This week, music producer T Bone Burnett (Robert Plant and Alison Krauss, Counting Crows, O Brother, Where Are Thou?) announced a new analog disc medium for music he's developed called "Ionic Originals."

And he promised the technology transcends the sound quality of CDs and vinyl. Not to mention digital streaming and other mediums, as Variety reported.

In a photo provided to press, a prototype disc held up by Burnett looks very much like a silvery vinyl record. That makes sense, it would seem, because it's manufactured by painting lacquer onto an aluminum disc, with the recorded sound then etched on it in a spiral.

Vinyl LPs consist of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) plastic with no metal components. Standard compact discs consist of polycarbonate plastic with a metal layer, usually aluminum. This unites elements of the two.

It almost seems like the process merges current vinyl manufacturing with the way mastering engineers create metal "stampers" (and test acetate discs) to press those records in the first place. Stampers are usually used as "masters" for duplication, and they don't often reach listeners since they aren't made in large numbers.

Producer T Bone Burnett shows off his new Iconic Originals music disc technology in a photograph provided to press in April 2022.
T Bone Burnett with the disc. (Photo by Jason Myers)

In a press release, Burnett positioned Ionic Originals as one-of-a-kind objects. (Ah, OK — so kinda like test pressings?) He said it's the "first breakthrough in analog sound reproduction in more than 70 years."

An Ionic Original "is the pinnacle of recorded sound," he continued. "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. This painting, however, has the additional quality of containing that music."

Burnett already has a major artist onboard for the first Ionic Originals release. According to Pitchfork, the producer recently worked with Bob Dylan, re-recording some of his classic material to emerge as the debut Ionic Original. (No release date was specified.)

Burnett has also started a company called NeoFidelity Inc. to handle the distribution of the discs. The producer, who's been working on the project for several years, hopes to "reset the valuation for recorded music" that some feel has slid during the streaming era.

From the Ionic Originals press release:

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 aluminum 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.

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