Rating: 4G gives Pono a sporting chance for music downloads
Amongst music fans, it’s been long known that typical MP3 files lack the kind of audio quality that you’d expect from a good hi-fi system and vinyl records. The catch is that MP3 has established itself as the de facto standard. Well, veteran rocker Neil Young has decided to challenge the status quo (Geddit?) and produced a music playing device which support a new audio format known as ‘Pono’, He’s also reputedly planning to take on the might of Apple’s iTunes music store with his own Pono music download service. Significantly, Young claims to have signed up the three major music labels – namely Universal, Sony and Warner, for the launch of a Pono download service some time in 2013. GoMobile News decided to investigate implications and found that 4G just might save Pono.We interviewed music and IT guru, Mac MacLaren who is head honcho with the UK’s leading live music listing site, Lemonrock.
He explained that the way that MP3s are encoded means that they are described in different technical terms to lossless formats.
While Pono has a fixed sampling size of 24 bits, MP3 does not. It is described instead as a ‘bits per second’ conversion rate, which can be constant or variable (CBR or VBR) during the recording.
Also, the sampling frequency of Pono is always 192 KHz, whereas the MP3 spec says you can have lots of different sampling frequencies. MP3s typically have a 44.1 KHz rate and sample at 128 Kbit/s.
There are serious side-effects to employing the kind of high quality sampling Pono utilises.
MacLaren estimates that a three minute song on MP3 takes about 20 seconds to upload to a web site, assuming a 2 Mbit/s upload speed.
In practice, musicians can upload three band’s latest three tracks in one minute. With Pono, this would take much longer.
For example, using lossless FLAC encoding, a three minute song would be about 55 times larger than an MP3.
Presently that means that bands would have to wait around 18 minutes to upload each song.
Maclaren points out that 4G technology is just around the corner. He says, “We could easily be looking at a 250-fold increase in upload speeds in the next few years, so that’s four seconds per Pono song!”
GoMobile News is a bit more cynical about 4G data transfer rates. Here in the UK, EE is set to launch a true 4G service on October 30th . Bizarrely, The Sun newspaper’s consumer editor, Daniel Jones, claims to have been the first hack to test EE’s 4G network.
You can read the full report here. In it Jones claims to have experienced download speeds of 48 Mbit/s.
So if you were downloading a Pono track from Young’s store to your 4G smartphone (and Jones claims the iPhone 5 was the fatest), we calculate that instead of it taking 18 minutes it would take in the region of 45 seconds.
So that makes Pono a commercially viable music download service.
There’s only one snag. MacLaren estimates that a typical web server can store around 10,000 MP3 songs but could only manage 180 Pono songs.
So Pono’s web storage bill is going to go through the roof, meaning that Pono tracks would have to be priced considerably higher than MP3s.
So what does this all mean for bands adding their songs to a web site like Lemonrock to encourage them to attend live gigs?
“At the end of the day, MP3s are adequate for giving the public an idea of the band’s or artist’s music,” MacLaren says. “People who love live music are much more likely to be heading out to listen to the real thing anyway!”
So the jury is still out on Pono but at least with 4G smartphones it stands a sporting chance.
Music geeks should read the GoMo/Lemonrock guide to the best audio file formats for your smartphone here.