Dr. AIX's POSTS — 13 September 2014

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I try to read most of the articles that focus on high-resolution audio, download and streaming, and have recently been paying attention to the all things relating to the Pono initiative. I lost my connection to the inner workings of the Pono machine when John Hamm was replaced by Neil Young as CEO and I haven’t been able to get in touch with him since mid summer. I have made inquiries about the Pono equity raise that is currently happening through the Crowdfunder website. I’ve read the executive summary, gone through their analysis, and reviewed the numbers. I don’t plan to plunk down $5K. I didn’t get pre-order one of the Pono players back in April. The numbers just don’t add up.

I was hopeful back in April. But what happened to “redicovering the soul of the music”? All that’s happened in the last couple of months is a massive downgrading of expectations. Pono lost its way in search of big dollars. Isn’t it always about the money?

Here’s some Pono numbers:

$399 is the cost of a first generation Charles Hansen (Ayre) designed Pono player

$6.225 raised during the Kickstarter Campaign

15,000 First Generation Players pre-ordered during the KS rewards-based funding

10,000 Pono players will ship by the end of October according to Pedram Abrarm Pono’s EVP of Technology

5,000 Pono players will ship an additional 5,000 units by the end of December with attempts to make a pre-Christmas deadline

$5,000 is the minimum amount that qualified investors can spend on equity in the company

$75,000 is the level of investment required to get a special perk…4 VIP concert tickets and backstage passes to the Bridge Concert in October

$7,000,000 valuation of Pono at the opening round of investment

$20,000,000 valuation of Pono after the KS raise.

$50,000,000 valuation of Pono enterprise for the Crowdfunder equity raise.

2,500,000 the number of tracks promised to be available at the opening of the Ponomusic website in late October.

15,000 – 20,000 is the number of tracks that will be available on the Ponomusic website at launch that have been transferred at 192 kHz/24-bit from analog tape to PCM digital. Most of these recordings are already available on HDtracks, SuperHighRez and ProStudioMasters…with hit and miss fidelity due to the fidelity of the masters.

99.5 % is the percentage of the available music on the Ponomusic site that will be at standard CD quality

35 million tracks are being prepared by Omnifone, Pono’s backend provider of content, in FLAC at one resolution. All of these files are standard resolution.

44.1 kHz is the sample rate of all of the music in Omnifone’s Music Station catalog

1411 kbps is the bandwidth of a standard resolution CD rip that Pono and Neil Young have described as existing 200 feet below the surface of the water in their illustration of relative fidelity levels.

9216 kbps is the bandwidth of a 192 kHz/24-bit music file that Ponomusic will offer for its highest resolution content, which originates from standard fidelity sources.

15 % is the percentage of actual sound information in a typical 192 kHz/24-bit “high-resolution” FLAC audio file. Pono music purchasers will be downloading a lot of empty zeros and ones.

85 % is the percentage of the 192/24 FLAC file that will contain nothing but silence

$15 is the price of a standard CD “lossless” resolution file on Ponomusic according to the website.

$25 is the price of an ” ultra high-resolution” analog to digital transfer on the Ponomusic website.

64 GB is the storage capacity that comes with your shipped Pono player

128 GB is the maximum storage capacity of a Pono player

5000 is the number of CD “Redbook” tracks that can be stored on the Pono player

800 is the number of Ultra-high resolution recordings (192 kHz/24-bit) that can be stored on the Pono player

So there you have it…enough numbers to make even a CFO gasp. The reality is becoming clear. Pono will be a very good portable audio player capable of playing FLAC files at 192 kHz/24-bits down to 44.1 kHz/16-bits. The availability of real “high-resolution” content of the type that will allow you to experience real HD-Audio will be limited to around .5% of the entire catalog. And even then, it’s not really high-definition but rather the fidelity of the original source.

Ponomusic has described and is raising millions of dollars for a business that won’t achieve the stated goals of the company…”allowing you to rediscover the soul of the music”.

What they are doing is elevating the standard at which you can download music. Instead of “lossy” compressed files from iTunes of the other music sites, Pono will be offering uncompressed CD standard fidelity (a fidelity level that Neil Young has been railing against for decades…but now seems ok with).

They don’t own any disruptive intellectual property, they don’t own the content that they’re going to be selling, they’ve stated that they’re not going to be remastering any of the content on the site, and they are ignoring the whole issue of audio provenance. In reading their Executive Summary, they can’t even get the basic facts about high-resolution audio correct. There are whole paragraphs that are just plain wrong.

Here’s an example:

“The PonoMusic Store sources and offers for sale only studio master quality recordings.” Since when is a ripped commercial CD a “Studio Master”?

Pono will launch on time. Supporters will get their autographed players this fall and the website will offer just short of 2.5 million uncompressed CDs for your “high-resolution” Pono player. What’s to get excited about?

They had a chance to do it right…but they caved. There’s an open playing field for the real thing. The world wants quantity over quality.

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(29) Readers Comments

  1. So why don’t we go to Russ Solomon, the original owner of Tower Records and give him the money…. ( instead of Neil) to reopen Tower Records. Sell Pono units, sell CD’s, do in-stores and meet the artists who’ll sign your Pono, CD or Vinyl. Rejoice in the gathering of music lovers of all walks of life, leaving their computers and walking to a real record store and joining their kindred spirits in the magic of music.
    Imagine a floor dedicated to the promotion of true High res recordings. Not just made available to the handful of Axpona show visitors, but to a much broader audience, 365 days a year!

    The money would be much better spent.
    Glorifying the CD as if it was just discovered and or reinvented and calling it HD-Audio is the dumbest m**he**u*k**g thing I ever heard. Let’s get the Kardashians’ to start promoting this amazing development of 44.1 x 16 so the whole world can see how far we have come.
    Thanks for listening and God Bless!

  2. Thanks for showing us what Pono music is finally all about. I am not really surprised to read that they gave into the commercial pressures and will have very little HR content in reality. Upsampling redbook format is not cricket, provenance is key here.

    Now maybe would be a good time to get back onto promoting your own HR music and give the competition a chance to lick their wounds; tongue lashings have a nasty way of coming back to bite you. It’s time to stand on your own merits without being scathing of other efforts at selling mislabelled product ! 🙂

    • I thought it was very important to put the whole Pono thing in perspective…and I’m pretty disappointed in how things have turned out. Information is power and the audio buying public has a right to know.

  3. What a disappointment, I thought at least he was going to try and offer something special. As it is it’s just another HDTracks, Acoustic Sounds, etc. At least at HDTracks if I want to buy a ripped CD in a big HD bucket I can get it at 96/24 for only $17.95
    I do see the problem of the very limited existence of available material recorded in true HDA like you do. Mostly I see new “popular” music still being recorded in analog. We need the big studios to start sending their tape recorders to the obsolete bin.
    Here’s a point in question. I have the blu-ray of David Gilmour’s Remember That Night, Live At The Royal Albert Hall. Closest opportunity we’ll ever get of a true HD recording of Pink Floyd. BUT how was it recorded?. It sounds great on my 5.1 system I couldn’t say for sure either way and can’t find any info on the provenance???

    • Pono is not even another HDtracks or Acoustic Sounds…they aren’t offering regular CDs.

  4. MP3 has become so ubiquitous that it is “standard definition” to the mass market. It is actually low definition, but of course the labels will not call it that. So now, CD quality is purveyed as “high definition” by ignorant or unscrupulous marketers, as if it is the latest and the greatest. Let us stick to calling 96/24 and 192/24 as “ultra high definition”, and all of us can rest in peace. Amen.

    • I disagree. It’s true that MP3 or lossy compressed audio files have become ubiquitous but it is another thing to elevate them to “standard definition” status. I think more listener understand that they are hearing compromised quality with MP3. And it’s not enough to label a 96 or 192 file Ultra HD-Audio unless it was recorded at the time of the original session that way.

  5. “The world wants quality over quantity.”

    Absolutely not true; that is wishful thinking. A few of us want quality over quantity. The rest of the world prefers quantity at the lowest price. But they don’t mind if you throw in quality as well. …Keep dreaming.

    • You’re right, of course. I mistyped as I finished the piece. I’ve changed it.

  6. I don’t have any answers but as we all know the music industry is in the toilet today. What the problem is I don’t know but they can’t sell the product they’re producing at any resolution. Rock is dead, classical died 100 years ago, Rap, R&B and Country has a limited audience, there just isn’t a mass market for today’s products?
    MFSL and the rest did well back in the day when the market was happy to pay up for a quality version of the music they loved. Times have changed and I have no idea why, where are the super groups of the 50s*90s?

    • There are really great artists out there doing really great work…but they’re buying into the advice of their handlers. Too bad.

  7. Shared this article with Pono personnel and here was their response.

    Pedram Abrari (PonoMusic)
    The guy couldn’t even spell my name correctly. The rest of his assertions are as valid as his spelling on my name. Our products will speak for themselves in not too long from now.

    • I apologize to Mr. Abrari for the error…I had copied his name from a comment at showbiz411.com. As for his assertion that the rest of the information in my article are “invalid”, I have to worry since most of this information came from his comments on that very same page. Is he saying that they won’t deliver 10,000 units of the Pono player in October? Or that the company isn’t selling equity shares at $5000 per unit through Crowdfunder? And how about the statement that 2.5 million tracks will be available when the site is launched?

      His non-response to the actual numbers speaks volumes as to their veracity…which I stand by. I didn’t make this stuff up…I pulled it from the information that Neil and his team have made public.

      The “our products will speak for themselves” is a time tested way of deflecting attention away from painful facts. The Pono “machine” will be a miniature version of iTunes without the AAC compression. It’s just that simple.

      I am impressed that Pedram responded. I just wish he’d confronted the issues at hand instead of dodging them.

      • So all you did was copy another article without doing any research? The following is Pedram’s response to that show biz article you refer to posted in the comments section.

        Neil Young’s Super MP3 Player, Pono: Won’t Be Coming in 2014

        • If you’ve been reading this blog for any length of time you’d find that I’ve been researching and writing about this topic for a very long time. I’m not sure what Pedram’s comment has to do with my post other than I used his response to confirm deliveries and other aspects to their campaign.

  8. Instead of just coping information from other websites and throwing numbers at people who cannot check the figures why not be happy that someone (Neil Young in this case) is trying to stir up the music-industry by addressing the issue of bad sound quality of MP3. No, you go the easy route of bashing, shame on you!

    • I have met and chatted with Neil Young. I have a gold DVD on the wall of my studio for a project I did with him. I’m a fan and have seen him perform, bought his recordings, and appreciate his efforts to improve the fidelity of recorded music. He has managed to stir things up…or at least get a lot of people talking about audio fidelity and high-resolution audio.

      The numbers I report above are the results of my reading, studying, and absorbing the Pono initiative from online, sources, press reports, interviews with Neil, personal discussions with the former CEO John Hamm, and comments make by employees of Pono.

      It’s very clear that Pono will be delivering standard resolution CD quality rips to their player. If I was contemplating purchasing tunes from their site, I would want to know that they aren’t the 192 kHz/24-bit FLAC files that they were talking about months ago, but rips of CDs that you can purchase at Walmart for less than $10.

      Shame on them.

  9. The author fails to realize that at the very least, the Pono player will play CD-quality rips through AUDIOPHILE EQUIPMENT at a fraction of the price of similar equipment. And that is the bare minimum. HD filed will be above and beyond that.

    • The Pono player is a fine piece of equipment, no doubt. I’ve said so previously and continue to believe it…Charles Hansen of Ayre knows his stuff. But it’s not dramatically better than existing portable players from A&K or even the HTC M8 Harman Kardon phone.

  10. A & K are extremely expensive and the reviews on the sound quality of the HTC M8 are iffy at best.

    • The A&K are very expensive and do a great job of playing back high-resolution sound files…but having listened to both and having an HTC, it’s very hard to justify the additional price.

  11. According to listings on the Pono site for their “Limited Edition” Signature players, which are preloaded with two artist albums, most of the recordings will be 192khz/24bit. That says high resolution to me. Are you saying they will be up-sampled CD versions? They have stated that they will NOT up-sample and that all content available through their site will be the highest resolution available WITHOUT up-sampling. So, if they are offerring CD quality as high resolution, I think that would be fraud on Ponos behalf, and I doubt they would do that. Comment?

    • I can only vaguely remember which artists versions will be available, but if memory serves me…you can count on the sources being from analog tape that has been transferred to 192 kHz/24-bit PCM, it you’re lucky. I don’t think that Pono will be upconverting CD resolution stuff to FLAC at 192 kHz/24-bits, they would start a firestorm because everyone would be able to tell. The statement that the content will be at the highest available resolution hedges their bets. If the CD resolution files are what are available, then that’s what they’re going to offer. They will have the same tracks as HDtracks form the majors but they’re not going to get the original James Taylor analog masters and convert them to 192 kHz/24-bits.

      • Thanks for the reply. From my perspective, I can live with the highest resolution being offered on all their music as long as no up-sampling is done. One stop shopping if the library is large enough. They also will have download and ripping software at the site. The real test will be what the Pono unit sounds like. The music offerings are really secondary given that there are many places to buy downloads. However, a great sounding device, along with a store for purchase and download software, would be unique

        • I’ve heard the device and it’s going to be a really good portable play back device…but not worth the money when you can get practically the same thing for less and all of the benefits of a smart phone.

  12. Wait a minute….your whole mantra has been about quality versus quantity and you end it on this note about practically the same thing for less and the “benefits” of a smart phone? WTF?!?! You are a confused youngster who needs to go study journalism and stop “ripping” articles from other sources. This is hypocritical thinking. I have an LE ordered and have been in the Pono office and listened to a beta Pono Player. Way beyond a stupid phone pal. I for one am sick of devices – like people – who purport to do everything well. Impossible. I wish my stupid phone could be just a good phone instead of trying to do everything. For those of you out there who are worried about your supporting Pono before listening and now getting the fear from this bash-a-thon don’t worry. Having been involved in music as a musician, disk jockey from when vinyl was all we had and audio engineer for live bands I vouch for the innovation and quality of a Pono player. Let Mr. Fear go play with his smart phone and stop reading into his childish banter about numbers. Your ears are what count.

    • I sure do like being called a youngster…that hasn’t happened in a while. I’m not sure where you think I’ve been “ripping” articles from but I can assure you that I pen every word every day. I’ve listened to the Pono player as well and it’s a great player…I’ve stated that. But there are now Smartphones that come very close to the same fidelity and unlike you, I don’t want a separate device for everything I want or need…a digital camera, a camcorder, a dumb phone, a music player, a pager etc.

      You seem to fall into the “trust your ears” camp…that’s certainly a common retort when facts get in the way. But specifications matter. They matter for Neil Young, too. He was the one that said CD spec audio is substandard or “underwater”…and now virtually everything you will hear through your Pono player will be Redbook specification. The numbers in this piece are all accurate.

  13. I think the author is missing the bigger picture here. Firstly, they won’t be selling “CD rips” – most digital masters are 44.1/16, you know…. the same as CD?! Sheesh. Secondly, no one with any common sense would launch a download store with just so called “high definition” files, because there aren’t enough available to make a store viable. Aside from Young likely suffering from deafness and tinnitus, I’d take his word on CD quality with a pinch of salt because it far exceeds his hearing capabilities. If you are such a snob that you will only buy high def files from stores that only sell high def files, then that’s your look out innit?!

    • The Omnifone providers of the 2.5 million CD spec tracks that Pono has promised will be available on launch day are, in fact, ripped from commercial CDs. Those files are 44.1 kHz/16-bit PCM audio and are being prepared with metadata as FLAC files. What did I miss here? A file transferred from a CD to hard drive is a “rip”, right? As to your second point, I guess I don’t have any common sense because I launched iTrax (which was the world’s first high-resolution audio digital music download site) in 2007 and it only offers real high-resolution recordings. And in spite of the limited catalog, the site is viable and profitable. And sites like HDtracks, which offers recordings of all sorts from the major labels, is a very lucrative music download platform.

      CDs are wonderful but they don’t eclipse Neil’s ability to hear or the best ears on the planet. I guess I am a high-resolution advocate or “snob” because I want to know that what I purchase is actually what it claims to be.

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