Dr. AIX's POSTS — 11 July 2014


I should be checking the Pono Kickstarter page whenever I write and update on their project. A reader alerted me to the changes that have been made at the helm of the Pono organization. The former CEO John Hamm is out as CEO and Neil Young himself is now the official CEO. An announcement at the company’s KS page titled, “Neil Young Steps Into CEO Role At PonoMusic” came as quite a surprise to me.

“PonoMusic has been a mission of mine for many, many years, and I’m more passionate than ever about the prospects for its success. I want to use my time and abilities to bring the fullness of music, as the artists created it, to as many music fans as possible.” So Neil Young is not only the head musician in charge of bringing back great fidelity to music fans but he steps in to run the corporate operation as well.

The announcement also included the elevation of the former outside counsel to the role of COO. “Rick Cohen, who will be responsible for the operational side of the business, has been PonoMusic’s outside general counsel since its inception – and a special advisor to Neil for over a decade. He is an attorney with a deep business experience, having been the Chief Executive Officer of the California Teacher’s Retirement System, which at the time was the eighth largest pension fund in the U.S., with assets over $12 billion.

“I am thrilled to be taking on this role, and will work closely with Neil and the extraordinary PonoMusic team as we prepare for our consumer launch later this year” said Mr. Cohen.

I haven’t corresponded with John Hamm in over two months (I spent some time with him at the AXPONA Show in late April in Chicago) and the announcement assures supporters that he remains an investor in Pono. But I have to wonder what transpired since the last email that I received. It described the craziness of finding senior level people to assist in the running of the company (these include Bruce Botnick as Head of Content Acquisition), securing a space for the new company and finishing the design of the Pono player. It turns out that the demo units that existed were the prototypes that were built by Meridian. Thankfully, they new Ayre designed Pono players are coming along now.

I won’t speculate on what could have happened. But it seems something shook up Pono after their very successful KS campaign. There are the typical niceties on the removal of John in the announcement.

“John Hamm will be stepping down as CEO of the company. ‘I appreciated the opportunity to lead the company and support Neil’s mission. I remain an investor in the company and look forward to the continued success of the movement’ said Mr. Hamm.”

‘We thank John for his efforts in advancing the company and its product for market launch’ said Mr. Cohen.”

I look forward to chatting with John and asking what he can tell me about the shakeup. If I’m able, I will share what I can. My gut tells me this does not bode well for their player.

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About Author


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.

(10) Readers Comments

  1. I agree Mark. When I saw this announcement the first thing that came to mind was this is the beginning of the end. time will tell. BTW, are you still planning on attending the Capital Audio fest?

  2. That spells doom for PONO being an independent brand. The number crunches must see it as a product and not a brand or music service. Perhaps they will sell out to Apple, as well as with Beats.

    • I will withhold judgement until I see what happens.

  3. Mark, please do not be negative about Pono. Regardless of your valid critical insights on both the meaning of hi-res(about which we slightly disagree,) and the Pono move, anyone or any organization that is serious about significantly raising the median level of publicly available music sound quality at this critical time for hi-fi and folk benefitting from increased musical involvement and rewards is to be supported and praised to the skies, Hi-res for the masses is our last chance to genuinely re-engage the public and generate the energy that made for joy and positive social change in the 1960’s and 1970’s. Lastly, if you read these comments, I’d personally appreciate a considered reply to the comments I’ve mad etoday and at other times. Why comment if not to get a response? Thank You.

    • I’ll see how this plays out. So far, I laud them for trying to “bring back” the fidelity of great music…but as far as I can tell it will be the same tracks that HDtracks and the others have.

  4. “It turns out that the demo units that existed were the prototypes that were built by Meridian. Thankfully, they new Ayre designed Pono players are coming along now.”

    Given Meridian’s provenance for making quality hardware I’m surprised you’ve come out with that statement.

    • Meridian does make some of the finest audio equipment in the world. That’s why Pono sought them out, met them and worked collaboratively for many months…even to the point of creating a few functioning prototype players. There were intractable business issues that prevented them continuing together. That’s when Charles Hansen and Ayre came into the picture.

      • Ahh, I see. Thanks for clearing that up.

  5. Mr. Young is known for veering off in different musical directions. He says that no one should take it personally. Perhaps his business instincts run the same way. I can read this as the number crunchers taking charge or Young trying to prevent the number rcunchers from taking over. As in national politics these days, too many on the right and the left are willing to arrive at a conclusion without knowing the facts.

    • I can’t speculate on what actually happened…and perhaps we’ll never know. I’ve met and spoken to Neil Young and I came to know John Hamm as a very dedicated, hard-working individual. I just think it’s going to be hard enough to make their deadlines and this can’t possibly help.

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