A Little Integrity, Please

I was taught as a young person to tell the truth, admit when you’ve made a mistake and to stand behind what you say and do. I can close my eyes and flash back to a heart to heart talk my Dad and I had when he said, “it’s hard to gain a reputation for being honest and having integrity but it’s really easy to lose them both.”

Today, I’m dismayed and disappointed by the actions of a certain person and high-end audio company. I’m not going to be specific for a couple of reasons. First, I don’t want to bring any more attention to them and their campaign and second, I don’t want to get into an argument. They don’t deserve the effort.

But what would you think of a company that seems to be a crowd sourcing addict? They’ve had tremendous success in raising large sums of money on the usual crowd sourcing sites by offering affordable audiophile gadgets. But their their pitch is over-hyped, contains factual inaccuracies and is just plain fuzzy when it comes to hard facts. Supporters of their campaigns have committed a lot of money to their “variations on a theme” concept without anyone ever having heard their devices! So it seems all the more curious that they’ve launched yet another campaign for another “variation” when several supporters of the first product campaign are complaining that they haven’t received the device that was promised to be delivered back in January!

But here’s where they stepped over the line…at least for me. Crowd sourcing sites require that you produce a short promotional video. The video tells prospective supporters about your project, explains the features, may include testimonials and other relevant information. However, how would you feel if company “A” ripped off someone else’s promotional video or portions of it? That’s not cool!

I noticed that they’ve changed their video and removed the original “appropriated” segment of the Pono promotional video. I’m guessing that Neil Young’s lawyers were not amused by the appropriation of the rock star testimonials and didn’t appreciate the humor of the torn up Toblerone candy bar wrapper in the foreground of the video.

So now, according to the update posted on the campaign, there are about a half dozen young people shown reacting to the “incredible life like sound” of the new device, which hasn’t even been built yet! I’m a little dubious when you notice that half of the people raving about the sound quality are wearing ear buds…like you could even make an evaluation with reproduction that limited.

And I flash back to the challenge that MAXD did months ago at Venice beach. They played a regular CD track and then their “processed” MP3 track and asked the participants what they thought. Everyone was over the top with praise about the MAXD processed version…in spite of the fact that the MP3 was juiced in the low and high ends AND 10 dB louder! You can read the previous post by clicking here.

It’s not hard to impress someone with a device if you don’t compare apples and apples. Just playing a track louder will usually do the trick. Disappointing..and misleading.

Company “A” is still using parts of the original video. The part with Neil Young’s “Harvest” album showing the background remains along with a lot of other album covers. And they are rapidly climbing their way to their new financial goal. I guess double speak, misleading marketing, theft of other’s intellectual property are all necessary parts of their strategy…and it seems to be working. And for a product that isn’t even built yet. It’s their way of pre-selling an idea for a product, take your money and then smile all the way to the bank. Hopefully, they will actually deliver the goods…whenever.

My Dad would be disappointed…but he’s been gone for almost 50 years. I know I am.


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 thoughts on “A Little Integrity, Please

  • Heartily agree. I saw that crowd funding campaign via an audiophile blog site that promoted it, but recognized the Pono video footage which immediately made me suspicious. THEN I learned they hadn’t delivered their goods on their previous campaign. But, to paraphrase their current campaign, they’ve learned a lot from that failure!

    They haven’t even finalized how the product will look or connect to an iPhone–and claim that’s so the users can decide? Doesn’t inspire confidence that you’re getting a thought-through product.

    Their marketing honcho who’s prominent in their video also gave me the creeps. My wallet stayed in my pocket. But I guess that didn’t stop others from rolling the dice. I just hope they get the product.

  • John Wolcott

    While I understand your frustration, Mark, please don’t wholly underestimate those of us who have been equally unhappy with MP3 hash for far too long. I also sent in a few hundred because it was a small investment toward raising the profile of hi rez music sky high. It didn’t matter whether they actually succeeded; as we’ve both agreed, the sound coming out of the speakers/earphones cannot be any better than what is fed into the front end. And if, in the final analysis, they fail, they will join those who sell files masquarading hi rez by selling statistics, whose products I already sadly own, as well as a small number of absolutely fabulous tracks (Cookie is a national treasure!) that will cause me in the case of fire to leave everything behind except my still new Benchmark DAC2, which, together with said files, makes my Thiel/Transparent/D’Agostino-era Krell system put out music today I previously never thought possible. So. Yes, there’s tons of hype, but it’s by no means limited to the guys selling Toblerones, and if their fund raising success prompts an overall improvement in recording quality, we all win, at least on balance. Speaking as a sample of one, I’ve learned a fair amount from reading your daily missives and look forward to more. The better we’re all educated . . . Cheers.

    • Thanks John…I’m looking forward to the Pono device and service and hope that I can connect with Neil and John about the audiophile interests. We’ll see. However, the other campaign that “plundered” the testimonial videos and “cleverly” pitched their own non-product by trying to associate with Pono should be avoided in my opinion.

  • I have backed earlier campaigns from this company and have no doubt the delivered products will match the hype. But I commented to the PR rep that there is a fine line trading on an established name and trashing the goodwill with too many products and variants. I think they are headed for a fall if not careful to cultivate their goodwill.

  • Yes, it was shockingly disgusting…. well, ‘shockingly disgusting’ is rather understatement when I first saw that preview video before the crowd sourcing site went live. I just could not believe what they had done. Blatant arrogance and shameless boasting mixed in the worst way possible.

    At least, they listened to people’s feedback and eliminated that troublesome part. But with the fact that they had already caught with abusing measurements to mock competitor’s products, I think they have burned a lot of goodwill and bridges at this point.

    That said, this is going to be only worse. Dedicated portable/computer audio market is growing fast with the advance of high-res audio, but the number of the companies jumping in is far more than the growth can sustain. When companies facing such competitions, it’s hard for them to keep their integrity since they have to survive/be profitable first. It’s just too competitive already to be honest enough.

    For high-end DAPs, we have usual suspects (iriver A&K, HiFiman) with some popular Chinese companies (Fiio, iBasso) and now Cowon is jumping with their new P1 Plenue high-res audio player. I really love Cowon (I spent a decade with their products for my portable audio needs), and hope they succeed, but the DAP market is really crowded, and its high price point does not inspire confidence. Now Ponoplayer is entering this market…. I only expect bloodbath as time passes.

    For USB DACs, again we have usual suspects (Audioengine, Cambridge Audio, Asus, Creative) and companies making professional audio equipments (M-Audio, E-MU, Behringer)…. and suddenly one audiophile company that used to make cables decided that they need to be in the hardware market, so here comes USB-stick-style DAC, which got really popular.

    Now even more companies making similar DACs and products. I think there are at least more than twenty companies making USB DAC targeting audiophiles (capable to decode at least 24/96) and priced below $500… even more if you count all of those professional audio companies which make audio interface with USB input, too.

    Worse still is that there are mega corporations will jump on this market. Sony is already in with Walkman 886 and ZX1 high-end DAP. And of course, they have these usb DACs priced below $1000 or $2000 with 1tb hard drive. LG advertised their latest G2 smartphone as an ‘audiophile phone’ with proper 24/192 playback, which followed by Samsung, which their latest flagships (Note 3, S5) are all capable of playing 24/192 natively. And now we have Apple trying to get in high-res audio market.

    There were, are and will be a lot of used car salesmen; their number will only grow as long as the number of the players is larger than what the market can sustain.

    • Hold on…it’s going to get interesting. I wish I could make a list of artists, labels, engineers, and producers that have embraced high-resolution audio production. I have been invited onto a NARAS committee with the mission to educate and promote high-res to the Producers and Engineers Wing….we’ll see.

  • Amen to that!
    I don’t think any of the crowdsourcing options out there would let anybody butcher their reputation. I know of one case when someone tried to do it and is now in jail for a long list of crimes. Stealing is one, Profiting from others’ work is another. Lying to your supporters is considered I don’t know how many kinds of crimes because you’re actually leading them to act according to what you offer… and that can’t be done without punishment.

    It’s sad to get to this issues, but it’s very impportant to know about them. Your Dad was absolutely right.

    • Thanks…these things are important.

  • I think you need to be more positive about the progress with hi res audio. Pono and the success of the fundraising campaign is good news. In a few months Apple will upgrade IOS to deliver it. A new iPod will not be far behind it.

    This is all very good news and it is happening in good measure because of your hard work and passion. You and so many other people have been beating the drum and educating consumers and industry professionals to get them to hear what they have been missing.

    Maybe it is not all the best that could happen, but it is a start. Once consumers begin to hear what is possible, even if it is not they best and they happen to hear good sound by accident, they will demand more. So lets take some joy in the baby steps. This little snowball that you and others like you have tenaciously compacted is starting to roll down the mountain. Be happy, even just a little bit.

    • I try to stay positive…but the hardware side is only half the story. We need more content that will play with greater fidelity in these new devices.

  • Tom6897

    Why don’t you partner with one of these designers and crowd source your own HD portable player? It might be a nice way to augment your income and take advantage of this HiRes boon!

    I send some money your way, you can be trusted right? :>)

    • It’s a possibility…


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