I was interviewed on Leo LaPorte’s “Triangulation” podcast show back in September. We talked about a variety of things including the Kickstarter campaign for the “Music and Audio” guide, high-resolution audio|music, and Pono. It was not a live interview and I’m not sure when they’re going to run it but I think Leo understood the importance of provenance.
On Episode 218, Leo interviewed Phil Baker, “the product guy”. He’s had a lifetime of experience helping companies…including Polaroid and Apple…bring products to the marketplace. Currently, he is the VP of Product Development & Operations at PonoMusic. Phil is the guy that helped Neil realize his dream of a state-of-the-art, high-resolution, portable music player. He engaged the services of an electrical engineer, an industrial designer, and Charles Hansen to pull together the Pono player. As I’ve stated previously, the $399 Pono player does a very good job of reproducing music. I have problems with the shape, the screen, and the interface but OK…the unit can deliver very good sound to a set of headphones. Are there better options? Yes.
And Phil Baker is the real deal. This guy knows his business and makes a very credible case for the hardware. However, Leo and I talked about the lack of real high-resolution music on the PonoMusic website. I told him the same thing that I’ve been saying elsewhere, 99% of the albums/tracks that Pono offers on its website are standard-resolution…not high-res. Neil knows that and so does Phil. That’s why they have the “Pono Promise”, which is supposed to give comfort to PonoMusic customers about the content that they purchase. It states that if a higher resolution version of a previously purchased album ever becomes available, Pono will upgrade your copy free of charge. Sounds like a great thing until your realize that the “higher resolution” versions don’t sound any better than the ripped CDs…except in rare cases. And the rate at which the upgrades are coming from the labels is a trickle…maybe 50 per month.
At about 1:04:00 into the interview, there is the following exchange:
LL: It’s one of the issues, of course…I’m not going to put you on the spot with this, but a lot of Pono music is just upsampled CDs, it’s not really…
PB: No, we don’t do it.
LL: You don’t do that.
PB: We don’t upsample. Nope, no Pono music is upsampled.
LL: Some people have claimed…but you’ll say right now that this is not true.
PB: That’s right. If we find something that was upsampled, it goes.
So who’s right? The “some people”…including myself…who assert that the vast majority of albums/tracks on the PonoMusic site are CD-res or Phil Baker who emphatically defended Pono and told Leo that none of the music is upsampled? We both are.
I agree with Phil, none of the music on the PonoMusic site is “upsampled”. They present their 2 million ripped CDs at the original sample rate…44.1 kHz. They DO NOT upsample the content they receive from their supplier in the UK (the people that do the ripping and tagging). It might actually help the fidelity if they did upsample the tracks…but they don’t. They present them at straight CD specs.
Leo simply asked the wrong question. If he had asked Phil what percentage of the music from Pono is CD-res vs. Hi-Res, Phil might have had some trouble answering. There are only 6000 or so new transfers from analog tape available on the PonoMusic site. They’re not high-resolution either…but at lease they exist in a high-resolution container.
So goes the Pono dance. The “world’s largest hi-res music store” isn’t the world’s largest and it doesn’t offer hi-res music. The devil is in the details.
3 Days and counting down for the “Music and Audio” A User Guide To Better Sound”. If you’ve been waiting for the right time to join the over 706 backers, now is the time.