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Audio News for August 23, 2013

The Two “Fix Everything in 2013” Hi-Res Music Service Projects

Published on August 23, 2013

The Two “Fix Everything in 2013” Hi-Res Music Service Projects – The first is Neil Young’s Pono, which he has been talking about on TV talk shows and elsewhere for some time now, inspired by his seeing a woman listening to music on the awful white earbuds connected to an iDevice, and lamenting that she’d never know top-notch sound quality. He wants to save the younger digital generation from the compressed audio files it loves and uses. Back in May, Pono said “Still working on it,” and Neil Young has visited Meridian, but nothing new since then. Billboard magazine sees two main problems with Pono:

  1. Where will the music come from? = Studios and recording engineers use 24-bit and even 32-bit audio files to record on digital consoles, plus increasingly 352.8K or 384K processors, then they bump them way down to CD quality (44.1K/16-bit), and then that is usually compressed even further to MP3 files for Amazon, AAC files for iTunes, or a variety of other compression algorithms. The original hi-res files are often difficult to get to; music services would have to hunt around for the hi-res versions of every song they want to offer, and they need at least 15 million tracks before anyone will want to shop or subscribe. Another (we hope this one doesn’t occur) approach would be to apply some sort of upsampling or digital trickery to make the low-res music files sound better without going back to the hi-res originals. (SRS Lab, for example, has been doing this sort of thing for years.) Such doctored audio files would also take up about five times as much space on iPhones as Apple’s AAC files do, so it’s time to delete a lot of photos.
  2. How will people play the music files? = Neil Young intends to address mainly the iOS devices of Apple, which support AAC, HE-ACC, MP3, MP3 VBR, Audible, Apple Lossless, AIFF and WAV.  (Not FLAC.) And they only support Apple Lossless up to 48K/24-bit—not 96K or 192K!  Most audiophiles talking about hi-res res downloads are talking about 96K/24-bit files.  So Pono will compete directly with Apple, unless it downsamples its hi-res files to 48K/24-bit to offer on iOS devices. People will have to buy a new piece of hardware from Pono, and it probably won’t be cheap. Will Neil Young’s project work or not?

By the way, Neil Young talks primarily about “uncompromised studio quality” audio being uncompressed 192K/24-bit. Google 96K vs. 192K and you’ll find that the general feeling in many quarters is that there is no point to distributing 192K/24 downloads. Fidelity is slightly inferior and the files take up much more space. It is a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist and it is not the “magic bullet”.  96K/24 is just fine.

The second “Fix Everything” project is Beats Music. Their project involves are Dr. Dre, Jimmy Iovine, Trent Reznor and Ian Rogers. It has something to do with the Beats line of headphones. Its creators promise a completely different music experience. Experts will curate music for its listeners, and once listeners find an artist they like, Beats Music will help that artist sell stuff directly to them. The idea is take the concept of music discovery and consumption past the celebrity playlist and radio programming that already exists, to create something new and exciting to the mainstream. There seems to be no data on whether the sampling rate is hi-res or not. Beats Music will be an unlimited, on-demand music subscription service like Rhapsody, Rdio and Spotify. (Apple is introducing its own iTunes radio service in the fall.) This is far from a startup: Beats acquired and bases its service on MOG, for which it paid $14 million, and it has received $60 million in new investment.




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