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What do you audiophiles think about Pono music?
Old 03-20-2014, 08:24 AM   #1
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What do you audiophiles think about Pono music?

I just noticed it on KickStarter, sounds interesting. Much higher quality than mp3s, and even higher than CDs or lossless.

I love music but (un)fortunately I have some hearing loss, so it probably wouldn't do much for me.

Neil Young and other "seasoned" musical heavyweights promoting it.

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Old 03-20-2014, 08:47 AM   #2
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Typo? Do you mean "piano" or "porno"?
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Old 03-20-2014, 08:55 AM   #3
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Neil has always been critical of CD sound and has been on the forefront of getting sound quality to the consumer that equals that of master tapes. I don't think enough people care about superior sound quality for this new technology to make much of a splash.
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Old 03-20-2014, 09:04 AM   #4
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This came up recently in the audiophile thread:

The Audio Equipment Corner

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And let's not get started on the pros and cons of Neil Young's Pono Player--a debate of the fidelity of digital recordings.
Well now, you can't start it, and then say 'let's not get started'!

I had heard a bit (no pun intended) about this before, but was lacking details. From those links, I see he is promoting the FLAC format used at CD rez as the minimum. That's what I use, except for some occasional stuff on a portable player.

A few years back, I bought a CD/DVD player that was capable of just about every format out there. I had some demo SACD hybrid disc, and tried to A/B the SACD versus straight CD. I couldn't be certain I heard a difference, but I kinda sorta thought the SACD had more 'life' to it. Could have been placebo effect.

But logically, I can make the case that CD quality is somewhat marginal. The 96db theoretical dynamic range is reduced in practice (you need to 'dither' the bottom few bits). The 44.1KHz sample rate puts some heavy requirements on the filters, which might have an audible effect. So there might be something to 'higher than CD rez', if you can find the source material.

I have probably mentioned this before, but a few years back I tried to test myself by creating tracks of the same songs with various bit-compression levels to compare to the original CD quality source. I was pretty shocked that I could not easily quickly tell the difference even going down to pretty extreme compression. But I found if I tried to listen to the compressed music more than a few minutes, that I found it boring and lifeless. That makes sense, as the compression 'throws away' some of the detail in the music, to concentrate the remaining bits on what is expected to be most noticeable. So it seems very likely that this 'less noticeable' sound is what gives detail and 'life' to the music, but still leaves the music very recognizable.

It would take some time to do a full double-blind test of this, but with hard drives so cheap, the cost versus quality and flexibility to re-encode a lossless FLAC format ( ~ 1/2 the size of a full CD quality, with zero bits lost) is a no-brainer for me.

-ERD50
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Old 03-20-2014, 09:09 AM   #5
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Originally Posted by Mr. Paul View Post
Neil has always been critical of CD sound and has been on the forefront of getting sound quality to the consumer that equals that of master tapes. I don't think enough people care about superior sound quality for this new technology to make much of a splash.
Some truth to this - I was dumbfounded that with all the amazing technology we have today, that so many people were accepting new music at a lower quality than CD (128kbps mp3). Isn't technology supposed to advance the state-of-the-art?

But just like McD's sells more burgers than fancy restaurants sell Chateaubriand, and Coors Lite outsells Bells, there will always be a market for the higher end in just about any category.

With a very few exceptions, most homes I go into have pretty crappy music systems. Some are really, really, crappy, as in 'hurts my ears, make it stop' crappy.

-ERD50
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:01 AM   #6
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Yes, there is a high end market for pretty much anything you can think of. There is a problem inherent in the Pono business plan that does not exist in any other high end market. One can manufacture Tesla autos, for example, and survive on the limited market. The manufacturer pays the price for high quality manufactured parts and makes the money back when selling the finished product.

With music, however, no technology is going to work unless there is a large catalog of music available to the consumer. That is a lot of work and needs the support of a wide range of providers. I don't know if that is going to happen. Then, unlike the automobile consumer that is replacing one auto with a better one, the music consumer is going to need to be convinced to replace their existing music catalog ... again.
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:28 AM   #7
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Originally Posted by ERD50 View Post
Some truth to this - I was dumbfounded that with all the amazing technology we have today, that so many people were accepting new music at a lower quality than CD (128kbps mp3). Isn't technology supposed to advance the state-of-the-art?
-ERD50
In the early days of downloading, this used to surprise me too but after some thought, I realized that most people don't care anywhere near as much about quality as they do other factors, such as convenience and portability. Granted, it is as easy to download or encode a FLAC file as it is an MP3, but now that lossy compression is an accepted standard, it just doesn't matter that much to most folk.
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:30 AM   #8
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There may be a small high end market but it seems that the public at large is willing to listen to incredibly poor quality sound. I'm sure that you all have been in restaurants and shops that play music that is audibly distorted, FM that sounds like it is not properly tuned to the station, etc. and nobody cares. Given that most people's experience of music is based solely on hearing it poorly reproduced, I'm not sure there is going to be much push for higher quality.
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Old 03-20-2014, 10:38 AM   #9
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...

With music, however, no technology is going to work unless there is a large catalog of music available to the consumer. ...
Agreed. The availability of source material is the biggest issue for me.

I have DL'd CD quality stuff from Magnatune - limited selection, and they are now a monthly subscription rather than pay by the album.

A google of "CD Quality Downloads" brought up quite a few sources though. I'll need to look into these.

Theoretically, I don't think it should be hard to provide higher-than-CD quality source material. I'm pretty sure most studios are running higher than 16/44.1K in their digital studios (you run higher so that manipulations in the editing still have high quality output). They probably go through a final process to reduce the output 16/44.1K and could probably just as easily set it for something higher like 24/192k or whatever.

I think it takes special drivers to get beyond 16 bit audio over USB. One thing I like about these USB DACs is that you just plug them in, no special driver required. They work on my Linux systems and Macs. Maybe the USB spec has been updated for 24 bit?

-ERD50
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Old 03-20-2014, 12:38 PM   #10
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Neil Young has been working on an improved music format for several years, I have not kept track of the details. I'm pretty sure the main thrust of the new format is to preserve the dynamic range of music.

As mentioned in the other Audio thread, source material matters a lot, your fabulous speakers reproduce what is sent to them.

This is a crying shame: also led to the rediscovery of vinyl
What Happened To Dynamic Range?
Loudness war - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Here is a $5 sampler album of various tunes you can download to checkout:
Audiogon Presents The Wake Up your Ears Sampler
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Old 03-20-2014, 12:45 PM   #11
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I have CDs, HDCD, SACD, CD with various sampling rates, "gold" CDs, etc.. Sound quality difference among those are (too) subtle for normal listeners and hardly does anything with inferior equipment. What makes the most difference is how a music is recorded and transferred with care to digital format. Some of the best sounding CDs are digitized from their original 1950 recordings. And I have some SACDs which are done pretty badly. At the end of the day, enjoy the music and not the format or equipment for that matter.
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Old 03-20-2014, 03:12 PM   #12
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It is like wine - you pay more, it tastes better.

I'd like to see some double-blind tests. Besides, it all comes down to the speakers.
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Old 03-20-2014, 03:15 PM   #13
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It is like wine - you pay more, it tastes better.

I'd like to see some double-blind tests. Besides, it all comes down to the speakers.
It is like wine. Paying more doesn't necessarily mean it sounds better.

Nope. Not all things comes down to the speakers. They are center piece for sure but to get truly good sound, everything has to work well, from source to room acoustics. But that's a this audiophile's view.
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Old 03-21-2014, 07:11 AM   #14
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I read a review on Ars Technica or some such place that pointed out two problems: 1) The files are stupendously large. So large that even with cheaper storage it will cost in money and size for some time to come. 2) The rate Neil has chosen is far beyond our ability to hear and thus noticeable quality improvements depend on speculative theories as to why we could sense them. The article also argued that current CD level essentially exhausts the hearing range but ERD's reference may indicate otherwise.

But I am no audiophile. I wear hearing aids and am happy with my MP3s ripped from the aether.
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Old 03-21-2014, 07:41 AM   #15
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I read a forum where it was described as an expensive, glorified FLAC player, which most smart phones can play already.
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Old 03-21-2014, 10:28 AM   #16
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I read a forum where it was described as an expensive, glorified FLAC player, which most smart phones can play already.
Not a reasonable comparison at all. Your phone might play FLAC format, but does it have a 24 bit, high quality DAC and audio path? No way, a phone will have the cheapest, lowest power consumption 16 bit DAC they can fit in the phone. A Smart Car and a Lexus both have 4 tires and are street legal - that doesn't mean that the Lexus is just an expensive, glorified Smart Car, there are real differences in implementation. They both might get you to your destination, and if that's all you want the Smart Car might be the answer for you. But no way are they the same.

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Neil Young has been working on an improved music format for several years, I have not kept track of the details. I'm pretty sure the main thrust of the new format is to preserve the dynamic range of music.

As mentioned in the other Audio thread, source material matters a lot, your fabulous speakers reproduce what is sent to them.

This is a crying shame: also led to the rediscovery of vinyl
What Happened To Dynamic Range?
Loudness war - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Here is a $5 sampler album of various tunes you can download to checkout:
Audiogon Presents The Wake Up your Ears Sampler
Interesting info there, so I just learned that these higher definition DACS are supported natively on Linux and Mac OSX as part of the USB Audio Class 2 spec (special drivers still needed for Windows for some odd reason - they don't support the USB spec natively?). I hate special drivers, so that was holding me back.

Here's one list of HD DACS:

24/192 USB DACs (a list) | AudioStream

There is still the question of whether I would hear/feel the difference, and source material is somewhat limited and more expensive. But it's tempting - some of these DACs are in the $2-$300 range, not a budget breaker.

Also to be clear, Neil Young has not been working on an improved music format - the FLAC format is open source and was developed separately and supports these extended formats. Neil is just pushing/advocating this existing file format.

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Originally Posted by robnplunder View Post
I have CDs, HDCD, SACD, CD with various sampling rates, "gold" CDs, etc.. Sound quality difference among those are (too) subtle for normal listeners and hardly does anything with inferior equipment. What makes the most difference is how a music is recorded and transferred with care to digital format. Some of the best sounding CDs are digitized from their original 1950 recordings. And I have some SACDs which are done pretty badly. At the end of the day, enjoy the music and not the format or equipment for that matter.
I totally agree that the source recording is key. But I'm curious if you felt you could hear the difference with SACD or HDCD. I have one hybrid SACD and a player, and I'm not certain I can tell. Maybe a bit more 'life' and 'air', or maybe just a mind trick. But I'm leaning towards feeling there was a subtle difference, but one that made the music more enjoyable.

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I read a review on Ars Technica or some such place that pointed out two problems: 1) The files are stupendously large. So large that even with cheaper storage it will cost in money and size for some time to come. 2) The rate Neil has chosen is far beyond our ability to hear and thus noticeable quality improvements depend on speculative theories as to why we could sense them. The article also argued that current CD level essentially exhausts the hearing range but ERD's reference may indicate otherwise. ...
I don't think 'stupendously large' file size is an issue at all. If you are interested in quality, you are not compressing your music past CD quality, so that is the base-line. So a 44.1x16 versus 48*24 or 96*24 is only a 1.6x and 3.3x increase in file size. Even the 'ultra-high' is 6.5x.

With multi-TeraByte HDDs availabale for <$100 I just don't think that's an issue. Two TB will store > 6,000 FLAC CD quality, so still around 2,000 CDs at their 'higher' resolution.

From PONO:QUOTE]
• CD lossless quality recordings: 1411 kbps (44.1 kHz/16 bit) FLAC files
• High-resolution recordings: 2304 kbps (48 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
• Higher-resolution recordings: 4608 kbps (96 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
• Ultra-high resolution recordings: 9216 kbps (192 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files [/QUOTE]

As you mention, I'm not convinced the higher formats will be noticeably better to me, but I can make a reasonable case that CD quality is somewhat 'marginal'. From a glass-half-full view, I appreciate that the CD standard was at least 16/44.1 - considering the popular mp3 format that came later, I'm surprised marketing didn't push for a lower Q format.

Although it might sound funny to speak of the 'air' in a good recording, I think it is very real, and is something you can miss in compressed music. Our ears/minds are very sensitive and selective. You can locate a sound w/o even thinking about it. How do you do that? You are hearing little 'hints' like the delay in a sound (the slightly different time it takes to travel different paths), and the echos which are way down in level from the main sound - but we still hear them. These are the details that can get thrown away by the compression algorithms. And I suspect that 16/44.1 doesn't faithfully capture all of them either, but it gets pretty darn close.

-ERD50
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Old 03-21-2014, 11:17 AM   #17
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As I mentioned in another thread, I am not a true audiophile. I have been archiving my CD and cassette collection with 320k MP3 format, and thought it was good enough. Perhaps my source material does not deserve better.
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Old 03-21-2014, 11:17 AM   #18
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Bit Depth

Imagine a world where copies of paintings and photographs were shown in 8 to 10bbp. For those of you really into art, for a price maybe some popular works could be found in 12bbp. Not going to happen, as yesterday’s glorious sunrise or sunset forms a great reference point, we are unwilling to accept less.

How long ago was the last live music event you attended?

We could make the 10bbp copies more vivid if that would help. ---> Dynamic range / loudness wars.... The recording engineers/studios have to fix this.



I am blessed with a multitude of live venues in the surrounding area.
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Old 03-21-2014, 11:32 AM   #19
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Neil Young and other "seasoned" musical heavyweights promoting it...
'Hear Neil Young Explain His Pono Music Player At SXSW'
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Old 03-21-2014, 12:45 PM   #20
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I totally agree that the source recording is key. But I'm curious if you felt you could hear the difference with SACD or HDCD. I have one hybrid SACD and a player, and I'm not certain I can tell. Maybe a bit more 'life' and 'air', or maybe just a mind trick. But I'm leaning towards feeling there was a subtle difference, but one that made the music more enjoyable.
I didn't hear much difference between the two. But between CD & SA/HDCD, I heard little more detail, less harshness, quietness from SA/HDCDs.
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