Dr. AIX's POSTSNEWSPonomusic

Pono Says No TO DSD and DRM

Once an individual or organization launches a Kickstarter campaign, they’re allowed to update it with additional rewards and answer questions. You can only ask a question if you have supported the effort. I looked at the Pono KS page this morning and noticed that they’ve provided and update with answers to some of the open issues with regards to DRM, file formats and alternate platforms.

Number 7 on the list asks Will Pono support DSD playback? No plans on this first release. We are focused specifically on PCM at this time because it has broad acceptance, and when done properly, still offers the best sonic solution. While DSD is also a great format, it simply doesn’t have broad enough acceptance by consumers, studios, or labels.

This is obviously not what advocates for DSD wanted to hear. But it comes as no surprise to those of us that realize the shortcomings of DSD. Neil and his team have obviously looked into DSD and decided for now to ignore it. I have to embrace his comment that PCM has broad acceptance and still offers the best sonic fidelity. He’s right about this despite the marketing and spin that many have employed to push DSD.

It was especially interesting that they said that the studios and labels haven’t accepted DSD. He’s referring to professional recording studios and the major record labels. Neil, who happens to own a very well equipped studio, doesn’t use DSD and he certainly isn’t going to transfer his analog masters to DSD and send them to Warner Brothers Records.

My best guess is there won’t be any Pono players capable of decoding DSD. Right now Neil and his collaborators at Ayre Acoustics have finalized their design, programmed the software, had the tooling made to produce the parts and secured a Chinese company to put the units together. Does anyone really think that they’re going to abandon all of the work that they’ve already done to include a format that doesn’t register in the professional music production world or major label executive suites? Audiophiles will pester them but it won’t come to anything.

Question Number 8 asks Will there be a Pono Mac app to play the FLAC files I purchase on PonoMusic? The response is a little confusing. The Pono KS update says yes. But then refers the question to a file conversion application called MAX. I guess what Pono is saying that individuals that download music from the Ponomusic site in FLAC format will have to convert those files into some other format for them to play on a Mac. I think that the question asked if there was going to be a “Pono Mac app” that would provide playback for Mac-based music servers.

What happened to the idea that Pono was going to be a “simple”, single format operation. It seems that’s only true if you restrict your music listening to the Pono device.

And finally question ten, Any DRM limits on PonoMusic? The answer…None. So the fears that many had about the Pono world being mired in copy protection seems resolved. I’m certainly glad to hear that.

So that’s the latest news from the world of Pono…as they push through $4 million on the KS page. Stay tuned…


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.

21 thoughts on “Pono Says No TO DSD and DRM

  • david gregory

    FLAC is no problem on the MAC itself- just in iTunes, because Apple stubbornly refuses to support this increasingly popular format. Plex is a player much like iTunes that supports it; VLC and Vox also do, and all three are free. MAX is a file format converter that is abandonware as far as I know. Presumably that recommendation was to convert to Apple Lossless which itunes will support. If you want to do that, I recommend XLD instead.

    • Thanks for the information David. I like the term “abandonware”…haven’t heard that one before. The point is Ponomusic may offer only FLAC but consumers are going to have to do some post purchase work to make it work on their non Pono systems. Why not just offer the options from the site?

  • Wayne Blair

    For what it’s worth regarding Mac/Flac


    Please don’t flame about the comment:

    “I would stay with iTunes on a Mac and convert the Flac files to ALAC with MAX. I say iTunes because I’m not sure if the other players get bit-perfect playback while iTunes definitely does.”

    Though I did appreciate this comment:

    “Apple™ used to be all about options.
    Now it’s all about restrictions.”

    • Blaine J. Marsh


      Unless I’ve got it wrong, iTunes does not playback bit perfect. You need a special player (such as Audirvana), hardware and the correct versions of OS X.

      That said, I agree that I would convert to ALAC for the library features and ability to easily put on my iPhone.


  • Frank L.


    I found this test (link here): http://www.computeraudiophile.com/content/568-t-elektroakustik-music-player-balanced/

    Excerpt:….The (T+A) Music Player Balanced is both a CD player and a DAC with several digital inputs. The digital inputs include a Streaming Client (wired Ethernet, wireless LAN, USB disk, iPod/iPhone), FM Tuner, CD player, and five S/PDIF inputs (3 coaxial RCA supporting 192 kHz maximum, 2 optical TosLink supporting 96 kHz maximum). (Note: There isn’t a USB audio input to use this unit as a USB DAC). The MPB contains a single coaxial digital output for those interested in using the MPB as a transport or Ethernet to coaxial converter. The internal DAC consists of fully symmetrical dual mono TI PCM1795 chips. The chip itself is capable of both PCM and DSD conversion but according to T+A, “The hardware of the MusicPlayer is designed to support all kinds of PCM files from compressed to high resolution PCM but no DSD. As DSD has lower resolution compared to HD PCM, a higher high frequency noise floor and poorer dynamics we do not see any advantage in DSD. We prefer a straight PCM signal path without the risk of degrading the PCM performance by adding additional circuits and longer signal paths for DSD.”


  • Frank L.

    Hello again,

    I would have expected some response, as my favorite German company of High fi, High End products supports your views 100%. I told you before that I have 5 T+A loudspeakers since 1998 and they still sound great. I am glad that my countrymen don’t support that bullshit DSD claim of being the better HIEnd format.

    • Frank…life gets pretty busy around here. I had a session yesterday and had to get around a problem with a long HDMI cable. DSD is NOT BS…it’s simply another way of encoding and delivering audio the same way that vinyl or analog tape are alternative analog formats. I regards DSD as a very good format IF you accept the limitations on frequency response, the noise factor and the lack of tools to produce natively in DSD. To each his own. Choice is a good thing…but the over the top acceptance of DSD and the hyperbole in the marketing is full of ridiculous statement.

      • Frank L.

        Hello again,

        didn’t say that DSD is BS, just that the CLAIM to be the better format is BS.


  • Came across this site via Computer Audiophile…great site from what I have checked out so far.

    Looking forward to hearing well recorded and produced music!

    As for DSD…most DSD recordings I have are converted to FLAC PCM and sound great! I believe it really comes down to the recording techniques and mixing…lastly mastering. If it isn’t miked properly doesn’t matter which format you use…garbage in equals garbage out.

    Just say NO to compression.

    • Thanks and welcome. DSD can sound wonderful…but wait until you download the real HD-Audio files from the FTP site. As always, you have to do everything right.

  • The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan both chose to transfer their original analog masters to DSD rather than PCM for permanent digital archiving. Also Sony made DSD archives of all of their analog recordings, as well as using DSD rather than PCM as the standard for their digital recordings. The format was designed for this purpose, not for consumer hi-end listening. The statement that “studios and labels haven’t accepted DSD” simply isn’t true. Sony is a major label, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan are major artists, and major studios and mastering houses offer DSD as a final mix format, particularly when the multi-track masters are analog.

    I’m not saying it makes sense to offer it as a consumer playback option on a Pono player when FLAC is available and can offer a larger consumer base. I am also not saying that the majority of studios or labels use, or should use, DSD, but the authors comment that it is “a format that doesn’t register in the professional music production world or major label executive suites” is not true. Again – Sony, The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan.

    And again to be clear, I think the choice of FLAC over DSD makes sense for consumer players. I just can’t see a reason to say things about DSD that aren’t true and to dismiss it as a audiophile niche market, when it exists primarily as a professional recording medium and is used extensively by one of the largest labels in the world.

    • You’re absolutely correct about Sony using DSD as their archival format for their catalog of analog masters. But even Sony has abandoned DSD as a production tool. They developed the Sonoma system for studio but it remains ignored by 99% of the production studios making recording everyday. They use Pro Tools, Logic, Nuendo or some other PCM based DAW…or even analog tape.

      The Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan didn’t choose to transfer their analog masters to DSD, that decision was made by folks at the labels. Again, it was for archival purposes. These same organizations had analog tape transfers and high-resolution PCM transfers made of the masters as well.

      So I stand by my statement that “studios and labels haven’t accepted DSD”…it’s clear that it was a special use by SONY because they developed the technology. I know of only one commercial studio that has a Sonoma system and am aware of several other high-end labels that use DXD from Pyramix…which is PCM in disguise.

      DSD is limited to a couple of major electronics companies (Sony and Phillips), a very limited subset of commercial studios recordists and the artists have no clue what it is or when it’s used.

      I have to disagree with your sentiments. PCM is only viable production format (maybe analog tape for the fringe audiophiles) available today for commercial production. Pro Tools dominates and Sonoma is a mere blip on the radar. It is only being talked about because a number of audiophile publications and writers have championed it.

      • Thank you for your thoughtful reply. I certainly don’t disagree that PCM is the most viable production format in use today. And I hope I made it clear that I do not champion DSD over PCM (and especially DSD over FLAC for consumer use).

        There are, however, studios and labels who do choose to use DSD rather than PCM. It is a standard for classical music analog tape archival. It has also become a common format in the current classical music world and labels such as Harmonia Mundi, PentaTone and Praga Digital use it as their preferred medium. I understand that they don’t carry the same weight as a Warner Bros, but artists like the Tokyo String Quartet and Svjatoslav Richter (reissues) are giants in the classical musical universe and these labels have won Grammys.

        I also understand that labels usually make the decisions regarding consumer format. It was incorrect of me to imply that Bob Dylan himself made the same informed decision that Neil Young has over which digital format to use. And yes, a Sony label owns the Bob Dylan masters. In regards to The Rolling Stones, ABKCO archived all of the original analog tapes to DSD only. Bob Ludwig then did the mastering from DSD sources, with all of the PCM versions made from DSD masters. http://www.musictap.net/Interviews/LudwigBobInterview.html

        While I recognise that it is a largely ignored format, the recent Super Audio CD releases of analog to DSD transfers of such artists as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Pink Floyd, The Doors and Frank Sinatra show an awareness within the industry of DSD, and these transfers did require major label studios to allow the original analog tapes to be sent to mastering houses for the conversion.

        Again, I am thankful for you taking the time to reply, and you have shown me that you don’t simply carry a bias against DSD. And I would like to make clear that I am not promoting the idea that DSD is a major force in the music production world. What I am trying to say is that there is an awareness of it and it is currently in use, not just as a fringe audiophile Mobile Fidelity Labs collectable. And finally, I do agree with Mr. Young and his decision to not include DSD in the Pono player, but I wouldn’t object if DSD became more available to consumers who would like to have access to it outside of SACD.

        • I certainly take your point. I must say I appreciate your thoughtful and informative response. I am predisposed to PCM as an engineer that has years of experience with HD PCM and some experience with DSD. Although, I certainly understand that others are happier with the sound of DSD…I can’t argue with that.

          I made HM content available on my iTrax site and recognize that Pentatone and others produce and release in DSD. There are others like MDG that record in PCM and transcode to DSD (very curious to me).

          I do believe that the prospects for High-resolution audio would be better if we were all behind one format but that’s not going to happen. Thanks again.

    • Admin

      Why would anyone want to downres PCM to DSD 64? A bad choice for a product and a bad choice for your sound.

    • The problem is that they don’t tell you when and how they will do DSD. It’s an appeal to the audiophile crowd. In reality, they would be better trying to get to the masses who don’t even know what DSD is.

    • Admin

      I’m not surprised…Pono needs to be capable of playing everything. It’s a marketing move.


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