Dr. AIX's POSTS — 30 October 2014

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I’m running to get to the airport early this morning but wanted to write a quick post on the Pono situation as I see it…now that we’re at the end of October. As you may remember this was the deadline for them to deliver the first round of their Pono players to the supporters of the Kickstarter campaign back in April. They raised $6.2 million to fund the company (there were some earlier round investments as well) and manufacture the high quality portable players. According to Rick Cohen, Neil’s lawyer, 60-70% of that initial round went to actually design and build the product. That’s why they went to Crowdfunder.net for equity round. They sought another $4 million…but I don’t know how much they actually raised.

With tomorrow being Halloween, the 31st of October, it’s time for the Pono players to start emerging from the manufacturing plants in China. I’m not aware of any devices being provided to the supporters…yet. Yes, they’ve planted a few prototypes here and there…but the few supporters that I’m aware of have not received any Ponos.

And then there’s the website. As of this morning, the “Pono-Matic Music Counter” was rounding 1,000,000 “total tracks” having been ingested. Not that long ago, Pedram Abrari, PonoMusic SVP of Technology, promised to have 20,000,000 tracks available at the launch. It looks like his promise is not going to be fulfilled. And the website itself still isn’t functional. They metadata associated with the tracks and the purchasing part of the site is non-functional. Clicking a few tracks this morning, it says, “preview unavailable”…so some things are still problematic with the site.

Neil Young was “giving us the full studio experience: at the recent Dreamforce event. The Pono CEO was the keynote speaker at their annual gathering. He and Pedram Abrari answered questions and showed live demos of the player in action. They encouraged attendees to stop by the demo stations and “listen to music the way the artists heard it in the studio”. That kind of statement has become part of the marketing mission for high-resolution audio…and it’s just not true. The artists listened to the multitrack masters during the production process. That means they pushed play on the analog 24-track deck or the space bar on the computer DAW. If the recording was done at more than 44.1 kHz/16-bits, then the artist heard something that Pono is not delivering in 99.9% of the cases. They’re presenting CD rips.

Neil continues to push his quality counts message. A report on the keynote message included, “In our quest for portability, we lost more than the charming pops and warm, fuzzy crackles we experienced listening to music on vinyl; we lost the emotion and feeling of music. Until Pono, listening to albums on vinyl used to be the closest thing to being in the recording studio with the artists. With the popularity of compressed digital music, we learned to settle for good enough. Pono is here to change all that.”

I applaud the message but the realization is lacking. Does anyone really want the “charming pops and warm fuzzy crackles” again? We can do much better than that. There is another option than to move from vinyl LPs to CD rips. Why not remaster what we can from the analog masters of the past (like HDtracks offers) rather than try to create the biggest and baddest site for downloading something we’ve already had to decades?

The Ponomusic website will be all about social networking. I think the ultimate goal is not about “letting your soul rediscover” of music but using the mantra of better quality audio…non-compressed…to bring a community of music lovers together. Ponomusic seeks to become a social platform just like FB and others. But so far, the message is so full of hyperbole that I’m not sure they can pull that off. Get back to the quality message, deliver the real thing, and let it grow organically.

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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.

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