Finding The Top Albums By Year From 1948 to the Present

By James Wallace Harris, Wednesday, October 21, 2014

The 33 1/3 LP came out in 1948, and even by 1958 had only garnered 25% of the total record market. At first, 78s  continued to dominate, and then 45 rpm singles. It took a while for what we know as an album to become a major art form. Even the term album is a holdover from 78 rpm records, which could only contain up to five minutes to a side, and required many discs to make a collection of songs, which was called an album. LP discs can contain twenty or so minutes a side, and 10-12 songs per disc, and so they were an album of songs, not an album of discs. The modern concept of the album, first the LP, then the CD, seems to be fading. It’s apparent reign was about half a century.

Using Wikipedia’s excellent Timeline of Musical Events, it’s possible to drill down to a decade, and then year, to follow popular album releases over time. For example, here’s 1951, the year of my birth. If you look at the 1951 album releases and then try to find them on Spotify, you won’t, most likely. Nearly all of the early LPs of the 1950s aren’t reprinted. It’s not until the later 1950s do some albums become famous enough to be remembered, reprinted, and even stay in print. For example, Blue Train by John Coltrane in 1957.

Blue Train - John Coltrain

Now this is the point of this essay. If you subscribe to a subscription music service like Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, you can musically stroll down memory lane, year by year, and listen to the albums of the time.

Another great site that helps is Best Ever Albums, and here’s how they present 1957. In 1957, they list 107 top albums. By 1967 that jumps to 312, then 453 by 1977, 704 in 1987, to a 1,000 in 1997. Best Ever Albums quits tracking after a thousand albums each year. There’s no telling how many albums come out each year today. People still make albums, but listeners don’t buy them. They’re on Spotify waiting to be played. Unless you find a method to search for albums other than popularity, you won’t go looking for them. My time tracking method is one such alternative method of discovering albums.

My point is you probably missed a tremendous number of great albums. The average music fan bonds with a relatively small number of albums they discover in their teens and twenties, and then pretty much stick with their favorites for the rest of their life. They might add a few new songs to their playlists each year, but not many. Subscription music services offer you access to millions of songs and albums. What mind blowing tunes have you missed?

Using Wikipedia, Best Albums Ever and Spotify, it’s possible to attain a magical music education. I wished Spotify would let us browse by year, or even better yet, but release date. I love tracking things by time. I wished Billboard put all its charts online, but it doesn’t. It is possible to go to Tropicalglen.com and play songs by year. You can then follow the links to Cash Box charts. For example, here’s the weekly charts for 1967.

I don’t know why I like to remember things by time. Maybe I’m trying to time travel.

JWH

Whatever Happened To The Beatles?

When I was growing up, back in the 1960s, there was a band called The Beatles that was more famous than any other band.  From 1964 to 1969 they were always in the news, always on the radio, often seen on television, setting the pace for sixties pop culture.  You heard their songs everywhere, either ordinary folks just singing, or professionals covering their tunes.  I bought all their albums as they came out, with each new release a big occasion.   Then The Beatles broke up and everyone was sad.

the-beatles

Years later, when CDs came out, I bought all The Beatles albums again, but this time the albums were different from when their songs came out on LPs in the 1960s.  The CD albums were repackaged like they had been first released in England as LPs.  For a while, this brought The Beatles back into my life.  For decades when I listened to music it was by listening to CDs, and now and then I’d play The Beatles.  I still thought of them as the most famous band on Earth.

Starting many years ago I switched to Rhapsody subscription music, and after a few years to Rdio, and after another few years to Spotify.  I listen to streaming music at my computer, or when walking around with my iPod touch, or on my big stereo through my Roku connected to my receiver.  The Beatles have never been on streaming music.  As I slowly stopped playing CDs, The Beatles were forgotten.  Then they released their albums again on remastered CDs.  I bought them all except Yellow Submarine.  However, I didn’t even play all these new CDs because I’ve gotten out of the habit of playing CDs.  Some of those remastered CDS are  still in the shrink wrap.  Maybe I’ll get around to them eventually, but streaming music is my habit.

I’ve gotten so used to listening to streaming music that if I can’t add a song to my playlists, or call the album up when I think about it, it doesn’t get played.  So I don’t’ hear The Beatles anymore.  This year when they had all the 50th anniversary stuff it was fascinating to watch on TV.  That would have triggered memories and gotten me to add some of their songs to my playlists, if they had been available on Spotify, but since they weren’t, I haven’t.

I said to my wife, “I wonder what Beatles songs I’d add to my playlist if they were available?”  I never found out, because they still aren’t on streaming.

I have two sets Beatles CDs, plus all their songs ripped to my computer, and even uploaded to my Amazon Music and Google Music accounts.  Rhapsody/Rdio/Spotify has ruined me.  I now think of music as what I hear everyday from Spotify.  I sometimes get out my favorite albums I play on Spotify and play them on CD just to hear their better sound quality, but I don’t play The Beatles because I don’t remember them anymore.  My music world has become Spotify, and The Beatles are not part of that world.

I know people who still play The Beatles, not their CDs, but digital songs they’ve stolen or bought as singles.  Those folk are still stuck in the past of owning music.  Statistics show streaming music is catching on, and even the number of illegal downloads are down.  Sales of purchased digital songs are down too.  If stolen and bought songs are in decline, and renting is on the increase, when are people going to play The Beatles?

I wonder if other people are like me, and have forgotten The Beatles because their songs aren’t available via streaming music?  Well, new people who never knew The Beatles don’t even know what they are missing.  But for us old farts, it’s, “Whatever happened to The Beatles?”  It’s a new world out there when it comes to discovering and playing music.  Some bands are bucking the trend because of the money.  And I can understand that.  But music seems to be in two places now, either live or streamed.  Who plays albums anymore?  Or the radio?

Hey, whatever happened to The Beatles?

JWH – 7/10/14

Moondance by Van Morrison–Spotify v. FLAC

van-morrison-moondance

Moondance, Van Morrison’s third solo album, recorded from August to December, 1969, and released February 28, 1970, is a true classic rock album.  Moondance placed #65 on Rolling Stone magazine’s list of “The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time” and was inducted into The Grammy Hall of Fame in 1999.  A detail history of the album can be read at Wikipedia.  Discogs lists 64 different versions of the Moondance, the most of any of the 51 Morrison albums listed there.

Play the album while you read.

As I wrote yesterday, “Pono, We Have a Problem,” I just bought a new Denon AVR-X1000 receiver that can play 24-bit FLAC files and I wanted to find the best album I could to test out high definition audio.  At the time I couldn’t decide for a number of reasons, but mainly because I couldn’t find a FLAC album I wanted to spend $25 on that I would enjoy listening to the whole way through.  Then one of my readers, paintedjaguar, chided me for not having the patience to savor a whole album, and I realized he was right.  I needed to not think about hit songs, but just find a great album.

Concurrent with looking for a FLAC album to buy, I was setting up my new receiver to play Spotify and I thought, “Why don’t I play some albums from my HDTracks wish list to see if I can sit through any of them.”  The first one I picked was Moondance, and as an extra surprised, Spotify had a recent remastered 4-CD edition of Moondance.  I fired it up and was blown away by the sound.

I don’t know if it was my new receiver, or the new remastered CD, but between the two of them Moondance sounded awesome.  The soundstage was huge, and every instrument was distinct, bright and highly textured.  I sat and savored the entire album in one sitting.  It was like listening to a fantastic concert.  I later read that Van Morrison wanted to record the album live, and tried to make it sound like a live performance in the studio.

Listening to Moondance has taught me I was wrong to always want to just buy hit songs, and that sometimes a whole album is a coherent work of art that should be experienced occasionally as one performance.

I was so impressed with the sound quality of Spotify’s streaming that I wondered how could it possibly sound better.  This streaming MP3 version impressed me like playing SACDs or 180g vinyl.  When it was over I knew I had to buy the 192kHz 24-bit FLAC version.  If Neil Young was right, the high definition version should make the MP3 version feel broken.

So I did.  And it didn’t. 

To be fair, there’s a problem in making the comparison that tells a very complicated story.  The Spotify version, which is a MP3 compressed file streaming at 320bps, should have only a fraction of the recorded information that the 24-bit FLAC file had, and thus it should have sounded fractionally good.  The trouble is the FLAC file apparently is from an older CD release, and the Spotify version was from a newly remastered CD, and they’ve done an excellent job, like the recent remastering of The Beatles CDs.  I was not comparing apples to apples.

On the other hand, this implies a whole lot of possibilities to consider.

  • There’s still plenty of room to improve CD technology.
  • There’s still plenty of room to improve MP3 technology.
  • There’s still plenty of room to improve streaming technology.
  • Albums can vary significantly depending on how they are mastered.
  • How is the loudness wars affecting our listening?
  • Where do FLAC editions come from?
  • Would playing the remastered CD version of Moondance in 192kHz 24-bit FLAC sound significantly greater?
  • How important is hearing ability in all of this?
  • How important is being in the right frame of mind at the time?
  • How important is the playback equipment?

All these possibilities are starting to make my head explode.  My quest to enjoy my favorite music in the highest resolution possible has led me on quite a chase.  Moondance is a fantastic album.  It’s so good it sounds great on AM radio all the way up to my big stereo system.  Does it matter how high resolution is the recording?  I’m listening to the album as I write, played through Spotify on my Klipsch THX computer speakers.   It sounds great, but nothing like last night when I had kicked back in my recliner and played Moondance loud through my new receiver and my floor standing Infinity speakers.  Then I felt like I had traveled back in time to 1969 and I was sitting at a table in a small club listening to a concert.  And that was with a MP3 recording, technology with supposedly the least quality of all the formats.

Don’t get me wrong, the 24-bit FLAC recording sounded incredibly solid.  Van’s voice was rich and thick, and the instruments were smooth and deep sounding.  It has the warm feeling that vinyl fanatics always gush about, but it lacked the punch of the remastered copy, and it soundstage was smaller, with the instruments less distinct.

It’s also important to understand when I played Moondance I was in the most receptive mood possible.  It was at the end of the day and I wanted to relax.  The bright sun was fading and the moment felt serene.  I was in my La-Z-Boy and I didn’t want to go anywhere, or do anything else.  I had just read paintedjaguar’s comment, and I was challenged to experience a whole album.

This says, if you can find the time to listen to an album, you should make an effort to hear the best possible version you can on the best possible equipment you have.  Music deserves the same attention we give a movie when we’re at the theater.  We don’t want to hear other people chattering, or chomping on their popcorn, or feel the glare of their iPhone screens in our peripheral vision.  When we’re watching a movie we stop thinking and experience the show.  That’s how we should listen to music when we’re ready to play a whole album.  I know most of the time we want music to be the daily background music of life, and that’s perfectly copasetic, but sometimes you should just listen to music like watching a movie at the theater.

I beg my friends to come over to listen to albums with me and they all claim I’m crazy.  They can’t believe I waste time that way.  They think of nothing of getting me to sit in a dark movie theater with them for two hours, but won’t spend forty minutes with me playing an album.  Of course, some of them will spend $50-150 to go to a live concert, especially to see dinosaur rockers long past their prime, trying to recreate their classic songs from the albums I want them to come listen to with me.  Go figure.

High definition audio is cool, but it’s not the point.  Albums are works of art.  They have history to be understood.  They are moments in time.  They are powerful expressions of creativity.  The lesson I’ve learned in this pursuit of higher fidelity is to play the music on the best equipment possible, with the best speakers or headphones available, and to take the time to listen when you can shut off your mind and let your consciousness flow down steam with the music. 

And yes, play your music as loud as you can stand, (yet don’t offend your neighbors).  A whole lot of fidelity comes through just by turning it up and paying attention.

JWH – 4/25/14

Pono, We Have a Problem

Pono, the promised portable 24-bit FLAC player scheduled to ship within a year, has me all excited about high definition music.  Because I couldn’t wait, I started researching options to play 24-bit FLAC files now.  I ended up buying a new Denon AVR-X1000 receiver, and here’s where I discovered three huge problem that Pono might have.  I’m all dressed up with no place to go.

Neil-Young-with-Pono-on-L-008

Music Selection

I’ve been clicking through HD Tracks catalog of HD audio files, and even though they have big selection, I can’t find anything I want to buy.  Now I must admit, when SACD came out I bought about 15 of my all-time favorite albums in that format, and see no reason to buy them again.  Those SACD albums are available as FLAC files, and if I hadn’t bought them on SACD, they would have been my first purchases.  The selection is very disappointing if you want 96-192kHz 24-bit high resolution music files.  I could think of plenty of albums I would buy, but they aren’t there.  Ironically, there’s no Neil Young.

Most of the 192kHz/24bit files are for older albums, which is great, but I’d like to hear new stuff with studio master quality.  The new Bruce Springsteen came out as 44.1kHz/24bit.  If the whole selling point is massive high-resolution files, this misses the target.

I have to hope when the Pono comes out, and the Pono Music store opens, this will change.  And there are rumors that iTunes will start selling high resolution music files.  I’d prefer to buy from Amazon, since my other digital music purchases are stored there.

Album v. Song

Right now, you generally have to buy a whole album, and this sucks.  The digital music revolution has taught us we want to buy songs, not albums.  There are many albums at HD Tracks that have songs I would buy, but I just don’t want the whole album.  Right now it seems like Pono is a scheme to get people to buy whole albums again!  I don’t know if that’s going to work.

I’ve been thinning my CD and LP collections and it’s so painfully obvious that I bought most of them for one song.  Many albums that are legendary in my memory, but when recently replayed showed I no longer have the patience to sit through entire albums.  On many CDs, some now 30 years old, I’ve even forgotten the song that made me buy the album in the first place, and sometimes even after playing the entire CD I can’t remember.

It’s a hit song world now.  Few albums are like Blonde on Blonde by Bob Dylan, where I love most of the songs.  And that’s the first SACD I bought, along with Layla, and The Allman Brothers Band at the Fillmore East.  (Isn’t it odd they were all double LPs.)

There is a naturally tendency to want to hear songs we’re obsessed with at the moment.  Back in the 20th century when LPs and CDs were the only way to get music, I’d buy 2-4 of them a week trying to find music I’d love.  It was always a gamble.  iTunes has taught us not to gamble, but just buy the song that presses that button in our brain that makes us want to play songs over and over again.

With the prices they charge for high resolution music, and the fact that I have to buy a whole album, that means I will only buy albums that are truly incredible.  Sadly, those are few and far between.  I would be very tempted by those old Rhino double CD anthologies as FLAC files, especially those for Quicksilver Messenger Service, Graham Parker, Free and Savoy Brown.

If HD Tracks sold by the song, I would have already bought about 50 of them, even at twice the price of an iTunes song.  As it is, I’m struggling to find the first album to buy to test out my new receiver.  I hate to waste $25 just to test the concept and end up with only one song I like.

Price

I’ve been going through the HD Tracks catalog anxiously looking for something to buy and the $25-30 sticker shock is making the decision agonizing.  Most of the albums I want I already own on CD, or even twice on CD because I’ve already bought the remastered edition.  And for a handful of my favorite albums, I’ve already bought them on SACD.

Rich audiophiles probably think nothing of the pricing of 24-bit FLAC files, but for the masses, it’s going to be a problem.  For the Pono or other high resolution players to catch on, I think music publishers will need to be willing to sell by the song, and I hope that’s what iTunes will do.  I’d prefer to get my songs from Amazon though.

Mass Appeal

I truly doubt high resolution music files will catch on with the masses.  Several of my readers have told me my posts about high resolution music are the ones that bore them the most.  (Sorry guys.)  And I’ve talked with a bunch of my music love friends, and they have little interest either.  And despite Neil Young’s famous video of all these big name musicians getting out of his car and exclaiming the Pono sound blew them away, I’m not sure if the average person can tell the difference.

My new receiver allowed me to play my SACDs again.  I haven’t played them in a while since my new player wouldn’t work with my old receiver.  I put on a SACD and I was amazed at the sound quality – for a while.  I tried Blood on the Tracks and instantly said to myself, “Just listen to that guitar!”  The texture of the bright strings made it feel like a guitar player was right in the room.   However, this magic only worked as long as I applied my full focus of concentration.

I then played my favorite song,  “You’re a Big Girl Now” via Rdio.  My mind sensed something was missing, that this version wasn’t quite as good, but as soon as I relaxed my concentration, it no longer mattered.  MP3 music isn’t bad at all, it’s just not all there, and you have to really focus to notice the missing stuff.

To appreciate high resolution audio you have to concentrate.  You have to listen to the music with total rapt attention.  I listened to some 24-bit classical music and it felt like I was at the symphony, but only while my mind stayed razor sharp on the music.  As soon as I relaxed and listened to the music like a drug washing over me, the high resolution sparkled disappeared.

I’m not sure if most music fans ever concentrate on their music enough to appreciate high resolution sound.  It’s not a dramatic jump like going from analog TV to HDTV.  Which is why 4K TV probably won’t catch on either.  And it’s why all those articles by geeky guys explaining how the Red Book CD standard is more than enough for the average ear is probably true.

I still want to buy a 192kHz/24bit album to test on my new receiver, but between limited selection, finding an album with enough songs I love, and price, it’s proving to be damn hard.  Sorry, Neil, we have a problem.

[Read about which FLAC album I pick and the testing.]

JWH – 4/24/14

Do They Love Old Vinyl or Do They Love the Old Music?

This morning at The Huffington Post, Peter Dreier describes how his daughter Amelia has discovered his old vinyl record collection.  Last night at the movie Transcendence, the future tech scientists played their music on ancient tech vinyl – it made the couple seem hip in their uber-geekness.  All over the world, young people are rediscovering record players and LPs.  I have to wonder though, are they embracing the quaint technology, or the old music?

record_player

When I was young and discovered 1930s big band music in the 1970s, it wasn’t by playing old 78s.  All the old music Peter Dreier’s daughter discovered is available on Rdio, Pandora or iTunes.  Why did it take finding dad’s old LPs to get his twins interested?

Year before last, I got back into vinyl LPs again because of nostalgia, but I’m giving them up again.  I love holding records and their covers, but I hate playing them.  Yes, their sound is retro-warm, but it’s like going back to VHS video.  I just got sick of the skips, pops and skates.  Even though I still call our refrigerator the ice box, I wouldn’t want one that actually required blocks of ice.  I’m an old fart, but I love convenient technology.

Can’t young people discover old songs without rediscovering old LP albums?  Or have they discovered they love holding music after growing up with invisible files?  They should rediscover CDs.  They sound better, are easier to play, and you can hold them too.  Will young people go and buy all those old albums at $25 a pop as FLAC files for the Pono when it comes out?  They are used to free music on the internet, and free LPs from their parent’s attics.

I’m actually ditching my LPs again so I can discover new music.  The time I spent shopping for records and monkeying with getting them to play is better spent on actually listening to music.  Rdio and Spotify give me access to millions of albums – I just need to find clues for what to try.  I do this through reading.

Whenever I read a story or article and someone mentions loving a particular song or album, I go play it.  Rdio makes it that easy!  I just read The Mayor of MacDougal Street by Dave Van Ronk which inspired me play many forgotten late 1950s early 1960s Greenwich Village folk artists, and make a new playlist.   I watched 20 Feet From Stardom and played the solo albums by these great backup singers.  I read The Wrecking Crew by Kent Hartman about 1960s studio musicians and played many Phil Spector Wall of Sound hits.  And I’m trying all the 1940s and 1950s jazz greats because of reading Jack Kerouac.  If I had waited to find all these artists in old record bins I might not never have discover them.

Discovering great music takes study.

I think it’s great that kids are discovering records and record players.  I think it’s great that they are discovering our generation’s music.   Vinyl collecting makes a nice hobby.  But don’t let be your only path to old music.   Would Peter Dreier’s girls have tried old music if their dad hadn’t spent so much time talking about the concerts he went to as a kid? 

Talk to your parents and grandparents.  Go through their music.  If you discover you love the Beatles, read books about the Beatles and the songs and bands they grew up loving.  Ditto for any other artist you find you love.  It’s been long enough for these bands to have become history.

I’m exploring classical music on Rdio through listening to “How to Listen to Great Music” by Professor Robert Greenberg for 1 credit at Audible.com.  I also bought a paperback book he wrote on the same subject from Amazon.  (If you want the video from The Great Courses, wait until it’s on sale.)  I also bought 1001 Classical Recordings You Music Hear Before You Die on a remaindered shelf.  Keep an eye at Barnes & Noble’s remaindered books, music history books are very common.

When you play old albums, look at the inner sleeves.  They often have ads for other albums on them.  Call them up on Rdio or Spotify.  Go to audiophile sites like HDtracks or audiophile USA to see what’s being reprinted and look them up on streaming services, or even try to find the original albums used.  If you really get into vinyl, the real fun starts when you hear about a rare album that you’ve just got to hear, and tracking it down becomes a quest.

A lot of kids are discovering The Beatles, but I’ve yet to hear any of them talk about The Byrds, or Buffalo Springfield.  Just study this chart and try to track down all the albums on the Californian Country Rock chart that shows a musicians family tree showing the children groups formed from the breakup of the bands The Bryds and Buffalo Springfield.  Most of these albums are available on Rdio and Spotify.  Click for larger image.

byrdstree

If you end up loving 1960s and 1970s rock music you discovered through your parent’s old albums, a cool way to time travel to the past is subscribe to The Rolling Stone, and then sign up to use their free archives to reread old issues and their album reviews.

There are many record collecting and music review magazines in print and on the net.  Once you get out of the trap of only listening to current hits, and start time traveling through the past, discovering new old music becomes an addiction.

Just for fun, here’s an old favorite of mine that you might not have found in grandpop’s old records.

JWH – 4/21/14

Twenty Feet From Stardom–Six Films About Wanting to Make it Big in Music

Have you ever wanted to be a star?  Have you ever wanted to be on stage in front of thousands of admiring people?  That fantasy is a nightmare for me because I’m so shy, but some people crave the limelight.  Recently I’ve watched five films and read one book with a related film about people getting very close to music stardom but not being famous names to us all.  For these people, this can be crushing, especially the ones who get inches away from achieving their dreams.  Some of these people chronicled in these films actually liked being twenty feet back.  Not every studio musician or backup singer wanted to be front and center on the big stage, but many did.  These films are:

Twenty Feet From Stardom is about backup singers, Standing in the Shadows of Motown and The Wrecking Crew are about the musicians that played on most of the hits of the 1960s.  Searching for Sugar Man and Big Star are about three artists that made artistically great albums in the early 1970s but were completely ignored by record buyers.  And finally, Inside Llewyn Davis is a fictional account of a folk music singer during the heyday of the folk revival who painfully could not grab the brass ring no matter how hard he tried, or how many people he used or hurt.

The gist of these films are about people climbing Mt. Fame, and even having the talent to get within sight of the summit.  Failing to achieve stardom after getting so close creates a psychological crisis that all of these people dealt with in different ways.  To me, the most tragic was Chris Bell of Big Star.  Sixto Rodriguez’s story in Searching for Sugar Man is so unbelievable that its stunning, and I can’t help but wonder if he’s the reincarnation of the Buddha. 

After seeing Darlene Love, Marry Clayton, Lisa Fischer, Táta Vega, Patti Austin, Judith Hill and many others in Twenty Feet From Stardom I went to Rdio and played their records that I could find, and surprisingly, there were many.  There are so many records out there that never make it to the top of the charts that are still worthy of your ears.  This is the true value of Rdio.  But this also teaches us something.  Evidently there are more great singers than there are hit songs.

Watching Standing in the Shadows of Motown and reading The Wrecking Crew, both about studio musicians who played on the defining songs of my teen years back in the 1960s, just crushed me emotionally.  These guys never even got liner credits for the most part, yet all the wonderful riffs and melodies that are burned deep in my soul were created by them.

All of these people deserve more fame, and luckily we have film makers that are helping them to finally get the spotlight.  And like I said before, there are more great singers and musicians than there are hit songs.  A hit song, the kind that tens of millions will notice, are a combination of songwriters, singers and musicians.  But what makes a star?  Time and again in these films they talk about the drive and ego it takes to become a star.  These films are about many people who had talent, but the lacked something to go the last twenty feet.  What separates Bruce Springsteen from Chris Bell and Sixto Rodriguez?  What separates Aretha Franklin from Darlene Love?

Standing in the Shadows of Motown was illustrative.  It had the original musicians playing the original songs, but got other singers to sing them.  This showed both the importance of the musicians and the singers.  If you’ve ever listened to recreations of original sixties hits it’s so apparent that something is off.  Hit songs are extremely hard to make, and most often it’s accidental I think more than intentional.

Thanks to YouTube, I can give you a taste of each of these films.

 

 

 

My favorite song from Standing in the Shadow of Motown

 

 

 

My favorite Chris Bell song.

 

 

I hope The Wrecking Crew comes out soon because I’m very anxious to see it.  I’m curious if younger people will like these movies, because essentially all of them are about people from the baby boomer generation.  I’m sure one day there will be films about Katy Perry’s musicians and backup singers, but for now, these are the stories we have.  And I’m grateful to Netflix, because documentaries are not widely distributed.

JWH – 3/28/14

Pono? Just What Did They Hear in Neal Young’s Car?

Neal Young, is promoting a new portable sound system, called Pono, that plays uncompressed digital music files, promising sound quality equal to the 24-bit master recording files.  Young claims music consumers are only hearing a fraction of sonic fidelity that goes into producing a song when playing MP3 files on the mobile devices, or even CDs on their home stereos.  Visit the Pono Music site for the full press marketing campaign.

http://vimeo.com/88705147

Watch this video.  Just what are those people hearing when they are in Neal Young’s car?  Their glowing comments sounds like it’s 1967 and they weren’t talking about music.  These guys are used to working in studies, recording songs with master 24-bit files, playing them back on the absolute best studio equipment.  They are also used to playing music live.  Why would they claim this is the best sound they’ve ever heard?  Sure, some clarify, the best in a car, but others are saying anywhere.

I can understand the complaints against MP3, but against CD too?  What the hell am I missing?

I’m not going to pledge to buy a Pono at Kickstarter, but when they come out I’m willing to drive over to Best Buy and try one out.  But even if I bring my V-Moda headphones, will it sound as good as Neal Young’s car?  I doubt it.  I can’t help but believe that buying a Pono also means buying a deluxe sound system to support it.

And what about the music?  Once again, I’ll have to go buy my favorite albums all over again.  I’ve bought some albums already on LP, CD, MP3 and SACD, and now I’ll need to go buy them again as 24-bit FLAC files?  See, this is where I wonder about the success of Pono.  I’ve switched to streaming subscription music.  I’ve given up on owning music.  Buying a Pono means going back to owning music again, and I’m not sure I want to do that.  If I hear what those people getting our of Neal’s car claim to hear, maybe I will.  But it’s going to have to be a Hubble telescope leap in high fidelity!

Let’s say I have to buy my favorite 100 albums again.  That’s $2500-3,000, assuming the prices are like current 24-bit files.  Pono could make things cheaper, but only if millions buy it.  Pono appears to be like any other high-end DAC player, but scaled for portability.  If you look at the other products at the Ayre.com site, the company that will be making the Pono player, you’ll see what I mean.

There is nothing technically stopping Rdio or Spotify from streaming 24-bit 192kHz FLAC.  We’d need 24-bit DACs to play such music, but that’s not far-fetched either.  People are streaming HD video, so why not HD sound?

I wish Neal Young all the success in the world for his Pono device because I hope it brings about a new high fidelity revolution.  Two years from now I might not own a Pono, but I might be listening to 24-bit 192 kHz music.

JWH – 3/14/14