil claims that everyone that entered his Cadillac preferred the 192 kHz sample rate versions to the other choices. He insists to Leo Laporte that he can easily tell the difference between the different rates and formats. When Leo says that he really can’t tell the difference, Neil pushes back in the interview. I have to wonder about the validity of Neil’s insistence that “I can tell the difference”. He explains that perhaps be can’t “hear” the difference but that he can “feel” the difference. The reverb tails, the “air” around the voices, and the “space” are simply better at 192 kHz. Never mind that the example track…Neil’s “Heart of Gold”…was recorded in 1972 at Quadrafonic Sound Studios in Nashville on analog tape. I’ll have to ask producer Elliot Mazer whether it was a 2” 16-track or 24-track machine. Either way…the fidelity of the analog master would be completely captured by a PCM recording at 96 kHz/24-bits or higher…and maybe even a standard CD.
Figure 1 – A spectragraph of Neil Young’s “Heart of Gold” [Click to enlarge]
“On the “low end” of higher resolution music (CD lossless, 44.1kHz/16 bit), PonoMusic files have about 6 times more musical information than a typical mp3. With ultra-high resolution recordings (192kHz/24 bit), the difference between a PonoMusic digital file and an mp3 is about 30 times more data from which your player reconstructs the ‘song’.