Comments of the Moment: Audiophiles' Thinking and Neil Young's PONO
A very impressive launch for Neil Young's PONO on KickStarter campaign page at the SXSW Conference in Austin, TX last week.
And with it, lots of good discussion on the merits of quality music and the viability of PONO here on Neil Young News: Audiophiles' Thinking and Neil Young's PONO. Some selected comments follow.
Blogger Harm said...To which we said:
With all due respect, but I don't believe in PONO if PONO just means 24 bit, 192 kHz.
In that case there is no difference between Blu-Ray audio and PONO except the fact that it's portable. If that's the whole idea, to make Blu-Ray quality audio portable, then it might stand a chance.
However, anyone that's saying that 24/192 is a huge difference with respect to 16/44.1 is being mislead, or just doesn't know anything about how the Nyquist Sampling theorem works.
The problem with many CDs (loudness war apart) is that they haven't been mastered properly. CDs are a different medium than vinyl, so they require different mastering that benefits the CD. There is no reason why a CD shouldn't sound better than an LP. If you compare the remastered versions of EKTIN and the original LP, the CD sounds way better.
So if PONO means better mastering (I'm assuming Neil uses the same masters for PONO as he did for NYA) combined with a better DAC, than that's enough. No need for 24/192, as 192kHz digital music files offer no benefits. They're not quite neutral either; practical fidelity is slightly worse. The ultrasonics are a liability during playback.
Neither audio transducers nor power amplifiers are free of distortion, and distortion tends to increase rapidly at the lowest and highest frequencies. If the same transducer reproduces ultrasonics along with audible content, any nonlinearity will shift some of the ultrasonic content down into the audible range as an uncontrolled spray of intermodulation distortion products covering the entire audible spectrum. Nonlinearity in a power amplifier will produce the same effect. The effect is very slight, but listening tests have confirmed that both effects can be audible.
The clip that shows a number of musician rave wbout an new revolution is kind of misleading. First of all, are they listeing to the same recording, but a different sampling rate, or do the versions (MP3, CD and PONO) have different mastering too? This isn't mentioned in the clip.
If Neil would use the PONO files at 24/192 and downsamples to 16/44.1 and do an ABX test (double blind) I am 100% sure that when using the same DAC and speaker set up, at the exact same volume no-one would be able to tell the difference between 24/192 and the 16/44.1.
Untill that double blind test happens (which is a whole lot different than a 2 minute trip in the LincVolt), I'm unconvinced. Sorry folks, do your homework before spending 400 bucks.
Thrasher Wheat said...To which Harm replied:
@Harm - Thank you for that detailed analysis. Clearly, you have some serious technical knowledge and understanding of digital audio.
While we can't dispute what you've said or debate the merits of your points, can we ask you this in all due respect?
What would you suggest for the average music fan who wants a better experience but isn't technically savvy? That seems to be the market that PONO is aiming at.
Is there really a better, cheaper and *simpler* solution than PONO?
Thrasher, for portable audio, no. But 24/192 is just a waste of space. 16/44.1 or even 24/48 will suffice. As I said before, a double blind test to see if people hear the difference between 24/192 amd 16/44.1 would be interesting. No previous test has shown that people do.So thank you Harm for the detailed replies.
For home enjoyment, there are better options. They're called CDs. I did some further reading and most PONO releases won't be remastered, not in the traditional sense anyway, but just re-digitized to 24/192. In that case the same argument holds as stated above. The PONO Player is only a minor improvement on user convenience with respect to CDs. If there would be an iPOD like docking station that would allow you to operate the PONO player from your sofa using your receiver's remote, that'd be nice, THEN it could beat CDs. Not in terms of sound quality, it can only equal that, but convenience.
If a future version of PONO would be Spotify-like subscription, complete with a dedicated device that would also allow for other streaming possibilities, such as Netflix, with the same DAC as the PONOPlayer has, you got a real winner.
So far, all the advertising has been about resolution (i.e. 24/192) and the DAC. I say, lose the 24/192, keep the DAC, spend some time on mastering stuff right and problem solved. 24/192 isn't the answer.
By the way, did you know that new EKTIN remaster actually has less dynamic range than the 1990 CD?
Same goes for Harvest:
I'll tell ya, if any current vinyl release has a better dynamic range than a CD, it's inherent to the mastering, NOT the medium.
Seems like some good suggestions. It does seem like the PONO project has been a moving target which has evolved with feedback from industry, etc.
Who knows? Maybe PONO will still evolve before final release in Fall?
And, no, we didn't realize the differences between the re-masters.
Another word on the PONO subject here on Why Neil Young’s PonoMusic might actually be amazing | Econsultancy by Christopher Ratcliff:
Neil Young should be applauded for taking a stand against the stranglehold which companies like iTunes have over our digital music enjoyment.It sometimes seems as if that quest for a perfect echo is just an illusion afterall...
I’ve just spent the last couple of weeks writing a series of articles called Death to iTunes where I’ve tried to find a better alternative. It’s harder than you may think. At least with PonoMusic there is a better alternative for sound quality.
In regard to the arguments about the negligible improvements in sound quality in terms of bigger files, these are missing the point. PonoMusic is about preserving the integrity of the original recordings. All of the extra information that is lost in studio recordings after being compressed to MP3, will be available again.
There’ll be sounds in songs you won’t have heard since playing the vinyl three decades ago or that you never knew were there in the first place.
In terms of memory, as well as the 128GB available in the player itself, PonoPlayer can accept microSD cards of up to 64GB each, so if you do need more music then you can always swap cards. It also has two output jacks, one for headphones and another stereo output specifically for your home audio system.
All in all, it seems like a pretty exciting package. Besides, I haven’t paid any attention to anything Eric Clapton has ever said, so I’m not going to start now.
And someday smog might turn to stars...