Manufacturer's Response

Michael,

This is very well-written piece that provides a fair and unbiased assessment of Pono. Neil Young's mission was to turn the tide on compressed music and to save an art form that had taken a huge hit due to the immense popularity of MP3s and music streaming. What many music lovers never realized was the unintended consequences of this swing toward convenience. Unfortunately, compressed music became the de-facto standard for digital music and digital music became the de-facto standard for music. Since much of the nuance and detail of the the artist's creation is lost and never heard in a compressed format, this resulted in an apathy up the music creation and delivery chain, all the way back to the recoding studios. Why bother to perfect the music if no one will ever hear it? Music was further damaged due to the unnatural manipulation of its dynamic range to compensate for lack of audio quality. It was recognized long ago that people perceive loudness as quality and to make up for the poor audio quality due to lossy compression, the entire dynamic range of music tracks were made loud and this was the beginning of the "loudness wars". This is not unlike what has happened to our food due to the public's demand for convenience.

Pono believes in a farm-to-table model for music and this is why we had to tackle the problem from a complete ecosystem perspective. The weakest link in the music creation and delivery chain determines the quality you hear. This chain begins with the recording of music in the studio, to the mixing and mastering process for various delivery media, to the streaming/download process, to the digital playback device, to the preamplifer/amplifier, and ends with the headphones/earbuds or speakers used. Compressed music is tantamount to fast food. It satisfies your hunger but over time takes a toll on your health and your quality of life. People who care about what they put into their body prefer organic and unprocessed food - that's Pono! We believe in obtaining the studio master quality recording, what the artist heard when they created the music - the whole and untainted original - and delivering that directly to the music lover. Neil believes that the only way to save music from the compressed formats is through a grassroots movement that begins with the music lovers and the artists and hopefully will permeate the entire music industry. The Pono movement is a marathon and not a sprint. Pono has thus far been able to bring about public awareness to the fact that there is more to music than what we've been listening to. We hope that this awareness will have the rising tide effect and lift all hi-res boats. Neil's ultimate goal here is to save his beloved art form but we need everyone's help and support to do it.—Pedram Abrari, EVP of Technology, Pono


Dear Michael,

Thank you for deeply insightful review of the PonoPlayer. When I first heard about Neil Young's vision, I was nearly giddy with excitement! The chance to bring true high resolution music to the mainstream (and make it cool at the same time), was an opportunity that was simply irresistible.

There are two major barriers to traditional high-end audio equipment -- cost and knowledge. The first is obvious. An entry level system built around Ayre components starts at around $10,000 and after that, the sky is the limit. Every time I play my system for my friends, they invariably say the same thing, "That's amazing! I had no idea music could sound that good! When I win the lottery..."

The other difficulty is that even if I gave my best friend $500,000 worth of the best equipment in the world, it would sound terrible -- without an expert to set it up and dial it all in. I have often said that the setup contributes at least 50% to the overall sound of a system.

In one fell swoop, the PonoPlayer solves both issues. A good sounding pair of headphones can be had for as little as a few hundred dollars. And there is no tweaking involved; just put the headphones on, press "Play" and you are good to go. The most tweaking possible with the PonoPlayer is to replace the stock headphone cables with a pair of balanced headphone cables, because once you go balanced, there is no going back.

Many thanks to Neil Young for bringing his vision to the world. The feeling is back in the music again!—Charles Hansen, Ayre Acoustics, Inc. www.ayre.com

ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
deckeda's picture

If they can make a habit of giving new (and presumably better) versions of music to customers, for free, that's a huge incentive for many audiophiles of course because it addresses the common gripe. Even if done at a discount that still puts the music industry on its ear, who normally expect us to pono, er pony up all over again, each time.

That said, doing so would completely back up what they've been saying all along, that they're here to provide the best file available. You could even argue that over time such a policy would go a long way towards amortizing the cost of the player.

Reed's picture

I find a portable player didn't work for me. I tried a 120g iPod and still could only get a fourth of my library on it, ripped at 44.1. Once I get into having to on load and offload songs, I find I just won't use it. I found an album at 44.1 took up roughly a 1/2 gig of space. Higher rez files take up 1 gig plus. The Pono player would be roughly half the space of my iPod and the file are twice as big.

That's why streaming has such appeal to me. I tried Tidal, but there is clearly refinements needed to sound quality and playback options. I'm sitting back and letting the dust settle for now. The effort is commendable, however.

DECA's picture

I too have the Patti Smith LE #58 of 464. As well the SD card that had here albums was corrupted when connected to my Mac. Pono's solution was to use Disc Utility to repair the volume. Once I did that the SD card work fine. I have 2 128GB SD cards which is not quite user friendly. Hopefully higher capacity cards will become available.
I was also pleasantly surprised how good it sounded playing HR material (24/96, 24/176.4 and 24/192). I am using JH13 IEM with balanced Silver Dragon cable from Moon Audio.

Wavelength's picture

Michael,

Nice review I have to agree with you totally.

My take is out of the box it's a little confusing. My setup of course is not so typical and maybe worst case. The original version of Pono World Music would not install with the Pono connected. Luckily I did an update with it un-connected and got it to work... well kind of. It was able to update the Pono firmware and that was about it.

Luckily I had J River 20 (for which Pono World is based on) and was able to transfer all my files.

Headphones... first to me headphones are personal. I found a few sounded a bit light, but found my AKG K702 (64 ohms) sounded pretty good. I would test low impedance headphones before buying the combo, also low sensitivity hp as well. Well really that should be the case with any audio gear. Guys, girls go out and listen before you buy.

The good thing is that software can always be updated. I am sure knowing the team that this will be the case.

Thanks,
Gordon

DECA's picture

One more thing. It looks like there is no access to opening it up. Just wondering if or when a battery change is needed.

bernardperu's picture

"if I gave my best friend $500,000 worth of the best equipment in the world, it would sound terrible .... setup contributes at least 50% to the overall sound of a system." —Charles Hansen, Ayre Acoustics, Inc.

So Neil Young repeatedly testing the Pono in the sound system of moving vehicles smells like a deception? Is Neil Young a liar?

Is the term "marketing" an excuse to become a legal liar?

Why is so hard to find honesty (and a straight answer) these days?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Here's Pono's response:
"The battery is replaceable by Pono. Much like Apple. Lifetime will vary how it's used but typical life is 3-4 years. The battery is very high quality made by Samsung. Replacement cost will be less than $50."
Michael Lavorgna's picture
Here's the next paragraph from Charles Hansen:
In one fell swoop, the PonoPlayer solves both issues. A good sounding pair of headphones can be had for as little as a few hundred dollars. And there is no tweaking involved; just put the headphones on, press "Play" and you are good to go. The most tweaking possible with the PonoPlayer is to replace the stock headphone cables with a pair of balanced headphone cables, because once you go balanced, there is no going back.
While I don't mind grasping at straws, pulling quotes out of context to support your nonsense is just plain silly. I'd suggest going somewhere else.
jneber's picture

Michael, have you listened extensively to the Sony NWZ-A17? How does the Pono's sound compare to it?

bernardperu's picture

It would seem to me that context is perfect and that Charles Hansen is an honest man. He implicitly suggests Neil Young is a liar.

1) Neil Young is caught repeatedly on video testing the Pono in a moving vehicle. (no sweet spot, noise, etc). Do you test equipment on moving vehicles, Michael? Do so and watch your credibility go down the drain. Stand up for someone who does the same, and you may experience the same.

2) Those joining Neil Young in the moving vehicles are sound experts (musicians, producers). They get off the car and say: "Wow! This is awesome!" Of course they know music quality is not to be tested on the sound system of a moving vehicle.

3) Charles Hensen claims set up is 50% of the overall sound for gear costing half a million dollars. I imagine set up is even more important for inexpensive equipment. Noise, no sweet-spot is a part of the set up.

Would you care to explain me, Michael, why I am out of context?

PS: Wherever Neil goes to talk about Pono, he has a manager and an agent with him at all times. Are we really listening to Neil or he is just the voice of a carefully crafted business model?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...I've only heard the NWZ-A17 at RMAF for a very brief listen so I cannot offer a comparison.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
I reviewed the Pono Player in my listening room, where I listen to everything I review, and found it to be an exceptional sounding device, especially given its price.

So what the hell are you talking about?

jneber's picture

Thanks Michael. Are you planning to review of the NWZ-A17 any time soon?

bernardperu's picture

I am talking about Neil Young repeatedly testing the Pono in the sound system on a moving vehicles joined by celebrities with great listening skills and posting it on official Pono videos.

That is what I am talking about.

Pono is great. Ayre did it. But I am talking about "Neil", just like Pedram Abrari is....

Michael: Would you care to answer what you think about testing equipment on moving vehicles? Would the credibility of a reviewer go down the drain? At least once, can you address my main point?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
But that little Sony player interests me so ya never know.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
So do lots of people. Some people even spend money on their car's sound system to improve their listening experience while driving. Some people even use their Pono Player to listen to music in their car.

So what the hell are you talking about?

deckeda's picture

Michael, the Manufacturer's Response page isn't a "page 2" here. Got posted as it's own story, so there are comments orphaned there that belong here. Or has it already been done that way on these sites?

bernardperu's picture

Man, you are really trying hard to go nowhere here...

I am talking about TESTING equipment in a moving vehicle. I am talking about determining the quality of a sound device and Hi-Rez music on a moving vehicle.

I have Focal Utopia stereo speakers in my vehicle (the hell most pono user will be able to afford that! In the best case scenario, they will have a nice stereo system of 2K)

There is absolutely NO WAY that the Pono can sound better than my car CD player sending the digital signal to my car's DAC via coax.

Pono player was connected unbalanced via an analog 3.5mm output to a car stereo system, then, TESTED, and then, determined by the driver and passenger (both expert listeners) that it sounded great.

I am talking about TESTING and concluding that it is a great sounding device and that Hi-Rez is THE shit. I am talking about TESTING and CONCLUDING and SETUP.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Good catch. That's a known bug that we're (not me but you know what I mean) working on.
Michael Lavorgna's picture
...because I think it's silly.
Pono player was connected unbalanced via an analog 3.5mm output to a car stereo system, then, TESTED, and then, determined by the driver and passenger (both expert listeners) that it sounded great.
Yes, that's what the Pono videos showed.

So, you don't like their marketing? You feel that the people in the Pono videos are lying and that Neil Young is lying? I don't.

bwspot's picture

As cool as device might be it will be pointless as today's young generation is loosing hearing due to exposure to loud sounds.
People cannot hear up to 13000-14000hz and the true is all the beauty is beyond 14000hz. All those cool new devices produce sounds that are out of reach!!!

bernardperu's picture

My original intent was to hear from charles hansen. Would be nice to her from him.

Neil tells big truths and big lies. Does that make him a liar? If a persons steals once every month and he is honest all other days, is he a crook?

Michael, i am not trying to pick up a fight. I value honesty and make my remarks in that context.

fantgolf's picture

Remember that Hi-rez means that you hear more resolution at whatever frequencies you can hear. People seem to think hi-rez is about frequency response.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
But the Pono Player sounds great, high res played through it sounds great, so what is Neil Young lying about?
bwspot's picture

HI res is great but you cannot hear details below 14000 that are above 14000 no matter what hi res you have.

Beetlemania's picture

I can distinguish 16 from 24 bit but not 44 kHz from 96 or 192 kHz. But if someone else can hear the benefits of >44 kHz, more power to 'em!

fantgolf's picture

That's what I'm saying. If I can't hear above 14000 but enjoy listening to music, I can still benefit and hear the higher definition of hi-rez in the frequencies I can hear.

ashutoshp's picture

Hi Michael. Great review. three questions if you wouldnt mind:
1) Is there any difference in SQ between albums/songs downloaded from HDtracks and Pono Music or even TiDAL?
2) Since JRiver makes the software, which is great BTW, do I have to renew my membership every year as I have to with my non-Pono JRMC?
3) Can i use the PonoWorld JRiver MC with my other non-Pono audio gear?
3) I am not an engineer but I am very imaginative as you'll see ;)
To get around the fact that Pono does not have Wi-Fi, if I were to buy one of them wireless microSD cards (if available) that are used to download data, can I use that with the Pono Player to stream music from my computer or NAS wirelessly?
Thanks.

bernardperu's picture

Lie:

1: to make an untrue statement with intent to deceive
2: to create a false or misleading impression

Neil's lies:

1) To lead us to believe that it is possible to make an accurate assessment of sound quality on the sound system of a moving vintage vehicle.

2) To lead us to believe that a poorly mastered (with lots of dynamic compression) hi-rez track can sound better than a low quality master of a very good recording. He puts the weight of sound quality on file size instead of the quality of the recording. As you already know and have claimed in the past: the quality of recording matters the most by far and an MP3 of a good recording will sound far better than a hi-rez file of a poor recording (please see definition #2 of lie).

3) To present a carefully crafted business as a grassroots movement. His business model is the same as any well crafted start up and, most likely, they are aiming to sell it to a large and wealthy corporation. Wherever Neil goes, he has an agent and a manager to keep him in line.

4) Pono aims on making lots of $$ on the eco-system that sells the music and that is why the player is so cheap. This is a business. DR will not be posted. No warnings on dynamic range compression (loudness wars) will be given. The real cancer of the quality of the music will be there just in fine print (anyone said HDTracks?).

5) To lead us to believe that set up and a controlled environment is irrelevant to the testing of sound quality. Other than the moving vehicle, the Pono player was demonstrated in the middle of the street without the minimum requirements of silence and comfort leading to an appropiate state of mind to digest music.

6) Not to reveal the methodology to demonstrate the better quality of Pono player as shown on the Pono videos. It is easy to persuade an individual that sound is awesome if a great recording is used with appropriate volume. Sharing methodology is a must for any kind of research. Neil lies by not admiting to the fact that great recordings were used in order to ignite smiles from listeners. He is purposedly leading us to a wrong impression, as most people will remain ignorant to the greatest factor: quality of recording is paramount. (Bose uses great recordings that match their gear features in order to sell plenty of $$. Apparently, most people only pay full attention to music quality when buying equipment).

7) Not to reveal that Pono is only great if used in balanced mode. My guess is that only this balanced mode can truly reveal the superior quality of Hi-Rez (am I wrong, Michael?). Only audiophiles such as us will use this balanced mode. You will find this funny, but I have purchased a Pono and the accesory gear to listen in balanced mode. It is funny, but if I stopped buying from liars, I wouldn't even be able to purchase medicine or medical assistance. (something I love about the subjective hi-fi media is that they lie the least, and Hi-Fi manufacturers embody the best of capitalism -seriously!)

There you go. Neil's lies.

I could go on and on (I am an audiophile, business man, online marketing specialist). I could quote your own colleagues from Stereophile, but don't want to go there.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
To your questions:

1. I have not compared the same album downloaded from different sources but my guess is, with the high res releases, we are looking at the same source files regardless of the download site.

2. No, the software that comes with the Pono device will not require paid upgrades.

3. I don't think so. The Pono player is not a UPnP/DLNA device so even with a wi-fi card, it would not be able to recognize network-attached storage.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Your list strikes me as being repetitive, trivial, and you appear to take issue with the notion that Pono is a business that is out to make money. At least that's my take on it. But I'm happy that we got to the point where you explained your position in detail.

Do I think Neil Young over-promised on Pono? Yes, I do for a number of reasons the least of which being the fact that we all have different preferences when it comes to listening to music on the hi-fi so no one device, no matter how good or bad it is, is going to make everyone happy. Some people may in fact prefer listening to MP3s on their iPhone to high res on Pono. That's just the way these things work.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
To your questions:

1. I have not compared the same album downloaded from different sources but my guess is, with the high res releases, we are looking at the same source files regardless of the download site.

2. No, the software that comes with the Pono device will not require paid upgrades.

3. I don't think so. The Pono player is not a UPnP/DLNA device so even with a wi-fi card, it would not be able to recognize network-attached storage.

Beetlemania's picture

I think it's very interesting that you mostly listened to this as a DAC in your big rig. How cumbersome was it to listen to your digital collection which must be far larger than the Pono can hold? I hope Pono succeeds; I've bought two albums so far. The DLing process went smoothly other than a funky interaction btw JRMC and PMW. One was a 24/44 album for $12.29. Hopefully, we see more competitive pricing going forward (Pono, if you're reading this please make it easier to browse your catalog, eg by genre and, especially, by resolution).

bernardperu's picture

After a quick look at Pono, I partially deconstructed Neil's business model for you and tried to expose all lies that I could think of. I did it in a professional manner, just like if I had been hired to do so.

I forgot about one huge lie: He has led people to believe that Hi-Rez devices did not exist before Pono, and neither did the possibility to purchase hi-rez files online. This lie upset the audiophile community.

I am not opposed to making money, but I am highly opposed to dishonesty. Ethics come before everything else.

Last night, I spent hours reading Rob Watts' posts on Hed-Fi.org (the creator of Chord's Hugo, which I own). Man! He is really a guy who deserves to be admired! Nothing wrong with having firms who are owned by idealistic capitalists (like Magnepan). Those are the business models to be looked up to.

Here a good book recommendation (by the author of Flow):

http://www.amazon.com/Good-Business-Leadership-Making-Meaning/dp/014200409X

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I listen to albums at a time, not tracks, so I just loaded a bunch of albums onto the player. If there was something else I wanted to hear that wasn't on the Player, I just copied it over.

I hope Pono succeeds as well. So far, so good.

Frank's picture

My preference for this device would be FLAC + DSD for the car. Thanks Michael. You are one of the few honest ones out there. So many negative reviews from people who don't seem to understand the purpose.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
I don't understand all of negativity related to Pono. One guess is a negative article on Pono tends to attract a lot of attention.
Frank's picture

Michael you are in my opinion one of the best reviewers in the biz. You get to the point and say it like it is. Plus anyone who praises the new digital version of Springsteen's Born To Run cannot be all that bad.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Time for some "Born to Run" in high res.

Cheers.

Frank's picture

Bob Ludwig's treatment of The River is a worthy listen as well. Even Born in the USA sounds better. Far more instrument separation than before. He did a good job. The vinyl versions could be interesting, but I have gone 100% digital and tragically sold all LPs. Ironic digital to analogue vinyl. Welcome to the 21st century!

Headphone Nut's picture

As if I needed another piece of audio gear (!), but having lurked around the various sites and reading your great review I took the plunge and picked up the Pono Player at a local Frys this weekend. I have the same DAC chip in my Burson Conductor SL so I sort of knew what to expect, but really, the Pono is much better than I had anticipated. I won't be messing with the Pono PC software as it is so simple to just copy my FLAC files onto the Pono using drag and drop from Windows. Sonics-wise, the Pono delivers in spades. Super natural sound with great soundstaging. Not sure I need my server and the Burson anymore. Seriously.

macaronian's picture

My early entry into the Kickstarter campaign produced a Pono Player for only $200, leaving extra dollars to replacing my Sennheiser HD595's purchased 20 years ago for $240. Which still sound very satisfying with the Pono, even better with the Ray Samuels The Hornet amp.

I'll be watching to see how the marketplace for HD music is moved forward by the Pono effect.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
While I'm not surprised that not everyone will enjoy the sound quality of the Pono Player or high res audio, I think Mr. Pogue got a little carried away with his conclusions. There's that emotional response at work again ;-)
ktracho's picture

I have a few questions:

1) Can the Pono Player be used as a D/A converter, e.g., your MacBook serving music from your NAS or an internet radio station to your Pono Player, or do you have to copy music to the Pono Player first before you can listen to it?

2) Can you download and use the PonoWorld Music app to listen to music on your PC even if you don't have a Pono Player, e.g., as a replacement for iTunes?

3) On an unrelated subject, do you have a pointer to an article on what's the best directory structure to use when storing music files on your NAS? I want to be able to access my music from iTunes as well as other music player software, depending on what computer or device I'm using.

Michael Lavorgna's picture
...you cannot use the Pono Player as a DAC. You can only play music from its internal storage or microSD card.

2. I actually don't know but you can give it a try for free - Pono.

3. I do not have a pointer article on directory structures for NAS but if you plan to use iTunes, you can certainly let it handle that task. Other player software can then use this same structure.

ktracho's picture

Thanks for your reply. If they could add this functionality (using it as a DAC), whether as an update or a new model, it might be a winner for me. As it is, I have two DACs, but they cannot handle sample rates higher than 48K. As you can see, I'm in need of an upgrade, but at this point in time, I don't want to have to buy two devices, though I suppose I could continue using my old DACs for streaming and internet radio, and the Pono Player for high res music. Still, that's two devices, when it should be easy to design one device that handles both functions. So close.

At the time they announced it, it couldn't handle DSD, so that was another strike against it. Now it's twice the price, but it still wouldn't be a full replacement for my DAC. The more I wait, the more things come down in price. At least I have a nice Steinway grand for those times when I want to enjoy high res music. One of these days, I'll get around to hooking up my Rega P25 and Stax headphones.

I just downloaded and installed the PonoMusic World player. Somehow it found some high res tracks I got from HDtracks a while back, which is the only music I have on my work computer. I have no idea where the files are on my drive, but I'm listening to them through my ancient DAC. Unfortunately, this will only work until the end of March, which is when the Pono app expires. If I can figure out how to make it work indefinitely, I might be able to still participate in their ecosystem.

Thanks for the tip on storing files.

drblank's picture

A company called Coppertino has a new product that's going to be out soon for the iPhone called VOX. If you look at the photo on their website of an iPhone 6, they have a song being played and it says at the top of the phone FLAC 96/24. So, what does indicate? That the new iPhones can play 24 Bit files and these guys are going to take advantage of that ability, plus adding FLAC support. CMMMMMMMMMMMMM...... Imagine that.

Here's the link

http://coppertino.com/vox/iphone They only have a wait list because Vox for IPhone hasn't been released yet.

stevebythebay's picture

http://9to5mac.com/2015/02/02/ponoplayer-vs-iphone/?utm_source=feedburne...

Have to agree that a better set of phones are needed to reveal what's the good, the bad, or the ugly in "hirez" devices. But the source is paramount.

stevebythebay's picture

previos pointer is to article "Neil Young’s “HD Audio” PonoPlayer put up against iPhone, results fall flat" at the 9to5Mac site.

DECA's picture

Latest firmware now supports DSD. Also fixes issues I was having with HD Track aiff files.

audiobill's picture

So is this dreaded thing dead?

Michael Lavorgna's picture
Mine still works like a charm.
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