On a Digital Life, Pono, Rumer & Natalie Duncan

I spent a large chunk of yesterday moving and organizing music files. The external hard drive I’d been using is 15 gigs short of its one-terabyte capacity, so I had little choice but to commandeer one of my other external hard drives and turn it into a Pono-exclusive drive.

The primary space culprit: my original music library. It contains the 4000+ CDs I ripped as 256kbps and 320kbps back in 2007, plus the hundred or so I ripped as 320kbps between 2007 and 2010, and everything added in the years since, which, with the exception of occasional iTunes or Amazon downloads, are space-hogging Apple Lossless files. There’s more on the HD than music, of course – I’m a well-rounded entertainment junkie: Battlestar Galactica, Fringe and Pretty Little Liars downloads, plus various one-offs. There are also a few Super 8 home movies that I had converted to digital several years back, including this one that I compiled from my father’s Vietnam stint –

Anyway, by rights, running out of room shouldn’t have occurred for a few months, if not longer. I don’t buy new music at the rate that I once did, and re-purchasing re-issues of albums I’ve bought before is something I rarely do, nowadays. That said, since receiving my Pono Player in November, I have acquired some humongous-sized high-res versions of a few favorite albums and downloaded several high-res Bruce Springsteen concerts from his website. (The 24-bit/192kHz 1978 Cleveland show clocks in at 7.8 gigs!) I’ve also re-ripped as FLAC 250+ CDs that I originally encoded as MP3s. One external HD devoted to Pono Music makes sense – not just for high-resolution music, but the CD re-rips.

That’s an admittedly long-winded way to say that much of yesterday was devoted to the boring, mundane stuff that makes up the modern, digital life. Yet, I made the most of it, putting my Pono Player on shuffle and enjoying the tunes. One of the many songs I heard was Rumer’s rendition of Townes Van Zandt’s “Flyin’ Shoes” from her 2012 Boys Don’t Cry album.

I’ve written about the album before, so I won’t rehash what I said, but perhaps this will place it into context: It’s one of the few non-Neil Young albums that I’ve re-purchased in high-res form (in this case, 24-bit/88.2kHz). She’s often compared to Karen Carpenter and, tonally speaking, the similarities are indeed striking, but the singer she most reminds me of is Dusty Springfield, who caressed and phrased lyrics in such a way that songs transcended into private, albeit one-sided (and very melodic) conversations.

The other song that leapt out: Natalie Duncan’s “The Sky Is Falling” from her 2012 Devil in Me CD. One of the things that I’ve discovered with my Pono Player is that CD-quality stuff simply sounds amazing on it – better than my iPhone, and I’ve always thought ALAC rips sounded good on it. Such is the case with this song. Listening to the same ALAC file via the Pono is akin to sitting beside her on the piano bench instead of, say, halfway across the room.

And, as long as I’ve mentioned Ms. Duncan, here’s another glimmer of her future greatness – her rendition of the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.”

In any event, the leap from MP3 to CD-quality is far greater than the leap from CD-quality to high-res, though some high-res music – like Boys Don’t Cry or Dusty in Memphis – does sounds remarkable. It’s one of the things the few reviews of the Pono Player that I’ve read have missed – they concentrate on the form factor, the high prices attached to some (not all) high-resolution downloads, and the claims that people can’t hear all the sonics contained in 24-bit/192kHz music files. That last point may or may not be true; I’ve read conflicting arguments. However, there’s no denying that a simple 16-bit, 44.1kHz CD rip sounds better on the Pono.

At the end of the day, though – and this ties in with leading a modern, digital life – in and of itself, pristine sound quality means nothing, just as 4K television means nothing. Sometimes we – and, yes, I likely mean “me” when I say that – get so caught up in the technical promise of things that we forget the most important part of the equation: the music, movie or TV show. There was a time in my life when I obsessed over scratchy 45 singles, after all, and when I regularly watched – and enjoyed – TV shows on a small black-and-white TV.

A great song or performance is great regardless of the delivery system; it transcends the device used to play it. Such is the case with Boys Don’t Cry and Natalie Duncan’s “The Sky Is Falling.” Regardless of what you play music on, seek both out. You won’t be disappointed.

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One thought on “On a Digital Life, Pono, Rumer & Natalie Duncan

  1. datz

    Interesting read. I don’t think I’ll be making the leap to Pono but it’s good to get some first hand ordinary user views regarding it. Like you most of my music is 320 aac or Apple Lossless.

    Like

    Reply

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