Pono: They Just Can’t Help Themselves!

Pono representatives were at the California Audio Show a couple of weeks ago. I could see them just outside the ballroom where I had my two tables and on occasion I would stop by and check out what they were saying. I must say that they had a rather slick setup. There were at least 6 Pono players locked into holders atop a gooseneck, clip-on holder. Attendees could stand in front of one of the players and audition some “high-res” music. The workers had no idea who I was and I engaged in a couple of conversations about the player and the PonoMusic service. To say that these Pono trade show workers were completely uninformed about the product and service that they were pitching would be a gross understatement. The first person I talked to was fairly new to the company so perhaps that’s why he didn’t seem to know anything about music formats, resolution, and high-quality DACs. The others should have known more…but if they did, they didn’t respond. They read the company line and passed out post cards to anyone willing to take one.

Here’s a photo of one side of the post card.


Figure 1 – One side of the post card handed out by the Pono representatives at the recent CAS6 event. [Click to enlarge]

Take a look at the information on the card. There’s the Pono logo at the top (BTW I like the logo…simply, elegant and memorable) and a headline statement to the right. It says, “High Resolution Music Store”. As you might expect, I reacted to that claim with a healthy amount of skepticism. The PonoMusic store offers virtually zero high-resolution audio tracks! How long can you keep denying the truth.

The bottom of the card continues the fantasy, “PonoMusic brings you the largest collection of Hi-Res music anywhere with over 2 million tracks”. I’d be curious to know who wrote the copy for the piece of advertising? Did Neil approve this message?

Here are the indisputable facts about the music available on the PonoMusic site.

They sell the same major label content as HDtracks and the other high-resolution licensees. According to the label representatives, they’ve delivered about 5000 “high-resolution transfers” of older analog masters…, which are not actually high-res sources…to the high-res retailers. These guys are all selling the same tracks. HDtracks does have a lot more of these high-resolution transfers because they’ve done deals with a whole bunch of small independent labels. David Chesky told me that the number was about 15,000 last summer. I can only assume that it’s increased to about 20,000…maybe?

So where does PonoMusic get the remaining 2 million tracks for their catalog of “Hi-Res music”? They claim to have the largest collection of “Hi-Res music” in the world. I’ve heard Neil Young interviewed a number of times and even spoken to him personally on a couple of occasions…he hates CD quality sound and always has. However, it turns out that all of the other tracks for sale on his “High Resolution Music Store” are ripped CDs provided by Omnifone, a UK company that specializes in ripping, converting, and tagging music tracks.

I thought that Neil and his minions had figured this out…I guess not.


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 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.

11 thoughts on “Pono: They Just Can’t Help Themselves!

  • Dan Volker

    It would be nice if someone would create a “Provenance” site, so that if we are considering a track or album on HDTracks, or Pono, or other similar site, we can check and find out if this music was just ripped from a CD….or…

    Is there a test that can distinguish a Ripped CD track from a real 24/96 track?

    I would expect that the test could look for harmonic differences between a ripped 16/44 music sample, and an actual 24/96 piece of music…there should be some graphic representation, that shows a different image when something is artificially up-sampled—a picture that shows too much symmetry or averaging…..and…. totally different transients…than when you look at the real recorded 24/96 or above?????

    • I’m working on it. is in development.

      • Daniel

        Dr. Waldrep,

        How goes the provenance database? That is something worthy of a donation or a Kickstarter campaign in my opinion.

        “I’m working on it. is in development.”


        • Admin

          I haven’t had the energy or resources to move forward on this project. Perhaps someday. Sorry.

  • Roland Lickert

    Dear Mark
    On another subject I try to pre-order your new Book but my safari web browser cannot connect to the bookstore at your website? Would appreciate your help in this matter .
    Regards from Roland

    • Roland, I have the programmers working on the eCommerce section of the website right now. In the meantime, anyone interested in the book can contact me directly at

  • How is an analog master not a suitable high-res source? What would you consider a suitable source for catalog music in otter to offer it in high res?

    It should be mentioned that Pono doesn’t shy away from showing the resolution of each album or track, and they are always the highest resolution made available to them. Many of them are indeed 44.1/16. However, as the masters are re-transferred, 96/24 and 192/24 flacs replace the lower-res version, and anyone who had purchased the 44.1/16 version is able to upgrade free of charge. It seems to me they are tackling high-res sales the right way. Other online music retailers have been known to up-res 44.1/16 files and sell them as 96/24. A 50 megapixel photo of a Xerox will never look better than the Xerox. I applaud Pono for selling everything CD quality and higher, and being up-front about what you’re getting.

    • Analog master tapes are generally 3rd or even 4th generations down from the original multitrack. The maximum dynamic range of a first generation analog tape is about 60-72 dB…that’s the best they can do. Each generation reduces it by 3 dB. So if real world dynamic range is a goal (and I admit that few commercial releases subscribe to that goal), then a 50 dB dynamic range shouldn’t be considered high-resolution. My definition requires the original recording format to be able to capture the fidelity of real life…120-130+ of dynamic range…even if you are unlikely to hear or reproduce music with those specs.

      Pono is crafty in the way that they talk about “the highest resolution available” and it’s true that as new transfers of standard resolution analog tapes (usually not the masters) become available they will upgrade you for free. But these still are high-resolution source or transfers. The bulk of their 2 million plus catalog are merely CD rips. If they simply said that they sell mostly CD resolution rips, I wouldn’t have a problem. But almost nothing on their site is actual high-resolution.

  • William Waldrup

    While you may be 100% right about the Pono Music Store and their downloads, I do love my Pono player which was developed by Ayre. Have you any comments about the hardware? Thanks.

    • Waldrup…have i mentioned this to you before how close that is to Waldrep. Must be a common ancestor back there somewhere. I’ve always regarded the hardware that Charles designed as first rate although the form factor and the interface is lousy in my opinion. I have a Pono and use my iPhone instead.


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