Recently musician Neil Young launched the Pono music player and associated music store to sell very high bit rate music in lossless FLAC format. The pitch (sorry) is that it’s “as they first sound during studio recording sessions” and by extension will sound better than most music at lower bit rates encoded with MP3 or AAC. The Pono player sells for $399 and most albums are $17.99. But is it as good as Young claims?
The answer lies in the valley between sampling theory and the reality of human hearing and it’s “no”. Multiple double blind tests have shown that the overwhelming majority of humans just can’t tell the difference between 16-bit/44.1kHz files (the CD standard) and 24-bit/192kHz files (the Pono standard).
But, and this is a big “but”, that doesn’t mean music in the 16-bit/44.1kHz format can’t sound better. Improvement is possible but part of it’s in the hands of those who actually master music and the rest is in yours. Even if all Pono ends up doing is coercing the record companies to do a better job it will still be considered a success even if it otherwise fails.