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There's a new music format that aims to deliver "the pinnacle of sound"

Ionic Original from T Bone Burnett
(Image credit: Ionic Originals)

Award-winning record producer and musician, T Bone Burnett, has announced that he is developing a new physical music format called Ionic Original. The format combines some of the materials used in both vinyl and CDs to create durable, one-of-a-kind analogue discs. Yes, really.

Unlike traditional vinyl LPs made of PVC, and CDs, which contain plastic with a layer of metal, Ionic Originals will consist of "lacquer painted onto an aluminium disc, with a spiral etched into it by music...which can be heard by putting a stylus into the spiral and spinning it". 

T Bone Burnett, best known for his Grammy-winning work on Raising Sand by Alison Kraus and Robert Plant, as well as the soundtracks for O Brother, Where Art Thou? and The Big Lebowski, has already begun using the technology for a project with Bob Dylan in which he is re-recording some of the singer's classic songs. This material is expected to make up the debut release of Ionic Original, though as yet there is no launch date.

Once they are available, distribution of the discs, which Burnett describes as "the pinnacle of sound", will be handled by his own, newly-formed company, called NeoFidelity Inc. Burnett hopes that the long gestated project can go some way toward "reset[ing] the valuation of recorded music". 

In a press release about the launch, Burnett said: "An Ionic Original is the pinnacle of recorded sound. It is archival quality. It is future proof. It is one of one. Not only is an Ionic Original the equivalent of a painting, it is a painting. It is lacquer painted onto an aluminium disc, with a spiral etched into it by music. This painting, however, has the additional quality of containing that music, which can be heard by putting a stylus into the spiral and spinning it.

"When describing the quality that raises analogue sound above digital sound, the word 'warmth' is often used. Analogue sound has more depth, more harmonic complexity, more resonance, better imaging. Analogue has more feel, more character, more touch. Digital sound is frozen. Analogue sound is alive."

This isn't Burnett's first foray into audio formats. Back in 2008 he developed Code (also known as ΧΟΔΕ), a high-fidelity audio technology intended to produce discs with sound quality comparable to studio masters, which would "democratise high-fidelity" and combat the prevalence of MP3 as the dominant format for listening to music.

Code discs could be played back on any DVD drive and delivered 24-bit/96 kHz PCM audio but also included files in 24-bit/96 kHz WAV, AAC and MP3 for transfer to portable music players and computers. Releases included John Mellencamp's Life, Death, Love and Freedom and Will Dailey's Torrent, Volumes 1 & 2.

It's fair to say we don't hear too much about the Code format today, so it remains to be seen if Ionic Original will fare any better. 

MORE: 

The tech endangered list: are these devices and formats the next to go?

A brief history of the turntable and vinyl records

15 of the best produced albums to check your hi-fi

Mary is a staff writer at What Hi-Fi? and has over a decade of experience working as a sound engineer mixing live events, music and theatre. Her mixing credits include productions at The National Theatre and in the West End, as well as original musicals composed by Mark Knopfler, Tori Amos, Guy Chambers, Howard Goodall and Dan Gillespie Sells. 

  • Just Pele
    It depends on price point. If it's priced in the same ballpark as vinyl, ~$50, it will have a chance. We would need to see information on the new players as well.
    Reply
  • 12th Monkey
    Launching a new physical medium seems an odd thing to do.
    Reply
  • F8lee
    Odd, indeed....so basically an update of the LP using different materials (and one wonders what expertise T Bone has in materials science...)

    But his description implies that "Originals will consist of "lacquer painted onto an aluminium disc, with a spiral etched into it by music...which can be heard by putting a stylus into the spiral and spinning it"." begs the question - does this differ somehow from the LP process? In other words, in the "old days" (or perhaps current audiophile days) a lathe was used to cut a master disc, which was then used to create the stamps that finally pressed endless numbers of vinyl LPs.

    My interpretation of his description - particularly when he compares them to original art - is that his "lathe" cuts a single record and then that record can be played back - but no mention made of mass production tells me that this is something that only those with way more money than brains would care to own (mainly in order to impress their friends no doubt).
    Reply
  • Tinman1952
    Destined to go the way of Pono...?

    "When describing the quality that raises analogue sound above digital sound, the word 'warmth' is often used. Analogue sound has more depth, more harmonic complexity, more resonance, better imaging. Analogue has more feel, more character, more touch. Digital sound is frozen. Analogue sound is alive."

    What rubbish......😣
    Reply
  • Tinman1952
    12th Monkey said:
    Launching a new physical medium seems an odd thing to do.
    As Jethro Tull said...
    'living in the past'......!
    Reply
  • Harry Worth
    Just Pele said:
    It depends on price point. If it's priced in the same ballpark as vinyl, ~$50, it will have a chance. We would need to see information on the new players as well.
    New players?
    Isn't it just a record material that's moved beyond Shellac and Vinyl to Ionic?
    He says it requires a stylus!
    Maybe your Dansette will play it.................
    Reply
  • toymotor
    Excuse my ignorance but would the recorded music be dependant on the microphone or microphones that captured the original sound? This mythical audiophile quality everyone seems determined to get is so dependent on multiple factors that its not possible to achieve this. I advise you to seek out a band and ask to stand into the middle of that band in full swing and see why you can't get near to that. Drums overpower everything and assault you physically. Guitars hit you from where the amps are usually behind you. Other instruments are drowned out unless you move closer to them. I'm happy with CD quality. If I want a better experience i go see a live band.
    Reply
  • Tinman1952
    toymotor said:
    Excuse my ignorance but would the recorded music be dependant on the microphone or microphones that captured the original sound? This mythical audiophile quality everyone seems determined to get is so dependent on multiple factors that its not possible to achieve this. I advise you to seek out a band and ask to stand into the middle of that band in full swing and see why you can't get near to that. Drums overpower everything and assault you physically. Guitars hit you from where the amps are usually behind you. Other instruments are drowned out unless you move closer to them. I'm happy with CD quality. If I want a better experience i go see a live band.
    Surely that's where the skill of the record producer and sound engineer comes into it. As I was in a band in my youth, standing in the middle of it is the last place I would want to be for decent sound quality! I agree CD quality is all we need for great sound but arguably being at a live band performance whilst often a great experience is often marred by terrible sound mixing... so not always a 'better experience' in terms of audio. I remember seeing Deacon Blue in the 90s live and had tinnitus for a week! 😣
    Reply
  • Vincent Kars
    Looks like somebody turned the Edison wax cylinder in a more convenient shape.
    Reply
  • Terry Webb
    I have been wondering that now that the Let It Be album has been released what next for The Beatles catalogue. Could this format be the answer? Only joking. Sort of.
    Reply