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The scientific merit of Pono

Discussion in 'Sound Science' started by ab initio, May 7, 2014.
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  1. ab initio
    Hi All,
    I saw "pono" mentioned a few times in some other threads, and apparently I'm not "with it" enough to know what it was without searching the internet for it. For those who aren't in the know, here is wikipedia's description:
    Pono High Definition digital music service, brainchild of Niel Young: Wikipedia
    To sum up, Pono is a music service where they want to sell you a DAP, headphones, and your entire catalog of music, remastered for high quality sound and distributed in 24/192 FLAC.
    Because this is head-fi and because the business model for Pono is to sell you a digital audio player and headphones, I expect there might be some folks who arrive here looking for answers regarding Pono, "whether 24/192 is really better than cd quality (16/44.1)", and "why and how and what is going on with digital audio and those stairsteps", and "oh no! Flac is compressed, therefore it must somehow sound less good than wav?" and other questions and myths then tend to get frequently asked on head-fi.
    Therefore, I thought it might be a good idea if there was a thread to help folks form a scientifically  informed opinion on the merits of such a music service such as Pono. Let me start by linking to a few threads that have already addressed these issues.
    On High Resolution audio formats (i.e., High Inefficiency audio formats):
    1. http://www.head-fi.org/t/716822/why-24-bit-audio-and-anything-over-48k-is-not-only-worthless-but-bad-for-music
    2. http://www.head-fi.org/t/716947/avsforum-is-high-resolution-audio-irrelevant
    3. http://www.head-fi.org/t/415361/24bit-vs-16bit-the-myth-exploded
    4. http://www.trustmeimascientist.com/2013/02/04/the-science-of-sample-rates-when-higher-is-better-and-when-it-isnt/
    On digital audio theory:
    1. http://xiph.org/video/vid2.shtml
    On the Free Lossless Audio Codec (i.e., FLAC)
    1. https://xiph.org/flac/
    On the importance of quality mastering
    1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3Gmex_4hreQ
    2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Loudness_war
    3. http://dynamicrangeday.co.uk/
    4. http://mastering-media.blogspot.com/2008/09/metallica-death-magnetic-stop-loudness.html
  2. Claritas
    Criticizing the unnecessarily high sample rate misses the point of Pono, which is intended to be a popular alternative to mp3 downloads. It's High Res For Dummies.
  3. esldude
    The real point of Pono is to let you the music lover get as close as possible to the exact way music was recorded.  Neil Young thinks higher sample rates do that.  I think mainly it is the master tape with the least mastering done to it.  In any case Mr. Young is trying to give us a transparent way to hear just what the musicians laid down in the studio. 
    I commend him on that goal.  Even if down-sampling 192 to 48 is audibly identical I hope to get the music into my hands without it being molested.  And you don't have to have a Pono player, as you will be able to buy the FLAC's for use on anything.  So scientifically, his Pono player may be overkill or even misguided in some ways (no feedback analog stages?), but his goal of most direct versions of the music are good ones in my opinion.  Though I do hate the idea of paying extra to simply have music to which less was done. 
  4. Steve Eddy

    They're just going to be offering what the studios want to give them so I don't think there's going to be any re-mastering for Pono to speak of.

    To me, the whole underlying notion that bit depth and sampling rate is what gets you closer to what the musicians laid down in the studio is absolutely absurd. What was heard in the studio is, by a HUGE HUGE HUGE margin, determined by the monitors used in the studio as well as the studio's acoustic environment, which doesn't resemble anything like what's found in most home systems. Not to mention the fact that different recordings are made in different studios using different monitors and different acoustical environments.

  5. ab initio
    The point here is to lay down the facts about different aspects of Pono so that folks can formulate their own opinion about Pono's merits.
    I'm fairly certain that there will be quite a few folks that will wonder whether or not they need to re-buy their CD collection in 24/192. It's helpful for people to understand the science regarding the technical aspects of Pono.
    The remastering part is where the real benefit that Pono can offer the public. This is a sound science thread because the potential for Pono music to be superior to mainstream CD pressings comes from proper mastering that reverses the trends of the loudness wars. It is NOT from the Hi-In (HIgh INefficiency) 24/192 format that they will unfortunately distribute. I should put some links in the first post  about the mastering process and the loudness wars. Any recommendations?
  6. Claritas
    This is a famous video.
    You might want to provide one of the Metallica Death Magnetic vs. Guitar Hero 3 Soundtrack comparisons.
  7. ab initio

    Added, Thank you!
  8. zorin
    Point "On the importance of quality mastering" is a waste of time to discuss, it is self obvious that 'quality mastering' is important, even more, it is critical for those who care about the quality of sound.
  9. ab initio

    I disagree. It is not a waste of time to discuss it because that fact is lost on many folks who get hyperobsessed with hires formats and DAC/amplifier technology that often have negligible effect on sound quality,.

  10. zorin
    I have yet to know a guy who would voluntarily choose to listen to badly mastered recordings when an alternative of higher quality was available as well. Anybody who is not a plain idiot would make a choice of well recorded and mastered music. So discussion is pointless. What is needed is to compile a list of music studios and of individuals who produce substandard sound engineering and mastering work so that people would know about them and avoid buying sonic junk they produce. I can give you few names if you want to do this project.
  11. blades
    But remasters are what "high res" digital audio is all about.  They are the reason the "high res" files sound different from the high bit rate MP3's.
  12. castleofargh Contributor

    almost every week we have someone mistaking master and resolution/format. you assume that people are informed and chose the best, but to chose they have to know the choice exists.
    while the conclusion of almost any test regarding DVD audio and DSD were that the masters made the audible difference, most people still don't know an album can have several masters.
    so while I clearly am in favor of blacklisting the studios specialized in master shredding, I really think it is important to keep talking about masters to people.
  13. Roly1650
    I think the much more important question is, what will they remaster from? If it's the original tapes, (pre-supposing they still exist and are available), then they don't need 24/192, if it's early digital, then that could be 16/44/48 or 24/48, good luck on remastering that to 24/192! And who's going to do the remastering, several lifetimes of work there, even if only the "important" music is tackled. Sorry but I just don't think that Neil Young and co. are ever going to put forward a worthwhile catalog of music which is genuine, properly remastered 24/192, even if we needed it.

    NY would be much better employed getting the industry to max out the potential of RBCD, ie: use more than the top 10dB of the range and don't then clip it as well, Pono can't fix that. Where was he when the "engineers" were hacking his music? Does he or James Taylor or Eddie Vedder and all the other artist that have jumped on the bandwagon, expect me to believe that they had no clout with the record companies, to put out the best product they could, back in the day? Did any of them refuse the iTunes royalties because it was mp3 dross? Why do they think they have more clout now and why the sudden epiphany? A chance to sell another copy of Harvest, Mud Slide Slim or ,(cringing), DSOTM? Several of JT's early albums were recorded at his own studio for heavens sake, not a quality control issue, surely?

    To some extent don't we already have the model for what were going to get, HD Tracks has being issuing plenty of albums claiming to be 24/96 or /192 which are nothing of the kind, just upsampled 16/44. The record labels supporting Pono are the same ones supplying HDT with the upsampled files now, what will change and why? Yet none of this has convinced audiophiles that this is not the greatest thing since sliced bread. And the cycle has started all over again with DSD in its 27 different guises. No thanks, don't need that at a premium price.

    On your last point, good luck with that, the biggest selling album of the last 5 years is not only compressed but clipped to all hell as well! This atrocity won all the major industry awards and as I say the public made it a multi-platinum seller. The shame is that, imo the music is pretty good and would have been even better if mixed/mastered/produced with some semblance of competency. Digital has made anyone with a Mac, some software and a couple of mics a recording "engineer" in their mind.

    Certain parts of the industry has failed miserably to extract the max from 16/44 digital audio, why will Pono or any other hi rez format fix that? Sorry, I can only look at Pono as being more cynical exploitation, not by NY maybe, but he's certainly enabling the record labels.
    BlackbeardBen and ellemir like this.
  14. bigshot
    High sampling rates, high bit rates and lossless make absolutely no difference, and none of these thing are guarantees of good sound. I just finished going through a bit pile of HD Tracks, MFSL, fancy audiophile vinyl, SACD, Blu-Ray Audio and DVD-A... I heard "audiophile" releases that sounded worse than the plain vanilla CD. I heard a few with better mastering. But an awful lot of them sounded exactly the same as the regular CD. I took the best sounding ones down to AAC 256 VBR and the lossy sounded exactly like the HD. I finally came to the conclusion that you can't tell anything about the quality of the sound by the format it is delivered on.
    Next I am trying out multichannel. I have higher hopes for that.
    ellemir likes this.
  15. esldude

    Have been reading up on miking techniques for surround sound.  It seems to have even less theoretical footing than stereo.  Is even more a case of trying some things that sort of work for a pleasing illusion and not so much reproduction accuracy.  Though some work on it is to bring all that up to speed.  My point being that with pre-recorded music there is probably even less chance than with stereo getting a good version of something real.  Artificial studio music doesn't have that problem of course and can still be quite fun.  I am guessing the big benefit for music would simply be 3 channels up front. 
    Of course the 3 channel thing is a pet peeve of mine from way back.  I see so much push for SACD, then downloadable hirez music and multiple new versions of DSD.  If they are going to bother with multiple niche products (most of which offer no benefit other than to the seller) seems there would be room for releasing recordings in a 3 channel format.  Plenty of orchestral music is recorded with Decca trees.  Having the original 3 channels to play back balanced to our liking, our equipment and our room would be beneficial.
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