Dr. AIX's POSTS — 18 October 2015

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I was interviewed on Leo LaPorte’s “Triangulation” podcast show back in September. We talked about a variety of things including the Kickstarter campaign for the “Music and Audio” guide, high-resolution audio|music, and Pono. It was not a live interview and I’m not sure when they’re going to run it but I think Leo understood the importance of provenance.

On Episode 218, Leo interviewed Phil Baker, “the product guy”. He’s had a lifetime of experience helping companies…including Polaroid and Apple…bring products to the marketplace. Currently, he is the VP of Product Development & Operations at PonoMusic. Phil is the guy that helped Neil realize his dream of a state-of-the-art, high-resolution, portable music player. He engaged the services of an electrical engineer, an industrial designer, and Charles Hansen to pull together the Pono player. As I’ve stated previously, the $399 Pono player does a very good job of reproducing music. I have problems with the shape, the screen, and the interface but OK…the unit can deliver very good sound to a set of headphones. Are there better options? Yes.

And Phil Baker is the real deal. This guy knows his business and makes a very credible case for the hardware. However, Leo and I talked about the lack of real high-resolution music on the PonoMusic website. I told him the same thing that I’ve been saying elsewhere, 99% of the albums/tracks that Pono offers on its website are standard-resolution…not high-res. Neil knows that and so does Phil. That’s why they have the “Pono Promise”, which is supposed to give comfort to PonoMusic customers about the content that they purchase. It states that if a higher resolution version of a previously purchased album ever becomes available, Pono will upgrade your copy free of charge. Sounds like a great thing until your realize that the “higher resolution” versions don’t sound any better than the ripped CDs…except in rare cases. And the rate at which the upgrades are coming from the labels is a trickle…maybe 50 per month.

At about 1:04:00 into the interview, there is the following exchange:

LL: It’s one of the issues, of course…I’m not going to put you on the spot with this, but a lot of Pono music is just upsampled CDs, it’s not really…

PB: No, we don’t do it.

LL: You don’t do that.

PB: We don’t upsample. Nope, no Pono music is upsampled.

LL: Some people have claimed…but you’ll say right now that this is not true.

PB: That’s right. If we find something that was upsampled, it goes.

So who’s right? The “some people”…including myself…who assert that the vast majority of albums/tracks on the PonoMusic site are CD-res or Phil Baker who emphatically defended Pono and told Leo that none of the music is upsampled? We both are.

I agree with Phil, none of the music on the PonoMusic site is “upsampled”. They present their 2 million ripped CDs at the original sample rate…44.1 kHz. They DO NOT upsample the content they receive from their supplier in the UK (the people that do the ripping and tagging). It might actually help the fidelity if they did upsample the tracks…but they don’t. They present them at straight CD specs.

Leo simply asked the wrong question. If he had asked Phil what percentage of the music from Pono is CD-res vs. Hi-Res, Phil might have had some trouble answering. There are only 6000 or so new transfers from analog tape available on the PonoMusic site. They’re not high-resolution either…but at lease they exist in a high-resolution container.

So goes the Pono dance. The “world’s largest hi-res music store” isn’t the world’s largest and it doesn’t offer hi-res music. The devil is in the details.

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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.

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