Pono: Neil Young Thinks CDs Suck

I got a ton of flack from people on Ars when I commented that CD quality audio lost a lot of information that greatly affected a listener’s perception, and MP3 and other compressed audio formats simply made a bad situation worse.

I over-simplified my argument to keep it approachable, and had some wannabe audio experts quoting the Shannon-Nyquist theorem. They must have read ahead or did not understand the geek-speak for what needs to be true for the theorem to be valid. I figure they didn’t even read the prerequisites needed, and do not understand music enough to know that pretty much no music falls into the prerequisite category — having a constant frequency.

Apparently, Neil Young agrees. I was unaware that his hatred of MP3s is probably greater than mine until he announced Pono. Young has been on the road showing off and evangelizing better quality audio. There has been a lot of buzz about it — not just because he is such an iconic figure in music, but because the 3 big music companies (Warner, Sony and Universal) will sign up to support the better quality format.

In my post: 44kHz is not enough. I decided that a good compromise between file size and quality would be 24bit, 128kHz. But Young has decided that the studio quality digital audio woule be supported which is typically 192kHz/32bit. (Apple’s ALAC actually supports up to twice the sample rate, but it is probably future-proofing the format.) My hope is that this will not be yet another failed better quality audio format. The reasoning is two-fold:

  1. I want higher quality audio than what is currently available.
  2. I want the influx of bandwidth consumption to wake up consumers, and have them apply pressure to the communications companies* to increase speeds so that even a slow connection could stream 1–2MB/s.

See http://techland.time.com/2012/10/01/pono-neil-young/ for an article and video of Young and Letterman talking about Pono. So all in all, this is good news.

Update: I have since found bandcamp for the lossless CD quality audio, which will have to do until more albums from artists I follow are available on HDtracks.

*The telecoms monopolized our internet access landscape about a decade ago, after G.W. Bush overturned the laws that prevented de-facto monopolies. The laws that were repealed forced the telecoms to open up their lines (the cost of installation was funded by the government in many cases) thereby flattening the bandwidth speed increase curve. This lead to many smaller ISPs dying and fewer jobs in every region of the country. In turn, since there was little to no real competition, there was little-to-no incentive to increase internet speeds. The same 6Mbps connection has been offered for $40 or more the last half decade. But that is another topic.


Bluetooth A2DP Receivers & Review: Kanex AirBlue

Bluetooth’s Strangled Promise

When Bluetooth was first introduced, it promised a world of wireless freedom. We, the computing public, were told  that Bluetooth would be in everything and replace USB and other connections for low-speed data transfers and other light bandwidth demands. RS 232 connections would fade—replaced by fast, flexible BT connections. Home users would benefit from wireless printing, fast connections and more freedom.

But the computing and  mobile phone public has been slow to adopt the technology thanks to the high prices compared to wired equivalents and the added complexity of pairing and connecting devices. Many people have mobile phones but only a small fraction is technically competent enough to pair and use bluetooth. Thus, high prices are as much a reflection of the niche demand as they are device manufacturers pricing devices based on perceived value of the technology. The devices themselves cost little to manufacture, but a lot to develop the software and hardware. This price premium for an “unproven killer technology” has resulted in strangling adoption rates. Who wants to pay $200 for a stereo headset or $99 for a mono-earpiece that delivers unknown benefits when a wired headsets costs only $20? Luckily, the standard has marched on to version 4.0, which offers higher throughput and lower power consumption. Finally, Bluetooth 2.0 A2DP & HFP device prices are coming down to a level that is more in line with the basic functionality of what they do.

Pairing has also been made simpler, in hopes that people will actually use that little “B” instead of bluetooth circuits — which are usually on by default — eating up battery life, and exposing a person to snooping and bluejacking.

I myself, knew the benefits or going wireless decades ago when I got an Amateur Radio License, long before mobile phones went digital. I was just waiting for the prices to come down to a point where I could justify ridding myself of wires. That point finally arrived about 2 years ago, when I found a bluetooth earpiece for less than $70.

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