Spring is here and its once again time to take a visit to Brian’s Corner. In this edition, I’ll review some of the news and highlights from the world of DSD.
Pono’s Portable DSD Player Is Gone
Earlier this week we received some sad news from Singer Neil Young. He announced that his Pono Player is gone despite selling thousands of the players to listeners worldwide.
The Pono Player (https://www.ponomusic.com/) was a portable digital player that Young had formed a company to develop, market and sell to listeners almost five years ago. Pono also operated a music store with downloads to use with the player.
Inside the Pono Player was a digital to analog converter designed by Ayre Acoustics that was praised for its sonic quality. After the player’s initial release, a free firmware upgrade was announced (version 1.05) that added DSD 64 and DSD 128 playback to the Pono Player.
The Pono Player sold for $399 and gained attention for its bright yellow color and unusual design. Some compared the look of the Pono Player to the packaging of Toblerone chocolate.
While we bid a sad farewell to the Pono Player, there are a number of Portable Digital Music Players available on the market for fans of high resolution DSD music. Check the NativeDSD Database (http://www.nativedsd.com/database) and the NativeDSD Gear Store to learn more about the alternatives to the Pono Player for enjoying DSD music on the go.
Music Software to Play DSD Files for Windows
I recently received a question about music software to play DSD files with a Windows PC. The listener wanted to know which music software he should consider when adding DSD playback to his audio system and his new Digital to Analog Converter (DAC) with DSD.
Initially there were only a few programs to play music files. With the growth of the music downloads market, things have changed. Today there are 25 programs that offer DSD playback. So, the selection of one can be more challenging. Here are the three that I recommended for further consideration with the reasons why.
JRiver Media Center (https://www.jriver.com/) was one of the first music downloads programs to come to market. It’s easy to use, reasonably priced ($70) and has all the features most listeners will want in music playback software to handle their DSD Stereo and Multichannel files.
JRiver also makes a companion product named JRemote (http://www.jremote.net/) that adds remote control of your Media Center setup for under $10. For anyone using Media Center, I consider JRemote to be a must buy addition that brings remote control operation to your Apple or Android smart phone or tablet.
While there are music programs with added features, JRiver Media Center remains popular to this day. As one audio equipment designer told me “It just works.”
HQ Player from Signalyst (http://www.signalyst.com/consumer.html) is widely praised as one of the best sounding music downloads programs. It also offers a series of advanced filters and settings that let the listener play their music files in the music downloads delivered bit rate – or upsample it to a higher bit rate such as DSD 256, DSD 512 or even DSD 1024 if your DAC or DSD player will support it.
At $148, HQ Player is more expensive than JRiver Media Center. But listeners may find its sound quality and many upsampling filters and options well worth the added expense.
Roon (https://roonlabs.com/) takes another road to music software. It enhances the listening experience by bringing you information on each recording artist, their catalog of albums and more. In some respects, it is like viewing an LP cover and liner notes while you are listening to your collection of DSD recordings.
This does come at a higher price than earlier music download programs. Roon costs $119 per year or $495 for a lifetime subscription. But Roon does bring to the table features that other music programs do not.
Streaming DSD 128 Music
In the United States and Europe there are several streaming audio services that provide music over the Internet in resolutions up to CD Quality. This is done by taking standard and high resolution music files and reducing their size using file and data reduction formats and systems like MP3, AAC and MQA.
In Japan, the story is different. A consortium including the IIJ, Sony and Korg have developed a streaming audio service named PrimeSeat which streams high resolution audio at bit rates up to DSD 128 Stereo.
Listeners download a Free Copy of the PrimeSeat software (https://primeseat.net/en/howto/install.html) and run it on their Windows or Mac computer. Once the computer is connected to a DAC capable of DSD 64 or DSD 128 Stereo playback, streaming DSD music is available in both live concert and on demand performances.
PrimeSeat does need a fast Internet connection for DSD 128 Stereo streaming. The system drops down to DSD 64 and then to 24 bit, 96 kHz PCM playback for systems with slower broadband connections.
If you’d like to hear streaming DSD 128 music, be sure to give PrimeSeat a try. I’ve found the DSD 128 sonics to be quite good and a real treat.
A Unique Musical Selection
Closing out this edition of Brian’s Corner is a unique musical selection. Mahler V is a performance of Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 in DSD Stereo, Multichannel and Binaural sound from Cobra Records.
Now that isn’t by itself unique. What makes this performance special is that it is performed not by a full symphony orchestra (as one would expect) but rather by Natalia Ensemble, a Chamber Music ensemble.
While that sounds hard to fathom at first, it turns out that their arrangement of the Mahler symphony is very musical and compelling. It’s definitely worth consideration during your next trip to the NativeDSD Music store.