Pono: Counting Down

Neil Young and his team have pulled it off. As they close in on the last 24 hours of their Kickstarter campaign, over 17,000 supporters have helped push the amount raised to over $6 million. Amazing! I’m jealous, impressed and seriously hoping that they get it right…especially when it comes to the Ponomusic.com site and the content that they will bundle and sell.

The Pono initiative has brought major media outlets on board. Because of Neil’s rock start status and his ability to connect with other celebrities in the music business, he has almost single-handedly raised awareness of better sounding audio to the masses. And the message resonated with over 17,000 supporters…at least enough to have them contribute around $400 to the effort. Are these people audiophiles, novelty collectors or just music listeners?

As I read the articles describing the Pono hardware, I was struck by the difference of opinion about the merits of the hardware and the entire market for “high-resolution audio”. I contributed to some of the discussion by challenging some of assumptions about audio quality especially as delivered by the major labels. Despite the information that continues to come from the Pono people, I’m not sure that we’re going to get a dramatic improvement in the listening experience by simply recasting the older standard definition masters in 192 kHz/24-bit buckets. And I don’t see Neil and his technical having the bandwidth to re-master the original source tapes in sufficient quantity to actually populate a meaningful site come October. They certainly have the money to make a serious stab at the right solution…but the target might drift from what’s right to what brings in the most money. After all, the labels have minimum levels of payback on the licenses that they issue.

I’m hoping to spend some quality time with Pono CEO John Hamm and discuss some of these things while both of us are in Chicago for the AXPONA show. He’s giving a keynote address on Friday the 25th of April from 6-7 pm. This is to be the first public roll out of the Pono hardware and post Kickstarter campaign. John is described as an audiophile. It will be interesting to hear him talk about things like provenance and upsampling and using sample rates as production tools. I’ll provide an up close and personal report following out meeting.

The people that have opted in to the KS campaign are going to get a variety of “Limited Edition” Pono players. I found it very interesting to read some of the comments that they’ve written on the KS page. I posted that a substantial number of supporters seemed to be contributing to the campaign NOT for the quality of the player but instead for the “collectability” of the signed/engraved units themselves. There are a lot of comments from supporters that have signed up for this or that artist’s LE Pono player and are now bartering them among other supporters. It remains to be seen whether Neil can “Whole Foods” quality audio to his state-of-the-art Pono kitchen or whether we’ll be eating Big Macs wrapped up in Wolfgang Puck’s packaging.

I’ll give John my congrats when I see him in Chicago. They’ve managed to open the door to better quality audio and that’s saying something.


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.

5 thoughts on “Pono: Counting Down

  • Yeah, it’s been a huge feat what Neil and the others have done.

    I’d love to see this kind of endeavor like this: the question in Neil’s head was “how the hell am I gonna get all the kids who were born with mp3’s to listen to the magic of music?”. He and many of his contemporary fellow musicians have already done superb re-masterings of their original tapes. Now, put in the hands of a kid a Pono AND music already in the realm of hi-def (√† la A&K), suggest them to upgrade to Grados instead of Beats… that’s the experience they want them lo live. A process of discovery.

    Yes, maybe it’ll take some time to have millions of tapes churned into the hi-def realm. And I mean, really translate those tapes into 24/96 or DSD. We know the money and the will to do it is there. The introduction to real hi-fi for young kids is not that difficult. I have tried it with great success with my students, and they’re blown away with the experience.

    The only way to get things to that goal is making the technology available and affordable. We won’t be selling more Utopias or Diablos, nor 2,000 DACs… that’s not the way to go. The hi-fi industry MUST look back and decide that, yes, there will be 200 Utopias installed this year… in the whole world… but if we’re really creative AND want to make money big-time, we have to focus on the affordable side of the equation, so we can sell one billion hi-def songs in five years and 100 million DACs a year!!

    My first Mac cost me 2500 in 1986. Now, you can have a ultra-powerful audio tool for 600 (a Mac Mini)… add your pono as the DAC and, voil√†, you have hi-def music for the masses.

    Now, the hard part will be to match prices with the Apple Store… if we don’t get there, there will be no reason for the kids to jump into the hi-def wagon. But, don’t worry… we’ll be there in less than five years. Now, it’s all in the hands of the Pono people to get the message and the goods to the masses.

    • I’m looking forward to seeing how this proceeds.

  • Blaine J. Marsh

    I’m sure we won’t get everything we want, but if we can make progress it will be encouraging. Maybe my grandkids will reap the benefits. I wish that I could attend AXPONA this year. I would love to overhear your conversation with John Hamm. I’d love to get my two cents in as well. Of course, seeing John Gorka would be great as well. But, I’m from New Jersey…

  • Thanks AIX (Mark) — Great site.

    When I first came across PONO I was skeptical. I recall that it took all of 20 minutes of reading and poking around to get me to the point where I became a funder (Patti Smith signature PONO).

    The reason: The promise of changing the industry …and I wanted to be a part of it.


    • I think the Pono people are in a position to transform the digital delivery of music. I’ve talked to them and am confident that they will be transparent about the process and supply a really great player.


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