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Author Topic: End of Pono?  (Read 7030 times)

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Offline raymonda

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End of Pono?
« on: January 13, 2015, 10:40:33 AM »
I've just heard that Neil Young has given an interview where he says that they have made a number of mistakes, gone through a number of CEO's, with him now acting as CEO, and that he would like to get out of the hardware side of things. Apparently just becoming a licencing authority, e.g.
"Pono Approved" product.

Also, I read that Pono will be releasing hi rez Beatles files. Really? And I thought that the most recent vinyl was cut from down sampled copies and that nobody at on the production side felt it mattered to have hi Rez copies above 44.1/24.

Anybody know what is really going on?

Offline russjcan2

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2015, 11:09:49 AM »
Beatles released a 24 bit thumbdrive already so it would be easy.

Offline dnsacks

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2015, 11:16:28 AM »
believe the recent beatles mono vinyl release was mastered directly from analog w/o the 24/44.1 stage -- the mono vinyl sounds great too

Offline raymonda

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2015, 11:31:05 AM »
Yes, I know that but they were transfered at 192, then down sampled and released at 44.1, so I assume that with the hype that pono is marketing, they are getting the 192. If not, it is another Pono hype. I also knew that the vinyl was at 44.1......which again was a bit of a disappointment......seeing that there are 192 masters.
« Last Edit: January 13, 2015, 11:32:36 AM by raymonda »

Offline Colin Liston

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2015, 11:55:40 AM »
Hey Neil, buy a FiiO!
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Offline raymonda

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2015, 12:30:17 PM »
From what I understood from the article, "can't find it now".....will research and post a link.......is that this was not really his long term plan but rather getting hi rez rolling and supply hi rez files. However, he also felt there was a need for a hi rez player that was also portable, thus the partnership with Ayre and the player Pono. Too bad, because I think there is a need and if their system came with a few other things, DSD and digital in and outs.....it would be killer! Maybe Ayre will keep in moving forward and bring it up to date with what others are offering.

The hi rez file biz for him seems to be more managable, less risk and cost effective. I can see why he wants out of the hardware side.

Offline 404 Not Found

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2015, 12:34:18 PM »
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Offline hi and lo

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2015, 01:13:27 PM »
God, I sure hope so. While I still enjoy Neil's music, I have lost all respect for his opinion after Pono. Gizmodo, which in general isn't a particularly good news source, had a surprisingly good article on Pono yesterday and accused Neil of "peddling junk science, and supporting expensive gear and music files you don't need." Their description of peddling bad science so eloquently captures my thoughts on Pono ever since I learned of it several years ago.

edit: looks like 404 beat me to linking that article!

There has been a push for hi-res audio for years (SACD and DVD-A) and it hasn't taken off because, unquestionably, it just doesn't make enough difference. If these formats were truly better, it would be supported by science and the consumers would buy it, but the reality is that the science just isn't there and only a few 'golden ears' claim to hear a meaningful difference. Consumers aren't fooled and given the high-price point of these formats and perpetual decline of record sales, there's simply no demand for this junk science, myself included.

In my opinion, the fidelity problems with most commercial audio has nothing to do with file formats or resolutions. It all starts with bad production techniques (i.e. the loudness wars) - as the saying goes, "garbage in garbage out." But even assuming good production quality, the next issue is the the increasing use of low quality of playback devices (earbuds, iphones, etc.) and popularity of mp3 and streaming music services. It's no longer possible to sell the general consumer on the benefits of CD quality audio vs. the convenience of mp3 streaming, so it's crazy to think that an higher resolution would catch on.

Had Neil thrown his support behind nothing more than better hardware, I would have absolutely supported him. It's so obvious how bad the headphone outputs are on modern smartphones and mp3 players and how the proliferation of low-quality headphones and speakers, everything from $5 earbuds and Beats to the creative labs speakers attached to our computers, have diluted our preferences for high fidelity audio. I'm all about the hardware and would love to personally hear the Pono at some point, but at 16/44.1 CD quality. If it's a better sounding playback device and operating system is worthwhile, my interests are perked, but don't bother peddling 24/192 on me because I'm simply not interested.

I also think it would have been more effective to throw his support behind ending the loudness wars and bringing back lost production techniques. Maybe this simply isn't possible anymore, which is a very sad event, but it would actually make a difference. There are so many bad commercial CD releases to the point where the waveforms are visibly clipped, having been compressed so much that the actual audio is distorted and until we can flush this garbage from the listening pool, we'll never be better off supporting the snake-oil that Neil is trying to sell.

And can Neil even hear anymore? Should we really be trusting someone who almost undoubtedly has suffered from hearing loss over the course of decades of rock concerts? I think he should start by submitting to the public results of a hearing test that proves he can even hear a tone above 15k, and that might be generous.

Offline George

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2015, 01:21:26 PM »
re: DVD-A, SACD, blu-ray audio...the big thing for me (and many people who do support these formats) are the discrete MCH mixes.  Those can be incredible when mixed by the right person.  Personally, I'm not an adherent of Hi-rez stereo, I think it's the mix that makes the difference.
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Offline hi and lo

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2015, 02:08:25 PM »
re: DVD-A, SACD, blu-ray audio...the big thing for me (and many people who do support these formats) are the discrete MCH mixes.  Those can be incredible when mixed by the right person.  Personally, I'm not an adherent of Hi-rez stereo, I think it's the mix that makes the difference.

Good point. My brain is pretty stuck in the 2-channel world where all I care about is bit depth and sampling rate.

Offline raymonda

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2015, 05:03:17 AM »
It looks like Harman is looking to buy out pono. Www.stufftv.com

Offline jlykos

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2015, 06:58:56 AM »
Of course Neil wants to get out of the hardware business. Apple is really the only company that has managed to make a significant amount of money on hardware. All of the real money is in services. If Neil can license Pono files, he can basically kick back, perform a minimal amount of effort, and let the licensing royalties flow to him. Not being particularly interested in owning a Pono, I have not been following this very closely, but has anybody ever explicitly stated what the basis of the licensing is? Are Pono files any old 24/192 files, can they be 16/44.1 files, or are they something completely different? Must Pono files be mastered from the original tapes (like MFSL), or can they be mastered from other digital files, or copies of the master tapes? What constitutes a Pono file?

I do think that high resolution files are worthwhile and I can tell a difference between them and CDs (I'm not getting into that discussion here). The key point with something like a Pono, however, is whether one can appreciate the benefits of high-resolution files while traveling and being in an environment with more noise than the typical household. I can't imagine that the average Pono user would be able to hear the difference between high-resolution files, CDs, and mp3s while on the subway, walking on the street, at the gym, or on an airplane. I know that I certainly can't, and I like high-resolution files in general. Maybe if you have a quiet office and listen to music all day, or if you travel a lot and want something for the hotel room after work, the noise floor would be lowered and your attention sufficiently focused to warrant high-resolution files. But for "on the go" portability, I can't see Pono having any great benefits.

The point that was brought up about the high levels of compression employed in most modern mastering jobs is completely valid and is the key reason why people are looking to something other than CDs for high-quality music playback. 16/44.1 is a great format / medium to hold recordings, but few mastering studios take full advantage because they assume that the consumer wants to hear something "punchier" (louder and in your face). The issue is that even high-resolution files are being affected by overly compressed sources. The high-resolution sources of Beck's "Morning Phase" album and the remaster of Soundgarden's "Superunknown" are two recent examples where the high-resolution versions are no different from the crushed CD versions (I did not say digital versions, because evidently there is an mp3 of "Morning Phase" that allegedly sounds better than the CD and high-resolution versions, and the original, non-remastered CD of "Superunknown" sounds fantastic). Will Pono correct these flaws? In a situation like this where there are multiple versions of the same recording (six distinct versions in the case of "Morning Phase"), which one would the Pono store sell and which one would it "certify?"
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Offline Gil

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2015, 08:23:34 AM »
I read that title as 'End of PORNO'.

Thanks the gods that is not the case  ;D
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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2015, 09:54:28 AM »
I watched the video embedded in the gizmodo article and about half of the testimonials listed as 'Music Lover' said it was as good as or better than vinyl. I know vinyl is popular again but it seemed to me that they were being prompted/scripted.

I would be willing to try Pono if I could ride around with Neil in his Cadillac and blast some tunes.
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Offline hi and lo

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2015, 01:53:02 PM »
Better than vinyl is a low threshold.  CDs sound far superior to vinyl, at least if we are talking in terms of music with a large dynamic range, such as classical.


Agreed, but the resurgence of audiophiles seeking out vinyl is definitely not driven by a demand for classical music. It's driven by rock/pop/etc. music genres where production and mastering techniques for CDs have killed any semblance of dynamic range, so people are drawn to vinyl releases because they are often mastered with more dynamic range and at lower volumes and thus sound better. "Better than vinyl" is an appropriate threshold because it is the format that is mastered with the most care and there is little to no incentive for record companies to make vinyl releases as loud as possible.

Offline Church-Audio

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #15 on: January 14, 2015, 03:45:48 PM »
Edit I guess nobody found my joke funny lol.
« Last Edit: January 15, 2015, 03:52:41 PM by Church-Audio »
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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2015, 04:13:26 PM »
I have long suggested that AES implement a voluntary quality review certification, where MEs or labels can submit recordings to a panel for their seal of approval, or reject with suggestions for improvement.  That is a practice that is followed by other industries.  Follow that with a marketing campaign and get that brand recognition to the point of a Dolby or THX, and you've solved the volume war problem without required consumers to spend any extra money.

Ding Ding Ding! This. This a thousand times.

All of the discussion about Pono piqued my interest so I checked out the Pono store. The high resolution recordings that they are selling are the exact same high-rez recordings that you can find on HD Tracks, Qboz, or any of the other high-rez online download stores. I originally believed that Pono was an entire ecosystem of original master recordings with a unique player. It is not. It is more like HD Tracks, combined with their own player that can really play any high resolution recordings from any online service. Pono therefore has no differentiating factor beyond the Neil Young recordings that are available on Pono.com and are not available on any other high-rez download site.
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Offline hi and lo

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2015, 05:03:07 PM »
It's not just that there is no incentive, it's partially that they can't:  vinyl can't have excess LF content, and I would guess modern mastering techniques that reduce dynamic range wouldn't play nice with RIAA equalization (because beyond a certain level, the increased volume has to be a result of increasing HF content relative to LF).


Unfortunately, they can and do. There are plenty of poorly mastered LPs which have used the exact same mastering process across both mediums. The hope is that they've taken the proper care to master vinyl's different, but unfortunately the incentive to be cheap and/or lazy still exists.


Offline raymonda

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2015, 08:34:27 AM »
This has kind of drifted from Neil is getting out of the hardware to digital vs analog, which is fine and to that point I will add that IMHO, on most days of the week, with the same recorded source, great analog beats great digital. Analog usually sounds more organic, has more honest timbres throws a deeper and wider soundstage.

I'm not in the caps that digital is bad. I've been recording g in the digital domain for 27 years and have made and released excellent recordings in digital and  as happy as a pig in sheet to be doing so. Digital has afforded me more rewards than analog could in the production of recordings.....and for that I am grateful. However, at this time, when push comes to shove analog continues to provide a more realistic sonic picture.

Although, I agree with all the comments in regards to how compression is being g used today as the biggest problem today. Also, even before the "Wars" there were heavily compressed and crappie sounding analog recordings out 96 vinyl.....and there continues to be many made today.

BTW, take a look at these dvda wave forms and  see how even with audiophile hi rez releases over compression and limiting has abused the integrity of the recording.

Grateful Dead American Beauty
Talking Heads Naked
Steely Dan Gaucho (SACD)
Dire Straits BIA

just to name a few.

Offline powermonkey

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2015, 09:50:08 AM »
I could be wrong, but I'm sure I read that once you've bought a recording on the Ponomusic store, regardless of resolution, you will be able to access the upgraded version of said recording as and when it comes along at no additional cost. That sounds like a decent deal at least, I can't imagine iTunes would do the same thing. Don't know, mind, as the store isn't available over here just yet.

Anyway, even if all that comes out of the Pono 'experiment' is a greater acceptance (and availability) of hi-res files (and the proposed effect on care taken when mastering) then it's a win, isn't it? Plus I've got a really good device to play my 24bit recordings through that sounds amazing even on the bus every morning.

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #20 on: January 15, 2015, 03:25:30 PM »
The push for loudness is nothing new.  It's been around as long as recorded music.  What’s changed over time is increased freedoms to abuse it.  50 years ago that took the form of control shifting from white-coat engineers to producers, squeezing more loudness onto LPs and 45s, although limited by the constraints of the vinyl medium and the mastering tools available at the time which set limits on how far that could go.

The CD removed the constraints on loudness inherent to the vinyl medium.  The irony is that the availability of a superior performing medium made loudness abuse much easier.  Once digital problems on the recording side were ironed-out well enough so that well-mastered CD’s could fully rival LP quality reproduction by ’90 or so, it only took a few years until the increased headroom and performance capability of the new medium was consumed by the same old pressure to push loudness as far as possible, driven by new tools which became available making doing so progressively easier, while pushing it progressively farther.

Today, digital audio reproduction is more than capable of superior fidelity over vinyl although its advantages are rarely used that way, and in my opinion, there lies Mr. Young’s primary missed opportunity.  He could have offered what truly matters most: especially well-produced and mastered material with an emphasis on audio quality.  Sure, market its high-res formats to sell it if necessary, but as mentioned by others, what would have made the real and very welcome difference would have been some sort of certified process underscoring better quality production and mastering, clearly differentiating the audio product from what is available elsewhere else.

That’s the music production and distribution side of it.

The capability of the playback side of things has also improved in terms of the performance of equipment, especially inexpensive digital gear compared to where it was a couple decades ago.  Yet, economic pressure for producing inexpensive, simple-to-use devices dominates over pressure for high audio quality, just like the pressure for loudness from the production side.  This is the hardware realm the Pono player was meant to address.  Ironically Neil probably got the playback side somewhat more closely aligned what’s necessary for high-quality reproduction, but that in itself is just not competitive by itself in the hardware market.  I don’t know much about the Pono hardware, but what it should have had to differentiate it from competing hardware is not just well-designed circuitry and outputs, but very high-quality controllable compression and sufficient EQ capability to tailor the playback of those high-quality full-dynamic-range music files to the listener’s needs.   Let the end user squash it as much as they need to depending on what they are doing.  Let them load personal headphone calibration curves if they care to.  Sell it as not just super-quality high-rez audio, but as a system adaptable to all lifestyle uses of those who care about music.

Produce and master the content for ultimate excellence, blessed by the AES, the ME quality club, famous named musicians with golden ears and all that, rather than for lowest common denominator use, and let the end user ‘dumb it down’ as much as necessary at the playback end, under their control, with as much or as little tweaking as they want, providing a return to the ‘missing connection’ with the music that the neo-vinyl generation gets from playing LPs, futzing with players and cleaners and stylus’s and pretending it’s about sound quality when it’s about the experience.

The genius behind the success of Apple’s Ipod/Itunes revolution (ongoing with Iphone/pad/Apple-Store) wasn't just content or hardware; it was the linked combination of the two.  They become inseparable.  Neil could have done something similar with Pono, showing people that music doesn't need to be compromised to be adaptable to a modern lifestyle, and they needn't become audiophile weirdos with unwieldy equipment to enjoy great quality audio with a deeper connection to the music.
   
« Last Edit: January 15, 2015, 03:28:48 PM by Gutbucket »
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Offline todd e

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #21 on: January 15, 2015, 04:26:46 PM »
i find this discussion interesting. another interesting point that neil didnt handle properly (as informed by a friend who has pono player) - the files sold on their site do not have DRM or similar protection built-in to the files.

Offline Fried Chicken Boy

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #22 on: January 15, 2015, 05:25:35 PM »
i find this discussion interesting. another interesting point that neil didnt handle properly (as informed by a friend who has pono player) - the files sold on their site do not have DRM or similar protection built-in to the files.

What about that did Neil not handle properly?  I would think not having DRM, and its issues, built into the music files is a good thing.

Offline powermonkey

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #23 on: January 15, 2015, 05:50:34 PM »
i find this discussion interesting. another interesting point that neil didnt handle properly (as informed by a friend who has pono player) - the files sold on their site do not have DRM or similar protection built-in to the files.

What about that did Neil not handle properly?  I would think not having DRM, and its issues, built into the music files is a good thing.

Potentially a bad thing - as hi-res pono files will be shared all over the place and fewer people will buy them.
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Offline Fried Chicken Boy

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #24 on: January 15, 2015, 06:53:41 PM »
i find this discussion interesting. another interesting point that neil didnt handle properly (as informed by a friend who has pono player) - the files sold on their site do not have DRM or similar protection built-in to the files.

What about that did Neil not handle properly?  I would think not having DRM, and its issues, built into the music files is a good thing.

Potentially a bad thing - as hi-res pono files will be shared all over the place and fewer people will buy them.

That argument has been used for decades since the advent of recordable magnetic tape about music, movies, software, etc. and it doesn't hold water.  If people have it in their minds that they aren't going to pay for music then they won't, regardless of its superior bitrate or whether or not it has DRM protection on it.  And it's not like offering it in higher resolution will suddenly make them say, "Hmmm, I wasn't going to steal that album before but now that it's in 24-bit... !"  Aside from cunning software coders coming up with ways to circumvent DRM as quickly as the music/movie/software giants can write it, there is also the issue of some file protections put in place that were detrimental to the sound quality and others that were basically malware; Sony's bad foray into it 10 years ago is the first that comes to mind.  IIRC, Apple themselves stopped implementing DRM years ago.  Why?  Because it ultimately doesn't work and is more trouble than it's worth.

Offline acidjack

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Re: End of Pono?
« Reply #25 on: January 16, 2015, 04:02:37 PM »
God, I sure hope so. While I still enjoy Neil's music, I have lost all respect for his opinion after Pono. Gizmodo, which in general isn't a particularly good news source, had a surprisingly good article on Pono yesterday and accused Neil of "peddling junk science, and supporting expensive gear and music files you don't need." Their description of peddling bad science so eloquently captures my thoughts on Pono ever since I learned of it several years ago.

edit: looks like 404 beat me to linking that article!

There has been a push for hi-res audio for years (SACD and DVD-A) and it hasn't taken off because, unquestionably, it just doesn't make enough difference. If these formats were truly better, it would be supported by science and the consumers would buy it, but the reality is that the science just isn't there and only a few 'golden ears' claim to hear a meaningful difference. Consumers aren't fooled and given the high-price point of these formats and perpetual decline of record sales, there's simply no demand for this junk science, myself included.

In my opinion, the fidelity problems with most commercial audio has nothing to do with file formats or resolutions. It all starts with bad production techniques (i.e. the loudness wars) - as the saying goes, "garbage in garbage out." But even assuming good production quality, the next issue is the the increasing use of low quality of playback devices (earbuds, iphones, etc.) and popularity of mp3 and streaming music services. It's no longer possible to sell the general consumer on the benefits of CD quality audio vs. the convenience of mp3 streaming, so it's crazy to think that an higher resolution would catch on.

Had Neil thrown his support behind nothing more than better hardware, I would have absolutely supported him. It's so obvious how bad the headphone outputs are on modern smartphones and mp3 players and how the proliferation of low-quality headphones and speakers, everything from $5 earbuds and Beats to the creative labs speakers attached to our computers, have diluted our preferences for high fidelity audio. I'm all about the hardware and would love to personally hear the Pono at some point, but at 16/44.1 CD quality. If it's a better sounding playback device and operating system is worthwhile, my interests are perked, but don't bother peddling 24/192 on me because I'm simply not interested.

I also think it would have been more effective to throw his support behind ending the loudness wars and bringing back lost production techniques. Maybe this simply isn't possible anymore, which is a very sad event, but it would actually make a difference. There are so many bad commercial CD releases to the point where the waveforms are visibly clipped, having been compressed so much that the actual audio is distorted and until we can flush this garbage from the listening pool, we'll never be better off supporting the snake-oil that Neil is trying to sell.

And can Neil even hear anymore? Should we really be trusting someone who almost undoubtedly has suffered from hearing loss over the course of decades of rock concerts? I think he should start by submitting to the public results of a hearing test that proves he can even hear a tone above 15k, and that might be generous.

I agree with all of this.

What's interesting is despite that smartphones aren't great audio devices, there is interest in "quality", at least as evidenced by the fact that the very expensive Beats by Dr Dre headphones are 50% of the headphone market. Some of that is about fashion, and I think their sound profile is awful, but they are unquestionably meant (and marketed) as a sonic improvement. What surprises me is that Apple, who already own the high end of the market, haven't tried to push some kind of premium iPhone with better audio quality and some other bells and whistles that could make it the "Ferrari of Smartphones" or whatever.

That said, honestly, my iPhone sounds pretty decent to me with low-impedance headphones (I'm running V-Modas now; my ATH-M50s before that) for walking around in a busy city or being on a plane, which is where it gets the most use. Not that I disagree with Jon that even adding that $30 FiiO headphone amp makes a HUGE improvement.
Mics: Schoeps MK4V, MK41V, MK5, MK22> CMC6, KCY 250/5, KC5, NBob; MBHO MBP603/KA200N, AT 3031, DPA 4061 w/ d:vice, Naiant X-X, AT 853c, shotgun, Nak300
Pres/Power: Aerco MP2, tinybox v2  [KCY], CA-UBB
Decks: Sound Devices MixPre 6, Zoom F8, M10, D50

My recordings on nyctaper.com: http://www.nyctaper.com/?tag=acidjack | LMA: http://www.archive.org/bookmarks/acidjack | twitter: http://www.twitter.com/acidjacknyc | Soundcloud: https://soundcloud.com/acidjacknyc

 

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