Lossless, lossless, lossless
February 9, 2015 6:05 AM   Subscribe

"You know how every once in a while you buy the $40 bottle of wine instead of the $8 one, thinking you're gonna have a special dinner or something?" Senior Reviews Editor Lee Hutchinson wrote over instant message. "And you get home, and you make the salmon or the pasta or whatever and you light the candles? And you pour the wine, swirl it like they do in Sideways so that it looks like you know what you're doing... you bring it to your lips and after smelling it—it smells like wine—you have a sip? And it's like… yeah, I guess this tastes good or something, but really it just tastes like wine?
"The Pono Player is kinda like that, but for music."
posted by MartinWisse (206 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
David Pogue on doing A/B testing with the Pono.
The results baffled me. The Pono video shows dozens of professionals reacting very differently to their A/B tests. How could my results be so different?

Well, first of all, they listened to the Pono in a car, instead of on headphones in a controlled environment. (What the heck?) Anyway, just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I also conducted a couple of A/B tests in my car. If anything, there was even less audible difference.

So I wrote to Pono — and heard back from Neil Young himself.

“Of approximately 100 top-seed artists who compared Pono to low resolution MP3s,” he wrote, “all of them heard and felt the Pono difference, rewarding to the human senses, and is what Pono thinks you deserve to hear.”

Aha — there’s a key phrase in there: low-resolution MP3s.
posted by zamboni at 6:11 AM on February 9, 2015 [22 favorites]


Not entirely surprising, given the overblown nature of equipment marketed for "Audiophiles."
posted by jsplit at 6:18 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Perhaps Neil Young's friends love him too much.
posted by Going To Maine at 6:21 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


It's insane that there's still an industry for this shit.
posted by odinsdream at 6:27 AM on February 9, 2015 [16 favorites]


It shits me that Neil Young, of whom I'm a fan, is flogging snake oil.

It doesn't really shit me that people will buy crap because some famous person(s) said they should, because that seems to be the case for just about everything and people are, by and large, daft. When it's sneakers or magic fuel-line magnets, I don't care because I don't really buy shoes or car bits.

I suppose I need to re-adjust my expectations of things, one way or another.
posted by pompomtom at 6:27 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Meet the new Bose, same as the old Bose.
posted by Slothrup at 6:31 AM on February 9, 2015 [127 favorites]


Here's an article about audio encoding that explains (pretty well IMO) why i have been unable to tell the difference between high-quality mp3s and pretty much everything better.

There's also this video from the same author explaining digital audio and conversion from digital to analog (and vice versa).
posted by igowen at 6:31 AM on February 9, 2015 [21 favorites]


It's insane that there's still an industry for this shit.

You mean mp3 players? Or music?
posted by thelonius at 6:32 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


Pogue is obviously not using the gold-plated HDMI cables. Philistine.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


I was bothered by the wine analogy, because there are more often than not glaring differences between an $8 bottle and a $40 bottle, just like there are glaring differences between MP3s encoded at 92kbps and 320kbps, but I don't know how to counter the "well, it's all subjective and all just tastes like wine" line of argument without resorting to "NO, ONE IS JUST BETTER."

Anyway, Pogue's experiment, small sample size notwithstanding, much more effectively communicated the bullshittery of The Official Neil Young Toblerone Listening Device.
posted by The Michael The at 6:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


The question is, did he use the gold-plated audio cables with it? That makes all the difference.
posted by happyroach at 6:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


*high-fives happy roach*
posted by leotrotsky at 6:35 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I think the better wine analogy would be a lot of the ridiculous glassware that you must buy In order to truly appreciate what you're drinking.
posted by backseatpilot at 6:36 AM on February 9, 2015 [29 favorites]


I have my $29 SanDisk MP3 player (with a SD card to boost its storage capacity) and couldn't be happier with it. For high-quality audio, I just make sure I use the highest bit rate setting that I can (320 kbps) and I've never had a problem enjoying my music.
posted by surazal at 6:40 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't know how to counter the "well, it's all subjective and all just tastes like wine" line of argument without resorting to "NO, ONE IS JUST BETTER."

You do realize there is an awful lot of research showing that this isn't actually the case. It's been on the blue over and over again. Even the pros fail at distinguishing the quality of wine by price point.

The reality is that people pay for an experience rather than a thing so the label matters on headphones and wine. From social signalling to self-inflicted placebo effects there are a host of reasons why people don't shave with Occam's razor. The Spock like focus on a single dimension, while appealing to me and my pointy ears and my price point to value constraint satisfaction goal, isn't what most people want.
posted by srboisvert at 6:44 AM on February 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


I can detect differences between FLAC / WAV files and @320 or lower MP3s using Rhythmbox and a cheap pair of earbuds - the drums sound noticeably less tinny / distorted, and vocal and string instrument sound is closer to the range of the original source when played on a decent-quality stereo, for example. And my hearing is just so-so.

The audiophile world is primarily a snake oil market, but that doesn't mean that sound quality doesn't matter and isn't dependent on file type, file creation methods, and equipment. It seems like every week I hear some kid raised on low bit rate MP3s dismiss any criticism of them with, "hurf durf $1000 HDMI cable."
posted by ryanshepard at 6:47 AM on February 9, 2015 [17 favorites]


There's plenty of snake oil, but darn it, I'd love to have a well-designed music player that natively supports FLAC. So regardless of the high resolution fluff, I'm totally on board once this drops in price.
posted by SemiSophos at 6:47 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Wait, so Folgers really *is* identical to Stumptown? My *kid* could paint a Pollock!

** shaves a yak **
posted by gramschmidt at 6:50 AM on February 9, 2015 [13 favorites]


I can detect differences between FLAC / WAV files and @320 or lower MP3s using Rhythmbox and a cheap pair of earbuds

Who did you get to help you perform the double-blind experiment?
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:50 AM on February 9, 2015 [51 favorites]


Mp3 players don't need to sound better. There just needs to be a better combination of player UI and desktop software than iPod Classic + iTunes.

I tried pretty hard to replace iPod Classic/iTunes recently and gave up. The Fiios X1 seemed promising but its UI sucks. I can find a replacement for iTunes that handles song ratings and smart playlists (MusicBee in my case) but the experience breaks down trying to carry it over to a mobile player. I know it can be done but the effort and compromises ended up being worse than iTunes.

I feel myself being pulled into the smartphone-based streaming ecosystem despite my protests. Sigh.
posted by mullacc at 6:50 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


They did this with CD's and records in the 80's, claiming CD sounded like a live performance (compared to the pops and scratches on a record). You've got to blow out someone else's candle to really shine these days. Disclaimer: I listen to Neil Young, would like a pono, and think the difference between a 5 and 10 dollar bottle of wine is usually worth paying more.
posted by Brian B. at 6:51 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was bothered by the wine analogy, because there are more often than not glaring differences between an $8 bottle and a $40 bottle

I have never seen two industries more made for each other when it comes to what their luminaries claim to be able to distinguish vs. what they actually can distinguish when put to the test than audio equipment and wine.
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 6:51 AM on February 9, 2015 [20 favorites]


They did this with CD's and records in the 80's, claiming CD sounded like a live performance

They also floated the lie that CDs, unlike records, were highly resistant to physical damage.
posted by thelonius at 6:53 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


16 bits and 44.1 kHz are insufficient to represent an arbitrary audio waveform accurately.

We can hear up to 20 kHz or so, but a few samples per cycle is not enough to accurately represent the shape of signals at the high end of our hearing.

16 bits is fine when the audio is at full level, but in quieter sections the bit count is less and the quantization gets more perceptable. That lead to the CD loudness war with signals being forced to fill the bitdepth as much as possible, at the loss of dynamic range.

The trouble is, the test was done with music that was aleady recorded and mixed to work within those limits. Pono may be supplying a high sample rate copy of the analog stereo master, but the making of that analog stereo master involved filtering and level compression that baked too many compromises into the signal.

To see the full benefit of the improved signal you would need to record and mix with Pono in mind, let the high frequencies through, let quiet sections actually be quiet.
posted by w0mbat at 6:53 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I prefer to keep my music in lossless format, even if I can't hear a difference between 320kbps and FLAC. But I still don't see the point of Pono -- I've been using ALAC (Apple Lossless) on an Apple iPod for years.
posted by bradf at 6:54 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Who did you get to help you perform the double-blind experiment?

Correction:

It seems like every week I hear some kid raised on low bit rate MP3s dismiss any criticism of them with, "hurf durf $1000 HDMI cable, double-blind experiment."
posted by ryanshepard at 6:55 AM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


I can't comment on the audio quality of the thing, but all I fixated on when glancing through the article is what a waste (and useless added expense) that wooden box represents, and what a weird/awkward form factor that triangle shape must be.
posted by Mr. Big Business at 6:56 AM on February 9, 2015


We can hear up to 20 kHz or so, but a few samples per cycle is not enough to represent signals at the high end of our hearing.

There are at least a couple guys who disagree.
posted by neckro23 at 6:57 AM on February 9, 2015 [36 favorites]


They point out that the price is high for a player without speakers, but I immediately thought about how, if there were speakers, and the speakers sucked, the buyer would feel like the speakers are to blame. No speakers, and the buyer has only themselves to blame for not upgrading their other equipment. It's like this next level capitalist masochism ritual, audiophile equipment buying. Design is not a consideration so much as proper fleecing.
posted by oceanjesse at 6:58 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


1. I was raised on 8-tracks.
2. I find it hard to believe you don't think it's possible for observer bias to affect something as subjective as the perception of sound quality.
posted by Horace Rumpole at 6:58 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


what a weird/awkward form factor that triangle shape must be

Maybe he was modelling it on the footswitch (pictured here) for The Whizzer?
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:01 AM on February 9, 2015


I feel myself being pulled into the smartphone-based streaming ecosystem despite my protests. Sigh.

I KNOW! No telling what I'm going to do once my beaten up iPod Classic finally bites the dust. I've replaced the headphone jack on that thing twice, but eventually the parts will become scarce and expensive, right?

Pono instantly lost my interest after reading that it's 64 gigs + SD card. Is anyone making devices that can play FLAC and that'll let me tote around a 120 gig music library?

Apple you taught me that this was a reasonable expectation to have!
posted by taromsn at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I've got an idea - how about a digital audio player with one of those miniature 160GB hard drives and that syncs with iTunes?

That would be a great product.
posted by GuyZero at 7:03 AM on February 9, 2015 [19 favorites]


I was bothered by the wine analogy, because there are more often than not glaring differences between an $8 bottle and a $40 bottle

Not if you don't know what you're doing, there aren't. Not only can I not personally taste the difference between an $8 bottle and a $40 one, I also can't taste the difference between varietals (shiraz? merlot? cabernet? I dunno, it's the red stuff, right?). The only place where I can tell the difference is if I have a chardonnay that's really oaky, or with a sweeter thing like Muscato. Other than that it all just sort of...tastes like wine.

And lest you think that just some education will set me straight - I dated a sommelier for two years and he was barely able to get me to recognize that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:05 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


16 bits and 44.1 kHz are insufficient to represent an arbitrary audio waveform accurately.

Codec designer Chris "Monty" Montgomery (creator of Ogg Vorbis and other codecs, also a colleague of mine on the Mozilla and Audacity projects) begs to differ.

We can hear up to 20 kHz or so, but a few samples per cycle is not enough to accurately represent the shape of signals at the high end of our hearing.

I've done the math that says otherwise, in more than one digital signal processing course. It may be counter-intuitive, but I can literally prove that sampling at twice the maximum occupied frequency can exactly reproduce any band-limited signal.

Anyway, in my house all we really need is a Ponyo player.
posted by mbrubeck at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2015 [47 favorites]


w0mbat: You are wrong. Sorry, but sampling theory doesn't work that way. You really can reconstruct the original signal perfectly from just a sample or so per waveform.

Watch the Xiph video linked above - it'll blow your mind if you haven't seen this stuff before.
posted by pharm at 7:06 AM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


(I'm not disputing any claim about MP3s, though. They can definitely have audible artifacts, depending on the bitrate as well as which encoder and settings are used.)
posted by mbrubeck at 7:07 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


After you connect a Pono Player to a computer, both its internal memory and any attached memory card appear as folders that you can drag-and-drop new tunes into.

Fuck me.

Sold!
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:07 AM on February 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


I play all my music by bluetooth, and it all sounds like old-timey radio.
posted by blue_beetle at 7:09 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


There's plenty of snake oil, but darn it, I'd love to have a well-designed music player that natively supports FLAC.

Purchase any Android device at version 3.1 or later.

Older versions still support Ogg Vorbis, which, when set to quality 10, becomes lossless, though probably not as efficient as FLAC.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:14 AM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can't be the only one who keeps reading it as "Porno." Apparently the name is Hawaiian, meaning "righteousness," but there had to be more felicitous name they could have gone with, right?
posted by wakannai at 7:14 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Pono instantly lost my interest after reading that it's 64 gigs + SD card. Is anyone making devices that can play FLAC and that'll let me tote around a 120 gig music library?

Yeah, the player I mentioned, the Fiios X1, will play FLAC and supports 128gb microSD cards. Its UI sucks, in my opinion, but maybe it'll work for you.
posted by mullacc at 7:14 AM on February 9, 2015


The case for FLAC is much more compelling if you are a music producer and intend to fuck with the track instead of just listening to it. Inaudible bits may become audible when a track gets stretched to three zillion times its original length. Such users are currently largely restricted to working on "real" computers and not tablets, but there is no compelling reason for this to remain the case.
posted by LogicalDash at 7:19 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


top-seed artists

If they can't move the already-built units, they can always stuff them into swag bags for the Grammys. Well, next year, anyway.
posted by Halloween Jack at 7:20 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I can't be the only one who keeps reading it as "Porno." … there had to be more felicitous name they could have gone with, right?

And the use of a Pono, of course, is Ponography.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 7:21 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


There's really no need to carry around FLAC on your music player, anyway. The reason for consumers to use FLAC or another lossless format is to prevent generational loss when you need to convert your music to a new format to play on X portable device. You will not hear the difference between well-encoded AAC or Vorbis and FLAC, and using a lossy format lets you carry around your whole collection on a device smaller than a fingernail.
posted by indubitable at 7:21 AM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I'm a skeptic about high end audio and I'm also a skeptic about expensive wine but I don't think they are so similar.

In audio, the question has always been "does this expensive gadget based on no known science make any detectable difference at all?" In wine, the question is usually "can you actually appreciate all that money you're drinking?"

Which is quite different. I expect you'd be able to choose wines that made an ABX style "detect a difference" test arbitrarily easy or difficult. But deciding which wine was more expensive might be impossible.
posted by Western Infidels at 7:22 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


It broke my heart when Apple locked the firmware after iPod gen 5.5, and I couldn't load Rockbox and play hires flacs. But, my phone appears to handle them these days, so it's not really an issue anymore.
posted by mikelieman at 7:26 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


And it all comes down to "What are you listening to them on?" I like flacs because I listen to them on PA systems. That's how I dodged the audiophile bug. I just bought used PA gear. When your 'baseline' is the Philly Spectrum in full Grateful Dead Show mode, you intuitively understand that NOTHING you do at home can really replicate it. So we measure the smaller PA's in "Spectrum Units".
posted by mikelieman at 7:29 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


The case for FLAC is much more compelling if you are a music producer and intend to fuck with the track instead of just listening to it. Inaudible bits may become audible when a track gets stretched to three zillion times its original length. Such users are currently largely restricted to working on "real" computers and not tablets, but there is no compelling reason for this to remain the case.

I wonder if Neil has ever done any of that kind of stuff?
posted by fairmettle at 7:30 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


mbrubeck linked to the same Xiph article I was going to link to. I've talked about it with a friend who is a music producer and who swears that he can hear the difference between the kinds of super-hi-res sound files that Pono uses and mere high-bitrate MP3s.

It's also completely unsurprising that Neil Young would launch the Pono. When CDs came out, he decried them as "simulations" of music. I'm sure he's been searching for this digital pixie-dust ever since.
posted by adamrice at 7:36 AM on February 9, 2015


a lot of the ridiculous glassware that you must buy In order to truly appreciate what you're drinking.

The anaolgy holds in that, at the low end it does matter. A cheap plastic cup with stright walls is going to lose many of the aromatics, while a bulb shape will hold them for your nose. With the wrong glass shape, wine tastes thin and off. However, it's just a shape issue: a $2 stemless tumbler bulb works just as well as a $50 Reidel one.

Simialrly, "good enough" lossy encoding and playback hardware is indistigusiahble to me to FLAC on pro-grade hardware. The big difference to me is the final electic-audio step in the speakers. Any one can hear the difference between crappy earbuds and a good pair of headphones.
posted by bonehead at 7:49 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


There's plenty of snake oil, but darn it, I'd love to have a well-designed music player that natively supports FLAC. So regardless of the high resolution fluff, I'm totally on board once this drops in price

My $30 Sansa Clip supports FLAC, and sounds great! I can't recommend them enough, really.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:49 AM on February 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


Master for the medium, basically. Tape, Vinyl, CD, Digital each has their own domain of frequency response that when properly engineered and mastered for accentuates different aspects of the source material. Ever sweep the mid of a mixer? It's amazing how much sound is hiding in there that you never even hear.

Engineering it to be precise is the fact, keeping it musical is the art.

And for real, the quality of the output preamps in the D/A conversion hardware can make a difference in the musicality of the output sound with CD's and digital. Everyone talks about "transparent, precise and clean" but the truth is what ears like is harmonic distortion. Controlling the harmonic distortion is where the engineering meets the art. I guess I'm saying it's not so much the format as it is understanding the format and tinkering with what's in the signal chain to accentuate the musicality that resonates in your ears the way you like it best. I'm not saying spend 100 thousand dollars either, I think anything over 500-600 dollars really starts to make no sense, and you could probably pick up a 30 dollar 70's era solid state receiver from a thrift store and enjoy a massive upgrade from your 100 dollar Jawbone JamBox that you bought from Target. (At least I did)
posted by Annika Cicada at 7:49 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


I want Neil's digital to analog converter to attach to my phone. I don't need the player.

Also, it does take a bit of practice to appreciate the difference. But it's there.
posted by uraniumwilly at 7:51 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It shits me that Neil Young, of whom I'm a fan, is flogging snake oil

Would you say that singing for Pono money, makes him look like a joke?
posted by rodlymight at 7:54 AM on February 9, 2015


I've always found Neil Young's quest for purity of audiophile essence kind of strange, given that he suffers from tinnitus and significant hearing loss.

Although that could be an explanation its own way- maybe he's just trying to get something, anything, to sound the way it used to.
posted by Uncle Ira at 7:55 AM on February 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


There's a huge difference between "good enough" and the really bad encoding or sub-CD quality bitrate/sampling, but diminishing return hit full force once you get above the high-bitrate MP3 compression.

(Also, I can barely tell the difference between wine and beer. Varietals? Hah!)
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:57 AM on February 9, 2015


the D/A converters in my cheapo audio interface (for recording) do sound better to me than the ones built into the Mac (you can set the USB audio device as the output device for all audio) so I don't have difficulty believing that it's possible to make a better music player than the iPod. But what am I supposed to do, take my studio monitor headphones out jogging?
posted by thelonius at 7:58 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The only problem with the Sansa players is that their "AAC" playback is really "just enough of the standard to be able to playback files created by iTunes". They can't cope with a lot of my AAC encoded audio - I had to re-encode it all to mp3. Otherwise they're great little players.
posted by pharm at 8:02 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


the article is definitely written with that 'savvy' middle-class consumer in mind while the product itself is probably marketed more towards audio geeks and sound designers and such

I mean, don't get me wrong, I don't think there's anything wrong with wanting crazy amounts of audio fidelity. but trading your cultural niche around like capital as if the rest of us care that much about levels and whatever is weird. it also makes you sound like a salesman. I get enough people raving about Costco or Chromecasts and etc to substitute for all of advertising that I've eliminated from my life. you really don't need to basically repeat ad copy verbatim at me in order to justify your purchasing decisions. I'm happy with my cheap $20 or less headphones and I imagine most people would be much happier not trying to buy audio happiness that way, too
posted by saucy_knave at 8:06 AM on February 9, 2015


I have listened to music from high quality, super-duper vinyl on a $100k sound system that even has a filter for the electricity. I have had wine that cost 50+ dollars a bottle. Is there a difference between the expensive, high-quality stuff and the cheaper stuff? Yes.

My problem is that there isn't enough of a difference to my ears or taste buds to justify all that extra money.

So, sorry Neil. I'm going to stick to my cheapo sound system(s) for a while longer. Now excuse me while I pour my self a glass of bottom shelf bourbon.
posted by freakazoid at 8:07 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I was bothered by the wine analogy, because there are more often than not glaring differences between an $8 bottle and a $40 bottle

Not if you don't know what you're doing, there aren't.

posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:07 AM on February 9, 2015


I'm not personally the target market for things like this. I already make compromises in music quality for portability and other convenience issues, and there's a huge weak link issue with audio playback, the most intractable being the speakers. I'm not going to carry around expensive, high quality headphones because I would either break or lose them. Plus, I'm old enough that I've already bought some of my favorite music about a thousand times to accommodate format changes, and the idea of re-buying the same music yet again is not appealing.

Also, I'm a little hard of hearing and was never really an audiophile to begin with, so the chance that I'd be able to tell the difference between pretty high quality and high-high quality is pretty slim. (I did recently notice when an MP3 popped up in my playlist instead of a lossless format, and I was pretty proud of myself.)

But just because it's not for me doesn't mean it's not for anyone, and just because I don't always notice the difference doesn't mean that nobody can.

There is room in the world for people to be nerds of things I am not a nerd of, and I don't have any reason not to believe people when they tell me they can discern things I can't. I'm sure there are people who are either straight faking or have tricked themselves into thinking they can tell a difference, but I don't doubt that there are plenty of people who really can tell. There is such a thing as acquired tastes. They're not all bullshit just because you don't share them.

(I also don't even really like wine, but I'm pretty sure my friends who do are not faking it to impress me.)
posted by ernielundquist at 8:10 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It's disconcerting that in 2015, MP3 is still what a lot of people use for compressing their music. It's a 20 year old format and the state of the art has advanced significantly since 1995. Any AAC file encoded at a comparable bitrate by Apple's latest encoder will blow MP3s out of the water in terms of quality.
posted by indubitable at 8:13 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Just because a format is decades old doesn't mean that the encoders have been set in stone all that time. Mp3 encoders are vastly better today than they were back in 1995. The format has a couple of unavoidable audio issues that are fixed in later formats, but overall mp3 has aged pretty well.
posted by pharm at 8:16 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


I think the wine analogy works better with a $40 bottle versus a $400 bottle. The $8 bottle might be noticeably crappy like a low bit rate mp3.
posted by snofoam at 8:17 AM on February 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


I think the problem with the wine analogy is that--even accounting for personal preference--some wine does taste better than others. Even the same grape and same vineyard will taste better some years than others. It does not necessarily mean that the $100 bottle always tastes better then the $10 one, but some $10 bottles taste objectively terrible. It tends to be true that above $Dollar, you're less likely to run across poorly created, badly bottled or objectively gross wines.

I'm among the people who noticed no difference at all among the good $10 wine, the good $40 wine and the purportedly transcendent $200 wine. But I've had bad wine (and not just ruined by poor storage) at every price point. Who hasn't?
posted by crush-onastick at 8:19 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I can detect differences between FLAC / WAV files and @320 or lower MP3s using Rhythmbox and a cheap pair of earbuds - the drums sound noticeably less tinny / distorted, and vocal and string instrument sound is closer to the range of the original source when played on a decent-quality stereo, for example.

But these are things that can be fixed, albeit more laboriously, in the mixing/mastering stages. The problem with the MP3 format is that it's never really been treated as an audio format per se; it's always just been that file format CDs get ripped to. Vinyl has a different mastering requirements than CD, and gets due treatment; MP3 also has its own mastering requirements, but just gets a mouse click.

It's disconcerting that in 2015, MP3 is still what a lot of people use for compressing their music. It's a 20 year old format and the state of the art has advanced significantly since 1995. Any AAC file ...


AAC is an 18-year-old format. (And, fwiw, it's often what people are playing on their "MP3 players," and consequently what they're talking about when they're talking about "MP3s.")
posted by Sys Rq at 8:22 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


"...are more often than not glaring differences between an $8 bottle and a $40 bottle.."

I think the operative word here is "often"... so he wasn't saying always, but most of the time. I don't know anything about wine, but a friend of mine who works at a wine store says that though price is not an indicator of quality a higher price does often correlate with higher quality. I suppose the question is whether that correlation is 50% or 90%. Seems to me that Audio equipment is in the 30% range when it comes to correlation between price and quality.
posted by manderin at 8:28 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


the article is definitely written with that 'savvy' middle-class consumer in mind while the product itself is probably marketed more towards audio geeks and sound designers and such


the reviewer seemed just like the sort of tool who could get suckered into buying the right cables... with the right sales pitch. I don't doubt that Pono is fetish gear for morons... but where would the hi-fi industry without those people? Pogue: similarity breeds contempt!

Anyway, even with low quality mp3s, using a decent DAC (i.e. not the one in your laptop sound card) and a decent amplifier makes a noticeable difference, if you are paying attention. But the hifi market is a lot like people who dump milk and sugar into their hand-picked artisinally roasted terroir-laden coffee slurry: they have no taste but money to burn. Personally, I haven't been able to tell much of a difference between FLAC and mp3 with my shitty audio gear, but I can very much tell the difference when I plug in my cheap DAC and different amplifiers put out very different sound, even with cheaper speakers.

I dare say it, given the awkard size the Pono might have a decent DAC and amplifier, for a portable device it might almost be worth it if you are using decent headphones on the go... which is a little silly. At least, I don't know of anything else on the market... and it even mounts as a drive easily! You can totally improve your desktop sound performance by getting something like the Topping Vx1, which combines a DAC and "tripath" amplifier in one box for about $100. If you listen to anything other than EDM, then having a "clean" amplifier like the tripaths is kind of amazing for what they cost.
posted by ennui.bz at 8:30 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


So, I got 2 of these little guys for my 2 young kids as a Christmas present (they're $38 right now but I got them for $34 last November). I got them for my kids, with the intention of loading them up with Disney MP3 et al, but to my utter delight they also natively support FLAC! And they are super tiny, practically bomb-proof, with nice simple OLED screens and drag'n'drop folders!

True, the SDCH micros only take up to 32GB...but those micro cards are so small it wouldn't be so hard to have, like 5 of them in a little mini folder and just swap them out as needed. They are so cool I ended up buying one for myself for jogging/biking.
posted by Doleful Creature at 8:31 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Are there any women here?
posted by Devonian at 8:32 AM on February 9, 2015 [11 favorites]


I'm an all-FLAC guy and the pono player still seems like a terrible idea to me. Part of the appeal of lossless music is that it can be encoded down to MP3 or whatever comes around in a few years, or can be transcoded losslessly to other formats.

This is just another expensive walled garden.

...and yes the Sansa Clip with a little amp and rockbox is brilliant for a tenth of the price.
posted by benoliver999 at 8:35 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I don't have any reason not to believe people when they tell me they can discern things I can't.

Does science count?
posted by Steely-eyed Missile Man at 8:36 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The wine analogy is also flawed because at a certain, easily-reached level the digital files are functionally identical, whereas wines may be better, worse or just different from each other. It would be like saying that Revolver played on a Pono just sounds better than a Monkees record played on an iPod.
posted by snofoam at 8:37 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


If you look carefully, you can actually taste the difference in the sound.
posted by Fizz at 8:38 AM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


My $30 Sansa Clip supports FLAC, and sounds great! I can't recommend them enough, really.

I have one too (Sansa Clip+), because I don't like using my phone as a music player (too likely to get dropped while fumbling around with headphone cords). Great little player, sound quality rivals my iPhone.

You can put Rockbox on them too, with the caveat that there's a bit of noise in Rockbox's FLAC playback for some reason. I think the stock firmware plays FLAC without this problem, and you can dual-boot.
posted by neckro23 at 8:39 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


And feel the warm tones from the analog components. I surprised the pono doesn't use at least one tube.
posted by bonehead at 8:39 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well thanks to this post, I finally shattered an illusion. For a few years now, I've been listening to flacs and convinced myself that they sounded better. So just now I took five songs I know very well indeed and reencoded them in 320 mbps fixed rate mp3s using freeAC, an open source audio converter that uses the LAME codec to encode mp3, and got one of my kids to play them, deciding which one to play first using a coin toss. I used my Grado Labs SR60s, which I like, mostly because they are much slower to produce ear fatigue than any headphones I had before them. I repeatedly asked him to step there and back between the two versions of the songs and confidently chose the one that sounded clearer, crisper, etc. Got three right and two wrong. Which is a good thing, because... my phone's 32 gig SD card is mostly filled with music, mostly flacs. From now on, a great deal more will fit on there. So thanks again. :)
posted by holist at 8:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [32 favorites]


Any AAC file encoded at a comparable bitrate by Apple's latest encoder will blow MP3s out of the water in terms of quality.

Storage is cheap, MP3 is more widely supported, transcoding sucks. Trading bits of storage for playback compatibility is a no-brainer when flash storage costs basically what bulk HDD did 10 years ago.

Ideally, your music-management program would rip CDs to FLAC or AIFF and then it would transparently encode files when loading them onto your portable playback devices; your big HDD-based 120GB player might get FLACs or very high-bitrate MP3s (depending on the available amount of space, perhaps), while the little clip-on player you take jogging might get very efficient AACs, if it supported them. And it would serve up streaming formats to other devices on your LAN (Sonos, Plex, etc.). I don't know of any software that really does a good job of that though. So barring that, MP3 is the common denominator across basically all devices.

But unfortunately, Apple basically sucked all the air out of the portable music software/hardware ecosystem with iTunes/iPods, while simultaneously neglecting it in favor of mutating iTunes into a crappy management interface for iPhones.

The Pono is dumb, but if it signals an increased interest in alternative portable media players besides either the low-end unmanaged ones or Apple's (which Apple is clearly less and less interested in), that's probably a good thing. I have grown to despise iTunes but I've yet to find a better solution for carrying around my entire music library than an old HDD-based iPod.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:42 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


There's a major advantage to lossless compression: transcoding.

I can take a FLAC or a raw WAV and make all sorts of MP3s from big 320kbps to small 128kbps, depending on storage limitations (or even aesthetic choices). I can convert it to OGG and the latest AAC formats.

Having a lossless version of everything I own basically future-proofs me for later compression innovations that sound as good but may be come one third or one tenth, or even smaller sizes.

BTW, my sample-size of one is that for CERTAIN songs that I am extremely familiar with, I can tell the difference at CERTAIN MOMENTS between a 320kbps MP3 and a raw WAV file. But then, I have had a home studio for over a decade and have recorded, mixed, and mastered hundreds of songs, so I have a fairly well-trained ear. My opinion: for every listening purpose, 320kbps MP3 is good enough.
posted by chimaera at 8:54 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I won't accept the analogy unless you can find a digital wine.
posted by nicolin at 8:55 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Robert Johnson's entire catalog was recorded on wax cylinders in the 1930s and sounds, audiophilically speaking, like shit. You can't fucking touch it, though, sound quality be damned.

Anything sounds minutely better or worse if you twiddle the knobs differently or turn your head slightly or have the room you're in acoustically treated or clean the wax out of your ears first or whatever. If you have to have a big argument about whether or not the difference is negligible, it probably is.

That said, people should fuss about whatever it makes them happy to fuss about, and spend four hundred bucks (Jesus Christ) on whatever it makes them happy to spend four hundred bucks on.
posted by Sing Or Swim at 8:57 AM on February 9, 2015


i'm a "hobbyist-level" audiophile. not crazy intense, but i do like listening to music on decent gear. as i've been upgrading different home stereo components over the years, the most significant upgrade i made was when i bought an after-market DAC, and stopped using the built-in headphone jack on my mac mini. it was a complete change, and that is why i always advocate for investing in a better quality DAC, which i'm sure is a main component of this pono player. as with all decent audio gear, some are very reasonably priced (i'm looking at you, scott nixon), while others are ridiculous.

i love this topic, thanks for posting. i've been enjoying the reading this morning.
posted by rude.boy at 8:58 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


what a waste (and useless added expense) that wooden box represents

Did nobody else think you can put your weed in there?
posted by achrise at 8:59 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Robert Johnson's entire catalog was recorded on wax cylinders in the 1930s

But at what speed?
posted by thelonius at 9:00 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I've been working in the digital music business since the late 90s. I have never, in all of that time, seen even one scientifically valid listening test demonstrate reliable preference of well-encoded 256 or 320 kbps MP3 over original source material.

All the tests (even the unscientific ones) show the opposite: You can't tell the difference.

To be clear, low bit rate MP3s (below 256 kbps) can and do have obvious deficiencies compared to the original 16 bit 44.1 kHz audio. So do cassettes, FM radio, and vinyl. That's fine, some people prefer convenience to quality.

There's nothing wrong with using original source audio (whether WAV, FLAC, ALAC, or other lossless codec) instead of compressed audio, but you're not really gaining anything and you're losing a lot of the convenience of MP3 (including ID3 tagging, support from many apps and players, and more storage space).

But here's why I think it's still worth countering the audiophile hysteria:

1. It distracts people from other, significant, and effective ways to improve their listening experience. If people want to hear music sound better and/or "as the artist intended"...
- Get better headphones (and/or speakers). You don't have to spend several hundred dollars, but as long as it doesn't have a "b" on the side, you'll probably do much better dropping $100 on something from almost any reputable audio brand. Grado SR-80, for example.

- Fix your listening environment. Where your speakers are placed matters more than you think, as does how reflective and reverberant your listening room is. All of that matters far more than most people give credit to, and at least one interesting study argued that the majority of "difference" people heard in speaker testing had to do with comb filtering resulting from head vs. speaker positioning.

- Pay attention. Stop using music as a background for everything else, and actually just sit there, eyes closed, and LISTEN. Treat it like you're eating a great meal.

- Get better music. Often, the reason music "sounds bad" is that it was poorly recorded, produced, or mastered. The easiest way to hear something good is start with something that sounds good.

[This is my first post on MF. Long-time lurker, though.]
posted by Jinsai at 9:04 AM on February 9, 2015 [52 favorites]


Well thanks to this post, I finally shattered an illusion. For a few years now, I've been listening to flacs and convinced myself that they sounded better. So just now I took five songs I know very well indeed and reencoded them in 320 mbps fixed rate mp3s using freeAC, an open source audio converter that uses the LAME codec to encode mp3, and got one of my kids to play them, deciding which one to play first using a coin toss.

Well done. The hardest thing in these areas is to teach ourselves to recognize our own confirmation biases. I've been following the whole "audiophile" thing for years now and read a ridiculous amount of stuff about ABX testing and the limits of audible differences in sound reproduction. What never ceases to amaze me, though, is the stubbornness with which people cling to their subjective impressions in the face of mountains of evidence establishing their limitations.

If you go down the "audiophile" rabbithole (I'm talking about the green magic marker on the CDs and the "Brilliant Pebbles" and the $20,000 power cables and so forth) you'll find a number of accounts of people who review this trash for a living and are clearly genuine believers who eventually succumb to somebody's appeal to actually test their subjective impressions rigorously. And there is an absolutely predictable storyline to these events. First we have the non-blind comparison. Participants are asked to compare music played on a system hooked up with the $20,000 power cable vs. the $5 power cable (say). "Oh my God, it's night and day! The clarity of the sound stage etc. etc. etc." Then they are asked to distinguish which is which in double blind tests: "here's A; here's B--which one was the stunningly, staggeringly, incomparably better one? Take your time, compare as often as you like, and pick." What's really interesting about this phase is that the confidence typically remains high. Not quite as high as in the non-blind comparison, but the standard thing with these tests is to run a series of A/B/X tests and then, before the results are revealed, ask the testers how confident they feel about their ability to distinguish A from B; typically, they report high levels of confidence. Each time they were pretty sure which of the two cables had, for that particular test, been assigned "A" and which "B."

Then we get the results. Which, pretty much always, show a random 50-50 result. Typically the testers are stunned. Shocked. They say "well, this has given me a great deal to think about." They express some doubts about their previous firm beliefs etc.

But the next step is the one that always gets me. Because what comes next is that a short time later they'll issue a statement about how they went home and compared (nonblind) the $20,000 cable and the $5 cable and, what do you know, the differences are NIGHT AND DAY!!! So what they conclude from this is that the problem is with double blind tests. There's something about the double-blind test situation that shuts down your ability to really listen (all this, of course, blithely ignoring their own reported confidence during the test itself that they were successfully separating the sheep from the goats). And they're back to the races.

If anyone ever gets Neil Young to submit to double blind testing of his snake-oil machine vs. some reasonably well-designed MP3 player I very confidently predict exactly that sequence of events.
posted by yoink at 9:06 AM on February 9, 2015 [22 favorites]


Are there any women here?

I am a lady, but I just said I couldn't hear subtle distinctions.

Please pretend I told an awesome joke in which I conflate 'stereotype threat' with stereo as in music. I know it's there. I just can't quite tease it out.

Also sorry to any other women I besmirched with my tin ear.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:10 AM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


- Fix your listening environment. Where your speakers are placed matters more than you think, as does how reflective and reverberant your listening room is.

This is true, but harder to fix than most people realize. The big problem is corners; you can buy baffles to place in the corners of your 'listening room' (or 'Home Theater room')--but how many people can drop that kind of money and how many people want to place a bunch of baffles around their room?

But it's certainly true that in most normal rooms there are such complicated wave-interference patterns generated that simply moving your head several inches one way or another can make large differences in the quality of the sound you're hearing.

In the end I think the most useful lesson one can draw for ordinary people from any serious study of research into audio reproduction is that the vast majority of your budget for your sound system should go into speakers/headphones, that all well-designed amplifiers are essentially interchangeable and that all reasonable-quality digital players are too (and by "well-designed" and "reasonable quality" I mean mass-market stuff that you can get cheap on Amazon or at Best Buy). But that one also has to recognize that there is no such thing as "transparent" recording; i.e., there is no such thing as a sound system that will make what you hear in your home be identical to what you would hear in a concert hall (for music that is originally designed to be heard in such a venue) or if you could listen in to a recording studio. What you hear in your home is something related to those sounds, but necessarily different. The pursuit of "transparency" or "100% fidelity" is a fool's errand which guarantees you nothing but perpetual dissatisfaction.
posted by yoink at 9:18 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


I'm glad that the whole clock jitter thing has gone away (*). I once spent far too long arguing with someone who really should have known better that no, a particular kind of optical interconnect was not 'useless' for high quality audio because its jitter figure was some miserable degree worse than the published spec of his preferred outboard DAC. I don't think there's a single variable in audio reproduction that can't be seized on as a significant differentiator by those so minded.

(*) bet it hasn't really
posted by Devonian at 9:19 AM on February 9, 2015


The OTHER problem with Pono and its ilk is they contribute to an attitude of "digital music isn't worth paying for". When you have Neil Young (or Thom Yorke or David Byrne or David Lowery) loudly and repeatedly saying "it's all crap, it sounds like garbage, and the artist doesn't get paid", listeners respond by believing it's not worth anything. Might as well steal it if it's junk and nobody's getting paid anyhow, right?
posted by Jinsai at 9:19 AM on February 9, 2015


I, too, am awesomely proud to claim that all wines taste like Dr. Pepper, all audio equipment sounds like tin cans on string, a fine slab of Argentinian filet mignon is no better than bologna, a Lada is better than a Lexus, and all online discussion forums are basically Reddit crossed with Gawker. It feels so good to laugh at people who can afford to do things right and who claim to tell the difference!
posted by five fresh fish at 9:24 AM on February 9, 2015 [7 favorites]


I used to spend a lot of time collecting music, organizing it, worrying about the bit rate, re-ripping at a higher rate, worrying that my carefully hoarded mp3s would evaporate when my hard drive crashed and my DVD backups were unreadable, making sure the tags were right, the filenames made sense etc.

Hundreds of hours of what my dad calls "ant work", rearranging grains of sand to no particularly productive purpose.

Now ... spotify (could equally well be any other subscription service).

Convenience (for me) trumps 100% certainty that I can find the artist I want or the track I want, and the sound quality is good enough that I can't find major problems with it unless I am trained to listen for them. Why would I want to go and ruin a good thing by listening for flaws?

I get access to as much new music as I want, and tons of old artists that I would never have taken a chance on buying even one track from before. This huge bounty costs me ten bucks a month. In inflation-adjusted dollars, I probably spent $35 buying one CD when I got my first CD player.

The only fly in the ointment for me is that I now have fallen in love with a ton of fantastic European bands that will never tour anywhere within 150 miles of my city.
posted by etherist at 9:25 AM on February 9, 2015 [8 favorites]


>listeners respond by believing it's not worth anything. Might as well steal it if it's junk and nobody's getting paid anyhow, right?

Kind of reminds me of Song-A-Day's Jonathan Mann's recent screed against calling artistic product "content."
posted by Catblack at 9:26 AM on February 9, 2015


To achieve the optimal listening experience, your listening room must have lightbulbs with the properly applied 0.5µm thick inner layer of unicorn horn powder to re-phase and neutralise errant transient acoustic vibrations before they reach your ears. Otherwise you might as well just stick a stethoscope in your ear and fart into the other end.

I mean, duh!
posted by chillmost at 9:26 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


the most significant upgrade i made was when i bought an after-market DAC

DACs don't fare well in double blind tests. (That is, a well-designed cheap DAC is not distinguishable from a hugely expensive one in ABX tests).
posted by yoink at 9:27 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


It feels so good to laugh at people who can afford to do things right and who claim to tell the difference!

It's not the "claim" that evokes laughter, it's the endless repeated inability to back the claim up when put to the test.
posted by yoink at 9:29 AM on February 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


Get better music. Often, the reason music "sounds bad" is that it was poorly recorded, produced, or mastered. The easiest way to hear something good is start with something that sounds good.

You know, this is one of my big problems with audiophile reviews (and I say this as someone who owns a headphone amp and a pair of higher-end headphones): I don't want to listen to the music audiophiles listen to. I don't care how true the fidelity is if the music itself makes me want to puncture my eardrums.
posted by asterix at 9:31 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also want to see someone do a review of any Sleigh Bells album on the Pono.
posted by asterix at 9:33 AM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


DACs don't fare well in double blind tests. (That is, a well-designed cheap DAC is not distinguishable from a hugely expensive one in ABX tests).

It definitely depends what the competition is. My laptop's headphone jack is appreciably noisier than a cheapo USB DAC at low volumes.

I've always said that getting good audio quality is mostly about avoiding awfulness at whatever stage (recording, MP3 compression, DAC/amplifier, speakers/headphones) than getting anything brilliant. You can do very well for own a couple hundred bucks total.
posted by thegears at 9:34 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


What I want to know is how to solve the problem of a dying iTunes format when all my music since ever is in there. What's next? I want to listen to what I want, when I want, with no limits or commercials. It baffles me that so many people have switched to services like Spotify. If anyone knows the answer to that, PM me. I think very few people are concerned with fidelity on digital files.
posted by agregoli at 9:38 AM on February 9, 2015


It doesn't speak to this particular system, but it does speak to price point (sort of):

I heard something about when John Fogerty was in the studio recording his first solo album Centerfold, but can't remember whether it was the whole album or just his first single. Apparently, they were mixing it, and whenever they came up with a mix they liked Fogerty subjected it to one final test - he would get them to put it on a crappy tape and go out and listen to it coming out of the speakers of his beat-up truck. Only when they came up with a mix that sounded good in the studio and sounded good in his car like that, did he approve the mix.

I've always kind of like that.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:44 AM on February 9, 2015 [10 favorites]


Whatever happened to the days when you just invited the band over to play in your garage. music sounded better in that format iirc. i miss those days.
posted by OHenryPacey at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2015


DACs don't fare well in double blind tests. (That is, a well-designed cheap DAC is not distinguishable from a hugely expensive one in ABX tests).

A large group of middle-aged music fans had trouble distinguishing between output from a fairly spendy DAC versus output from the audio jack on the back of a Mac Mini into a reasonably high end stereo (no room treatment). As in, once the volumes were set to the same level, they could rarely even tell when the source had been switched.
posted by slkinsey at 9:46 AM on February 9, 2015


I won't accept the analogy unless you can find a digital wine.

This vintage is full of 1s and 0s.
posted by a lungful of dragon at 9:50 AM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Apparently, they were mixing it, and whenever they came up with a mix they liked Fogerty subjected it to one final test - he would get them to put it on a crappy tape and go out and listen to it coming out of the speakers of his beat-up truck. Only when they came up with a mix that sounded good in the studio and sounded good in his car like that, did he approve the mix.

Motown did something similar.
posted by asterix at 9:54 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, and anyone who's interested in the history of this sort of thing should pick up a copy of Perfecting Sound Forever.
posted by asterix at 9:57 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


My problem is that there isn't enough of a difference to my ears or taste buds to justify all that extra money.

This is the bicycle problem. Better bikes are stronger, smoother, and lighter.

A $100 bike? Cheap piece of crap

A $400 bike? Not bad. Not great, not bad. A big improvement over the $100 bike.

A $800 bike? Nice. Solid, strong, light. Good components. Better than a $400 bike, but as much better as a $400 bike is to a $100 bike, no.

A $1500 bike? Better. But, again, we're now shaving grams, not kilos.

$3000+ Well, if you're a pro racer...you're not paying for bikes anyway. But really, with the possible exception of a custom fitted frame, nobody short of a touring pro is going to see a difference between a $1500 and a $3000 bike, unless they know the parts groups, because they they'll say "Dura Ace 11! Clearly better than Ultegra 10..."

DACs don't fare well in double blind tests.

In 2000, ADCs were the big issue, but pros pay more for recording hardware, so that sorted quickly. In 2005, DACs and chip amplifiers absolutely were an issue. Finally, on a lot of systems, having the DAC isolated from the main power supply can make a big difference -- remember, there's an amp after that DAC, and noisy power hurts amps. For a lot of computers, a (as you say) well implemented external DAC can make a real difference. Note, however, in 2015, well implement DAC solutions are cheap -- $100 or less. $150-250 can give you useful features like a 1/4" headphone jack with a good amp behind it for headphones, a range of jacks to make the downstream connection easier if you're also using it as a preamp, and different input jacks.

$1000 though? Just not worth it.
posted by eriko at 10:00 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Neil gets a pass from me here as I am certain he at least believes the snake oil works, still sad to see him hawking it tho.

I tested FLAC vs MP3 some years back, assuming I could tell the difference, not so much, at around 192kbps I couldn't so I stopped wasting space at that time.

On the other hand I don't drink wine much and assured my wife, after reading piece after piece from the "all wine tastes the same" mill, that neither her nor I could taste cheap from not as cheap. I love taste testing so we bought 6 bottles, all the same region and same varietal, 3 around $10 and 3 around $30. I realize 2 people is not much of a sample size but we blind tasted and picked which 3 were which every single time and preferred the 3 $30 bottles every time.

The morning after was a solid reminder of why I don't drink red wine.
posted by Cosine at 10:01 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


In the end I think the most useful lesson one can draw for ordinary people

is that since most of the feckers are happy listening to Sky Radio or Clearchannel thrash, the last thing they need to worry about is the quality of the reproduction of what they're listening to.

This is my first post on MF. Long-time lurker, though.

Excellent. My trolling paid off.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:02 AM on February 9, 2015


the product itself is probably marketed more towards audio geeks and sound designers and such

I think it's more marketed toward people who will buy the $40 wine not because they know anything about wine or because they've tried the rest and prefer it, but because it's the second most expensive thing on the menu. They can't be arsed to research it and it's not worth their while to care whether it actually is the best choice.

The "high resolution" thing is snake oil. It's like a TV that can reproduce X-rays; it doesn't make the visible spectrum any clearer.

It probably has some better than average components. It also has several obnoxiously stupid design decisions. It's like the $40 bottle of wine comes in a plastic bottle with a convex bottom and a hole in the side.
posted by Foosnark at 10:05 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


I want to listen to what I want, when I want, with no limits or commercials. It baffles me that so many people have switched to services like Spotify.

Well, that's why people have switched to Spotify, by and large. The catalog is pretty vast (by most people's definition of the word, though there are some notable holdouts). Unlimited play with no commercials is $9.99/month. I buy my very favorite records or things that I really want to hear that I can't stream on Spotify on vinyl (usually with an included CD or MP3 download) or CD, and everything else I stream on demand. Yeah, sometimes it's a little less convenient to not have an offline copy (the cell network here is a little spotty so there are zones where Spotify just drops out if I'm listening in the car) but my iTunes library is already 200 GB and it's been a bit of a relief to see its growth rate slowing as I rely more on streaming music. Also I spend less money than I used to, buying only pricey 2-LP sets of my favorite records instead of cheap MP3 downloads and CDs of every album I wanted to hear.

Whenever they came up with a mix they liked Fogerty subjected it to one final test - he would get them to put it on a crappy tape and go out and listen to it coming out of the speakers of his beat-up truck.

Yeah, I've never heard that story specifically about Fogerty, but it seems to be a common technique among mixing engineers—and analogous practices have existed in the video realm, too. I visited the Criterion Collection offices once upon a time in the standard-def days and saw their QC station, which featured what was then an absolutely top-of-the-line Sony CRT alongside an ancient, piece-of-junk Zenith console TV. They tested their DVD masters on both screens before a transfer was approved.
posted by Mothlight at 10:05 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


By the way, for anyone with strong beliefs in an "expert palate" for wine tasting, this is a sobering read.

That different wines taste different from each other is absolutely the case, so in that way wine-nonsense doesn't parallel perfectly with audio-nonsense. But a myriad of tests has shown that there is really no such thing as a wine that all (or most) "educated" palates think is, say, ten times better than the best $5 wine. Which is to say that while it may well be worth it to you to pay $50 a bottle for a wine that you've tried before and know, personally, that you enjoy, there is little or no increased probability that a wine you buy for $50 will be one that you'd rank highly in a blind test over a wine you buy for $5.

There's a guy who has been running a long-term series of blind tests (the standard wine tasting "triangle test" where you're given three samples, an A, a B and an X and you have to say whether the X is another A or another B) of different wine vintages. He's an oenologist and runs the experiments at oenological conferences. What he has found is that while there are certainly some detectable differences between different vintages of different wines, there is no consistency, at all, as to which are ranked better or worse. That is, that apparently bedrock element of wine judgment (such-and-such was a wonderful year, such-and-such was a terrible year) can't be supported in blind tests.
posted by yoink at 10:06 AM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


Music and wine reduce, methinks, to the same thing: it's the ear/mouth of the listener/taster.

I was in a band and a radio announcer for several decades. When people asked me about the "best" audio systems, I'd always tell them to go to a store that lets you listen to several systems and then get the amp/speakers that sound best to them.

Are you are happy with a lower priced system? Great; you saved some money and are happy.

I'm not a wine person, but I'm sure the same applies there: if the $8 bottle tastes great to you consider yourself fortunate you don't have $40 taste.

Marketing is all about convincing you that your $8 taste is incorrect/wrong and that $40 bottle is what you really need/want.

What sounds/tastes best to you is the best. Just be sure to sample occasionally.
posted by CrowGoat at 10:07 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


When people asked me about the "best" audio systems, I'd always tell them to go to a store that lets you listen to several systems and then get the amp/speakers that sound best to them.

The problem with this is that people can't be trusted to simply like what they like. That is, we find it incredibly difficult to fight clear of psychoacoustic effects: there's a reason that really expensive audio gear tends to look cooler than cheap audio gear; a lot of money goes into making it look cool because when it looks like it ought to sound good people hear it as sounding good. And almost nobody is immune to the psychoacoustic effects of pricetags. It's just incredibly hard to make yourself not hear a $4000 amp as "better" than a $100 amp. And most people, of course, aren't even trying to combat such effects--they're simply unaware of how powerful they are ("I know what I like!").
posted by yoink at 10:13 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


We can hear up to 20 kHz or so, ...
Not me. I'm well under 16K, which is fine by me, because I can't hear the horizontal retrace on my [analog] TV any more.
posted by MtDewd at 10:15 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


The insidious part of the wine/audiophile debate is that experts want to convince you that the thing you are missing is expertise, and therefore, the more $50 bottles of wine you purchase and drink, the more refined your palate will become until you, yes you, will be able to tell the difference too. same with music...buy this piece of crap, and if you listen to it long enough you will certainly gain the credibility to say to your houseguests, "yes, of course you can tell the difference" thus justifying the money you wasted.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:17 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


remember folks, this is the same Neil Young who did this.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AEKjXPor6B4
posted by Gungho at 10:20 AM on February 9, 2015


Monster Cable vs. a coat hanger
posted by Rhaomi at 10:41 AM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Also, I'm reminded of this exquisite bit of 4chan-derived bullshittery I ran into when researching the best format to encode my music in:
Hearing the difference now isn't the reason to encode to FLAC. FLAC uses lossless compression, while MP3 is 'lossy'. What this means is that for each year the MP3 sits on your hard drive, it will lose roughly 12kbps, assuming you have SATA - it's about 15kbps on IDE, but only 7kbps on SCSI, due to rotational velocidensity. You don't want to know how much worse it is on CD-ROM or other optical media.

I started collecting MP3s in about 2001, and if I try to play any of the tracks I downloaded back then, even the stuff I grabbed at 320kbps, they just sound like crap. The bass is terrible, the midrange...well don't get me started. Some of those albums have degraded down to 32 or even 16kbps. FLAC rips from the same period still sound great, even if they weren't stored correctly, in a cool, dry place. Seriously, stick to FLAC, you may not be able to hear the difference now, but in a year or two, you'll be glad you did.
posted by Rhaomi at 10:44 AM on February 9, 2015 [45 favorites]


I have yet to find a portable audio device that can top my old iRiver H-120. Plays lossless files and has optical outputs, AND AN FM TUNER?!

Too bad I am too paranoid that the hard drive will break to actually use it.
posted by nerdler at 10:45 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


what a waste (and useless added expense) that wooden box represents


A cardboard box does not package with as much fidelity.
posted by srboisvert at 10:51 AM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, god, Rhaomi, I'm dying laughing.
posted by adamrice at 10:52 AM on February 9, 2015


There seems to be a lot of people lamenting the lack of FLAC support in Apple devices that may not realize that iDevices have had lossless audio format support across the line for a decade.

Yeah, your stuff might be in FLAC right now but on-the-fly conversion to put it on your device with no drawbacks is essentially the single best use-case of lossless music for end-listeners.
posted by whittaker at 10:57 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Are there still replacement hard drives available for the iRivers and Creatives? My father used the former; I had the latter. It was great... until I dropped it shortly after the warranty expired. Then I made it better, replacing the 30 GB hard drive with an 80 GB one. It eventually became too difficult to manage, which is why I switched to an iPod Classic.

I like that the Pono has 64 GB of on board memory plus the SD cards. But that's still not any good for me. I want to (and do) listen to too much music for that to work. I stopped using the 120 GB Classic because I had to swap out music too frequently, which meant fighting with iTunes.

The 24/192 thing sounds like nonsense - or at best inconsequential to my listening - but unless I was going somewhere off-linen for many months... I can't imagine using it.
posted by mountmccabe at 11:02 AM on February 9, 2015


Another reason why the wine analogy doesn't work is that wine is a beverage made from grapes, whereas the Pono is an electronic device that plays music.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 11:06 AM on February 9, 2015 [12 favorites]


There seems to be a lot of people lamenting the lack of FLAC support in Apple devices that may not realize that iDevices have had lossless audio format support across the line for a decade.

Perhaps I'm mistaken, but I don't think that's the source of many of the complaints. There already were a couple of good options for such file formats, FLAC and a bit later OGG, so, of course, Apple felt the need to invent their own.
posted by bonehead at 11:07 AM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Can't even play Angry Birds on that POS.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 11:11 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


> the SDCH micros only take up to 32GB

I don't know about the original firmware but at least when using Rockbox that's not true - it'll accept any size microSD card as long as it's FAT32 formatted.
posted by Bangaioh at 11:14 AM on February 9, 2015


What I want to know is how to solve the problem of a dying iTunes format when all my music since ever is in there.

right-click on one of your files that is "in" iTunes and choose "reveal in Finder" from the context menu. That's your music file. You can copy it elsewhere, use other applications to listen to it, delete it, whatever you want.
posted by thelonius at 11:14 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


bonehead:

I don't really buy either Not Invented Here or proprietary lock in explanation (lock-in design is sub-optimal for a format defined by its complete reversibility). I think the theory that they had to design a spec that would allow a range of very-low-power-for-2004 commodity components to be patched to play it without skips holds the most water.

All FLAC had to worry about from a design and development perspective was being playable via winamp plugin on a Pentium desktop.

I bought a Rio Karma back in the day as I was huge into Ogg Vorbis and FLAC. The volume displacement on those units was twice a comparable iPod and had half the battery life when playing those formats.
posted by whittaker at 11:19 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


16 bits and 44.1 kHz are insufficient to represent an arbitrary audio waveform accurately.

We can hear up to 20 kHz or so, but a few samples per cycle is not enough to accurately represent the shape of signals at the high end of our hearing.


This is just not true. You need literally 2 samples per cycle - it's one of the most basic principles of digital signal processing. So 44.1KHz audio represents frequencies up to 22.05KHz. The real concern with sampling is not so much being unable to capture high frequency content - it's that frequencies above the limit imposed by sampling can be captured as if they were a different frequency below the limit, an effect known as aliasing. To minimize aliasing a signal being converted from analog to digital is filtered first, possibly even sampled at a higher rate and filtered in the digital domain. Because of the limitations of filter design you can't really *perfectly* remove frequencies, so there may be some aliasing content at the high end. But this is presumably one reason 44.1 was selected instead of just 40, to allow for this transitional band, and most people can't really hear up to 20KHz anyway. My ears topped out at 18-19KHz even when I was a teenager and 17-18Khz now, and that's pretty good really. And then you have to consider what range of frequencies the reproduction hardware is actually equipped to handle and you know what 44.1KHz is not bad at all for the end user.

16 bits is fine when the audio is at full level, but in quieter sections the bit count is less and the quantization gets more perceptable. That lead to the CD loudness war with signals being forced to fill the bitdepth as much as possible, at the loss of dynamic range.

The effects of quantization manifest as a kind of distortion/noise as values are rounded to a representation that fits in X bits, yes. Done in a naive way this could cause some distinctively digital artifacts, so when exporting audio at 16 bits you apply dither - essentially intentional noise in the least significant bit - to make sure quantization error is distributed evenly and "naturally." So basically you've got noise at what's, if you think about it, the lowest level the system is capable of representing. Now, you can look up the dynamic range and signal/noise ratios yourself, but the amount of quantization noise in a 16-bit file is something you could hear in a very quiet file played in a very quiet room. But in real life rooms aren't that quiet, and recordings aren't that quiet. Especially with the loudness war, but even just because of ambient noise and analog noise from the recording process. The suggestion that the loudness war is because of the limited bit depth of CD audio is nonsense - CD have a much lower noise floor than vinyl. I might still go for 24 if I designed an audio format now. By the time you get to 32 bits you're talking about representing the range from a sound you can't hear to a sound that will make your head explode like the guy in Scanners.
posted by atoxyl at 11:21 AM on February 9, 2015 [14 favorites]


Neil, Long May You Run. Love your music, but when I hear you talk about Pono, I feel Helpless. I cannot tell the difference between music formats, but that could be because my ex says, I Am a Child. That ex was really a Cinnamon Girl who lived up yonder on Sugar Mountain. If people don't buy this product, Don't Let it Bring You Down as Everybody Knows This is Nowhere. But there Comes a Time when you're drifting, After the Goldrush to new technology, that we take a step back and take a look at what we bought and say to ourselves, My My, Hey Hey, what is this? You have played them all, From Hank to Hendrix, and Tonight's the Night, Under a Harvest Moon, where we tell you the truth, Don't Let it Bring You Down there is no discernible difference.. You may be aging, but you'r not an Old Man. One of These Days, Like a Hurricane, we will understand the Natural Beauty of a Pono.

You're old enough to change your ways (Cowgirl in the Sand). You're not Too Far Gone.


Keep on singing Neil, Long May , You Run (CSNY) Mr. Soul. Keep that Heart of Gold.


(And Powderfinger and Pocohontas (Johnny Cash!) (with Beck) and The Needle and the Damage Done since even at the weak attempt above I could not work them in. Oh, hey Keep on Rockin in the Free World! Extra bonus Neil and Pearl Jam All Along the Watchtower)
posted by 724A at 11:32 AM on February 9, 2015 [9 favorites]


Welp, 724A, that Neil Young pun run has got me running for the turnstiles.
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 11:37 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Are there still replacement hard drives available for the iRivers and Creatives?

There are claims going around that Apple discontinued the iPod Classic because of availability problems with the very small hard drives that are used in them.

It seems like you could probably build some sort of 'port multiplier' and fit a bunch of MicroSD cards into the same form factor and achieve the same capacity (e.g. 10 x 32GB cards or 5 x 64), sort of like there are adaptors to put CF cards into old IBM PCs and simulate old 5150 hard drives.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:37 AM on February 9, 2015


Yeah, the 24/192 stuff is really only useful for recording and mixing. It just gives you more headroom when recording, especially really quiet sources. So, again, everything about this stuff makes sense for archival, primary source reqs but for the end-user a 200kbp/s (more or less) file is more than adequate in 99% of all scenarios.
posted by Doleful Creature at 11:51 AM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Pono instantly lost my interest after reading that it's 64 gigs + SD card. Is anyone making devices that can play FLAC and that'll let me tote around a 120 gig music library?

Um. 64 gigs + 64 gig card (included) = 128GB. So addition. Much math. Wow!
(Or spring for a 128GB card and my abacus tells me you gots 192GB right there yessireebob)
posted by sexyrobot at 11:53 AM on February 9, 2015


but...just because I have the files...what do I bring them in and listen to them with if itunes goes away? That's my issue. And one I need to solve before itunes dies.
posted by agregoli at 12:08 PM on February 9, 2015


For recording and production, modern digital audio hosts almost always use 32-bit floating point, since it avoids worrying about channel headroom, avoids quantization noise adding up when rendering and re-importing, and really there's not much reason not to. You can generally set sample rate from 44.1KHz to 192. For applications involving an analog->digital stage there might be some point to using a higher rate (if the ADC supports) to give lots of room to avoid aliasing? I don't really know I don't do much of that. For in-the-box electronic music I personally believe 44.1 is just fine, because these days plugins that can generate high frequencies will oversample internally and filter for antialiasing.
posted by atoxyl at 12:14 PM on February 9, 2015


Audiophiles claim to hear differences between different makes of NAS (hard drives basically) used to store digital files.
posted by memebake at 12:14 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


You know what I'd like to buy? Some stereo equipment just a little bit better than the set-up I currently own. Then, a little while later, something a little bit better than that. And then...
posted by The Card Cheat at 12:28 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Lossy compression is its own story - it obviously does throw out stuff in the audio range based on a model of how people hear so it's not as simple to say look at the math. But I know I can't tell 320 MP3 from FLAC under any sort of realistic conditions, or 320 from V0 probably.

What's really funny is people who refuse to believe that FLAC is lossless - "but you're compressing it! Where do all the bits go?!"
posted by atoxyl at 12:38 PM on February 9, 2015


Pretty sure Cowon solved the high quality high capacity long battery life portable music device problem a decade ago (iAudio X5 IIRC). *And* they've supported FLAC since the X7 IIRC (my current player, coupled with some Grado cans). And now there's the Fiio X5, which looks very promising, but my X7 probably has a couple more years until the battery life falls below the 20hrs per charge range.

Anyone that falls for this Pono nonsense, so they can listen to 25MB larger files (with it's whopping 64GB of internal space, pffffft) and hear no difference to 320kpbs MP3s, great! I'm sure the ridiculous shape, designed in such a way to give you a bonus uncomfortable feeling in your pocket, is there to remind you of what an idiot you are for buying into this audiophile bullshit.
posted by lawrencium at 12:45 PM on February 9, 2015


> Audiophiles claim to hear differences between different makes of NAS (hard drives basically) used to store digital files.

Please tell me that's satire.
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 12:51 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


"My problem is that there isn't enough of a difference to my ears or taste buds to justify all that extra money."

You're right, it's a case of diminishing returns. Once you reach a certain point, you're paying more and more, for less and less improvement. I have a good stereo - McIntosh amp, Counterpoint preamp, a Music Hall Turntable, very decent speakers and cartridge. It's what I call the low end of the high end. It took me years of trade-ups, always buying used equipment, to get here, and I don't feel I could justify anything more esoteric.
But it's a huge jump over the equipment they tested with in the article. I can definitely tell the difference between digital and analog on it. You have to get to a certain level of quality for these differences to become apparent. I think digital makes a lot more sense than analog for anyone not willing to blow at least few grand on equipment.
I have heard that these high-res files are an improvement, but I haven't the (digital) equipment to test it. It's difficult to imagine it'll make much difference on earbuds, or cheap equipment. Few people own actual hi-fi's nowadays. I gave up on digital quite a while ago, and went back to records only. But I'd love for someone to drop by with a Pono, just to check it out. But, I'm not going to invest money in a different format. I'll stick with buying records, (for home listening), and downloading free MP3s, (for driving).
posted by sudon't at 1:02 PM on February 9, 2015


agregoli, you listen to them with one of the many other audio playback programs out there...
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:09 PM on February 9, 2015


Well, an audiophile I'm not, but I can remember a time when you could go into a store to choose a cd player for your hifi set. There were a number of those to choose from, and you could try them all, listening to the same record, with the same - or a different - amplifier, with whatever speakers you wanted to listen to. They didn't sound the same. Each link mattered. Why should it be different today ?

To me, the lossless thing is a lot about archival and keeping the material in the best possible format for as long as possible. Further encoding could really downgrade the material, in a non-reversible way. Given the way distributing material on the net works, downloading and opening audio files could hastily turn into a chinese whispers game.
posted by nicolin at 1:10 PM on February 9, 2015


Audiophiles claim to hear differences between different makes of NAS (hard drives basically) used to store digital files.

Please tell me that's satire.

No, sadly.

I've seen people claiming a 3dB difference in analogue playback level between different brands of blank CDRs. And that was in the pro world. The audiofile world is so much worse.

That said, the companies producing the really good hardware, speakers, processing and encoders? You can be damn sure they're using controlled double blind testing.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:35 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


What no one is considering is how all music sounds better if you're high. What if we set up a double blind experiment involving 2 different blunts of unknown flavor. Then just play FLAC files and ask people which sounds better!!!
posted by triage_lazarus at 1:46 PM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I can't get over how bad the industrial design of this thing is. No hold button! Shaped like a Toblerone! Damn, hire better consultants.
posted by feloniousmonk at 1:52 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I just want a MiniDisc player for no reason other than because they look cool and retro-futuristic. Makes me feel like I'm jacking in some sort of illegal program I bought from Thomas Anderson into my brain.
posted by gucci mane at 2:00 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


I just want a MiniDisc player for no reason other than because they look cool and retro-futuristic.

ATrAC had it's appeal.
posted by mikelieman at 2:13 PM on February 9, 2015


but...just because I have the files...what do I bring them in and listen to them with if itunes goes away? That's my issue. And one I need to solve before itunes dies.

agregoli, you listen to them with one of the many other audio playback programs out there...

I thought they removed DRM from iTunes AAC files? Did that not apply to things already purchased or something? Or am I totally wrong? If they did many other players will handle AAC. If they didn't, well that's why DRM sucks gotta hope someone finds a way to strip it.

The underlying specifications for MP3 and even AAC aren't going away unless civilization really falls apart and we forget how to make computers. And WAV is the kind of thing that far future people will figure out if they ever re-invent computers.
posted by atoxyl at 2:15 PM on February 9, 2015


I think you're all ignoring the real issue, which is that highly moral people with skillful ears who actually care about music can hear the difference, and bad people who don't care about music at all and probably have bad hygiene can't hear the difference.

So, how many Ponos can I put you down for?
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:23 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


Gee, not a word about Laserdiscs. Uncompressed sound and, in some cases, 5.1 mixing. I still like to listen to certain discs through my old Pioneer amp and Bose speakers. Rush, The Who, Beatles, Jethro Tull, Andres Segovia, and many others. I realize that there aren't any current artists available, but we were talking about fidelity, not currency.
posted by TDavis at 2:26 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


I loved the idea behind the MiniDisc format and bought several portable players and player-recorders on an exchange trip to Japan in the summer of 2001--pretty much at the sunset of when the format would have been top of the heap for flexibility/usefulness.

What a great format that would have just KILLED it over here in the pre-iPod 90s if it had ever caught on in the west.

The idea that you could repeatedly divide and join tracks at arbitrary points on the disc blew my mind.
posted by whittaker at 2:28 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


TDavis: Gee, not a word about Laserdiscs. Uncompressed sound and, in some cases, 5.1 mixing.

But not actually at the same time.
posted by whittaker at 2:29 PM on February 9, 2015


I've drunk a lot of wine and I have never bought the $40 bottle of wine so I can't relate to this in any way. Is he saying I should buy the thing? Or...just sit on the fence about it?
posted by turbid dahlia at 2:30 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Well, an audiophile I'm not, but I can remember a time when you could go into a store to choose a cd player for your hifi set. There were a number of those to choose from, and you could try them all, listening to the same record, with the same - or a different - amplifier, with whatever speakers you wanted to listen to. They didn't sound the same. Each link mattered. Why should it be different today?

I'm sure they didn't sound the same. The difficulty is figuring out if they sounded different because of differences in the actual audio or because of psychoacoustic effects that primed you to expect a difference. There is literally no way of answering that question by means of sheer introspection. The only way is by rigorous double blind testing. And that typically reveals that, for example, almost all the differences people claim to hear between reasonably well-designed amplifiers (not including tube amps, which introduce perceptible distortions) are psychological in origin. Similarly for differences between CD players.

To go back to wine for a moment: put exactly the same wine in two different bottles and ask people to compare them; they will end up, in most instances, declaring a marked preference for one over the other. If one of the bottles is for a cheap wine and the other for an expensive wine (and the tester is aware of this), they will typically announce a marked preference for the wine that is poured out of the more bottle that has the label of the more expensive wine. The exact same wine tastes markedly different to us so long as the right psychological props are in place.

The hardest lesson in the world seems to be that this trivially repeatable experiment is not revealing something stupid about other people, but revealing something inherently human. We are difference-making machines. We need to make distinctions, to categorize, to rank, to classify. Mostly this serves us well, but it's a need that will happily work even in the absence of actual difference.

By the way, this is an experiment that has also been done with audio. Set up an impressive looking rig of amps, CD players, speakers etc. and give someone and A/B switch, telling them that A is one set of gear and B another, very different set. In fact the switch does nothing but introduce a brief period of silence into the music each time it is clicked one way or the other. Subjects will express strong preferences for A or B setup--even if they have no preconceived ideas about the systems being "tested."
posted by yoink at 3:09 PM on February 9, 2015 [6 favorites]


I don't have much use for a Pono but the derision of MeFis for audiophiles is always disheartening. Yeah, there's a lot of snake oil in the industry but most the goal for most audiophiles I know is getting the most of their music, not dick-measuring. There's nothing wrong with wanting to hear music on good equipment. And you don't need $10K to have good equipment.

Part of this is training, just like learning how to appreciate fine wine. I spent a few years working in somewhat higher end stereo stores back in the day and your ears get trained what to listen for/to. Even my wife (who has absolutely no interest in equipment whatsoever) got picky after enough exposure to decent gear. Your average Budweiser drinker wouldn't know the difference between a great ale and a mediocre one. Someone whose music is highly compressed dance pop played through ear buds or those awful Beats headphones is not going to picking out nuance like someone listening to less compressed lossless recordings over good equipment.

I do the bulk of my listening on two old Infinity bookshelf speakers that are about three feet apart and sit about a foot back from my computer monitor. The audio source is my computer feeding into a basic Yamaha receiver going to a mediocre Polk subwoofer and then on to the speakers. I couldn't hear the difference between a MP3 or a FLAC to save my life but to my ears, it still sounds pretty good. Good enough to for my working day anyway. However, if I burn a CD off MP3s in iTunes and play it on the stereo in my living room I can hear a difference between that and a lossless recording of the same PROVIDED it's an album recorded with some fidelity in mind. So if I run that test with my wife's Justin Timberlake I still wouldn't hear that difference. Run it with jazz, classical, or rock recorded before the loudness war and the MP3s do not sound as good as a CD or vinyl.
posted by Ber at 3:16 PM on February 9, 2015


Ber: what was the bitrate of the mp3s? iTunes defaults to something a bit crappy when ripping CDs if I remember correctly.
posted by memebake at 3:46 PM on February 9, 2015


Memebake -- can't remember what it used to be set at but since at least iTunes 10 it's defaulted to 256 VBR AAC+ for stereo files, 128 VBR for mono.
posted by nathan_teske at 4:01 PM on February 9, 2015


There's nothing wrong with wanting to hear music on good equipment. And you don't need $10K to have good equipment.

Certainly not, but there are a few things about audiophile culture that get my goat. One is that there are so many persistent misunderstandings of digital audio, which is a subject I happen to know a bit about. Another, which I wrote something about before, is that there are these dual obsessions with absolute fidelity and with making things sound better - which at some point become contradictory. You get people purchasing one piece of high precision equipment after another to get closer to the perfect recreation of a track that sounds the way it does in the first place because it went through an overdriven amp into a 50s era room mic recorded hot to tape i.e. a bunch of noise and distortion. I just feel like if people were interested in the true best-sounding configuration for a given recording they would be down to try out slightly crappy fuzzed out equipment, turn up the bass EQ to taste, whatever makes it sound good to them, whereas I feel like a lot of audiophiles seem to hold the "original" oddly sacrosanct and quixotically pursue perfection. I especially like the comment someone made that for just $20 you can buy enough weed to make that quadraphonic Yes album sound way "deeper".

If you want to say "I like rock played off old vinyl because it's got big beautiful album covers and a little bit of warm crackle to it" that's cool with me - hell I think cassette tapes can sound pretty badass.
posted by atoxyl at 4:05 PM on February 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


Cassette tapes are the only ideologically, technically, legally and morally correct music format. If you disagree, you should be double-blinded, ripped into a lossy format, covered with gold-plates and stuffed into a tube. Join the MeFi Cassette Cabal!
posted by the quidnunc kid at 4:21 PM on February 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


It's amazing looking back at my adolescence and thinking of the sheer amount of time I spent using pencils to hand wind cassette tapes where the tape had been eaten by the player or had started sticking inside the case or what have you. I mean, in retrospect it just seems such a bizarrely not-ready-for-prime-time tech.
posted by yoink at 4:34 PM on February 9, 2015


the quidnunc kid: "Cassette tapes are the only ideologically, technically, legally and morally correct music format. If you disagree, you should be double-blinded, ripped into a lossy format, covered with gold-plates and stuffed into a tube. Join the MeFi Cassette Cabal!"

Hey Kid, never voted you #1, but now I might well do so. I still have about 200 live Dead recordings on Maxell 90 minute tapes. When I was my car, out comes this old boom box and in goes a tape. My son, a music lover, just stares at the thing in amazement. When I have to flip sides, the derision starts. When a song ends abruptly, well look out.

Cassettes. What a great world. You kids with your mp3 nowadays....
posted by 724A at 4:39 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


. To minimize aliasing a signal being converted from analog to digital is filtered first, possibly even sampled at a higher rate and filtered in the digital domain. Because of the limitations of filter design you can't really *perfectly* remove frequencies, so there may be some aliasing content at the high end. But this is presumably one reason 44.1 was selected instead of just 40, to allow for this transitional band, and most people can't really hear up to 20KHz anyway.

I think this bit about the realities of ADC is a pretty important point to include when talking to denialist audiophiles, since I've seen conversations play out where they'll say "yeah, math and everything, but in the real world...," and it's worth noting that there are models beyond just the sampling theorem that cover exactly the contingencies of things like the dead zone between the LPF's cutoff frequency and the point at which high frequency content is sufficiently attenuated.
posted by invitapriore at 4:57 PM on February 9, 2015


Hey Kid, never voted you #1, but now I might well do so.

Actually we'll ALL be #1 when we start the MeFi Cassette Cabal! I've actually been thinking of having a mixTAPE swap club (and cassette tape appreciation society) for a while, but at the moment I'm homeless and don't have a cassette player. But we should totally get on to that eventually.

Cassettes will also be the perfect format for an audiobook of my all-limerick version of Lord of the Rings, because (almost) no-one has a tape deck anymore, so no-one will actually have to listen to it.
posted by the quidnunc kid at 5:09 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cassette tapes are the only ideologically, technically, legally and morally correct music format.

I'm still collecting MAX-Points, btw...
posted by mikelieman at 5:14 PM on February 9, 2015


Remember that feeling when someone returned a borrowed cassette with a different cover and/or back?
posted by Invisible Green Time-Lapse Peloton at 5:19 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Does the Pono have a button for 'More Barn'?
posted by EXISTENZ IS PAUSED at 5:43 PM on February 9, 2015


By the time you get to 32 bits you're talking about representing the range from a sound you can't hear to a sound that will make your head explode like the guy in Scanners.

I'm only barely exaggerating about this, by the way. The span from 0 to 2^32 = ~6 * 32 = a little over 192 dB. 0dB SPL (sound pressure) is defined based on an estimate of the threshold of hearing. Wikipedia says 192 dB SPL is right about where a "sound wave" becomes a "shock wave..."
posted by atoxyl at 5:44 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


While I don't get the point of FLAC on a portable device, I don't understand how people can be quite so dismissive of the idea that people can hear a difference between sub-320Kbps MP3s and high bitrate AAC or Vorbis. Or, for that matter, that the Pono can/does have a better DAC and amplifier than most portable audio players.

Is it money I'd spend? Not really; some smartphones are already good enough for me, given that I only rarely listen to music in very quiet environs. That doesn't mean that there is not a quantifiable difference, much less a reliably perceptible subjective difference.
posted by wierdo at 5:56 PM on February 9, 2015


I wish more than anything that it supported bluetooth headsets.
posted by GuyZero at 5:59 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember that feeling when someone returned a borrowed cassette with a different cover and/or back?

Nope. I never loaned out tapes. Why, when we can sit here for the next 180 minutes, and we can hangout and spin a copy of the show. If you don't want to copy off the setlist, I'm sure I can print off a copy from wintaper...
posted by mikelieman at 6:18 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Cassette tapes are the only ideologically, technically, legally and morally correct music format.

Stockholm syndrome
posted by thelonius at 6:29 PM on February 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Memebake -- can't remember what it used to be set at but since at least iTunes 10 it's defaulted to 256 VBR AAC+ for stereo files,

Yup, that's it. Actually, I usually avoid iTunes for burning CDs. On a PC it creates a coaster about one out of ten times. If I am burning a flac or wav files, I go with CDBurner XP or WMP. But I have both an iPhone and an iPad so iTunes still clogs up space on the family computers, sprawling it's bloated carcass across my C drives, begging for updates like our brainless dog asking to go out when he just came in five minutes before.

The burden of having good stereo equipment is you realize when a recording is flawed. There's a Stevie Ray Vaughan CD I no longer play because the drums sound like wet blocks of wood instead of skins. Someone asked me to play some contemporary country a few years ago and it sounded like it was recorded deep inside Carrie Underwood's ass. My wife threw on Alison Krauss's live CD with that stunning "Down to the River to Pray" and it sounded like Alison was in the center of the room. You could hear her take a breath between verses and it gives you chills. I cannot emphasize how much difference the quality of the recording makes. The hardware don't shine if the software sucks.
posted by Ber at 6:51 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


The hardware don't shine if the software sucks.

You can't polish a turd,
(but you can roll it in glitter)
posted by mikelieman at 6:53 PM on February 9, 2015


Holy fucking shit...
posted by mikelieman at 6:55 PM on February 9, 2015 [3 favorites]


Kinda pointless flogging the long expired horse re: quality of mp3s. I used to think the DAC and amp qualities mattered, but pretty much commodity now, right. But the placebo effect is still a effect, and if you want to drink an $80 wine while listening to your Pono, that's what you ought to do. Life's too short for someone else's hair shirt.
posted by Fibognocchi at 7:53 PM on February 9, 2015


It feels so good to laugh at people who can afford to do things right and who claim to tell the difference!

Bit sensitive, aren't we? Nobody is saying anything remotely like you're saying. They're saying what science says, which is that wine tasters and audiophiles are at best delusional, and at worst bullshit artists and frauds.

You're not doing anything right. You're wasting that money. If you're rich enough not to give a shit, then fine, but don't drag everybody else down to your level.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:46 PM on February 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Something I've been curious about for a while now, is if the digitally recorded output of a well mastered vinyl record played on a good quality record player is distinguishable from the vinyl playback itself. I do like the vinyl sound, and if you can get the vinyl sound by recording vinyl, why not make digitally recorded versions of vinyl available for digital listening? Maybe you'd need some high quality amp-simulation software and a good pair of headphones to really do it justice for portable listening, but I'd be OK with that.

Has anyone done this? Is it just wrong-headed? Would it just end up being a nasty Instagram-filter-style simulacra?
posted by Jon Mitchell at 12:36 AM on February 10, 2015


Something I've been curious about for a while now, is if the digitally recorded output of a well mastered vinyl record played on a good quality record player is distinguishable from the vinyl playback itself.

If done properly, it'd be identical in terms of audible frequency response and noise floor, but you'll get the clicks and pops always in the exact same spots in the digital version.


if you can get the vinyl sound by recording vinyl, why not make digitally recorded versions of vinyl available for digital listening?

Because the whole point of digital audio is to finally get rid of the limitations of analogue. If people really prefer the vinyl sound they can just listen to the vinyl, or equalise the digital version to their taste. Perhaps there's some sort of plugin that applies "vinyl eq" and adds random clicks to CD ripped tracks but I'm not aware of it.

Here's another recent but surprisingly good article on that deadest of horses, vinyl vs CD.
posted by Bangaioh at 1:08 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


When the Pono was accounced, CodingHorror did a test across 3,500 listeners to see if there was any difference between WAV and mp3s of various bitrates. The results show that people can generally perceive 128kbps mp3s as being lower quality, but apart from that everything else (160kbps VBR, 320kbps CBR, WAV) scores the same.

Perhaps a small minority of people can tell the difference between a 320 kbps mp3 and a WAV - thats unfortunate for them because they then have to spend lots of money on superior equipment and more bulky digital files and so on in order to eliminate the perceived difference and thereby enjoy the music as much as the rest of us.
posted by memebake at 2:08 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Has anyone done this?

No but yes- amateur pirates or whatever you want to call them definitely do high bitrate lossless rips of vinyl all the time. Search 'vinyl' on your favorite torrent site, probably you'll find thousands of hits, clicks and pops are usually not included.

Why? I'm not at all sure, in some cases it's probably because they didn't like the CD mastering. In some cases, it's probably because they're delusional vinyl nerds, but in any event, it's definitely a thing.
posted by hap_hazard at 2:12 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


in some cases it's probably because they didn't like the CD mastering.

This is my reason. That and there's a lot of vinyl that just never made it made it to CD.
posted by mikelieman at 4:00 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Remember that feeling when someone returned a borrowed cassette with a different cover and/or back?

You just reminded me that I had a thing for a friend of mine way back in the early 90s, but I got over it pretty quickly after I discovered that she kept her entire cassette tape collection just piled together in one big wicker basket. Most of the time she didn't even bother to put them back in their cases.

I mean, that one thing alone wasn't the deal-breaker, but it sure as hell didn't help.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 4:11 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Places like what.cd absolutely have vinyl rips of most everything that's on vinyl - of course they try to do the most flawless clean vinyl rips possible which seems to go back to that contradiction I was talking about. But if there's something about that sound you like - maybe it is the different mastering - it's out there.

To give a little credit to the high fidelity people, a lot of them seem to be more into classical or jazz, which makes the pursuit of clarity a less absurd endeavor - at least if they're playing CDs or other clean, high dynamic range digital formats - than it would be with, say, garage rock. But still, for the price of high-level stuff you could go see a lot of live music.
posted by atoxyl at 4:12 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Again, musicality is on one side of the spectrum and engineering on the other. The art is balanced in the middle.

Take a 7-inch vinyl and make a mix tape directly from the turntable to the tape deck. The tape recording will sound different from the vinyl source. Take a DAW recording and make an identical CD and Tape. The tape will have a difference in the mid and low frequency ranges. Rip anything analog to your laptop/cd it sounds like the analog source, but take your digital source and try get that smeary "bad" (to me, good) sound of tape and you are doing a lot engineering in the digital realm (in the box) to get a sound that's easy enough to bounce through the record and play head off a tape deck. You can actually use a piece of looped tape for it. Which is to say, I think a lot of people are hung up on the wrong thing when they ask "which is better?" My answer is "that question sucks".

It's engineering and art, and stuff like pono sells a totally bullshit message that causes dumb arguments, and meanwhile the people who do this stuff as their life's work can't see the more interesting conversations about how music is made because we are still arguing the basic questions 33 years after CD's came out.
posted by Annika Cicada at 4:52 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


I thought they removed DRM from iTunes AAC files? Did that not apply to things already purchased or something?

If they did, it wasn't automatic. Every time I plug in my iPod, iTunes complains that it can't copy certain files (all of them are old iTMS purchases) to the iPod because I'm not authorized to play them or something.

Probably there's a way of logging in to iTunes and re-upping the licensing but it serves as a good reminder of why to never buy music that way.

What a great format [MiniDisc] would have just KILLED it over here in the pre-iPod 90s if it had ever caught on in the west.

Blame Sony. MD could have been a contendah' if it had been backed by a company that didn't have the giant conflict of interest of running both a record label and a hardware company under the same corporate roof. They nerfed MD. They made the ability to record artificially expensive, and then there was a shitty, overly enthusiastic copy-protection / DRM mechanism that kicked in on some equipment ("consumer" grade) but not others ("pro" grade). And of course it was just expensive: you could get a really good CrO2/Metal tape deck, with dubbing ability, for the price of a MD deck, and MD blanks were more than good tapes. Sure, MD was digital and tapes were analog, but when you put a bunch of copy protection features on it, suddenly the big benefits of digital start to disappear over a good analog format.

DAT was another great format that got squashed by the music companies. It was the one I was personally a big fan of at the time; it had the quality advantages of CD with the ability to do editing like tape (since it was helical scan, you could do pretty sick punch edits). If it had taken off, I think mixtape culture—distinct from rip/mix/burn mix CD culture, or the track-centric MP3 culture we have now—would have stuck around quite a bit longer in the mainstream. It was a natural replacement for cassette tapes in a world where CDs had replaced LPs.

In retrospect, by preventing DAT and MD from being widely adopted as consumer formats due to copy-protection concerns, the music companies really set themselves up for the worst possible scenario in the PC era. They guaranteed a huge pent-up demand for a digital format without artificial limitations to replace analog cassette tape, and what consumers ended up with (MP3s) is a hell of a lot easier to copy than un-protected DATs or MDs would have been. Joke's on you, fuckers... although—and I know this is really just nostalgia—I almost do wonder what an all digital but still physical-media-based world would have been.
posted by Kadin2048 at 8:16 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


People often misunderstand what Nyquist and Shannon were saying. That work was about the minimum number of samples per cycle required to detect the frequency of a waveform. That's just the frequency, not the shape or the phase angle of it or the amplitude. If you sample a 10kHz sine at 20 kHz you may just get a bunch of zeros (if you happen to be sampling perfectly in phase with it and hittng the zero crossings) or you may see the full range of it, or anything inbetween (depending on the phase angle). And you will still have no idea if it's a sine or a square or a triangle wave - you just don't have enough information. To accurately reproduce that waveform you need more samples per cycle.

This has nothing to do with fake Hi-Fi scam hardware like $2000 speaker wire or magic power cables which have no actual bearing on sound quality.

This is a measuably more accurate copy of the master tape, something almost identical to what the producer heard in the studio.
Really though we won't see the full benefit until producers stop dumbing down the frequency range and dynamic range they put into the master, which will only happen if high resolution audio takes off. There is no need for any of this to even be expensive and Pono does not have to be the source. Hi-res DACs are cheap, storage is cheap. We don't have to be stuck with 1980s audio quality for ever.
posted by w0mbat at 8:46 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Has anyone done this?

It's easy enough to find older rereleases of classical music on CD where the original masters have been lost and the CDs were mastered from vinyl. And, yeah, it generally has all that distortion and noise warmth and richness vinyl lovers prize.

(Growing old is a never ending diet of "really, we're doing this again?" One of the oddest is the revival of enthusiasm for vinyl. Having lived through the arrival of the CD and its immediately obvious superiority on pretty much every front to the vinyl LP it's quite bizarre to see the fetishization of the vinyl experience: "ooh, noisy and easily damaged and full of random little clicks! Where has this miracle format been all my life?!".)
posted by yoink at 9:20 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


As a recording medium, records are pretty crap.

As physical objects, records are kind of cool and neat artifacts.

I wish it would have been possible for the Library of Congress to create an archive of mixtapes as that could have been the most amazing pop culture ephemera collection after the Dead Sea scrolls.
posted by GuyZero at 9:29 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


Now Ars may be kicking the audiophiles while they're down: To The Audiophile This $10,000 Ethernet Cable Apparently Makes Sense.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 9:44 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


Via the Ars article: The original glass bottles for Brilliant Pebbles have been replaced by clear zip lock bags, which have a more linear response than glass.

Holy shit, that's awesome.
posted by dirigibleman at 10:07 AM on February 10, 2015 [4 favorites]


"Now Ars may be kicking the audiophiles while they're down: To The Audiophile This $10,000 Ethernet Cable Apparently Makes Sense."

FTA, ROTFLMAO:

"(I can only imagine the improvements that an audiophile reviewer would hear if they were to replace their Netgear switch with, say, a $250,000 Cisco datacenter-class switch. I mean, if you’re willing to pay $10,000 for just your cables, shouldn’t you be spending just as much on your switch?)"

As a datacenter network engineering goddess, this is a sentiment I can get behind for audiophiles building their home playback boondoggles. For 500 dollars an hour I would gladly configure their VLANs for each media stream and allocate TEH TURNTABLZ to the lossless real-time queue and configure it just below the uh, uh whatchacallit, um..."the maximal headroom of ethernetic audiation in order to minimize the unwanted artifacts imparted on the sound by RAM wobble as the packets cross so fast through the ASICS, using my gold-plated USB console adapter, so the configuration drops in as clean as possible."
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:07 AM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


People often misunderstand what Nyquist and Shannon were saying. That work was about the minimum number of samples per cycle required to detect the frequency of a waveform. That's just the frequency, not the shape or the phase angle of it or the amplitude.

Nyquist and Shannon showed that you can precisely reconstruct a sine wave using any sample rate greater than (but not equal to) 2f, where f is the input frequency. A 48kHz sampling rate is good to just under a 24kHz sine. (As long as it is greater than 24 kHz, e.g. 24.0001 kHz, you won't get the zero-crossing problem and you can reconstruct the input waveform's period and amplitude. Once upon a time I could have figured out the number of samples needed to reconstruct, but I am not sure how to do that anymore. IIRC more samples are required as you approach the Nyquist limit to recover exactly, until it becomes an infinite number of samples at the limit—i.e. no reconstruction possible.)

For non-sinusoidal waveforms, you need to look at a Fourier decomposition into sines. It is both expected and well-known that the higher-order harmonics which are shorter than one-half of the sampling frequency are "outside the Nyquist limit" or "outside the window". Any halfway-decent ADC will have filters to remove them before sampling, to reduce aliasing issues. But these harmonics are above the range of human hearing anyway, and much empirical testing has shown the reconstructed waveforms—given that the speaker systems and other analog signal chain components have built-in frequency limitations of their own—are indistinguishable to humans.

In early ADC systems, such as the Sony PCM F1, 44.1/16b digital obtained a bad reputation not because of the digitization specifically, but because of limitations of the analog anti-aliasing filters that were used to roll off frequencies above the Nyquist limit. In modern systems, this is typically solved by oversampling and then doing the anti-aliasing in the digital domain rather than in the analog. It's easier, given modern electronics, to do the filtering using a DSP by crunching numbers than by building a really good analog lowpass. (However, this was widely known even in the 80s. I own a competitor to the PCM F1 that used 1-bit ΣΔ sampling at some crazily high rate, like 200 kHz, to get around this. It's all the same math, just a different way to get around practical implementation issues.)

Some interesting discussion here, for those who are interested.
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:19 AM on February 10, 2015 [7 favorites]


I won't accept the analogy unless you can find a digital wine.
posted by nicolin at 8:55 AM on February 9 [3 favorites +] [!] [quote]


Wine. It's finger-lickin' good.
posted by chavenet at 10:56 AM on February 10, 2015


Nyquist and Shannon showed that you can precisely reconstruct a sine wave using any sample rate greater than (but not equal to) 2f, where f is the input frequency.

This is an important point, it is a greater than. Sorry.

And you will still have no idea if it's a sine or a square or a triangle wave - you just don't have enough information. To accurately reproduce that waveform you need more samples per cycle.

When we talk about the frequencies present in a signal we mean "the [possibly infinite number of] sine waves that can be added to produce that signal." If the first overtone of a triangle wave would reach or exceed the Nyquist frequency then it's effectively a sine wave - if the fifth would it's effectively the summation of a few sine waves. Digital audio is bandlimited. But it's okay because if its overtones are in the supra-20KHz range you almost certainly not able to distinguish a "perfect" triangle from a sine anyway. Like Kadin and I said it's more of a concern to make sure frequencies above the limit are removed entirely so they don't sneak in as unwanted frequencies under it.
posted by atoxyl at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2015 [6 favorites]


digital wine

All wine is digital. That's why it gets you pixelated.
posted by yoink at 11:07 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


However, this was widely known even in the 80s. I own a competitor to the PCM F1 that used 1-bit ΣΔ sampling at some crazily high rate, like 200 kHz, to get around this. It's all the same math, just a different way to get around practical implementation issues.

I recently learned that SACDs are actually written in a 1-bit delta-sigma modulated format, sampled at several MHz. They still do converters like that too.

If anyone wants to know how this really works you're going to have to ask someone else.
posted by atoxyl at 11:24 AM on February 10, 2015


All wine is digital. That's why it gets you pixelated.

Only in Japan.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:29 AM on February 10, 2015 [1 favorite]


(Growing old is a never ending diet of "really, we're doing this again?"

“Guess I'll have to buy the White Album again,”
posted by mikelieman at 1:39 PM on February 10, 2015 [2 favorites]


hap_hazard: In some cases, it's probably because they're delusional vinyl nerds, but in any event, it's definitely a thing.

Vinyl nerd, perhaps, but there are often legitimate reasons to do so. Vinyl has, by and large, resisted the infamous loudness war issues found in CDs and downloads. I can't bring myself to listen to, for instance, Foo Fighters' Wasting Light CD, which is demonstrably overdriven to absurd levels, but the vinyl has considerably more dynamics to it. Admittedly, you probably aren't going to find much difference between the Dutch 1980s reissue of Sgt. Peppers from your average CD release, but I wouldn't wholly write off this behavior as pointless. Besides, what's the harm?
posted by gern at 10:50 AM on February 13, 2015 [1 favorite]


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