• The Audio Salon Pono Event Wrap-up

    Wednesday night at The Audio Salon was the first time many consumers had the opportunity to hear the PonoPlayer and Pono music on both headphones and full audio systems. Pono CEO John Hamm was on hand discussing where Pono has been, where it's at now, and where it's headed. Also at the event were representatives from Short Mountain Distillery serving up legal Tennessee moonshine and assorted beverages. Visitors were treated to fine photography from the likes of Bert Stern and Annie Leibovitz as they listened to, the unanimously agreed upon, great sounds of Pono.

    The evening started with a fireside type of talk from Pono's John Hamm. Originally John was going to speak at a gallery two doors down from The Audio Salon, the William Turner Gallery, incidentally the same gallery where Neil Young held his Chrome Dreams II album release party, but as people arrived at the event they gathered around John and it organically developed into a really cool talk with Q&A session inside the listening room at The Audio Salon. Once the talk started and people were able to ask all their questions, nobody wanted to stop and move to the other larger gallery. If it's not broke don't fix it was a phrase that came to mind.

    I was happy to hear John talk about delivering products on time to those who purchased PonoPlayers through Kickstarter. In John's previous life he shipped millions of products at Adaptec, Brocade, and Whistle Communications. He knows how to get things done and is continuing this leadership style with Pono. The usual questions about the provenance of music downloads through Pono was brought up once or twice at the event. John assured people that Pono will only offer one version of an album, the best version available. Pono will also publish all the information it has about an album's "life" previous to being offered for download, such as the original medium on which it was recorded (tape or digital). John stressed the quality of relationships the Pono team has with mastering and recording engineers and Pono's ability to get information customers want about the albums. One very important piece of information that consumers need to know is the version of an album they are purchasing. For example, there are several versions of the same album from most artists that have been around longer than twenty years. If Pono can publish all the pertinent information about the albums offered for download it will be a great step toward satisfying consumers. Throughout John's talk people were free to ask questions about anything that came to mind. I encourage those who attended to post their questions and answers in the comments to this article. I was going to record John's entire talk, but due to the fact it developed out of a chat with a few people I wasn't ready with my camera. I don't have all the information discussed in my head and would love help from those who attended.

    One of my highlights of the evening was meeting people who were either CA readers or had no clue that CA exists. One person who had never heard of CA was an artist named Miguelli. Miguelli is a guitar player and singer who has toured with Sheryl Crow, played with Shelby Lynne, produced Grammy performances, and released his own music. Miguelli is far more talented than my short description would lead one to believe, but this is a great reason for people to check out his music. I first notice Miguelli after John Hamm handed him a PonoPlayer. He borrowed a pair of Martin Logan headphones from another attendee and started to listen. Miguelli was almost in tears as he listened to music on the PonoPlayer. His emotional reaction to such great sound quality and great music was priceless. Later in the evening I sat next to Miguelli as we listened to several tracks from the PonoPlayer connected to a Constellation Audio / Wilson Audio system. As people cleared out Miguelli started to educate me on how the instruments we heard in the songs were recorded, placed, setup, etc… He even asked to restart a couple tracks so he could explain things to me and I could listen for them again. Listening to Elton John, Miguelli educated me about the guitars in use, the piano, the string section, and anything else that could be heard on the recording. This was pure joy. Listening to music through the lens of an artist rather than a crazed audio nut gave me goose bumps.

    After several songs it was my turn to give back to Miguelli. Most artists never have an opportunity to hear music on a several hundred thousand dollar audio system. I connected my laptop to a Luxman DA06 DAC and played some of my favorite recordings. I started with Nat King Cole's The Very Thought of You and continued to Buddy Holly's True Love Ways, Otis Redding's Dock of the Bay, and Shelby Lynne's Like a Fool. The last one, Like a Fool, is a favorite of mine but there's an instrument I could never identify throughout the song. Miguelli listened to the track with me and said the instrument in question is a stand-up bass being played with a bow that is dragged across the strings extremely slow. I was thrilled to say the least. Miguelli was in awe hearing these songs sound so good. He even asked for a little delay between songs so he could absorb what he had just heard.

    Near the end of the evening Miguelli told us about something he wrote that started as a musical but may be made into a movie. It's a story of an Italian immigrant who helps other immigrants. Miguelli seemed a bit nervous when he asked if he should play one of the tracks for us. The track was unfinished and nobody had heard this track outside the studio. Plus, Miguelli had never heard this track on anything other than headphones and studio monitors. He played the track for us and we all loved it. Singing about a certain Island, Miguelli weaved an interesting story into four minutes and poured his heart out singing and playing acoustic guitar. I hope someday we all have the chance to hear the rest of the tracks he has written for this project.

    There is so much more to say about Miguelli. Fortunately he has agreed to an interview for CA in the near future.

    The entire evening at The Audio Salon was filled with great music and great sound. While a main focus of the event was Pono, a certain person insisted on playing some Classical music from his mobile phone. This person was radio show host Dennis Prager. I've met Dennis a couple times and even had him over to my house to listen to music last summer when he was in Minneapolis for an event. Thus, I felt very comfortable suggesting Dennis was "way off to the right" when he asked if his chair was in the center position for listening. Readers familiar with Dennis will know his political views are right-wing to say the least. We had a blast while Dennis played tracks through the analog output of his mobile phone into a Devialet / Wilson Sasha 2 system and the main Constellation Audio / Wilson Alexia system. It was close to midnight before the listening stopped. Nobody really cared the source was a mobile phone. Dennis asked a question relating to the sound quality if he used another source. I simply said there was little he could do to make the sound worse than it already was. He smiled and said that's what he wanted to hear. He knew if he had the system at home it would sound even better.

    The event at The Audio Salon was all about music first and foremost. Pono is a Music company that happens to sell PonoPlayers to ensure the user experience is as designed. I had a terrific time listening to music and talking to wonderful people from all walks of life. Sharing our favorite songs and learning from each other was a real treat. Listening on The Audio Salon's systems in a terrific room helped pull every ounce of emotion out of everyone as we listened late into the evening. I wish all audio events were this rewarding.

    Event Photo Gallery

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    Comments 13 Comments
    1. firedog's Avatar
      firedog -
      But Chris, no direct comments on the actual sound of the Pono player? I assume you were listening to a prototype of the "Ayre" Pono player? How did it sound over hi-end headphones and a hi-end system? Hi-end? How did it sound to other somewhat comparable solutions you've heard?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by firedog View Post
      But Chris, no direct comments on the actual sound of the Pono player? I assume you were listening to a prototype of the "Ayre" Pono player? How did it sound over hi-end headphones and a hi-end system? Hi-end? How did it sound to other somewhat comparable solutions you've heard?
      I listened to the PonoPlayer on the larger systems. I've already listened via my JH13 IEMs. It sounds terrific. This was the unanimous sentiment by all who attended.

      We didn't have any other comparable solutions on hand to A/B, but that wasn't the goal of the event.
    1. DaQi's Avatar
      DaQi -
      The Pono Players (2 - one black and one yellow) that John had with him he mentioned in passing at one point in the evening were the original prototypes and did not have the new Ayre electronics in them. There were pretty beat up especially the yellow one. He assured us that the final versions delivered would sound better than what we were listening to.

      I think it was very important that John was clear that Pono was about delivering an excellent music experience and that they were first and foremost a music store that would ensure the integrity of that experience. When I asked him further about this and the Pono players. He was clear that they were a means to that end as there currently aren't other options that meet their objectives. At some point in the future when there are other players that meet their objectives they would stop making players as they are only a means to the end of ensuring the music experience.

      What a great event where the CEO of this company would come and spend time in a completely open forum answering any and all questions thrown at him and there were some tough ones. John was completely relaxed and sincere about the company's direction. This all assured me that the Kickstarter pledge I made was a good one and that I would be happy with the result.

      Hearing how the evening progressed I am sorry I left relatively early.
    1. freesteve's Avatar
      freesteve -
      curious on display tabletop, which speakers?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by freesteve View Post
      curious on display tabletop, which speakers?
      kef ls50
    1. Wildgift's Avatar
      Wildgift -
      It was a great event. John honestly answered a host of questions, ranging from Pono in cars to the UI to the upcoming store. I felt like my Kickstarter dough was in very good hands. Glad that Miguelli liked my Martin Logans
    1. woodford's Avatar
      woodford -
      Quote Originally Posted by The Computer Audiophile View Post
      kef ls50
      and the electronics?

      love the pictures generally- in the future is it possible to include captions with a short description of what we're looking at?
    1. The Computer Audiophile's Avatar
      The Computer Audiophile -
      Quote Originally Posted by woodford View Post
      and the electronics?

      love the pictures generally- in the future is it possible to include captions with a short description of what we're looking at?
      Parasound electronics.
    1. jim@peachtree's Avatar
      jim@peachtree -
      This is an important product for our industry. Old friends of mine from college days (I'm 63) know nothing about DSD streaming , High Rez downloads, or asynchronous USB , but they've heard about the Pono player.
    1. Drtrey3's Avatar
      Drtrey3 -
      Wonderful article and top notch photos. Thank you for the impressive work.

    1. Steve7's Avatar
      Steve7 -
      I'm jealous of the attendees! Chris - very nice photo of Marilyn Monroe's picture reflected in the red Wilson.
    1. Superdad's Avatar
      Superdad -
      Thanks for turning us on to Miguelli! I just listed to the three songs at Soundcloud (wish there was a way to download those) and bought the only tune he has on Amazon MP3. My wife is really going to dig this guy! Did he say anything to you about a full album in the works?
    1. JJJ's Avatar
      JJJ -
      Do they actually have any music for sale yet?