back to article Neil Young touts MP3 player that's no Piece of Crap

Decades of performing may have left Neil Young somewhat shy of the hearing of a 20-year-old, but the poor quality of MP3 still irritates the crazy horse enough to try and do something about it. Meet PonoMusic, which Young hopes will “unleash” all the unheard detail that MP3 (or even, if you believe what's on the company's site …

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  1. Fibbles

    What's the point of all that fidelity if you're going to use headphones? Sure, you can get some very good headphones but they'll never be good enough for you to be able to make any meaningful distinction between this and CD. Then there's background noise to contend with. The best headphones are over the ear but with open backs. They're useless with any sort of background noise, which means you can't use them when you're out and about.

    If this product is actually intended to be hooked up to a decent sound system why doesn't it have several terabytes of hard drive space?

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      The best full-range floorstanding loudspeakers that money can buy are also useless when there's background noise to contend with, as anyone who experienced the Harrods Hi-fi section would attest (never has a quarter of a million pounds of equipment sounded so bad). And besides, headphones are a much easier load to drive than a floorstander. With a good headphone amp on board, you'd be amazed at how good those "cheap" headphones sound.

      Who claimed that this was intended for use in "a decent sound system"? In Mr Young's world view, people who own such things only listen to vinyl albums. Pono is to address the lousy quality of portable players.

      If it gets more albums out in high-resolution audio, I'm all for it. (I don't like modern soft Jazz, and that rules out about 70% of all high-res releases, I find...)

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Oh dear.

        The Pono Website indicates Pono is there to "let you feel music in ways you've only felt seeing it live" which does rather suggest that sodding great big speakers are required. But the link to information about the Ponoplayer comes up with: "The output impedance is very low so that the Pono Player will deliver perfectly flat frequency response to any headphone made."

        So I think it's safe to say that the Pono Website is talking nonsense. This is a portable music player intended for headphone use while on the move, not for serious sit-down listening. The idea that headphones can reproduce the sensations of being present in person to experience the gut-shaking thunder of a symphony orchestra or rock band at full tilt is nonsense.

        So many of the claims are nonsense or misleading.

        http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f8-general-forum/neil-young-announces-launch-ponomusic-19703/index2.html#post304438

        e.g., the claim that low output impedance (standard on almost all modern audio kit) ensures perfectly flat frequency response. Yes it helps, but you need more than low output impedance to get flat frequency response over the audio range and nothing provides perfection.

        What's this about no (negative) feedback? Well, it does correct for errors, so the circuitry being designed is going to produce worse results than if they'd designed it sensibly.

        I've no idea what this "minimum phase [shift]" digital filter might be for. An analogue filter after the DAC is essential - but a digital filter? The analogue filters used are often Chebyshev filters, which are anything but linear phase shift, although there are DAC techniques which permit the use of different types of filter.

        And of course you'd expect a high quality DAC. Any decent audio kit intended to turn digital into analogue needs a high quality DAC.

        Pfft.

        Mind you, Richard Chirgwin's article isn't beyond a bit of needling. Neil Young's against LOSSY compression - lossless compression of the source is no trouble, surely? And if this Ponoplayer can carry 1000-2000 albums, that's around 10,000-20,000 songs - well, yes less than "many" tens of thousands, but not as much as implied and in any case so what? How many people actually (legally) own even 1000 albums? Or are going to be out long enough with their portable music player to get through even 20 albums before having a chance to re-stock at home?

        Regarding derogatory comments about "audiophiles": yes "audiophiles" think all the stupid things that those who diss them claim, provided you define "audiophile" as someone with stupid ignorant ideas about audio reproduction who doesn't care about what the music sounds like, only what the equipment spec is.

        I've read convincing articles showing that actually, class B amplifiers (when properly implemented) provide the best practical audio output quality, and that analogue to digital (for processing, storage, and distribution) and back again to analogue (for playback) is the best way to record and reproduce music - provided that you perform all steps thoroughly competently.

        Lack of competence will result in poor output quality no matter how buzzword compliant your reproduction chain might be.

        This is how come Decca managed to make some really rather excellent audio recordings back in the 1950s, while plenty of modern recordings made with nominally far superior kit are rubbish by comparison.

        I recall reading a Web article by Roy Harper in which he says that as far as he's concerned, 24 bit/44.1kHz in the studio is indistinguishable from analogue tape for mixing and mastering. There's little evidence that higher sampling rates than CD standard produce audible benefits, at least not when properly competent A/D and D/A conversion is involved.

        One of my favourite recordings was made in the 1950s (yeah, Decca). I play it from CD or sometimes from PC via an outboard DAC, through 1990s speakers set into 1960s cabinets, and via a mid-range late 2000s amp of unremarkable origin. I enjoy it. Isn't that all we should worry about?

        1. Vic

          Re: Oh dear.

          I've read convincing articles showing that actually, class B amplifiers (when properly implemented) provide the best practical audio output quality

          The articles might have been convincing, but they weren't accurate. A properly-implemented class A amplifier will always have higher fidelity than a properly-implemented class B amplifier because it doesn't have the transition at the zero crossing; class B amps aren't entirely linear, whereas a class A is (or at least, it should be).

          That said, the difference is almost always irrelevant in power stages.

          analogue to digital (for processing, storage, and distribution) and back again to analogue (for playback) is the best way to record and reproduce music - provided that you perform all steps thoroughly competently.

          Absolutely so. Digitisation introduces a small amount of noise due to quantisation, and any post-processing will introduce a little more for exactly the same reason - but the total noise is *dramatically* lower than that added by an analogue storage/post-processing environment.

          But I always cringe when I see CDs with "digitally remastered" on the cover; it inevitably means "blown out by some YTS monkey who doesn't give a shit".

          This is how come Decca managed to make some really rather excellent audio recordings back in the 1950s

          The biggest problem with such recordings is the durability of the media. My mate has a huge stash of recordings[1] predominantly from the '70s and '80s. On the quiet bits, you can hear the print-through...

          24 bit/44.1kHz in the studio is indistinguishable from analogue tape for mixing and mastering.

          Sounds reasonable.

          There's little evidence that higher sampling rates than CD standard produce audible benefits, at least not when properly competent A/D and D/A conversion is involved

          Don't agree there, though - capture, processing and mix-down should be performed at the highest resolution/sampling frequency available. But once mastered, CD-quality is usually plenty good enough as long as you've done a completent job in production. Such a task is much rarer than it ought to be - but isn't improved by better kit...

          VIc.

          [1] I made some of them...

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Oh dear.

            @Vic Re:

            (sorry for inability to quote properly)

            ""I've read convincing articles showing that actually, class B amplifiers (when properly implemented) provide the best practical audio output quality"

            The articles might have been convincing, but they weren't accurate. A properly-implemented class A amplifier will always have higher fidelity than a properly-implemented class B amplifier because it doesn't have the transition at the zero crossing; class B amps aren't entirely linear, whereas a class A is (or at least, it should be).

            That said, the difference is almost always irrelevant in power stages."

            Vic, your last comment is the important one: "the difference is almost always irrelevant in power stages".

            I'm sure you're aware that your claim that class A stages are entirely linear isn't accurate: no audio output stage is purely linear.

            But the main point here is that no audio output stage is as perfect as it ought to be. The stuff I read (Doug Self, Wireless World or a successor, forget when) posited that when all practical considerations were taken into account, and when a blameless (his word) amp was considered, a class B amp is as good as you're going to get in practice and definitely better than class A/B. Maybe a given class A design might possibly have a better spec - but you won't hear the difference.

            The cross-over distortion from a competent class B amp - when correctly designed and set up - is irrelevant to human perception when compared to the other inevitable distortions, was Doug Self's point.

            @ Vic: - "capture, processing and mix-down should be performed at the highest resolution/sampling frequency available."

            But why? Resolution and sampling frequency can easily be increased to stupid levels (from the audio point of view). However, in doing so linearity and other aspects of fidelity might well be compromised. Surely the thing to consider is how it sounds? If a given combination of resolution and sampling frequency produce results audibly indistinguishable from the best available analogue technology, maybe the thing to do is improve linearity and noise (etc) before bothering with top-line buzz-numbers?

            On top of that, who's got audio kit capable of reproducing sound to the fidelity required to spot the difference even between 24 bit and 16 bit recordings? - 24 bit for mixing and mastering makes good sense if you look at it, but better than 16 bit for final distribution and reproduction? I remain unconvinced that it makes any practical difference at all, and I'm certain it makes no practical difference for at least 99% of listening.

            1. Vic

              Re: Oh dear.

              Vic, your last comment is the important one: "the difference is almost always irrelevant in power stages".

              Of course. That's why I made it...

              I'm sure you're aware that your claim that class A stages are entirely linear isn't accurate: no audio output stage is purely linear.

              Class A stages are very, very close to linear - close enough to say that they are indeed so. Class B is nothing like as close.

              But the main point here is that no audio output stage is as perfect as it ought to be

              No, the main point is that the imperfections very rarely matter. Distortion added in the speakers/headphones and in the room will dwarf the distortion from the output stages.

              But why? Resolution and sampling frequency can easily be increased to stupid levels (from the audio point of view). However, in doing so linearity and other aspects of fidelity might well be compromised.

              No, linearity will not be compromised to a greater extent than losing that resoution provided your ADC is monotonic. And if it isn't, you've got far bigger problems than word length and sampling rate.

              The reason for using as much resolution as possible is that noise always increases - so if you're post-processing (e.g. mixing) two signals with uncorrelated noise x, you'd expect a resultant noise level of sqrt(2) * x simply from the combined noise level. So you minimise your recorded noise (i.e. the value of x above) and keep your interim value quantisation noise to the minimum. You can always shed resolution later (at mix-down); you cannot create it from nowhere.

              It's the same reason an old-style studio would master to 2-inch tape, not compact cassette.

              Surely the thing to consider is how it sounds?

              No. If your recording equipment colours your sound, you've already got fidelity problems. The recording/mixing/processing stages should be as transparent as possible. This means generating as little noise as possible, and in the digital domain, that means high sample rates and high resolution.

              If a given combination of resolution and sampling frequency produce results audibly indistinguishable from the best available analogue technology, maybe the thing to do is improve linearity and noise (etc) before bothering with top-line buzz-numbers?

              Why? Analogue recording technology pushed the capabilities to the limit to achieve acceptable performance. Digital techniques allow *much* higher fidelity at negligible cost; it would be foolish to restrict those capabilities just because the previous technology couldn't match them.

              24 bit for mixing and mastering makes good sense if you look at it, but better than 16 bit for final distribution and reproduction?

              I wasn't talking about the final, down-mixed product - if you look at my post, you'll see I said

              capture, processing and mix-down should be performed at the highest resolution/sampling frequency available. But once mastered, CD-quality is usually plenty good enough as long as you've done a completent job in production

              Vic.

              1. Polyphemus

                Re: Oh dear.

                @Vic - again sorry for inability to quote correctly. A few points:

                "Class A stages are very, very close to linear - close enough to say that they are indeed so. Class B is nothing like as close."

                On the other hand, a class B power amp can be produced with linearity good enough to be audibly irrelevant. E.g., http://www.douglas-self.com/ampins/dipa/dipa.htm

                It seems to me that once you've got good enough performance on any parameter, it doesn't make sense to try to improve that parameter: a much better idea is to try to improve other parameters - in any engineering context.

                ""Surely the thing to consider is how it sounds?"

                No. If your recording equipment colours your sound, you've already got fidelity problems. The recording/mixing/processing stages should be as transparent as possible. This means generating as little noise as possible, and in the digital domain, that means high sample rates and high resolution."

                I seem not to have got my idea across. My thinking is that if an improvement in measurable engineering terms of a particular engineering parameter does not produce any detectable change in how it sounds, then maybe it's a good idea to put your efforts into improving other parameters.

                Of course the recording and processing stages should be as transparent as possible. The question is how best to achieve that. Certainly high resolution in the amplitude and time domain when using digital recording are helpful, but how high is high enough? But high resolution is worthless unless your measurements (which is what digital sampling is) are also precise and accurate.

                I'm no expert in the field of digital sampling. You tell me: what are the tradeoffs between precision, accuracy, and resolution when doing audio digital sampling?

                ""If a given combination of resolution and sampling frequency produce results audibly indistinguishable from the best available analogue technology, maybe the thing to do is improve linearity and noise (etc) before bothering with top-line buzz-numbers?"

                Why? Analogue recording technology pushed the capabilities to the limit to achieve acceptable performance. Digital techniques allow *much* higher fidelity at negligible cost; it would be foolish to restrict those capabilities just because the previous technology couldn't match them."

                You talk about negligible cost - well, maybe. I'm just wondering how much improvement you actually get from increasing resolution in the amplitude and time domains beyond a certain limit - what might that limit be? What compromises are being made to increase those resolutions? At what point should engineering efforts be spent on improving other aspects of the sampling process?

                I don't know, but I do have doubts that there's much point in going beyond 32 bit / 192 kHz sampling from the point of human audio recordings.

        2. Someone Else Silver badge
          WTF?

          How many people actually (legally) own even 1000 albums?

          /me raises hand.

          Next question?

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: How many people actually (legally) own even 1000 albums?

            Me too. Although I don't have all of them in MP3 format, lots of them are on vinyl and will stay there.

            But I do have 90GB of, mostly, 320k recordings. Many of them I recorded off of my old vinyl (since I have crappy hearing too, I tended to buy the best audio equipment I could), took me over 5 years to rip cd's and re-record albums.

      2. Florida1920 Silver badge
        Pint

        "I don't like modern soft Jazz"

        That alone was enough to earn up upvote!

    2. Fihart

      What's the point of all that fidelity if you're going to use headphones?

      @ Fibbles

      What's the point of all that fidelity if you're going to listen to Neil Young ?

      Good old croaker Neil and his no-fi recordings.

      Best work was with Buffalo Springfield ending in 1969, though I also like the CSNY period ending in 1971.

    3. kiwimuso
      Trollface

      @Fibbles

      What's the point of all that fidelity if you're going to listen to Neil Young?

      There, fixed it for you.

  2. Tom 35 Silver badge

    “high resolution” albums

    So they are trying to push singles back in the bag? Go back to the golden age of buying two good tracks and 8 "Piece of Crap"?

    There are already quite a few formats that are better then MP3, and players that sound better then an iPod. Almost no one seems to care, most people just use their phone now.

    And that assumes this player is not just a scam from the people who brought us Monster cables, Headphones with a letter on the side, and $1,000 power cords.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: “high resolution” albums

      > Almost no one seems to care, most people just use their phone now.

      The LG G2 can playback 192khz 24bit FLAC files natively. Reviews I've read of its audio performance are subjective, as you would expect, but generally positive.

    2. Fuzz

      Re: “high resolution” albums

      forget $1000 power cords, you're not going to get any kind of decent quality unless you use £1600 Ethernet cables http://www.chord.co.uk/product/chord-sarum-ethernet-tuned-aray/

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: “high resolution” albums

        " you're not going to get any kind of decent quality unless you use £1600 Ethernet cables"

        Ah, yes -- I'm on a FB group (yeah, yeah, fetch the pitchforks and garlic) where such things are regularly posted when found.

        Who wouldn't want a short phono to phono cable for £300?

        And don't forget the thousands to be spent of a power supply.

        (We need a 'mug' icon)

        1. WraithCadmus
          Devil

          Re: “high resolution” albums

          Feel free to submit such items to Wat Hifi.

          http://wathifi.tumblr.com/

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    more money please

    Is a crap modern day Hollywood film, digitally recorded in 8K format at 60 frames per second, better than an old celluloid black and white Laurel and Hardy comedy. Lets say The Music Box (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vfeb0tSj5mA).

    The problem with any new audio format is that it will always suffer from crap in crap out. It does not matter if the sample rate, bit resolution and number of channels makes you feel like you are sitting in the room where it was recorded. If you wished that you were not there because the music is crap, it does not matter how fantastic the quality is.

    Adding a new format sounds too much like "give me the money again" that you have spent before on all the previous formats - You bought it on vinyl, you bought it on 8-track, you bought it on cassette, you bought it on CD, you would not buy it on Super Audio (we are still unhappy about that), you bought the mp3, now we would like you to buy it in our new patented Pono format, that will only be accessible and play on our Pono devices.

    We could have used 8 channel 32bit 65KHz FLAC as the new format, but then we could not limit the playback to only our patented devices.

  4. Kevin McMurtrie Silver badge

    CAPS LOCK MUSIC

    Neil Young was one of the pioneers in turning up the volume until it massively distorted into a new sound. I'm guessing this device adds some magic distortion that sounds good to old buzzy ears. Zero feedback amplifiers are terrible performers, especially if you're trying to keep the power consumption and parts count low for portable use. I'm sure it's great compared to MP3's destroyed stereo phasing, but that's setting the bar extremely low.

    If you want to target people who really care about sound, skip the "audiophile" gimmicks. Just build a high quality player with enough storage for lossless encoding. If you really want a fanbase, let people upload custom DSP code that can mess with the raw bitstream. People will be trading DSP algorithms and buying players just to try them out.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: CAPS LOCK MUSIC

      I'd be curious to know if research can prove a true audiophile exists and, if so, what this person would use as audio equipment.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Happy

        Re: CAPS LOCK MUSIC

        I'll just leave this here.

        http://www.engadget.com/2008/03/03/audiophiles-cant-tell-the-difference-between-monster-cable-and/

        1. MrXavia

          Re: CAPS LOCK MUSIC

          Tis true, cables don't really matter as much as people think.. but it does matter, Al is not as good as Cu for electrical signal transmission, its just that audio is such a small range it is very hard to tell....

          but what does matter is the contacts... if you have a bad connection then it doesn't matter if your cable is made of platinum, the quality will be crap, that goes for digital as well as analog..

          I always try to buy gold plated connectors with copper cables, BUT I won't pay specially for it, I often end end up using CAT6 cable for speakers, its copper and works pretty well!

          £1000 on cable though? that is pure madness...

          1. This post has been deleted by its author

          2. MJI Silver badge

            Re: CAPS LOCK MUSIC

            I just look to see what is best on price versus robustness,

            As long as it is chunky and copper I would use it and I do biwire, simply brcause I can.

            With cables the important things are.

            1) Is it copper, copper is good.

            2) Is it nice and beefy, this equals less resistance.

            3) Is the covering good, we don't want it letting the cable get damaged.

          3. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Gold is still controversial

            Gold is a fairly good conductor and doesn't corrode, but there are still issues apparently...

            http://www.epanorama.net/newepa/2010/11/06/gold-connectors-a-good-or-bad-idea/

            And http://wireworldcable.com/categories/connectors.html says "As impressive as they may look, gold-plated connectors are not a reliable indicator of quality in cables. Most gold-plated plugs are made of brass, which is plated with bright nickel and a thin layer of gold. Brass and nickel are rather poor conductors that introduce significant loss at the points of contact."

            Things are never as simple as they should be!

            1. MJI Silver badge

              Re: Gold is still controversial

              Gold plated TOSLink cables

              Most stupid idea ever.

          4. Elmer Phud Silver badge

            Re: CAPS LOCK MUSIC

            " I often end end up using CAT6 cable for speakers, its copper and works pretty well!"

            Nooooo, a true audiophile, such as myself, uses 0.5 twin flex.

            ( I wonder how separate plastic hosepipes filled with water would sound)

          5. Steven Jones

            Re: CAPS LOCK MUSIC

            CAT 6 for speaker cables? You're joking right? It might be good for noise rejection, but that's hardly an issue for speakers. The problem is the cross-section and the insertion loss due to resistances. It's only 0.58 mm2, which is only good for about a metre at best on a 4 ohm speaker system. Anything longer than that and you'll want much bigger cross-sectional area.

  5. Denarius Silver badge
    Holmes

    Golden ear set again

    O2 free copper, massive hot hot A class amps and unproven claims are back ? Ironic that a tinnitus sufferer is pushing sound quality way better than the level that someone with perfect hearing could detect distortion. Given the syncopated constipated noise flogged as music these days how does one tell when the distortion is not meant to be there ? Back to the Bach then. And MeatLoaf in ogg format.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Golden ear set again

      Class A amps never went away. The amp that I made from discrete components in 1972/73 with 30W+30W power transistors bolted to a huge heatsink machined from a block of Alloy by myself is still going strong.

      The power transistors are 2N3055 and 2N3054's

      Had to replace a few capacitors and the mains transformer a couple of years ago but the Amp is working perfectly.

      I was inspired to build it after seeing the stack of Class A amps being used by Pink Floyd on their 'Tour 72' tour where they debuted Dark side.

      1. MJI Silver badge

        Re: 2N3055

        Haven't heard those mentioned for ages, they were THE power transistor, also used it controllers for model railways.

      2. The Dude
        Boffin

        Re: Golden ear set again

        "..amp that I made from discrete components in 1972/73 with 30W+30W"

        Was that a Super Tiger, the project in Popular Electronics? I still have a half-assembled one in a box with the transformer I bought for it. Never did finish it. Maybe I will, after I retire.

      3. Jonski

        Re: Golden ear set again

        "I was inspired to build it after seeing the stack of Class A amps being used by Pink Floyd on their 'Tour 72' tour where they debuted Dark side."

        Upvoted for a) getting The Floyd into an audiophilia thread and b) Just Being There, in '72. I have to content myself with watching Live At Pompeii. I was only old enough to see them in '87, but it is still the best concert I've ever attended, with RW's recent The Wall a close second.

    2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: Golden ear set again

      There's no snake-oil about Class A amplifiers... it's still the best way to design an electronic amplifier if all you care about is output quality. But, it's not the most power-efficient (quiescent current, the current flowing at no input signal, is half of peak current)

      I've little time for fancy cables, but a lot of time for correct termination of said cables (and use of balanced signal links where possible).

      The old "modern music is so distorted anyway" has been made since the days of Motown, and it's still not true. The idea of a good reproduction system is to reproduce the noise that the recorder put there for musical effect, without adding any additional noise.

      1. Vic

        Re: Golden ear set again

        There's no snake-oil about Class A amplifiers... it's still the best way to design an electronic amplifier if all you care about is output quality.

        Absolutely so. But I very rarely come across anyone who cares enough about the improved quality over class B amps to pay for the electricity...

        Class D might well be the way to go in the future - there is necessarily some distortion added, but the idea of digital-to-the-output-stage is very appealing.

        The old "modern music is so distorted anyway" has been made since the days of Motown, and it's still not true

        Perhaps. But the modern "production" standards of a big smile curve and <2dB dynamic range still makes everything sound like shite, though.

        Vic.

    3. MJI Silver badge

      Re: Golden ear set again

      It could be due to hearing issues that MP3 is causing the problem.

      My hearing is not wonderful but I can still hear high notes and can hear very quiet noises. But MP3s can sound terrible.

    4. Elmer Phud Silver badge
      Happy

      Re: Golden ear set again

      "Given the syncopated constipated noise flogged as music these days "

      Woo hoo, someone's getting old.

      Luuuverly Dubstep - wub wub wub with bitcrushers to play with.

      Or QotSA where recording clarity is paramount to get the distortion just right.

      1. Heathroi

        Re: Golden ear set again

        down vote for the dbstep, upvote for the QOTSA ;)

      2. Denarius Silver badge
        Go

        Re: Golden ear set again

        @Elmer, yep old at 12. If you want real music, Saber Dance done by full symphony orchestra makes rock bands look feeble. As for class A amps, successor commentard is correct. Might be technically better, but how many mere consumers can tell ? Still have 2N3055s in junk box, along with OC45, OC74s and AO90. Nice to see Clive Sinclairs decades old idea of using short pulses to speakers returning. Seen circuits using timer chips to make an audio amp. Meanwhile, I will have to dig out that valve amp and radio from back of shed somewhere to see the glass bottles light up again

  6. Def Silver badge
    Paris Hilton

    Every time...

    I saw 'Pono', I read it as 'Porno'. Long live the PornoPlayer.

    Paris, because I bet she likes a good bit of Pono.

    1. Rampant Spaniel

      Re: Every time...

      Pono is a Hawaiian term, it means balanced / fair / righteous and about 20 other things. Very haole of them to use it on a commercial product.

  7. Forget It

    Like!

    1 Like for that p.o.c ditty.

    Like:- also as in Like a Hurricane.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Am i being a numpty

    or isn't FLAC lossless???

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: Am i being a numpty

      The "audiophiles" are claiming the loss occurs sooner: at the point of digital conversion (like at the ADC). They figure humans have an Uncanny Valley of audio perception and can subconsciously detect the discrete steps.

    2. Pristine Audio

      Re: Am i being a numpty

      >or isn't FLAC lossless???

      The FLACs I play on my Galaxy Note 3 certainly are.

    3. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Re: Am i being a numpty

      It can do lossless compression. It can also compress 192khz 24bit audio. There are already online stores that will sell you music in this format, as well as some blu-ray discs.

      To play it back in the home doesn't require anything too exotic- a good quality external DAC, or some AV receivers. On the hoof, there is the Colorfly player, or the LG G2 phone.

      1. Elmer Phud Silver badge

        Re: Am i being a numpty

        "To play it back in the home doesn't require anything too exotic"

        Sansa Clip handles FLAC rather well

        1. silent_count

          Re: Am i being a numpty

          Aye. For a shitty little mp3 player they do a sterling job with FLACs (rockbox erm, rocks). But, just to make the audiophiles cringe, my sansa clip is mostly filled with MP3s... at 32k,mono.

          For those who are still breathing, yes, I've got mostly audio books and podcasts.

    4. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Re: Am i being a numpty

      "or isn't FLAC lossless???"

      But that's a freetard, commie format that is missing key features like lock-in, royalty streams, patents, or the return of DRM to music.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I visited the Pono website all I got was two paragraphs of blurb and a 'visit us on facebook' link. It was a piece of crap.

    Seriously, for an outfit that claims it is dedicated to music reproduction without added bullcrap they sure seem to subscribe to a different philosophy where other forms information are concerned.

    1. Tom 35 Silver badge

      Yes the Pono site is a Piece of Crap

      They start out with "Hi Friend".

      Then continue with "There's an awfully good chance you heard about a revolution we're working on. "

      maybe or I misspelled porno when I googeled.

      Why is "There's Trouble In River City," running through my head...

  10. spider from mars
    Stop

    double-blind testing

    or GTFO

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: double-blind testing

      that's so 1969. Which I believe the last time when any hi fi reviewers let themselves be subjected to it and were found...wanting.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Another one?

    There's a lot of FLAC and WAV-players on the market already.

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: Another one?

      Isn't everyone supposed to be 'streaming' their music now?

      Personally, I can't see the point of streaming stuff because I pretty well have everything I listen to on Vinyl (78's, and LP's) or CD's. There again, I'm not the target market for 'modern music' but an old fogey. Classic blues, jazz and rock are hardly 'hot' areas of music these days now are they.

      1. Dave 126 Silver badge

        Re: Another one?

        Your vinyl will wear with time, and then there situations when perhaps you don't want to handle your precious discs (drunken parties etc). There is some software that captures vinyl at 192 khz before the pre-amp, and then applies the RCA curve on playback, but it's OSX only.

        1. EddieD

          Re: Another one?

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laser_turntable

          Won't wear out the vinyl, but will wear out your wallet...

          1. Dave 126 Silver badge

            Re: Another one?

            Fair dooes! My late mate's solution was to have, in addition to his separates and 12" for his own use, a real jukebox loaded up with 45s for use during drunken parties- Rolling Stones, Hendrix, Kinks, Small Faces etc - and a tray of old-size 10p coins for guests.

        2. Vic

          Re: Another one?

          There is some software that captures vinyl at 192 khz before the pre-amp, and then applies the RCA curve on playback, but it's OSX only.

          And there is software that does that that isn't OSX-only.

          JAMin is GPL and multi-platform. And has a RIAA filter plugin shipped with it.

          Vic.

      2. Scott Wichall

        Re: Another one?

        I do stream stuff for convenience, on the PC its FLAC24 with a Xonar Essence, iPod its ALAC...

        If I want to do some serious listening though, out comes the vinyl :-)

  12. Warm Braw Silver badge

    Hi-Res/Hi-Def

    There seems to be a sudden fad for this. That noted audiophile organ, Radio 4's You and Yours, had a feature about the "benefits" of 48k/96-bit audio over CDs last week - their refererence material, however, was a recording made in the time when studios were all analogue. So the "golden ear" experts were likely doing little more than comparing two A-D conversions with rather different equaliser settings. Of course, it was supremely ironic that I was listening to this on DAB...

    Although even I, with my tinnitus and cloth ears, can tell the difference between a modest bit rate mp3 and an "uncompressed" bit stream, I don't think I actually want the full dynamic range of the LSO in my front room and if I had it constantly in my headphones my tinnitus would be even worse.

  13. jonathan keith

    Is it that time already?

    I suppose I'll just have to post to this again then.

    http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/neil-young.html

    1. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

      Re: Is it that time already?

      When making analogies, it's always good to do fact checks...

      There are people, about 2% of the population, and nearly all female, who have tetrachromatic vision (the ability to discern four primary colours of light). For these people, an increase in "bandwidth", in the form of encoding a fourth primary (or more than the current three) would provide an obvious increase in colour fidelity. Colour fidelity is a tricky problem with video as it is, given that the primary colour response curves are averages, and as averages, they will not look right to some people.

      But back to audio, the reasons for using 192kHz are simple, you move the negative effects of the anti-aliasing filtering way beyond the upper limit of hearing. CDDA's 44.1 kHz sampling rate (chosen for compatibility with U-Matic video recorders used for mastering, rather than based on any physiological concern) is too low. 96kHz is getting there, but 192 is preferable for two reasons. First, it's what the studios use anyway, and with lossless compression, it's only a few percent bigger than 96. Second, 192 is the native sample rate of most modern DAC parts, so using that rate for replay removes the possible negative effects of upsampling by the replay equipment.

      The use of 24-bit shouldn't be contentious: it exceeds the generally accepted average of human hearing, and also mitigates the errors introduced by non-linearities in the recording and conversion of signals from analogue to digital and back.

      The argument about reproduction equipment is outdated, as there are indeed speakers with high-frequency-range tweeters, and those speakers that don't now provide low-pass filtering in their tweeter filter to remove intermodulation.

      1. jason 7

        Re: Is it that time already?

        24bit has anything to do with human hearing? I thought it was the number of samples a second, not something directly related to human hearing/perception.

        1. Dave 126 Silver badge

          Re: Is it that time already?

          24 bit describes the dynamic range of each sample point, and khz how many thousand sample points each second. We use the same unit, hz, for describing pitch, but it is a different thing.

      2. King Jack

        4th primary colour?

        @Kristian Walsh what is this 'forth' primary colour? Answer: Bollocks!!

        1. Vic

          Re: 4th primary colour?

          > what is this 'forth' primary colour?

          "Fourth". "Forth" is a language.

          > Answer: Bollocks!!

          Possibly not.

          Vic.

        2. Kristian Walsh Silver badge

          @King Jack ... Re: 4th primary colour?

          See Vic's link.

          As you asked so politely: the fourth primary is between the normal red and green, so is perceived as orange or yellow..

          The test is to give a subject a Red/Green mixer control and ask them to match a monochromatic orange or yellow light source. Trichromats (those who have three primary colour receptors) can do this task easily, because we perceive colours like orange or yellow as a combined red and green stimulus; tetrachromats struggle to achieve the correct mix of red and green because they see the orange lamp as a mix of red, green and another, separate, primary colour, as different to red or green as blue is..

          Studies into Tetrachromacy show that it is also more common in the mothers of red-green colour blind males than in the general population, which makes some sense as some of the genes for colour vision are carried on the X sex chromosomes.

  14. jason 7

    Audiophiles...

    ...don't actually listen to the music, they listen to the equipment.

    They always argue they are the highest of music lovers but they are not. It's not the music they love.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      Re: Audiophiles...

      "..don't actually listen to the music, they listen to the equipment."

      I often found that people using that mantra were in fact just jealous of others and fearful that they themselves might like it if they tried but it might prove too expensive. So they would talk it down to give themselves an ideological excuse for why they use a ghetto-blaster and not a decent system.

      If you like music you want it to sound as good as possible. But, of course, you need to like *music* and not something that is popularly known as one but isn't...

      1. jason 7

        Re: Audiophiles...

        No its not jealousy at all. I used to class myself as an audiophile. I had a huge Meridian setup but when you get a bunch of such people together you find all they talk and obsess over is the kit. Music hardly gets a mention.

        I then realised that the music had merely become the equivalent of petrol in a sports car.

        I wasn't actually enjoying the music just trying to listen to the hardware. I have mentioned this to other kit obsessives and they often admit that's closer to the truth than they would like to openly admit.

        Thats all wrong. The Meridian kit has now all been passed on and now I just listen to Spotify. It's made me far happier and far more into the music. I feel so free that I now enjoy music on whatever its played. I don't feel I need to put the plasterer's radio on spikes when he comes round.

        A good tune is good whatever you listen to it on.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: Audiophiles...

          "I wasn't actually enjoying the music just trying to listen to the hardware."

          Perhaps you just had a wrong set of hardware... and friends.

      2. JP19

        Re: Audiophiles...

        "I often found that people using that mantra were in fact just jealous of others and fearful that they themselves might like it if they tried but it might prove too expensive. So they would talk it down to give themselves an ideological excuse for why they use a ghetto-blaster and not a decent system."

        You often found? Do you inject people with truth serum or something to know what they think?

        I suspect audiophools are much more fearful of discovering they can't really tell the difference between a ghetto-blaster and the 'decent system' they spent $thousands on which is why ABX seems to be a swear word for them.

        1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

          Re: Audiophiles...

          I don't need truth serum - it's in plain text in your own post above (unless you were on Pentothal when you wrote it, in which case you're right).

          Any argument that in order to truly enjoy music you need to deliberately degrade quality of reproduction is as irrational and delusional (if not more) as a belief in demagnetisation of CDs.

          In fact, you will find that any ideology proclaiming that "worse is better" is invariably based on envy and fear.

          "If I, for whatever imaginary reasons, can't have [smthg] then anyone who has it is idiot/thief/liar/infidel [underline as appropriate]"

          Finally, if you can't hear the difference between a ghetto-blaster and a 'decent system' - you must have an impaired hearing and should probably see a doctor.

          Oh, and you don't need to spend "$thousands" to get yourself a 'decent system'.

          1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

            Re: Audiophiles...

            I give up. This place is overrun by audiochavs.

  15. Turtle

    The Tintinnabulations Of The Ad-Copy.

    Here's a ringing endorsement from a famous rocker: "Hi! I'm deaf, but I know audiophile-grade kit when I read about it! Remember this scientifically-proven fact: the more you pay, the better it sounds."

    1. Vic

      Re: The Tintinnabulations Of The Ad-Copy.

      > the more you pay, the better it sounds.

      A mate of mine used to use the tag-line "the more you drink, the better I sound" :-)

      Vic.

    2. Alex Walsh

      Re: The Tintinnabulations Of The Ad-Copy.

      What you need then is over a grands worth as Astell & Kern AK120 ;-)

    3. Paw Bokenfohr

      Re: The Tintinnabulations Of The Ad-Copy.

      I'm certainly not endorsing the product, but just because you have Tinnitus doesn't mean that you can't hear well.

      Tinnitus covers a broad range of problems that you can have - for some people, it can be devastating and awful and almost deafening. For others, it's limited to ringing or hissing in specific frequency ranges, which can be drowned out, or can be trained out.

      So, just because someone has Tinnitus doesn't necessarily mean that they can't identify poorly encoded audio or that they wouldn't appreciate well encoded audio.

      Though, this seems like hooey to me - from everything I've read and experienced, well recorded and well encoded music with current technologies are good enough for almost everyone, and for anyone who it's not good enough for (either for real reasons or confirmation-bias based ones) a better choice would have been some sort of high bit-depth, high sample rate open-source encoder, like FLAC already provides.

  16. andy da moog

    all digital recordings

    they all sound choppy and mp3s are the worst offenders i cant stand to listen to them i find them harsh and in some cases painful

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: all digital recordings

      Choppiness is usually the result of bad processing. As for audio quality, it depends on the source (GIGO). Me, I have a decent ear and can distinguish the artifacts from low bitrates so I stick to straight rips at the spec limit of 320kbps. It may be lossy, but it's close enough for my ears, and I can still pack a nice collection into a few GB. Anyone asks, I just say I lack the ear for better and go my way.

    2. Vociferous

      Re: all digital recordings

      It sounds like you should check the gear you play your music on.

  17. John Lilburne Silver badge

    I'm told that you can always extract money from idiots with big boxes and big numbers. For audio most of the listeners can't tell the difference between systems. People are all listening to stuff through little earplugs, pumped out via some mobile phones, or ipods. Then they'll mostly have done some EQ nonsense of 'Rock', 'Pop'. or 'Live' to distort the sound production that the artist layed down. If its not earplugs its being shoved through some 5:1 surround sound crap with the 'Virtual' setting and tinny little speakers.

    1. jason 7

      Buy NAIM

      equipment and then you'll be constantly told -

      "Oh it won't sound right until you buy the £700 xyz power supply to go with it!"

      I've always felt if you've paid say £3000 for a CD player it should sound right with or without extra boxes plugged in.

      Lovely marketing strategy, fill your customers with constant doubt that the £XXXX box they bought maybe doesn't sound as good as it should without extra bits that cost almost as much as the original box.

      Listening to the equipment...

      1. Wilseus

        Re: Buy NAIM

        'Buy NAIM equipment and then you'll be constantly told -

        "Oh it won't sound right until you buy the £700 xyz power supply to go with it!"'

        Rubbish.

        I read a post on a Naim forum quite recently stating that if a system did not sound right using their cheapest amplifier, moving up to a dearer one would not fix it.

        And no, I don't own any Naim kit.

  18. AbortRetryFail

    Obligatory xkcd

    You know which one it's going to be too. :o)

    https://xkcd.com/927

    1. Vociferous

      Re: Obligatory xkcd

      EU regulation has meant that all phones have standardized chargers now. Statism and regulation wins again!

      1. gh4662

        Re: Obligatory xkcd

        The iPhone doesn't have a standardised charger

        1. Vociferous

          Re: Obligatory xkcd

          That's because until last year it was voluntary for manufacturers, and Apple was the only manufacturer who didn't volunteer, because they make so good money off peripherals.

  19. Jo 5

    Is this not the equivalent of getting your hair styled by a bald hairdresser? I'd like to see him tell the difference between this an old cheap ipod.

    1. Vladimir Plouzhnikov

      "Is this not the equivalent of getting your hair styled by a bald hairdresser?"

      Hmm, do you only go to hairdressers who can demonstrate that they can do their own haircut? Who are they - octopussies with 8 tentacles and eyes in the back?

      1. Jason Ozolins

        I cut my hair with a set of Wahl clippers and combs, and have not paid for a haircut since about 1997. It doesn't take long before you can do the back of your head without having to hold a hand mirror...

  20. Jan 0
    Pint

    We don't need no steenkin' PonoPlayers

    You can already store music files in lossless formats on smartphones. All the tracks on my iPhone are AIFFs ripped from CDs. Android audio players can use WAV, FLAC and AIFF

    All that Neil needs to do is to persuade music download sites and app stores to supply uncompressed audio. We don't need another gizmo to carry around.

    Beer for Neil, because his heart is in the right place as far as music quality is concerned, but he needs to get out on tour more often and do what's important.

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: We don't need no steenkin' PonoPlayers

      I think the term you want is "lossless" rather than "uncompressed".

    2. Pristine Audio

      Re: We don't need no steenkin' PonoPlayers

      >All that Neil needs to do is to persuade music download sites and app stores to supply uncompressed audio.

      Try Qobuz.com - they sell non-lossy downloads in a multitude of formats (compressed and uncompressed, CD quality and higher) and have a streaming service that lets you choose between 320kbps MP3 and CD-quality FLAC. They've been around here in France for a while - they launched in the UK last December, apparently.

  21. Vociferous

    PoC

    Do the lyrics to Piece Of Crap suggest Young knew about Windows Phones already back in 1994? If so, is it possible that he is a time-traveler here to warn us about the dangers of the Metro interface? Or is he an alien trying to save Earth from a technological dead end? Stay tuned to find out more!

    Seriously, though: 128 kbit/s or less MP3's are pretty poor if you listen on quality gear, but I doubt anyone can tell a 256 or higher bitrate MP3 from the original recording (from live music, sure, but we're talking recordings here).

    1. Charles 9 Silver badge

      Re: PoC

      Most consider 256-320kbps encodings to be near the point of "perceptual transparency" (IOW, the average person can't distinguish between this and a lossless encoding). provided the source (GIGO) and encoder (algorithmic tweaks for performance or architecture reasons can alter the end result, thus the qualification) are also of good quality. Perhaps a well-trained ear can still pick out the artifacts, but it's normally tricky in a blind sound test.

      1. Jason Ozolins

        Re: PoC

        A few years ago, I remember being quite surprised that the highest bit rate MP3 encoder supplied in iTunes made such a hash of a big booming reverb effect that I could clearly hear the difference from the original, despite my hearing already starting to go to crap. I was pretty familiar with the original track. [Movement in Still Life, UK version - BT is pretty obsessive about his recording technique, FWIW]

        So, yeah, MP3 - depends on the developer's commitment to the format. And the program content - distortion-laden guitars (Neil Young, perchance?) are actually really challenging to compress well with perceptual coding, because there's energy *all over the spectrum*, not in neat peaks like for many acoustic instruments. Not sure if your "source is of good quality" proviso was meant to apply in that case... it certainly makes the snobby "give classical stations higher bit rates because golden ears" decisions for BBC DAB radio seem even sillier.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_National_DAB

  22. RonWheeler

    I made myself do a blind test of a bunch of songs

    Ripped some stuff from CD to a bunch of formats, including FLAC.intermediary file.

    Played them back randomly and marked them.

    The best to my ears? Windows Media Audio (Variable Bit Rate). Better, to my ears than FLAC or WMA Lossless.

    1. Tom 7 Silver badge

      Re: I made myself do a blind test of a bunch of songs

      That's a blind test which really isn’t worth air it came through.

      And you were starting with CD data.

      1. 's water music Silver badge

        Re: I made myself do a blind test of a bunch of songs

        That's a blind test which really isn’t worth air it came through.

        And you were starting with CD data.

        and did you even draw round the edges of them in green marker pen first? Sheesh

  23. Alex Walsh

    not just about the audio fidelity

    The Pono needs to be able to power a decent set of headphones too. My phone can't get a decent volume out of a pair of 545s and they're not even THAT expensive. On the other hand, my £40 pair of Pioneers sound much louder.

  24. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    F886 says hi..

    This has already been done, by a company with s trustworthy track record for product support.

  25. Imsimil Berati-Lahn

    Oh Emperor! Your new clothes do look wonderful!

    Zero / minimal phase >distortion< perhaps? That'd be a Finite Impulse Response filter then...

    Oh, but they don't want to be using such a negative word as "distortion" in marketing bumf.

    Maybe try "maximum phase fidelity" instead of just avoiding the "D" word + sack their marketing dept + pay me a F.O. huge commission. (yeah, right).

    Nothing to see here I'd venture, however a definite whiff of snake oil / BS. Oh, the smell of it.

    Here's interesting though.

    Found this from the annals of the Salzburg Konservatorium, circa 1800

    Regard: the new UberKlingen.

    Guarranteed to be nicer than your current StuckSheize in a manner that is not clearly defined or objectively measurable in any way.

    Endorsed by Ludwig Van-Beethoven.

    Only 5x the price of equivalent apparatus not carrying said endorsement.

    1. Martin
      Happy

      Re: Oh Emperor! Your new clothes do look wonderful!

      Endorsed by Ludwig Van Beethoven

      Who was deaf.

      1. A Twig

        Re: Oh Emperor! Your new clothes do look wonderful!

        methinks that was the point -

        UberKlingen = "above sound" or "UberSound"

        StuckSheize I presume was meant to be PoS :)

      2. Charles 9 Silver badge

        Re: Oh Emperor! Your new clothes do look wonderful!

        Thing was, he came upon his deafness later in his life, meaning he still had plenty of experience and exposure to music, thus he was still able to compose. The same would not be expected of someone born deaf and never having gained aural experience.

  26. &rew
    Devil

    I think everyone should have these:

    If you were a true audiophile (and who isn't these days), you might consider upgrading the cabling for your "streaming device" using cables from Chord (www.chord.co.uk). A single 1 m ethernet cable will set you back a measly £1600.

    Yup. £1600. 1 m.

    Snake oil anyone?

  27. heenow

    So...we've got one of the worst singers of all time trying to hawk a device with no scientific reason for being, and we each end up $400 poorer?

    Welcome to the 21st century of nothingness taking over the world. And too many minds.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      some confusion here, perhaps?

      "...worst singers of all time..."

      Probably you're confusing Neil Young with Neil Diamond there.

  28. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    It's not just about the sound, if they get the interface and controls wrong then no one will buy it.

  29. Wilseus

    I'm not sure they're barking up the right tree here

    Lossless audio is all very well, and it's well worth having these days given how cheap storage has become. However the limiting factor in most setups these days isn't the bit depth, sample rate or amount of lossy compression. It's the appalling mastering of many modern albums of the last 20 years. I've found myself responding to that by mostly buying albums that were made in the 1970s and 1980s. Sadly, many of these originally good recordings have been "remastered" and in the process been ruined by dynamic compression and hard limiting which simply robs music of its soul.

    There did appear to be a campaign group (http://turnmeup.org/) highlighting this but it doesn't seem to have had much activity over the last few years and besides I had to blacklist their emails ever since they appeared to have turned over my email address to spammers.

    The bottom line is, for all MP3's faults I'd rather listen to a decent recording, properly mastered, as a 128Kbps MP3 than a 24/96 FLAC if the latter recording is a distorted wall of mush with absolutely no dynamics.

    Neil Young and co. should use their influence to target this first, IMO.

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