Dr. AIX's POSTS Ponomusic β€” 17 October 2014

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The month of October is already half over and Halloween is right around the corner. This is the month that Pono promised to begin sending their new players to supporters and to launch their music download site. So I stopped by Ponomusic.com for a peek. I was curious about the design and layout, the type of information that will be provided with each tune, and whether they will segregate their catalog of CD specification downloads from the “high-resolution” tracks that are available from the major labels.

The site looks great! They’ve taken the color of the Pono player and used it throughout the pages of the site. It’s all very elegant, straightforward, and minimalist. Here’s a screenshot of the main page captured this morning.

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Figure 1 – The main menu from the Ponomusic (Beta) website. [Click to enlarge]

There design includes a set of rotating images under the top navigation/sign in section and a large, single search field. The scrollable album covers have the name of the album and the artist underneath and are grouped by NEW RELEASES or PONO PICKS. The rest of the page promotes the player, displays lists for TOP ARTISTS, ALBUMS, and FEATURED RELEASE. The style is simple…maybe too simple.

There is no filtering for type of music, artist, or fidelity or provenance. All of the music that will allow your “soul will rediscover” it is lumped together. When you click on an album cover, the product or album page comes up. There’s a list of the tracks that can be auditioned, the album cover again, and an area that includes basic information about the album. In the case of the “Gorilla” album by James Taylor, they provided the year of copyright, the owner of the copyright, and the record label.

The beta version of the site also has a shopping cart icon with the words “COMING SOON” next to it. I’ll wait and see what, if any, additional information is provided. Computer music fans and Pono Player owners will undoubtedly want a certain minimum of metadata included with the music files. Pono has stated that they will provide the files at the “best available” format but will they say what that is? Again, we’ll have to wait and see.

Simple, simple, simple…that’s the vibe from the site. And I agree that simple and easy to use is critical for customers. My own sites are not simple. I’ve crowded the iTrax product pages with lots choices, information, mixes, formats etc. It’s too much and I’m simplifying things as I write this…but I don’t have a team of developers and artists to move things along fast enough.

Pono should provide us with basic provenance information. I know the labels want to make that information available and for the 20 million CD spec tunes promised for the October launch, the metatdata is well known.

In the upper right hand corner of the site is a link to the “Pono World Times”, their newspaper. I clicked and read through some of the articles and updates.

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Figure 2 – The Pono World News of October 17, 2014. [Click to Enlarge]

You might notice the animated GIF vintage adding machine in the top left corner of the page. It’s counting off the number of tracks that have been added to the Ponomusic site. If you go to the site and watch the counter increase moment to moment, you’ll realize that the chances of getting that number to 20,000,000 over the next two weeks is not going to happen. Perhaps the number is not real and just a fake counter…but then why put it on the page?

What I found most interesting on the “Pono World Times” page was the “Message from Neil Young” article from May 17, 2011. I copied it from the page and included it below:

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Figure 3 – The message from Neil from the period that he was just imagining Pono.

If you read it carefully, you’ll notice that Neil states, “Since the advent of the CD, listeners have been deprived of the full experience of listening. With the introduction of MP3s via online music services, listeners were further deprived.” Knowing Neil’s stance on the fidelity of CDs, I’m not surprised that he identifies the start of our sonic deprivation as the launch of the CD. So a fundamental question remains…why is the Ponomusic site populated with 99.9% CD audio…the stuff that Neil claims deprives us of true fidelity. Is this how your soul is going to rediscover music?

Would we prefer to have 10,000 tracks that have been remastered and carefully prepared in new high-resolution buckets like HDtracks? You might argue about the hit or miss nature of some of the remasters provided to them and other sites but at least they are identified and new transfers…not just CD rips.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

(12) Readers Comments

  1. I checked out Young’s Pono Catalog. At least two of his albums were listed twice. If they are offering multiple formats or resolutions, they are not being very logical about it.

    • Duplicate titles indicate re-releases. Quite common actually.

  2. At this point, I’m not sure whether Neil Young has been somewhat misled regarding the actual technology of hi-res, or if he’s simply been compelled to make certain concessions in order to make the project profitable. This wouldn’t be such an issue, were it not for the fact that, as you say, Mr Young has decried the CD (i.e. surely ANY 44/16 digital audio) for so long.
    According to the ponomusic site, all of Bob Dylan’s catalogue seems to be available. If these had been sourced from master tapes, wouldn’t Sony (Epic Records) be selling the hi-res files before Pono?!

    I don’t see why I should buy anything from HDtracks either, until they provide more information about precisely what they’re selling. They offer Led Zeppelin remasters at ’96/24′ – but you can’t just download these from ledzeppelin.com (or an approved link on that site), although apparently an ‘HD download card’ is included with their “Super Deluxe Edition” box set.
    Something doesn’t add up with these hi-res/HD market sites.

    The feature about the break-in time of the Pono player seems far too gimmicky, IMHO. There may of course be some truth in it, but hi-fi companies have never used this as a selling-point!

    When Pono was first publicized, it was going to be designed by Meridian: there were photos on the web of Neil Young visiting their factory. I’d be interested to know why that deal fell through.
    “Up to 8 hours playback time” seems rather disappointing with regard to battery life of the Pono player – products sold by other companies claim several times this duration.

    • I’m with you. I honestly think Neil has entered the business world and needs to show a return on investment to his supporters and investors.

  3. Since you questioned the counter, I checked the script, and the current script increases the counter from 592,240 to 640,874 every 24 hours. At this time the counter for the page is displaying 595,595 which is less than the 615,212 in your screen capture. If they are periodically updating the range of values used for the counter, the counter could at least be representative of the actual value.

    • Mark…thanks I didn’t think to peek behind the curtain. They have indicated that they plan on having around 20 million tracks at launch…we’ll have to wait and see whether they come close. I have my doubts.

  4. Poor guy πŸ™

    • Poor guy – meaning Neil Young being caught in his own trap.

  5. To be fair to Neil, CD often sounded atrocious on even supposedly high end equipment back in the day, compared to the performance of almost any modern audiophile DAC. Nonetheless the lack of any true innovation in the Pono business model is incredibly disappointing. I confidently expect the imminent launch of Tidal to be the big news in high end audio this fall/winter, not least because, in terms of US territory at least, a streaming lossless music service is breaking new ground. Indeed with the inevitable Tidal phone apps, I will have a virtually endless supply of “hi res” music on my 24/192 capable Samsung smartphone – effectively a free Pono.

    I predict choppy waters ahead for Mr Young and his backers.

    • Good point…but Neil continued his rants as recently as 3 years ago.

    • You can already get Qobuz for lossless streaming, can’t you?

      From what I’ve read, Tidal is not claiming Hi-Res, merely ‘Hi-Fi’ (i.e. 44/16 lossless). In other words, still no advance on a really good CD player (aside from the dematerialized/streaming aspect).

      • Tidal is CD resolution. Qobuz is having trouble. I haven’t accessed their streaming service.

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