Let's Make A Record!

And then there was Pono! Or not. Despite prompt denials by the folks at Pono, it now seems likely that the still mythical, high resolution music player will not be delivered to customers, who to date have kicked in $13 million via Crowdfunder and Kickstarter, until early 2015.

To those trusting souls, those Neil Young fans with more cash than sense, I say, go look up caveat emptor. You should have at least waited until the bugs were worked out. Or not.

Meanwhile, Young continues to stay musically relevant and cut his own completely unique path through the world. He and wife Pegi are getting a divorce after 37 years of marriage. And in a classic Young move, right after he patiently sat for interviews in Austin at South By Southwest (mine is on this site), he went to Nashville and sat in Jack White’s Voice–O–Graph machine and made a record of covers called A Letter Home. One of those make your own record booths that were a big hit in the Fifties, Voice–O–Graphs were all about novelty not audio quality.

So let's review: the guy who is promoting high-resolution audio one day, is deliberately making a bad sounding record the next. Again, it’s a classic Young move: do whatever you like whenever you like, defy expectations, give everyone the finger and maybe even hint at a little self–sabotage.

The deluxe boxed set of A Letter Home arrived the other day and it is suitably grand, containing a pair of 180 gram LPs, a CD, a DVD about the making of the record, and a hefty booklet. The coolest wrinkle, one typical of White’s Third Man Records, is a box containing seven, two–sided, smaller–than–a– 45, clear vinyl discs, of the kind that amateur songbirds once got from the original machine.

While the list of covers is unquestionably great— Gordon Lightfoot’s “If You Could Read My Mind,” Tim Hardin’s “Reason To Believe,” Springsteen’s “My Hometown,” Dylan’s “Girl From The North Country”—and Neil’s performances are all compelling, the man continues to be one of the finest singers in rock history, the issue here is with the brittle audio quality, which comes complete with a constant low rumble from the machine, lots of crackling and moments where the recording speed varied. I played all three formats and the sound quality is the same. Young himself has called this “an art project.” Key Stereophile contributor Jon Iverson pegged it as being “a contrived antique.” Like every other recording that ever came out of this booth, this one is a lark, a plaything, an impulse buy. While there is an antiquarian, historical vibe in the sound of A Letter Home that fans of wax cylinders and other early recording mediums will I guess appreciate, it’s a crazy rough ride sonically for everyone else. Generous trusting Pono contributors, this one’s for you!

Bill Leebens's picture

The White/Young appearance with The Booth on the Tonight Show was an embarrassment. Oh, well.

corrective_unconscious's picture

I took that bit as vintage photo booth recast as music technology performance art.

I'm not sure why that would reflect on the audio quality of the upcoming player, about which I'm agnostic for now.

Jackblues's picture

How was Jack White and Neil Young's appearance on the Tonight Show an embarrassment? I enjoyed it myself. The box set is a little expensive for my consideration, but I wouldn't mind having it.

Jack White love him or hate him (or somewhere in between) has did vinyl a big favor. Elvis didn't exactly invent Rock'n Roll, but without him
you have to wonder what would have happened, and when? It's the same with vinyl's resurgence, without Jack would it...?

Speaking of Mr. White, I noticed in the background of Michael's photo of
the those long haired hippies from England, a particular album that's
overdue for a review here or on Analog Planet.

bernardperu's picture

Robert, the dynamic range in the recording seems intact. That means it could really be an art project.

Does the cd convey more emotion than those with low dynamic range? Is the cd musical?

Is it a good sounding cd compared to the crap we get nowadays from rock and pop?

flatmap's picture

The writer claims, "Despite prompt denials by the folks at Pono, it now seems likely that the still mythical, high resolution music player will not be delivered to customers, who to date have kicked in $13 million via Crowdfunder and Kickstarter, until early 2015."

Do you have a reference for this claim? When you say of this proposed slide that "it seems likely" what is the basis for your statement? I'm not saying you're wrong, but the only information I have (from Pono) says that kickstarter commitments are being met and that people pre-ordered after that date will get their pre-orders in early 2015. I don't think they've ever claimed otherwise.

But you must have other credible sources, so would appreciate if you can please reveal them. Thanks in advance.

John Atkinson's picture
flatmap wrote:
Do you have a reference for this claim?

Robert Baird was referring to this on-line blog entry: www.showbiz411.com/2014/08/30/neil-youngs-super-mp3-player-pono-wont-be-coming-in-2014. Pedram Abrari, Pono’s EVP of Technology, added a comment that, regarding Pono players ordered during the Kickstarter campaign, "The first batch of about 10K units ships by end of October 2014, the second batch of about 5K units ships by end of December 2014." He clarified that it was units pre-ordered after the Kickstarter campaign ended that will be delivered in 2015.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

TNtransplant's picture

I have no info as to whether any Ponos will actually be delivered in Oct or not, but it seems that Baird's assertion is based on a less than reliable source who would appear to have misinterpreted a communication about non-Kickstarter units not being available until 2015. If that's the case I would think a stronger editorial comment or full retraction in the actual body of the posting is called for until a more credible source is found to back up Baird's statement. Thoughts?

gweadock's picture

I'm not sure why Mr. Baird refers to the Pono player as "mythical," but I can report that we will have four certified non-mythical players on hand for public demo at a Denver classical music concert this Friday (Sept. 12) to benefit Spinal Cord Injury research. Charles Hansen (of Ayre Acoustics) and I will be assisting with the demos. The event is listed in the latest Stereophile magazine (September), p. 16, and details are available at www.katiemahanfoundation.org.

flatmap's picture

At least there is a source, but it seems to lack a factual, or even a well-informed, basis. I guess you'd say it's mostly opinion.

So then, what gives Baird the impression that "it is likely" that the Pono will be delivered in arrears of the company's commitments? I gather that he takes the source at face value without any other confirmation. Of course we sometimes do this when an article closely reflects our own opinion and that propels us to jump to conclusions. Unfortunately this leads Baird to deride backers of the Pono kickstarter as having "more cash than sense." Rather it seems that Baird has "more unfounded opinions that facts."

Really this is a very disappointing post. And because many people are interested in Pono, no doubt it got a lot of page views. But I would think many may not come back for a second posting -- if we are looking for well-informed reports.