Gizmodo's Garbage Dump on Pono

I can't begin to tell you how tired I am of people who are obviously not interested in sound quality commenting on sound quality. Besides, it's 2015, haven't we learned that there's more to quality digital audio reproduction than dynamic range and frequency response? Apparently not.

Here's a favorite quote from the article on Gizmodo:

The rationale behind high-resolution audio is that by maximizing the sampling rate and bit depth, you also maximize audible detail and dynamic range in the music you're listening to. This sounds great on paper, but in practice it's an absolute fantasy.

The CD-quality standard—which Young and HRA proponents say isn't sufficient—wasn't adopted randomly. It's not a number plucked out of thin air. It's based on sampling theory and the actual limits of human hearing. To the human ear, audio sampled above 44.1 kHz/16-bit is inaudibly different.

Still, this demonstrated mathematical truth does not stop people from claiming that they can hear the difference on higher quality audio.

Does Mario Aguilar, the article's author, talk about anti-aliasing filters? Nope. Does he touch on our sensitivity in the time domain? Nope. He does talk about high resolution audio relying on "junk science" and refers to the Meyer and Moran AES paper "Audibility of a CD-Standard A/DA/A Loop Inserted into High-Resolution Audio Playback" from 2007 as his only proof. That's his science.

Here's my colleague John Atkinson of Stereophile talking about the time domain issue from his recent article on Meridian's MQA (see the complete article):

...the old question is why do we need to preserve and reproduce frequencies above the limit of human hearing, even if we can do it? Bob [Stuart] spent some time discussing this in his presentation and it comes down to the fact that the ear-brain doesn't just operate as a frequency analyzer. Evolution has fine-tuned the system to be able to detect temporal differences that are equivalent to a bandwidth considerably greater than 20kHz and that the anti-aliasing filters in A/D converters and reconstruction filters in D/A converters introduce temporal smearing that it is considerably greater than what our ear-brains are tuned to expect from natural sounds: this smearing is, I believe, responsible for so-called "digital" sound.
That said, the way I look at this issue is far simpler. If we are to believe people like Mario Aguilar of Gizmodo, one of three possibilities is at work with high resolution audio:
  1. Every designer of audio gear including pro and consumer kit as well as every recording engineer, musician, and listener who prefer high resolution audio are misguided twits who have bought into an empty marketing scheme and are hearing something that is not there.
  2. Every designer of audio gear including pro and consumer kit as well as every recording engineer, musician, and listener who say they prefer high resolution audio are lying and are just involved in a great big scam.
  3. High resolution audio can and does provide a more natural and engaging sound.
Since I easily hear the differences between CD-quality and higher resolutions myself nearly every day, I'm going with #3. For all those people who simply know better based on some thin slice of science or for those conspiracy theorists who revel in schadenfreude, feel free to mix and match.

COMMENTS
mlknez's picture

My "dump" isn't on the hardware that can reproduce frequency and range beyond human hearing. I agree that one can perceive outside of the accepted human hearing range. My issue is with people selling high-resolution music that is really standard def music put into a high res box. If the original equipment (microphones, recording media, recorder, etc.)that it was recorded on is less than 44.1khz/16 bit, it doesn't matter how it is presented, and digitized, it will NEVER be high-res. This includes anything recorded using analog equipment (2" tape, Edison, etc.) I am not saying that it can't sound amazing, just don't call it high res or try to sell it in a 192khz/24 bit download. It is just the same recording filled with extra 0's or added noise.

CG's picture

"The CD-quality standard—which Young and HRA proponents say isn't sufficient—wasn't adopted randomly. It's not a number plucked out of thin air. It's based on sampling theory and the actual limits of human hearing. To the human ear, audio sampled above 44.1 kHz/16-bit is inaudibly different."

Although it wasn't adopted entirely randomly, it may as well have been. Does anybody reading this actually think that 44.1 KHz is the magic sampling rate needed to provide perfect audio reproduction for human ears? Why not 44 KHz or 40 KHz or 48 KHz? Instead, it was a pragmatic choice made at the time by the engineers at the two companies who were pushing the standard - Sony and Philips. They wanted to use some existing technology they already had some success with commercially - primarily based around video applications. That's where 44.1 KHz was derived from - look it up. It was all commercial. This can be researched right here on the internet. They promoted the idea that it was more than good enough, and people bought into it. As they say, follow the money. Many standards are based entirely on commercial interests. The marketing follows. You say something often enough and cleverly enough, eventually people latch onto it as fact.

The same was true of the 16 bit standard. Converters at the time were expensive and had an ENOB of maybe 12 bits. 16 bits was commercially desirable.

These days, higher sampling rates and better bit depths are cheaply achieved for audio. (Whether they are implemented right in commercial products is another question.) But, the standard is what it is.

Most everybody who does mixed signal conversion in their day job will tell you that the reasons for going to higher sampling rates is to minimize distortion products and to make the filtering easier. This is true regardless of the application - it isn't limited to audio at all. So called "folded back" distortion products often fall right into the frequency band of interest. If you up the sampling rate, this gets to be less and less of a problem as the rate goes up. This can also be researched very easily on the internet.

Filtering is a very complex subject. (Pun not intended...) In audio, the filtering at the ADC and editing end is usually not optimized around good reproduction of the waveform, but rather on ease of implementation whether in silicon or in software. Some companies in the software world have done much better in recent years, but they certainly aren't the industry standards. So, a good DAC filter not only needs to do a good job at waveform reconstruction, but also needs to work with the sub-optimal waveform it has been presented with. Kinda tricky.

Personally, what I can't understand is this: If some person says that they can't hear the difference between amplifiers, sample rates, or you name it, I believe them. Why they want to be sure that they let everybody know just why nobody can hear the difference, even when a number of people state that they can, is beyond me. Seems sort of one-sided, doesn't it? "I can't hear it, so you must be some sort of moron to even think that you can." I don't get it.

Bill Leebens's picture

It saddens me to see Aguilar's crap on Gizmodo, over and over again. The site has never been what you'd call overtly friendly to the world of high-end audio, but in the past they tried. There has been a regime change in the last couple years, and the attitude has gone from "ehh" to outright hostility.

FWIW: at their request, I wrote a couple pieces on high-end audio for Giz a few years back, and even though the editors were supportive and receptive, the readership was not. One piece was read over 60,000 times, and the vast majority of the comments were on the level of "you gotta be insane to spend more than $300 on any audio crap, it's all the same."

This from an audience that is hugely receptive to $3000 Alienware gaming computers and Apple monitors. Whatever.

CG's picture

"you gotta be insane to spend more than $300 on any audio crap, it's all the same."

To them, it probably is. To each their own.

Bill Leebens's picture

...just indicating that while Gizmodo's editorial staff has become more audio-antagonistic, most of their readers were already there.

--Well, at least the readers who chose to post. In general, I think if someone bothers to post a comment on a piece, the comment is likely to be negative or snarky.

CG's picture

That's the whole point of the internet, isn't it?

judmarc's picture

Evolution has fine-tuned the system to be able to detect temporal differences

That's my only gripe, Michael (I realize it's simply a direct quote from John Atkinson). It's a scientific fact that by far most of the evolutionary changes in any animal, including humans, are there as a result of *neutral* or near-neutral mutations, meaning they confer no fitness benefit at all, and may even be slightly disadvantageous. And in fact there is a scientific way to determine whether a particular mutation is beneficial, disadvantageous, or neutral. (The rate at which a mutation is established in the population or expunged from the population is relatively rapid if it's under selection; if neutral, the rate is relatively slow.)

I've never seen a paper looking at the genes responsible for audio temporal sensing capabilities in the brain to determine whether they're under selection. So we cannot say "evolution" (i.e., natural selection, which isn't evolution, but which is what everyone means when they say this) gave us these capabilities. Yes, it's very plausible, but the ability to run like cheetahs would be extremely advantageous as well, and we don't have that. So the fact a characteristic is quite nice to have does not establish it as something that resulted from natural selection.

OK, end of pedantic mode. :)

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Thanks for that Jud, very interesting and educational. I will re-write John's quote in my mind to read "Natural selection may have..."

Cheers.

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