Audiophiles: please rate/review Pono

Pono is a new MP3 player that uses uncompressed files. Does anyone have a firsthand product review?

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Is the shape in any way problematic? What about the menu’s and interface?

I’ve not actually seen or heard it, but it looks ungainly.

As far as “is it worth it”? I would say no. I think this is a not-too-subtle attempt to get you to rebuy all your music for way higher price for what will be very little noticable increase in sound quality over a well recorded CD ripped to FLAC or a good 320 mp3. I really like the idea of it, but I seriously doubt the quality jump will be noticeable.

I say all this without having seen/read/heard it myself, and certainly not done/see/read any double blind listening tests, which is essential for such comparisons.

Missed edit window but…
I should add that I HAVE done double blind listening test of HDCD and DVD-Audio and Super Audio CD vs regular CD a while back, and while in best case scenarios i could tell a slight improvment, it was generally only in live acoustical music that made the most difference. But not really enough to justify the costs. Also, I mostly listen to metal and electronic stuff anyway, in which I could not really tell the diff at all. YMMV

Did you have quality headphones? Like Bose or Beats or even better pair? I’ve heard the same, that without a 2K worth of audio equipment you can’t tell the difference between compressed and not compressed. Or, at least, the difference is so slim as to be almost non existent.

If I remember correctly, they were B&W speaker rig, but for the life of me i can’t recall the amp or pre-amp. The only thing that was different was the source devices. It was an audio-phile store’s listening room. The kind of place that tries to sell $10k speaker cables to idiots. So it may not have been 100% “double blind science”, since who knows what sort of other filters/enhancers/devices and such they may have wired into different channels to try and sell the more expensive stuff. But assuming good faith in their setup, I heard no difference to me to make it worth the investment. and barely any difference at all for the music I usually listen to.

Again, YMMV. “Go find one and listen for yourself” is really the only advice that matters when discussing audio device purchase decisions.

Robert: you asked about this in an earlier thread, and I didn’t respond because I have no first-hand knowledge of Pono. With that caveat in mind, I’ll say the following. From what I have read about it, and my general experience with audio (simply as a consumer interested in quality listening) I’d go along with the statement made by snfaulkner above:
As far as “is it worth it”? I would say no. I think this is a not-too-subtle attempt to get you to rebuy all your music for way higher price for what will be very little noticable increase in sound quality over a well recorded CD ripped to FLAC or a good 320 mp3. I really like the idea of it, but I seriously doubt the quality jump will be noticeable.
A big problem that plagued portable music listening in the earlier days was the combination of poor audio quality in some MP3 and AAC players (as previously discussed) and over-compressed audio files. I am no fan of over-compressed MP3s. But once you get to around 192 Kbps with at least 44.1 Khz sampling the difference from the original CD starts to diminish; at 256 Kbps it’s hard for most people to tell the difference, and at 320 Kbps it’s effectively the same.

Can you do better than CD quality? Sure. A lot of motion picture audio in modern digital formats like DTS is way better in a theatrical environment. Whether it’s worth it for music listening depends entirely on the quality of the source master and the proclivities of the listener. Personally I think most people would get more value out of a really good pair of headphones or home audio system than going the route of a new type of media player that requires you to repurchase all your music to get whatever subtle benefit it may offer.

Thanks guys :slight_smile:

I might also add that a lot of the quality of digital recording playback comes from the Digital to Analog Converter (DAC). So if this thing has a high quality DAC compared to what you are used to hearing, then everything will sound better and it might not necessarily be because of the higher quality (costing) music formats. So MAYBE the device MIGHT be worth it to you just for that, and just play the mp3’s you already have.

But again, I haven’t really researched this particular device beyond a quick glance at the cites and Neil Young’s appearance on Colbert when he released the thing a while back.

I think it’s misguided. The biggest bottleneck in sound quality is the headphones or speakers. (Assuming your electronics aren’t total junk and you aren’t listening to low-bitrate compressed files.) You shouldn’t be worrying about anything else until you have a very good pair of transducers.

Also, iPods and iPhones can already hold lossless CD-quality files (but they take up more space than AAC files, of course.) Any audible differences between 16-bit and 24-bit are very questionable and if they exist would only possibly be heard with the best headphones in a quiet environment.

The biggest difference I can perceive between uncompressed/lossless and high-quality MP3 or AAC tracks is a tiny (tiny) reduction in the highest frequencies; which is expected because a lot of lossy compressors use a low-pass filter at 16kHz. I work in audio and consider myself something of an audio enthusiast (the term “audiophile” has become tainted, IMO) but it doesn’t bother me. Can I hear the difference? Yes, maybe, if I’m in a quiet environment and I’m ABX-ing with good quality headphones. Am I usually listening to music in a quiet environment with expensive headphones? No. So I care far more about what I’m listening to than whether the last 1/3 octave at the top end is present or not.

I would say that the music player device is quite low cost, compare this to other non-compressed music players and its less than half, of most, and for the Astell & Kern ones very, much less.

I’m currently using a Sony NWX ZX1

This tends to rate at a minimum of 4 out of 5 on the audiophile sites - the newer brother to it is even more pricey but has more storage.

…and that’s really your problem, storage is absolutely critical if you are using large files, and it isn’t worth doing at all unless you use at the very least 320k MP3 - it has 64Gb plus it can take 128Gb card - so that should be ok.

Trying to find any specs on this is not obvious, its not on their website, I would have wanted to know what file formats it can handle.

It does not have wifi or NFS so you are going to have to use leads to connect it, so it isn’t really a device for sharing , swapping of gathering media. Basically when you go out the house you take out your music, and when you return you haven’t shared it with anyone, neither have you picked anything up.

Its also a kind of bulky shape, for someone used to the slim profile of a mobile phone shaped player this will be a disadvantage - they might have been able to offset this if that extra space were taken up with more battery life, but it doesn’t.

The finish is not anywhere near up to my Sony device, or most others - but then it is very much cheaper.

The question to me would be is it good enough for me to ignore the shortcomings and accept a little bit less quality for a lot less money.

To answer this question you have to ask who its aimed at, well definitely not audiophiles, its too cheap - and it does not have the build quality, however if its aimed at the iPlayer market, that’s totally different. I have no doubt it will sound better than iTunes files, its also cheap enough for the younger market.

It might turn out that the software and selection of available media is more important than the device itself - it would not surprise me, so before you judge it, take into account the website, the cost of media and the music management software.

I can honestly say that that the Sony software isn’t very good, its slow but at least it does not have the egrerious misbehaviour of iTunes which is notorious for taking over a users music collection. I do think the software is likely to be important, I hope its faster than my Sony player’s

Those control buttons on the front at going to be a pain in the backside, far too easy for catching on other things - they really need to put them on the side in countersunk slots - trust me on this. I really can see this being a big problem, in fact I would go as far as to say it could well be a deal breaker - that’s a shame because a non-audio issue is highly likely to handicap the sales of an audio device

Will it sound better than my Sony, or the other even more pricey players? Dunno I would need a double blind test.

One last point, I have mentioned my own device a number of times, if I happen to find music on the pono site that I like, and if I can buy download and play it on my current device, then there is no reason I would want to go out and buy the pono player.

They also should change the name of it too, I dare say that when people start doing searches for pono player, it will lead to some undesirable search engine returns, stupid stuff like this can lose sales.

Yeah, thanks fro such a good review, particularly for all the things i wouldn’t anticipate as being a problem…

In terms of marketing… I think for Baby Boomers/Gen X they are going to sell it attached to Neil young’s name and for Millenials they are going to sell it for the cheaper price tag.

I see serious problems with the buttons and shape, however… that looks problematic even at first glance…