Dr. AIX's POSTS NEWS — 26 August 2015

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There’s big news today at Pono. They sent out a couple of emails to members of their community…I received them both because I have a Pono player and I have downloaded a number of items from PonoMusic during the research project that the Associated Press did on their offerings.

The first email was a tech update announcement. “PonoMusic World 20.0.100 will expire on September 1, 2015. This means that you will not be able to open the application. Click here to download the new version, PonoMusic World 20.0.133” No big deal here. They’ve been doing some normal bug fixing and upgrading to their software and have tweaked the PonoRevealer, the system that let’s listeners compare the same file at various resolution. I found the whole Pono experience somewhat perplexing …it took a couple of tries to get the thing working. As for the PonoRevealer, it was also a bit of an effort…and not one that’s really worth it.

The second email is full of the same marketing spin that Pono has been pushing on unsuspecting consumers since they launched their site late last fall. They keep insisting that they’re doing what’s right for quality conscious music lovers. Here’s the basic gist of the “breaking news”:

Remember the PonoPromise? Because they love and appreciate the Pono community of music lovers so much, “all music purchased at PonoMusic will be upgraded for FREE when a label offers a higher resolution upgrade of the same recording”. THAT IS THE PONOPROMISE, they proudly brag at the opening of the email! And it’s a completely empty promise! What they’re tell their customers…the ones that are paying big bucks for ripped CD…is that if and when the big labels get around to transferring another analog tape from their vault (hopefully the right tape and not the safety copy or EQ’d vinyl LP version), the good folks at Pono are going to swap out the CD spec file for the new transfer done from the standard-res analog tape. I call these “high-res transfers” and I’m actually all right with them offering these files for sale at premium prices because they do represent the very best we’ll ever get of those classic albums.

But the sad truth is that the labels are moving very slowly through their catalogs. They issue about 10 new albums per week. Let’s see…there are three major labels, which means Pono will be able to upgrade around 1500 albums (30 per week times 52 weeks per year) per year. That’s 1500 albums out of their total catalog of “over 2 million”. Not very encouraging if you ask me.

The email continues…

“People have had to deal with changing and eroding quality formats over the years, starting with vinyl, then eight tracks, cassettes, CDs MP3s and now streaming services. Music lovers have been forced to buy or ‘rent’ their music over and over and over again. We here at Pono, think that sucks…But with Pono, those days are over.”

Wait a minute! This is exactly the problem. Customers that have purchased their music in the past in various formats have been assured repeatedly that all they have to do is buy their favorite music one more time. Pono is asking that you purchase your favorites one more time from PonoMusic and you’ll never have to do it again. Because eventually the labels are going to get around to transferring the entire catalog of 2 million tracks. But at the rate of 1500 per year, it’s going to be a very long time until your favorites will be available.

But Pono has a solution for that too.

Stay tuned.

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About Author

Dr. AIX

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. Mark, In some earlier posts I was under the impressing that the labels were setting the selling price of the high-res transfers that the distributors are charging. But it has come to my attention that Pono is now selling their files at significantly lower prices. IE
    Linda Ronstadt – Just One Look. 24/96 HDTracks and Acoustic Sounds $26.98 Pono $22.49
    Jethro Tull – Aqualung Steve Wilson Remaster 24/96 HDTracks and AS $17.98 Pono $14.99
    These are not isolated cases but just examples of what the pricing differences are pretty much across the board.
    Do you think Pono got special pricing for purchasing the complete CD 16/44 catalogs that HD and AS aren’t carrying or is this maybe the beginning of a price war? We can only hope. 🙂

    • The labels get a fixed amount for the albums and it’s the same for all of the licensees. Any discounts come from the site’s side of the money. If PonoMusic is underselling the other sites, they are making less money on each sale…maybe even nothing or less. I get the feeling that Pono is hurting and trying very hard to gain market share by undercutting their competitors.

  2. Would it perhaps also be fair to suggest that with deteriorating master tapes rotting away in the vaults, and elsewhere less secure, those Pono CD rips may actually prove to be better quality than the apparently new and improved masters that may, if labels can be bothered, eventually replace them? The supreme irony being that the content of a format Mr Young so eagerly slated, yet now avidly sells, just might contain the best masters we can ever hope for of quite a wide cross section of historic repertoire, including his own recordings…

    Recent experiences with ripped CDs of my own suggest that CD might actually end up being the best long term bargain in audio. With the hipsters, and Michael Fremer et al, so enthusiastically promoting vinyl, there’s little love out there for the CD, and yet with a pretty decent modern DAC I’m hearing sound that I would never have imagined was on the silver platter. It’s much the same level of revelation as record collectors experienced when high end turntables arrived in the hifi stores in the 70s and 80s.

    So while I’ll take Pono’s “you’ll never have to buy it again” claim with a suitably huge pinch of salt, I’ll sit back and listen to what’s embedded on my CDs and be quite content. I think history will end up being very kind to the good old compact disc.

    • It is possible that a CD spec version of an album could be “better” than a new transfer of a safety copy of aging analog tape. And I do know that certain transfers have been done from less than ideal sources. However, in general the tracks that are made from analog tapes have the potential to be better than the same album in CD fidelity. But we’re talking very subtle differences.

      • And the issue being, as stated in your blog Mark, whether a sizable number of albums will ever get the remastering treatment again.

        • Exactly.

    • I’m with you Chris. CD’s of all the classic rock titles are available for next to nothing, I’m buying them for .99 + $2 shipping off ebay and penny’s in the used thrift stores. Many are from the 80-90s before all the loudness wars compressing.
      I recently upgrade my headphone system with a Emotiva DC-1 DAC-Amp and Senn HD 650 headphones. I too am amazed at the sound I’m getting. As far as I’m concerned I’m cleaning up on building my catalog.

  3. 2,000,000 albums divided by 1500 per year equals 1,333 years! Yup, gonna take a while.

  4. I became a Pono Kickstarter supporter last year. I truly believed in the promise of Pono and what Nell Young was saying about sound quality and the state of music in general.
    I was amazed that such a small device could have such a rich and warm sound,when played on my home set up.
    But Ive also have a IPhone 6. And yes,I know and have heard all the knocks against Apple and the AAC process .
    I am a audio/videophile, and so I wanted to make some real basic and very unscientific A/B comparisons,between the Pono and IPhone 6. I used the same Sony headphones, and the same music material for both units,and at roughly the same volume settings. And after listening to both my opinion is that yes,I feel Ponos larger music files do tend to sound a tad warmer,with a better and deeper bass response. But the IPhones sound was not that far behind either. Yes,it sounds a bit brighter and the bass response needs some work,but the differences in sound quality between the two units was fairly small. So could a “non” audiophile,who plays music via a wireless speaker or cheap headphones or even in the car,hear the difference between “HI Rez” and AAC? Probably not. Perhaps I could,but I would have yo listen very carefully to do so.
    When Pono started NY made some comments about the service and company. He mentioned he doesn’t expect Pono to always build hardware and would be very satisfied if Pono does nothing else but open up the discussion about HI Rez and better sound quality, and would be open to Ponos technology used in other brands hardware at some point.
    So did NY leave himself and Pono an out.over a year ago ,just in case things didn’t work out? Maybe.
    But the bigger issue is their cash crunch. Its one thing if they don’t have money to expand operations to other markets ,but do they have money to keep their business running? Do they have money to pay salaries,business expenses ,benefits,vendors etc. Can they get a new CEO?
    Seems like a Catch 22. Without funding they cant expand into new markets, and without expansion,they will not have the funds to stay in business.
    This upcoming holiday season could very well be a make or break time for Pono.

    • The Pono device is a good player…not a great player compared to a home system. It’s the contrast between the lofty pronouncements of their celebrity leader and the reality of the CD rips that they peddle that irks me.

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