Neil Young's high-end PonoPlayer hits retail stores on Monday, priced at $399

By Shawn Knight
Jan 7, 2015
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  1. Neil Young's PonoPlayer is gearing up for its retail debut. The high-end audio player will touch down in 80 retail locations across the country including a number of Fry's stores on January 12.

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  2. yRaz

    yRaz TS Evangelist Posts: 1,824   +876

    WHY is it a triangle?
  3. stewi0001

    stewi0001 TS Evangelist Posts: 1,136   +480

    well if it were shaped like a cylinder, it might be questionable ;P

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 905   +240

    I still wish they could fit more data on vinyl.. getting an album onto vinyl about the size of a mini disc would be nice. I wonder if anyone has tried to improve data density of vinyl, or if it was just ignored once magnetic tape came into play.

    I still can't imagine that even a "lossless" flac sounds as good as a vinyl... but I haven't compared them to vinyl so I don't know.
  5. fimbles

    fimbles TS Evangelist Posts: 1,155   +197

  6. risc32

    risc32 TS Booster Posts: 186   +75

    So somewhere a tree is about to fall, and it won't make a sound.

    iamthestig, you are really something. I just don't know what.
  7. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,456   +1,759

    So nobody can set their drink on it.

    "Neil Young's PonoPlayer is gearing up for its retail debut. The high-end audio player will touch down in 80 retail locations across the country including a number of Fry's stores on January 12".

    The old boy really is out of touch with reality. I mean really. If they dropped this turd on Black Friday when people will buy anything as long as it's on sale. (Hint: Advertise it as "half off", and set the retail @ $799.95). This junk is coming down, "the pipeline", almost a week late for Epiphany....:oops:
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2015
  8. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,456   +1,759

    OK well, "once upon a time", towards the end of the analog era, they used to record studio masters on 2" wide magnetic tape pulled @ 15 ips. It sounded pretty decent. After that it went unto a vinyl record, which I haven't the vaguest idea why you think they sound, "good"...:confused: As far as magnetic tape goes, when you really had no sense of what music actually was supposed to sound like, you went out and bought it on cassettes.

    Nobody figured out how to, "put more data on vinyl". The data which is on vinyl, has to be electronically recovered anyway. Why? Because if a record was recorded "flat", the high frequency impressions would be so miniscule, they would be wiped from the record on the first pass of the stylus. So now, go google, "RIAA roll off characteristics". (Or something along those lines).
    What I can't imagine is that you lived while vinyl was the only game in town. If you did, I doubt you would be saying anything nice about it.

    I was 15 years old when the Beatles broke out in America. You had your choice of buying their albums in either stereo or mono, the same with the Rolling Stones. Take your pick, they both sounded like sh!t. (*) Perhaps more importantly, the home audio equipment of the day was limited to less than about 10 watts output. (And those were the good amps, mine were from RCA store record demo players). 10 watts from a pair of push pull 6V6GCs.

    (*) The Beatles "Revolver", was "mono-stereo" anyway. All the vocals came out of one channel, the music out of the other.
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2015
  9. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    There are too many problems associated with vinyl and it's expensive.
  10. Skidmarksdeluxe

    Skidmarksdeluxe TS Evangelist Posts: 6,335   +1,937

    If the music was lousy then I suppose the static, slipping, sticking and clicking noises sounded alright.
    How many LP's did you buy just for 1 or 2 tracks?
  11. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,456   +1,759

    One salient issue is, the legendary Shure V15 Type III, is discontinued. (It went out at $300.00 a pop). The Audio Technica low end garbage that people are asking $50.00 for, used to have a dealer cost of between 5 and 8 bucks. I managed to Grab a Shure M95ED a while back. I think it was $65.00. It's still a virgin. I'm saving it to convert, Alec R. Constadinas legendary, "Romeo & Juliet" from vinyl to CD. That album is the only single thing of value to come out of the disco era. The last copy of the CD version I saw on Amazon was $400.00 USD. OK, the person selling it was insane. That said, it's gone. So I expect, "crazy like a fox", might be more appropriate.

    Quite the contrary. The bandwidth and the dynamic range were truncated to the point where all you could hear were the snaps, crackles, and pops. It always sounded like your record player was having "Rice Krispies" for breakfast.

    If you want a more technical explanation, if something disturbs the stylus, the rise time and dynamic range exceed the surrounding music. Click and pop filters became all the rage, but the same thing happens to the music as when you apply a noise filter to a photo. The music gets the peaks sanded off it, loosing some of the musical high frequency content, the same way a photo appears to have a very light soft focus filter applied.

    I truly didn't resent rebuying all my favorite albums on CD. It was well worth it. Now exchanging all my DVDs for Blu-Ray, and all those for 4K, will be quite another issue entirely
    Too many....:oops:

    Another thing about that is, the "greatest hits" compilations, always have everything a band ever did worthwhile, except the track you're looking for....:mad:
    Last edited: Jan 8, 2015
  12. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Maniac Posts: 933   +238

    Music is only as good as its source, and Neil sounds like he has been taken over by a marketing agent from another planet. I am sure that they are hoping that his name will sell the product, or that Neil is hoping he will reap extraordinary profits from this device, but I agree with Capt. Cranky this is a late arrival that I am betting will fade away rather than burn out.

    As for vinyl, towards its first demise, there was a player that someone made that used a laser to read the grooves. No wear! In fact, you can still get them - but I have to wonder if there is any conversion to digital in the process.
  13. seefizzle

    seefizzle TS Addict Posts: 269   +138

    Gotta love this line in the article "Early reports, however, suggest that people are having a tough time differentiating audio from the new Walkman versus that coming from an iPhone."

    I think "audiophiles" are largely bullsh*tting themselves. I mean there definitely will be a difference in quality when you go from 16 bit to 24 bit audio but none of that matters unless the audio source itself is built from the ground up to utilize the extra dynamic range that 24 bit offers.

    16 bit vs 24 bit with audio is referring to the "resolution" of the sound. Obviously if you have a higher resolution the sound has the ability to be crisper. The problem is that current music production practices don't take advantage of this. The resolution of an audio stream refers to the difference in the attenuation of the source signal. The resolution of the sound refers to the difference between loud and soft sounds. This is often called "dynamic range".

    In practical terms a 24 bit audio stream will have a better ability to articulate softer details in a production such as ghost notes or quiet rim shots on the drums or a guitar players finger slides. These minor details can often be drowned out by the louder sounds.

    The biggest problem here is that music producers compress the living daylights out of every instrument and the entire track as a whole. The "loudness war" is part of this practice. Somewhere in the 90's producers decided that everything needed to be as loud as humanly possible so compression techniques went crazy. Everyone killed the dynamic range and smashed the signal and drove up the volume of everything.

    If you look at a "wave" form of an audio signal you'll see that it jumps up and down like crazy like a heart rate monitor. If the wave form squiggles up and down dramatically you'll find that it has a lot of dynamic range. There's a lot of variance between loud sounds and soft sounds. Then if you take a walk through some tracks over on sound cloud and you look at the wave forms on any tracks there you'll see it's largely a bunch of bars that are all the same height, meaning that there isn't a lot of difference between loud and soft sounds. Soundcloud's track info is a visual representation of a wave form, it's not particularly accurate but you can look at it as a demonstration.

    To sum it up, music these days does not have very good dynamic range thus expensive players like the PONO player that take advantage of the increased dynamic range resolution are useless. The mp3 file format needs to die sure, but also people should stop using ear buds if they want their music to sound good too. This is a systemic problem with the music industry not with devices.

    If you want better quality music, YOU HAVE TO FIX THE MUSIC, not the music player.
    wiyosaya likes this.
  14. wiyosaya

    wiyosaya TS Maniac Posts: 933   +238

    I agree with you, seefizzle. 24-bit audio vs 16-bit audio records a much wider dynamic range - I.e., how loud the music is.

    The sample rate also makes a difference in that higher sample rates are able to more accurately reproduce the original the harmonic spectrum of the recording. If you compare analog audio recordings like those on vinyl to digital ones, analog essentially has an infinite sample rate which is why many people still prefer it over digital recordings; simply put, analog audio is much better at reproducing the harmonic spectrum of the source.
    seefizzle likes this.
  15. seefizzle

    seefizzle TS Addict Posts: 269   +138

    Sample rate is another slice of this pie and is nearly as important as dynamic range issues. (I think dynamic range trumps everything but anyways) Still though, you're adding another part that points to fixing the music not the player. If you record at higher sample rates you'll have higher quality but that means you have to record at higher sample rates. You have to fix the source. You have to fix the music.

    I also want to point out why spending several hundred dollars on a dedicated music player is piss on yourself retarded. IF the pono player becomes popular and demand soars for this device... anything special that the pono player does will be integrated into cell phones within one product launch. If FLAC lossless, 96hz 24 bit audio is what people want, it'll be in the next iphone, galaxy, M8, phone you can think of very quickly. If this technology creates demand it won't take long before it's everywhere. I'm not certain the demand is there however.

    Also, I'm not certain that there's any kind of real traction in the music production industry as a whole to start fixing music. So like I said, it's all a rather stupid thing to hang your hat on.

    IAMTHESTIG TS Evangelist Posts: 905   +240

    Well I don't really understand the tech.... but I have a friend who has a bunch of 90's alt rock on vinyl and it sounds amazing on his stereo equipment. Granted he makes well over $100K a year so his equipment is crazy top of the line. I've not directly compared it to lossless FLAC though but I would love to. He buys new vinyl of the same album every year or so I think. Anyway, too bad there are a lot of limitations and problems associated with the use of vinyl. Honestly I'm happy with my 320 KB mp3s I get from Amazon.
  17. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,456   +1,759

    In fact, it's quite the opposite. The music industry is "breaking the music", on purpose, to accommodate the legions of tone deaf imbeciles who are buying it.

    Now, music is already MASTERED at 24 bit depth. So, "FLAC", in that sense, is turning the "master tapes" loose to the masses. CDs are 16 bit, mastered D>D, from 24 bit sources.

    As far as sampling rate goes, digital audio is very similar to a digital image file. Depending on the degree of enlargement versus the number of megapixels captured, "stair stepping" will always set in. In other words, at some degree of magnification, pixellation will occur. The same for audio. However, human hearing isn't all that wide range, so 44 Khz sampling is usually adequate.

    Now, for any improvement to be realized, all the other equipment which comes AFTER any codec, including FLAC, has to be optimized. This means you're not going to reap that much of a benefit from FLAC, if you're plugging into some crappy iPhone dock, and deluding yourself into thinking it's, "a studio monitor".

  18. I can explain why his vinyl sounds so good. By nature of the medium alone, you cannot compress the audio signal on vinyl. Compressing the living daylights out of a signal then pressing it into vinyl would produce garbage. Thus, it's actually a requirement for vinyl records to have good dynamic range to be usable.

    I don't know if these links are going to come through or not, they're just pictures of two different audio signals.

    Good dynamic range:

    Over compressed audio signal:

    The first picture is a picture of an audio signal with good dynamic range. Look at the difference between the highest peak and the lowest peak. This is the dynamic range I'm talking about. In this signal, the high peak will be a really loud noise and the low peak will be a really soft noise. Music today is designed to have no small peaks. All the peaks in the signal are boosted to be as big as possible making the music as loud as possible making the sound sound as "big" as possible. Going for this "big" sound is on some level considered "professional mixing". Producers literally aim to achieve this big sound. There's all sorts of plugins, software tools, hardware tools, all kinds of things to help you get this sound.

    So why does vinyl sound good? Because vinyl won't even accept the "big" over compressed signal in the second picture. Vinyl literally just can't do it. So just by having a song pressed into a vinyl record it's guaranteeing a signal with good dynamic range.

    It's too technical for most people to understand I think, and it doesn't even really matter all that much if people understand it. The important message for people to hear and understand is that music today sucks and it needs to be fixed. Maybe it starts with higher sample rates and bit depth, maybe we get some better hardware to play the better files, but most importantly we need better music that doesn't smash the signal into pure crap.
  19. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,456   +1,759

    No, actually you can't. The intrinsic dynamic range of vinyl recording technology is much less than a CD will reproduce.

    I sincerely doubt it's beyond my grasp, having been and audio salesperson for years, after being raised by a TV technician.

    Let's see if you can though. All the compression applied into today's CDs, is put there by recording engineers, in a premeditated manner, willfully, and with malice aforethought. It's designed to cut through the "din of modern life". To make your vulgar hip hop tirade louder than the other ******'s. The average person today can't even hear clipping in an amplifier, until it passes about 25%, (rough guess), and after that, they seem to enjoy the distortion more.

    I've been around audio all my life, and had 5 CF 15" JBL monitor cabinets in my living room. I've had top of the line cartridges, and audiophile pressings of classical music. They don't sound as good as a well done CD, period.

    Now, if you're talking about today's coked up excuses for recording engineers and artists, their CDs don't sound as good as vinyl, because it's not supposed to. And as for the "artistry" involved, if you think falling off the wrong side of a ghetto mattress gives you license to curse about everything and anything, in a concrete manner,it really doesn't. But as long as there's money involved, and you can sell sh!t, while passing it off to the unsophisticated as art, take the money and run. Thjere's no such thing as "art" involved. All I hear coming out of car stereos today, is a load of profanity from cases of arrested development, who likely will never attain the ability to reason abstractly.
  20. onemegahertz

    onemegahertz TS Rookie

    Captaincranky, and Guest: You are both right. CD is far from perfect, but it is technically superior to vinyl by many common measures. Unfortunately, the format has been widely abused due to the loudness wars and many popular CD releases of the last couple of decades have sounded truly horrible. Guest is right that the brick-wall limiting and multi-band dynamic compression responsible for that sonic carnage could simply not have been done so egregiously in vinyl. That said, most vinyl didn't sound good either. Mastering for vinyl was a real art that was often trumped by commercial concerns. ("We need to fit two more songs on that side.") Even at its best, vinyl was always a serious sonic compromise.

    So was the CD. A sample rate of 44.1 ksps was always inadequate, not because humans can hear things above 20 kHz (I certainly can't), but because one can't build a good enough anti-alias filter with only a 9% fractional transition bandwidth. The situation at 48 ksps is markedly better, and 96 ksps ends the argument. A 16-bit sample resolution was arguably "good enough" for a release format, provided those bits were used very carefully. To my ears, there was always some degradation compared to my 24-bit production masters, but careful use of noise-shaping and dither made that difference very slight. The problem was that the optimal result could be easily ruined by modern digital volume controls. Therefore, it's much safer to use 24-bit word widths.

    In summary, neither a CD nor a vinyl record sounds like what the artists and engineers heard in the control room. (I've been in the control room, so I know.) With care, a CD can be made to sound "close enough" for many people, but Neil Young is not one of those people. The very best perceptually compressed formats are arguably superior to CD at this point -- assuming they've been produced from high-resolution masters rather than being ripped from a CD. "Mastered for iTunes" has one other significant advantage over CD's: Level normalization has ended the loudness wars. Record producers can still slam the meters on their dynamics processors if they insist, but they'll end up making their releases softer rather than louder! For once, music is being saved by technology.

    How much better could it be? Well, how good are your ears? Maybe you can hear a difference between 24 bit/96 ksps PCM and highest-quality AAC, and maybe you can't. (Very little music is actually recorded in 24 bit/192 ksps format.) But if your DAP is using 24/96 FLAC files, you don't have to wonder any more. Any sonic differences you hear won't be because of the encoding format; they'll be because you're not listening on a $50k monitoring system in a professionally-designed room. Neil Young can't fix that.
  21. seefizzle

    seefizzle TS Addict Posts: 269   +138

    You misunderstood me. (my post was under guest for some reason) I didn't say that vinyl has higher dynamic range than cd. I said that vinyl requires higher dynamic range than modern music. Most modern music compresses all the dynamic range out of the signal thus making even a vinyl record with less capability of dynamic range more dynamic than a modern production. I hope that came out right. Onemegahertz shed more light on this.

    I also never said that YOU couldn't understand the concepts. I was speaking in general terms about the public. John Homeowner might buy a PONO player because some blue shirt tool tells him a bunch of nonsense about how it's better, when in reality they probably both don't know what they're talking about.

    In my opinion Neil Young comes off as a pompous tool that aint going to accomplish much.
  22. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 11,456   +1,759

    My objection to this topic overall, is vinyl doesn't sound better than CD. The glorification and the nostalgia being attached to phonograph records as a "high fidelity medium", (IMHO), is nonsensical, counter-intuitive, and unwarranted.

    That said, excess compression isn't even new as a concept. It has been used for decades in advertising. Why are the commercials always louder than the TV shows? Because a poop load of compression has been applied. So my point is, your evaluation of the difference between compression in vinyl records and CDs, is sort of misapplied theory. Vinyl is a poor medium, and simply because more compression has been applied to a medium with a dynamic range capable of supporting it, doesn't by extension, make the vinyl medium, "good". Admittedly, there is a lot of semantic interpretation on my part of your post, but it does go to separating the technical side of the topic, from the emotional.

    You speak of, "fixing the music". The music, "has been fixed", just not to either of our satisfactions. "Fixing the music" can't occur, until you fix the listeners, consumers, unwitting victims, the tasteless lower casts, call them what you will.

    My objection to all of these discussions about source competence is very simple. The technical issues should be settled, and the emotional side of the topic never will be. That said, I still have an abundance of emotional input I'd like to inject.

    No, that almost a slam dunk. The sub-woofer was conceived as a solution for large cabinet speakers in multichannel audio systems. Bass is non directional, hence you you can place its source wherever you like within the listening field. Since human speech is almost entirely out of the expected range of a sub, correspondingly it can't be expected to transmit any intellectual information.

    So, gorillas bang on their chests, elephants trumpet, and both species use those soundings to establish their male authority. So basically, the lower and louder human male "X's" subwoofer is, the more machismo he projects. So, the sub woofer has devolved into a tool for establishing territorial rights, a basic animal behaviour, not really a human behaviour.

    I completely agree , that reasoning with today's consumers of pop music, is akin to trying to talk to the azz end of a cow about religious theory

    Neil Young isn't a particularly good guitar player, and the majority of his songwriting is sub standard. Yes, he has amassed a collection of hits over the course of a few decades. If you shoot that many arrows in the same direction, at least one has to hit the target.

    Mr. Young filled a vocal space in "Crosby, Stills, and Nash", and brought a few good songs into the mix. Beyond that, he's largely forgettable. Is, "Southern Man", a good song concept? Yes, it is. Is Neil Young's pseudo tenor ranting delivery of it pleasant to listen to? Not really.

    Stephen Stills said, "the only thing we were wrong about during the hip generation, is the recreational drug use". (This was in an interview after his liver transplant). Was Neil Young a compatriot and co-conspirator of Stills? Yes! Did they share many of the same activities? You betcha!;) But I suppose that, "tool", sums that up rather more succinctly.

    So, is 24 bit 96Khz capable of better music reproduction than 16 bit 44Khz sampling and bit depth, or vinyl records, of course it is.

    As both myself and @onemegahertyz have stated, very little in the way of reproduction equipment to either utilize or realize the improvement from improved sources, exists in the homes of today's musical consumers..

    Specifications used to be a preoccupation on the part of hi fi equipment shoppers. They'd come into the store with a copy of "Consumer Reports" under their arm, and bust on and on about the "spec of the month". Once harmonic distortion numbers dropped to a point where nobody in their right mind believed a human was capable of hearing it, manufacturers and their ad agencies moved on to the next possible thing you could measure about a piece of equipment's abilities. They finally scraped the bottom of the barrel with "slew rate", and of course, the horrible possible aural consequences of having an audio amplifier with insufficient slew rate.

    Audiophiles used to be preoccupied with how well "XXX", collection of components would reproduce the sound of everything from an acoustic piano to a passing steam locomotive. And the answer was, nothing sounds the same as live, you just have to be there.:oops:
    Last edited: Jan 10, 2015

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