Pono PonoPlayer portable music player

In the 1960s, musical giants walked the earth. I vividly remember the first time I heard a song called "Expecting to Fly," in a UK record store. The vast, reverberation-drenched sound was extraordinary; the frail, shaky alto voice of the singer riveting.

"Who is that?" I asked the clerk.

"It's a new American band, Buffalo Springfield . . . but they've already broken up."

I bought all I could find of the Springfield, which wasn't much, and learned that the singer and composer of "Expecting to Fly" was a Canadian, Neil Young. Young's first solo album, released in 1969, had more of that magnificent, spacey sound, courtesy of arranger Jack Nitzsche; I bought the LP on the first day of release and, over the next few months, almost wore the grooves out. But Young set a precedent for his career by disowning that album; since then he has continually reinvented himself musically, sometimes even before the paint was dry on the current incarnation.

The Loner
Young's disdain for CD sound is well known, but it still came as a surprise in 2013 to learn that he was backing high-resolution digital—in the forms of a portable device, the PonoPlayer, and a download site, PonoMusic, which would feature a proprietary file format. Development of the player was to be financed with a Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign, which ended up raising $6.2 million. Details of the hardware and software were sparse, but we learned more when PonoMusic was launched at the 2014 South by SouthWest Festival (footnote 1). "Our machine is maximized by Ayre Acoustics to be the best it can be for what it is," said Young. "And it's sized appropriately to hold a couple of key components. We do one thing and we do one thing well, and that's make a great-sounding player, and supply the best-sounding files possible of the record, exactly the way the artist made it."

At the 2014 Consumer Electronics Show, it was rumored that PonoMusic's file format was to be sourced from England's Meridian Audio, but it was announced at SXSW that music would be offered in the popular lossless FLAC format at sample rates up to 192kHz and with a 24-bit word length. Some skeptical writers have proclaimed that releasing music in high resolution is unnecessary. On the Gizmodo site, for example, one Mario Aguilar said that people shouldn't buy what Neil Young was selling, proclaiming, "to the human ear, audio sampled above 44.1 kHz/16-bit is inaudibly different" (footnote 2). Later, it emerged that Aguilar had never actually heard high-resolution files through the PonoPlayer, and had based his skepticism on a since-discredited 2007 AES paper by E. Brad Meyer and David Moran.

Then, when the PonoMusic website was launched at the end of 2014, advertising that it had the "Highest resolution music available for over two million tracks and growing," it became apparent that the majority of the music on offer was standard-resolution CD quality. Nevertheless, with our experience of true high-resolution playback, we didn't see why the Pono project wouldn't be successful. As Jason Victor Serinus reported in his December 2014 "As We See It," "Neil Young didn't manage to raise $6.2 million for his Pono system simply because he was a rock idol; he succeeded because he promised people what their hearts and souls cry out for: better-sounding musical playback."

After the Gold Rush
In late January, Michael Lavorgna reviewed, for our sister site AudioStream.com, a sample of the PonoPlayer he had purchased during the Kickstarter campaign. I refer you to that review for a detailed description, but in brief, the PonoPlayer has a triangular, Toblerone-bar shape, with a small color touchscreen at one end of its front panel. This screen's orientation rotates: no matter how you hold the player, the images are always right-side up. Adjacent to the screen are three touchbuttons, labeled "+," "O," and "–." The first and third buttons adjust the playback volume, and wake the screen from sleep. The center button acts as both a Pause control and as access to the settings menus; longer presses put the player in Sleep mode, and power it on or off. All other functions are accessed by touching and swiping the screen in a manner that will be unfamiliar only to those who haven't used a smartphone.

On one triangular endplate are two 3.5mm stereo jacks, labeled Line and Headphone, but the mode in which these are used can adjusted from the Settings menu. Between the jacks is a blue LED that illuminates when a file downloaded from PonoMusic World is played, in order to assure the listener of the file's provenance. At the other triangular end of the player are a micro-USB port and a triangular door, the latter allowing you to insert an auxiliary 64GB microSD card, to expand the Pono's 64GB internal memory to 128GB.

Audio files can be loaded onto the PonoPlayer using the PonoMusic World desktop application, developed by JRiver and available for Windows and MacOS. Files can also be transferred to the player as a USB storage device by dragging and dropping them in the usual way. (When you connect the PonoPlayer to your computer, the player's internal memory and its microSD card appear as separate drives on your desktop.) I installed PonoMusic World 20.0.50 on my MacBook Pro; the first time I ran it with the player connected, it updated the latter's firmware to v.1.0.4, which supports gapless playback.

A single charge of the PonoPlayer's rechargeable battery gives up to eight hours' use, and the player accepts all common file formats (see "Specifications"). The PonoPlayer's circuitry was developed by Charles Hansen and his team at Ayre Acoustics; the DAC is an ESS ES9018M, and while this chip is used for 24-bit PCM playback up to 192kHz, it does support DSD. It was announced at CES 2015 that the PonoPlayer will soon offer DSD playback.

Listening on the move
With PonoMusic and the PonoPlayer being so identified with hi-rez recordings and playback, I am pleased to report that CD rips sounded excellent through the player. An album that has been growing on me since engineer Jim Merod handed me a copy at the 2013 T.H.E. Show Newport is the Mike Garson Trio's Wild Out West (16/44.1 ALAC files ripped from CD, BluePort). I am a fan of Garson's solo recordings for Reference Recordings, but on this live set the pianist is part of a classic piano trio, with double bass and drums. There are two takes of Miles Davis's "Nardis": one with the trio that rips along, and a second, more contemplative one with Garson alone. When I listened to both versions of this classic tune through Sennheiser HD650 headphones plugged into the PonoPlayer, Garson's 9' Yamaha grand was reproduced with convincing directness, and the bass solo in the first take had an excellent combination of the body of the instrument's tone and the notes' leading edges. Perhaps the cymbals sounded a touch too sweet—but my Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival recording of Brahms's Piano Quartet 2 in A (ALAC master file for Encore, Stereophile STPH011-2) sounded similarly rich and sweet, without the highs being rolled off.

As I mentioned in the booklet notes for this CD, the stage setup for the 1997 Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival had been changed from previous years, optimizing the sound for the audience at the expense of what the microphones would pick up. In the mastering, therefore, to "wet" the sound, I used a Lexicon PCM 90 digital reverberation processor set to match the acoustic of Santa Fe's St. Francis Auditorium. The PonoPlayer was sufficiently transparent to allow me to hear the artificial reverb tails, and, to my relief, after not having listened to the Brahms recording for several years, they didn't sound unnatural. "To be natural," Oscar Wilde said, "is such a very difficult pose to keep up." The PonoPlayer kept it up.



Footnote 1: See Robert Baird's report.

Footnote 2: See the Gizmodo review, Michael Fremer's response, and Michael Lavorgna's more considered comments.

COMPANY INFO
Pono
1501 Mariposa Street, Suite 312
San Francisco, CA 94107
(800) 611-0580
ARTICLE CONTENTS

COMMENTS
tonykaz's picture

Phew, it's been a long wait but it's over now, thank you Pono & friends.

We now can have all that (recording studio) quality in the palm of our hands.

Only $400, not the $2,400 of the Astel & Kern, no-sir-ee.
Downloads: a bit higher priced but it's worth it, isn't it? ( close to $30 for 24/192 vs $12 for the low [dismal] quality 16/44)

For a $650 fully equipped set-up ( mentioned in article) a person gets superb Orchestra Hall seating whilst sitting on a free park bench in Central Park NY,NY.

Thank you Pono, you're the only one that would bring this to us.

Tony in Michigan

ps. General Motors new entry level cars are also perfect, just as good as the finest Rolls Royce, it's been the dream of GM for decades, finally realized.

dalethorn's picture

In most portable use, the marginal audible advantage (if any) of 24/192 over 16/44 does not justify paying $30 per album compared to a typical $10-$12 for the CD. In most portable use the background noise, even with average closed-headphone isolation, masks the best detail even from 16/44 let alone 24/192. So for me the advantage of the Pono will be the ability to easily move from room to room, or to the car at key listening places when parked, or to hotel rooms - and all of these assume undistracted listening.

eriks's picture

You are missing most of the point of Pono and HD music my friend. First, you really should just listen to the Pono, it is a great headphone amplifier and DAC at any resolution and at home or commuting. Secondly about half of the reason to support HD music is about the quality of the mastering process. Records sound better than CD's because the LP master was often done for the audiophile while CD's for the masses. By supporting HD Music we are saying we care about the quality of the product. The bits and sampling frequency are the least important part of the discussion to a lot of us.

dalethorn's picture

I don't disagree. My only real point is when you look at the portable devices forums the gear quality is usually oversold, heavily even. In any case, I highly recommend that people obtain the best resolution (and other qualities) music tracks they can get, preferably NOT in any proprietary formats, and back the stuff up RAID style so they don't lose it. I could have benefitted from that advice myself many times.

eriks's picture

I cannot disagree there has been a lot of hyperbole written lately about high resolution music, but they are mere "pecadillos" says I!

What sin is there in a little subterfuge if it saves a person's immortal soul?

ActorCam's picture

In the article, Atkinson mentions a "discredited 2007 AES paper by E. Brad Meyer and David Moran" which found no audible differences between hi-resolution digital files and 16bit/44.1k versions of the same files. I recently read this article and the science seems very sound to me. I've read where people say the test is flawed because listening in a blind listening environment somehow alters our ability to perceive audio properly, but I've never seen a scientific reason why this would be so. Since one of the claims of the Pono player is that hi-resolution files are audibly superior to CD-quality files, I wanted to know if there's a scientific study that demonstrates this.

John Atkinson's picture
ActorCam wrote:
I recently read this article and the science seems very sound to me.

Read the ITU guidelines on how to design and conduct blind tests where the differences (if they exist) are small, ITU-BS.1116-3: at www.itu.int/rec/R-REC-BS.1116-3-201502-I/en.

In my opinion, Meyer and Moran failed to follow any of these guidelines—untrained listeners; failure to validate the test protocol with differences known to be audible; failure to validate that the music examples were capable of revealing audible differences; no validation of the hardware used in that it actually did what what was claimed for it; inadequate listening environment and system, etc—hence their test produced meaningless results. Bad science performed by two non-scientists. No valid conclusion could be drawn.

ActorCam wrote:
Since one of the claims of the Pono player is that hi-resolution files are audibly superior to CD-quality files, I wanted to know if there's a scientific study that demonstrates this.

See this paper, presented at the 2014 AES convention in Los Angeles last October: The Audibility of Typical Digital Audio Filters in a High-Fidelity Playback System, www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=17497.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

jmsent's picture

And isn't this what we're really talking about with Pono? Small (if any) differences for big bucks, heavily dependent on many factors besides the format and the hardware. I just subscribed to Tidal. With access to 25 million plus songs at CD quality, there's an interesting aspect to it: in many instances you get access to multiple versions of the same album. Often you can play the original, a remastered version or even more than one, the "special editions", collections, etc. And there often is a big audible difference in the sound of these different versions which the standard 16/44.1 format resolves quite capably. Is there as large a difference between, say, a 24/96 "hi rez" file and the identical file downsampled to 16/44? In my experience, the answer is no. The loss is subtle at best and only noticeable to my ears on a very resolving set of stereo speakers in a quiet listening room. So it just brings me back to the same place I've always been...if the recording, mastering, etc. are superb, the resultant CD will sound superb. All things being equal, you might eek out a tiny bit more refinement (smoothness, warmth), from a hi rez file, but it's going to be subtle at best. And the added inconvenience and costs associated with something like the Pono player, in addition to the limited number of hi rez titles available, doesn't work in its favor. I'm having a lot of fun streaming Tidal over my Iphone with a nice set of Shure SE535 IEM's. Sounds very good for portable usage, with the added bonus of a huge library and the ability to download music for listening when you're not online. And the $400 for the Pono alone buys 20 months of Tidal access. This just makes so much more sense to me.

John Atkinson's picture
jmsent wrote:
And isn't this what we're really talking about with Pono? Small (if any) differences for big bucks...

"Big bucks" for a $400 player? Really?

And if you're talking about not wanting to pay any more for hi-rez recordings, that is, of course, your right. But that doesn't mean that hi-rez recordings are "snake oil," incapable of offering improved sound quality. I don't see it matters that the difference might be small - aren't audiophiles like me and presumably you always wanting to obtain sonic improvements? Otherwise why would you subscribe to a magazine like Stereophile that writes about those improvements?

Another point that has been overlooked by the skeptics: if you read the AES paper I linked to in another recent posting - www.aes.org/e-lib/browse.cfm?elib=17497, you will note that its properly designed and performed blind tests lead it to conclude that "there exist audible signals that cannot be encoded transparently by a standard CD."

So, given that almost all modern classical recordings, most modern jazz recordings, and many rock recordings are recorded and mastered with a 24-bit word length and a sample rate of at least 88.2kHz and, as shown by the AES paper above, there will be an inevitable loss in ultimate sound quality when those recordings are released on CD, why not buy the original hi-rez version if you are indeed concerned about listening with the highest possible quality.

But if you don't want to pay any more than you already do for a CD, that doesn't mean the CD is the best you can buy. It is just the best you are prepared to pay for.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jacek's picture

I think that what you did is simply disgraceful, this is a dirty manipulation to pick only one part of the statement!!!

'Two main conclusions are offered: first, there exist audible signals that cannot be encoded transparently by a standard CD; and second, an audio chain used for such experiments must be capable of high-fidelity reproduction.'

I bet 500 GBP that AUNE M1 playing WAV ripped from CD based on the same master as HiRes in Pono, beats downright Pono in blind test based on the article.
Pono is a joke in terms of HiRes - as within this budget and size you cannot make both a universal DAC supporting so many formats and a proper amp worthy of CD signal - and somehow you omitted this part!!!

John Atkinson's picture
Jacek wrote:
I think that what you did is simply disgraceful, this is a dirty manipulation to pick only one part of the statement!!!

'Two main conclusions are offered: first, there exist audible signals that cannot be encoded transparently by a standard CD; and second, an audio chain used for such experiments must be capable of high-fidelity reproduction.'

I thought that the statement in the AES paper to which I linked, that "an audio chain used for such experiments must be capable of high-fidelity reproduction," was self-evident.

Jacek wrote:
I bet 500 GBP that AUNE M1 playing WAV ripped from CD based on the same master as HiRes in Pono, beats downright Pono in blind test based on the article.

As you have never heard the PonoPlayer, any opinions you express on its sound quality and how it could compare with any other product are meaningless.

Jacek wrote:
Pono is a joke in terms of HiRes - as within this budget and size you cannot make both a universal DAC supporting so many formats and a proper amp worthy of CD signal - and somehow you omitted this part!!!

And again, as you have no experience of the PonoPlayer, any opinions such as this that you express are baseless conjecture. The Pono can indeed play many file formats and appears to have a well-engineered, discrete-device, analog output stage.

And please refrain from flaming me or anyone else on this site. Consider this a formal warning.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jacek's picture

'I thought that the statement in the AES paper to which I linked, that "an audio chain used for such experiments must be capable of high-fidelity reproduction," was self-evident.'

not realy - remember, this is within context of PONO player @400 USD. How many buyers of PONO would buy decent earphones/headphones required for the part of the statement you have omitted? If I go for Laylas would be rather ashamed to show off 'toblerone'?

'As you have never heard the PonoPlayer, any opinions you express on its sound quality and how it could compare with any other product are meaningless.'

now, I have never had the pleasure, I had the pleasure to compare AUNE M1 with HM901 - of course HM901 wins the comparison in SQ, but loses badly in terms of price, as it supports all the formats I do not give a toss about. And its price tag is 2.5 times the PONO's. I also use Centrance HiFi M8 and compare them lot the two, as Centrance/iPod work together for only 4 hours. Overall this simple WAV only player amazes me with its sound - in terms of clarity, musicality and 3D. That is why I am so ready for the blind test confrontation.
The moment of truth for HiRes hutzpa.
Sub 200 USD CD quality vs 400 USD HiREs, same master.

'And again, as you have no experience of the PonoPlayer, any opinions such as this that you express are baseless conjecture. The Pono can indeed play many file formats and appears to have a well-engineered, discrete-device, analog output stage.'

then why you are so scared of the blind test idea?

'And please refrain from flaming me or anyone else on this site. Consider this a formal warning.'

I called your act a manipulative one and all your answers manifest your approach, you never answer to the message in its entirety, you cherry-pick what is easier to twist for you and you built your own assosciations for this in order to ridicule the views that are not conforming to your HiRes tale.
I dont care about your formal warning as my words are supported by facts.
I was not scared of communists and I will not be scared by you.

John Atkinson's picture
jacek wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
And again, as you have no experience of the PonoPlayer, any opinions such as this that you express are baseless conjecture. The Pono can indeed play many file formats and appears to have a well-engineered, discrete-device, analog output stage.

then why you are so scared of the blind test idea?

It's not that I am "afraid" of taking such a challenge. But I have found that over the decades those who feel that they are losing an on-line argument inevitably eventually challenge the other side to a blind test. Such challenges are never about determining truth but merely about gamesmanship.

But on the subject of blind testing of the PonoPlayer, see Tyll Hertsens' review on our sister site, InnerFidelity: www.innerfidelity.com/content/pono-player-and-promises-fulfilled.

jacek wrote:
John Atkinson wrote:
And please refrain from flaming me or anyone else on this site. Consider this a formal warning.

I called your act a manipulative one and all your answers manifest your approach, you never answer to the message in its entirety, you cherry-pick what is easier to twist for you and you built your own assosciations for this in order to ridicule the views that are not conforming to your HiRes tale.

I see no point in responding to each and every point you pile into your postings. Again, this is gamesmanship and I decline to respond to it.

jacek wrote:
I don't care about your formal warning as my words are supported by facts.

And again, I request you to refrain from gratuitous flames like this. You are a guest on this site; please behave like one if you wish to be allowed to continue posting.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jacek's picture

'It's not that I am "afraid" of taking such a challenge. But I have found that over the decades those who feel that they are losing an on-line argument inevitably eventually challenge the other side to a blind test.'
You seem to have a memory issue - it was you who used the term 'discredited' and then refererred to AES paper. All I am asking is the proof of your own statements. I do not mind losing an online argument with somebody who is fair and honest. I hate when people use pesudo-science to market bogus products.

'Such challenges are never about determining truth but merely about gamesmanship.'
I am sorry sire, but what you do has nothing to do with the truth.
'I see no point in responding to each and every point you pile into your postings. Again, this is gamesmanship and I decline to respond to it. '
especially as somebody mentiones facts which contradict you theory.
I insist with the question you pretend not to see - why have SACD, HDCD and DVD-A failed completely? HiRes is with us 15 years and what we have now is just some nowe formats added and marketing hype.

'And again, I request you to refrain from gratuitous flames like this. You are a guest on this site; please behave like one if you wish to be allowed to continue posting. '

I am recalling facts and only facts.

John Atkinson's picture
Jacek wrote:
You seem to have a memory issue - it was you who used the term 'discredited' and then refererred to AES paper.

Yes, I referred you to the more recent AES paper, the results of which proved that if Meyer's and Moran's hypothesis was tested with greater experimental rigor, then the opposite result is obtained. I also referred twice in this thread to the ITU requirements on how to test for the audibility of small but real differences and pointed out that the Meyer-Moran tests failed to meet those requirements.

Jacek wrote:
All I am asking is the proof of your own statements.

As I just wrote, I have indeed supported my statements. And if you are aking me to "prove" my statements about the sound of the PonoPlayer, I point out that Stereophile is a magazine of subjective opinion. We have every right to express our opinions on sound quality without being asked for proof. If you disagree with that idea, then why on Earth do you subscribe to Stereophile.

Jacek wrote:
why have SACD, HDCD and DVD-A failed completely?

SACD lives on in a small way as the prime format for classical recordings. But the complete answer to why the massmarket rejected hi-rez physical media is much too long to post in a comment. However, this question has been examined at length in Stereophile over the past 15 years and the answer has very little to do with sound quality. For example, I refer you to an essay I wrote in 2002 on the failure: www.stereophile.com/asweseeit/681/index.html.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jacek's picture

1. again you only see the first part of the statement - which has to be understood in its entirety. This statements excludes PONO as a medium for HiRes, as PONO does not fulfil the second part of the statement. On the other hand the access to AES paper is paid. I hope their results are verified.
2. Being subjective does not mean you can say anything and expect to be treated seriously. The criticism of PONO and NY strategy is quite visible, taking their sides so openly will be remembered.
3. Where did I mentioned massmarket? The failure of HiRes format had nothing to do with mass market - which went for MP3 at that time. It is Hi-End market which did not embraced it.
Just for comparison - once CD became available DENON, MARANTZ, SONY, KEENWOOD and many others came with their limited editions flagship players weighing up to 30kg with a price tag of a reasonable car. The buyers of these already had or could easily afford expensive record players, tape recorders, yet were very happy to buy into digital sound.
And now somebody comes and says that CD quality sucks, but a USD 400 gizmo is much better.
Good joke!!!

davidrmoran's picture

I believe, not absolutely positive, that most everything b/w the emdashes above (Atkinson initial post) was indeed met, not that those ITU guidelines aren't a wack form of special pleading given the readily audible superiority claims made for hi-rez. Inadequate system and environment, too funny, and the bad-science conclusion likewise.
We did get in fact into some of this in our response to an AESJ letter about method. In any case, speaking of bad approach, wait'll the atypical-filter problems in the Stuart paper get properly bruited, with their nonetheless trivial, minuscule results.

The thing is, if our study conclusion were actually as invalid as the faith-based audio community claims, you really would think that someone, anyone, would have done a blind comparison showing how clearly superior (say) Waldrep's and everyone else's hi-rez product is. Wouldn't you? Oh, right, I forgot, it's all subjectivism here, with only faux nods toward genuine scientific effort.

What part of put up or shut up is unclear? It's been over 8 years now. Show your stuff scientifically, all you hi-rez ears.

Jacek's picture

shows that your eyes make your ears hear. Thus the blind test by trained ears are fully reliable. CD format has been invented by an audiophile who perfectly knew the limits of our hearing.
Just to remind you SACD is 15 years old and there was not much interest in this Hi-Res format.
Basicaly there was a bunch of new masters created at that time - these masters transferred to CDs sound incredible.
But many CDs made 30 years ago sound so well that I just cannot imagine what else one could hear from any HiRes version as they already contain so much that you need to invest 50K to hear this information. And there is another thing - when I use my balanced Grados 1Ki and Centrance M8 I can hear the singer in front of me and the band around me - which reflects the way the recordings are made. I would rather hear them in front of me, but binaural recordings are very, very rare. HiRes is not able to remedy this.

John Atkinson's picture
Jacek wrote:
...shows that your eyes make your ears hear. Thus the blind test by trained ears are fully reliable.

Not if the test hasn't been optimally designed and performed. Just because a listening test is performed under blind conditions doesn't in itself validate its results.

Jacek wrote:
CD format has been invented by an audiophile who perfectly knew the limits of our hearing.

Not really. First, it was a team of engineers at Philips and Sony, not "an audiophile." Second, the 16-bit word length and 44.1kHz sample rate were not chosen because of the "limits of our hearing." The former was the best that could be achieved commercially at the beginning of the 1980s (Philips' original proposal was 14 bits). The latter was chosen rather than 48kHz or 50kHz in order to be able to use available video equipment, even though many engineers at the time wanted a higher sample rate to give a wider guard band above 20kHz Finally, any increase in either bit depth or sample rate would have required the disc to be larger, and it then wouldn't have fit into 1980s-standard car dashboard players, which was a concern for Sony at that time.

I started reporting on the development of CD in early 1979 and interviewed most of the engineers involved between then and the medium's European launch in the spring of 1983.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jacek's picture

'Not if the test hasn't been optimally designed and performed. Just because a listening test is performed under blind conditions doesn't in itself validate its results.'

This is a live example of a circular logic. But even as HiRes could be any better then CD - no way a 400 USD set, where a lot went into support of so many formats at the same time could have a proper amp able to render this to proper earphones. And how much need the earphones to cost to complete the rig? Most of sub K earphones cannot get CD information right.

'Not really. First, it was a team of engineers at Philips and Sony, not "an audiophile."'

and who was president of SONY at that time? by the way why both SONY and PHILIPS went into content at that time? they both became powerhouses in classical recording

'Second, the 16-bit word length and 44.1kHz sample rate were not chosen because of the "limits of our hearing."' that is a fact - 100% of people cannot hear beyond this, even with Grand Utopias in front of them

'The former was the best that could be achieved commercially at the beginning of the 1980s (Philips' original proposal was 14 bits).'
really?

'The latter was chosen rather than 48kHz or 50kHz in order to be able to use available video equipment,'
any logical link?

' even though many engineers at the time wanted a higher sample rate to give a wider guard band above 20kHz'

for the dogs?

most buyers of music cannot hear anything over 12 kHz, Neil Young probably cannot hear anything over 8kHz, by the way which instruments produce anything over 20 kHz?

'Finally, any increase in either bit depth or sample rate would have required the disc to be larger,'

remember laser disks?

'and it then wouldn't have fit into 1980s-standard car dashboard players, which was a concern for Sony at that time. '

how many car had CD player fitted? 80 was time for BETA, VHS, DAT and other. Even in the 90s jumping CD was a constant problem.

'I started reporting on the development of CD in early 1979 and interviewed most of the engineers involved between then and the medium's European launch in the spring of 1983.'

so you are perfectly aware of the improvement of sound quality from that period, the improvement ignored by the general public as they fell in love with MP3 and totally overlooked SACD - exactly as you skipped this HiRes failure I mentioned in my post. I can understand that Neil Young still remembers that 'digital' sound from the time his hearing was much better and now he cannot change his perception anymore.

sharpnine's picture
Quote:

by the way which instruments produce anything over 20 kHz?

Most instruments do:
There's Life Above 20 Kilohertz!

Jacek's picture

yes, for rats, dolphins, dogs, cats, mice, ants and cockroaches - with the right band unheard for human you can chase away your respective pest

1. some time ago in NL several shops installed 16kHz generators in order to keep away youths - some adults however complained about sudden headaches - they not able to locate the source

2. similarly the mobile calling signals over 14kHz were very popular in high schools as the teachers were not aware of them

even if HiRes is able to contain this oxygene free life the amps will have difficulties processing them and they could add to the increased noise level

Please visit the nearest audiologist - and have your limits assessed.

dalethorn's picture

"most buyers of music cannot hear anything over 12 kHz, Neil Young probably cannot hear anything over 8kHz"

If this is an example of your overall argument, then you should quit when you're ahead. Most statistics show that people as old as Neil Young can hear up to 12 khz, perhaps at a reduced level, assuming they took reasonable care of their hearing. The last time I checked I could hear well over 12 khz.

The real problem with absolutist arguments against high-res saying "you can't hear anything over 20 khz, if that" is it suggests that that's all there is to high-res, and making continued improvements to mastering and saving those higher-res files is a waste of time, because the only thing that matters is the highest frequency and that only needs to be 20 khz. Somehow, even if I were totally ignorant of the science here, instinct alone tells me that there are going to be numerous benefits to saving more data, some of which are known now and some that won't be known until much later.

Absolutist arguments against all sorts of things have been proven wrong down through the years, simply because the knowledge of what will be needed in the future is unknown at the time. The famous saying that "Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence" applies here.

Jacek's picture

first - would you say that Neil Young, who will be 70 this November took good care of his hearing? Good joke.
The process of loosing the feelers allowing one to hear higher frequencies starts early in life and progresses without mercy.
I hate to use a personal argument but the picture shows a man who can hear well below 8kHz.
I am 53 and enjoy my Grados GS 1Ki - generally critisised for high frequency peak. For me this peaks works fantastic, as I do not perceive this peak to be a peak.
'The real problem with absolutist arguments against high-res saying "you can't hear anything over 20 khz'
no, this is exactly opposite!!! it is the advocates of hi res provided the link about the life over 20kHz !!!
Basically - there are three arguments of HiRes peddlers - 1. Hi Freq, 2. higher dynamic range and 3. more details
All of them are bogus, I have never heard any detail in HiRes I did not know from CD - simply because CD more information is richer than 1. CDP-cable-DAC-cable-AMP- cable-Speakers chain owned by 99,99% of the users 2. 99.99999% ears of the listeners
Another thing is that any information over 20kHz means energy, causing massive problems to the equipment. This marginal energy, however small in most cases backfires in the form of a noise in the audible range.
Funny that HiRes afficionado uses the term 'absolutist' against facts and reasonable arguments. This is even made more ridiculous with the strange generalisations coupled on each other.
We do have plenty of evidence, that HiRes is just hot air business - SACD, DVD-A, HDCD have over 15 years each now.

dalethorn's picture

The thing that blows your argument that you're probably not aware of is the difference between fact and principle, or between statistics and facts. Hearing declines more as a result of health than age, and while there is a great correlation between health and age above 60, it's still not the same thing. Many healthy people above 60 can hear well above 12 khz, although sadly that probably does not include a lot of rock musicians. It doesn't take an audiologist to figure out - just get a Senn HD600 or the equivalent and a set of test tones and play them. Eventually you'll know when you can tell the difference in pitch between 12 and 13 khz, for example.

Jacek's picture

Basically you see your own weaknesses in my argument. I can only envy your hearing. Regretfully I do not have HD650 only GS 1Ki and Roxannes. I did my hearing tests and I am at par with my peers. I only have most of the hair, three of them grey, regretfully my eyes and ears work as the medical textbooks prescribe. They base their theories on both facts and statisctics. The observations in my age group show a very small group with pretty good hearing, with a steep decline over over 10kHz, dominant majority with average hearing levels (sharp decline over 8kHz) and a big group using hearing aids.
HiRes says that in their numerous formats they let you hear up to 20 kHz and beyond. As withessed by a 70 year old Neil Young, with a record of being exposed to excessively loud music for many years.

corrective_unconscious's picture

The other poster has a possible point in that Sony and Philips bought patents for the basic idea of what became CDs after litigation. The originating individual may have been in NJ at one point, he may have been an audiophile, his patent may have wound up with a Canadian firm prior to the Sony/Philips litigation, I am not sure, but it's too simple to say that Sony/Philips engineers invented CD disks. They did hammer out the Redbook spec, of course.

Similarly, while the specs of the disk may have precluded anything above 16/44, the other poster has a possible point in that those specs were at the very least justified by the industry by referencing Nyquist's (Shannon's) theory.

I believe you have posted in the past that the Nyquist sampling material has been distorted in the press vis a vis "perfect sound forever," but his ideas were definitely presented as a reason for 16/44, and as a reason why 16/44 was more than sufficient. (Whether or not that's what Nyquist's theoretical work actually says, or whether or not 16/44 is in fact more than sufficient.)

John Atkinson's picture
corrective_unco... wrote:
it's too simple to say that Sony/Philips engineers invented CD [discs].

I interviewed Kees Schouhamer Immink of Philips in 1979. Kees had developed the optical disc-reading mechanism for the 12" laserdisc earlier in the 1970s and had applied that technology to a much small optical disc for digital audio. Kees also invented the CD's 8-to-14 modulation (EFM) encoding scheme used to store digital data in optical-readable format.

In 1982 I interviewed Toshi Doi of Sony, who had applied the idea of Reed-Solomon error correction to the Philips optical disc, which made the idea practicable as a consumer medium. Sony also increased the disc slightly to accommodate 16-bit data and to allow it, according to Sony's Akio Morita, whom I interviewed in 1980, to accommodate Sony chairman Norio Ohga's favorite recording of Beethoven's 9th Symphony.

The PCM encoding of audio itself was a much older idea. Western Electric tried to launch a 5-bit PCM system for telegraphy in 1926 and the BBC in England were experimenting with non-linear 13-bit PCM in the 1960s.

But these 3 concepts: PCM encoding; optical disc writing and reading including EFM; and robust error correction were the keys to making Compact Disc practicable.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Jacek's picture

the formats hailed as ultimate in sound reproduction, HiRes hucpa also contains a lot of room for DSD discussions and technology.

I have a premium SACD player at home, dozens of recordings and nothing. I hear no difference. Each time I change speakers, headphone, buy a new master I can hear more life, more details. With SACD or HDCD nothing new.
I have downloaded every free sample from every HiRes website for the past three years, played on Calyx, HM901, different DACs.
Nothing new.
Just Emperor's new clothes.

corrective_unconscious's picture

It's a fascinating story and there's no doubt that Sony/Philips made many advances and got the Redbook royalties, and it is not surprising that in your interviews with their personnel they discussed the in house achievements.

Those achievements have to do with making digital music as a whole possible. The one aspect of the substrate also had to do with other formats.

This does not change the fact that some necessary ideas (foil covering, providing a concept) and patents came from other sources outside of Sony/Philips. Whether that guy was actually an audiophile or not I don't know.

The Nyquist theory was definitely presented to consumers as a rationale for 16/44. It would not surprise me in the least if that was a largely specious rationale, and that the actual issue was something else - storage limitations preventing higher sampling and bit rates, as you suggest, because the "perfect sound forever" mantra always inspired cynicism.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Let me get this straight. Digital data cannot be extracted from the hard drive, as it can with the iPod (no longer made), iPad and iPhone, and one has to use the on-board DAC? If so, this thing is useless.

Also, total storage, even with an SD card, is only 128 GB? And this for a whopping $400? Meh.

John Atkinson's picture
Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
Let me get this straight. Digital data cannot be extracted from the hard drive, as it can with the iPod (no longer made), iPad and iPhone...

That's incorrect. Read my review. The internal storage and microSD card appear on your desktop as external USB drives and files can be copied in both directions.

Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
Also, total storage, even with an SD card, is only 128 GB?

Since I wrote this review, I have been told that the microSD card can be up to 128GB, giving a total of 192GB. But for $400, you only get 128GB.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

How does one extract the digital data on the Pono's hard drive and feed it to an outboard DAC, so that one can feed that analogue signal, in turn, into a quality analogue audio system? From what you've said, Mr. Atkinson, it would seem the only way to do that would be to place a computer between the Pono and the outboard DAC. Frankly, I don't think many audio systems incorporate a computer. Mine don't.

I am thinking of how the inboard DAC in the iPod is bypassed by docking stations like the Wadia 170i and TEAC DS H-01 (both no longer manufactured, but available on eBay, new and used). They allow one to enjoy both the portability and universality of the iPod as a stand-alone device and as a digital signal source in a quality sound system. The iPod and docking station combo functions as a server, but with a whole lot more flexibility and less cost. (The TEAC, which is vastly superior to the Wadia, the darling of the hi-end, incorporates a 24/192 Burr Brown DAC, accepts iPhones and iPads, outputs both analog and digital and processes both video and audio.)

The last iPod I bought, btw, has 160 GB of storage for much less than $400. I can't accept that, with today's technology, the Pono offers so little storage. IMO, at this cost it should have at least one TB.

Seems we're going backwards.

John Atkinson's picture
Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
How does one extract the digital data on the Pono's hard drive and feed it to an outboard DAC, so that one can feed that analogue signal, in turn, into a quality analogue audio system?

That's wasn't the question you originally asked. But in any case, why would you want to do that? The DAC in the PonoPlayer is better than anything else you might buy for less than $2000. Accept this $400 device for what it is and don't criticize it for not being something else.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Can't believe you removed my last post. It violated no rules. You did it simply because I expressed my lack of faith in the audiophile press. Such censorship and intolerance of dissent only undermines whatever credibility your publication may have. Why, Mr. Atkinson, are you pushing this product so hard? What's you interest in it? Freedom of thought and expression apparently don't apply to Stereophile. It's all about selling.

John Atkinson's picture
Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
Can't believe you removed my last post. It violated no rules.

I didn't delete any of your postings. (It was the one that started with you saying you had 5 iPod docks, right?) I was going to respond to it this morning and was surprised to see it no longer here.

I did delete 3 postings from others that were nothing more than flames, but yours was not one of them.

Osgood Crinkly III wrote:
Freedom of thought and expression apparently don't apply to Stereophile. It's all about selling.

But I will request you to refrain from posting unsubstantiated BS like this. You are a guest on our site. Please behave like one.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

John Atkinson's picture
John Atkinson wrote:
I didn't delete any of your postings. (It was the one that started with you saying you had 5 iPod docks, right?)

And now I see that that posting has not been deleted. So I have no idea what you are talking about Mr. Crinkly, unless you are merely trying to waste my time.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

I have 5 iPod docking devices, 4 in the house, 1 in the car. There are NO docking devices for the Pono.

As for the Pono having a better inboard DAC than my outboard DACs, excuse me if I'm skeptical. The audiophile press pushed the Wadia 170i and 171i docking devices in exactly the same manner. It claimed they were as good as a CD. They are NOT, not even close, in direct AB comparisons, using the same Wadia DAC. And the TEAC DS H-01, which the audiophile press completely ignored, is a vastly superior piece of equipment.

So what if the Pono plugs into a computer? Of course, it does, in order to load tunes, arrange files, etc. But how does its computer program compare to iTunes, which offers tens of thousands of tunes, as well as videos, movies, podcasts and thousands of streaming radio stations, AND is extremely easy to use? Does the Pono even play videos and movies, or automatically update subscriptions to podcasts?

The last iPod made by Apple sold for around $260 and had 160 GB of memory, significantly more than the $400 Pono.

I'm a late joiner. If the Pono catches on and becomes ubiquitous, I'll probably get one. Failing that, remembering the hype about the Wadia 170/171i's and the lack of quality and/or durability of many of my extremely expensive high-end purchases (e.g., Audio Research), thanks but no thanks. I'll just sit on the sidelines and watch.

Jacek's picture

I bet it will not beat the sound of my USD 169 Aune M1 WAV Player. And I can still get this http://www.taobaodepot.com/item/40367662569
Of course I love this HiRes hype as it makes CDs cheaper and many new better master trickle down to CDs.
Neil Young is stuck in the 1980's when CD players and DACs were simply terrible (with only few exceptions). Since that time the imrovement in CD rendition is just unbelievable.

dalethorn's picture

CDs have gotten better in many cases, either by better recordings, better mastering, or engineering tricks to squeeze more of the "good" sound into existing space. But it's still a box with walls, and someday we'll look back and understand the limitations better. I still listen to some Caruso recordings, so I'm good with accepting the best that I have at any given time.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Not so. Digital is like a bleach bath: it strips the harmonics from the music. It seems no one even remembers what they sound like. Harmonics are the color and texture of music. Without them, recorded music is like a black-and-white reproduction of a painting. Just because all the Philistines accept this as normal, doesn't make it so.

Take an old Martin acoustic and play it, against your chest, as you sit in your underwear on your bed at 3 AM sometime. Compare this to the pitiful sound of acoustic guitar on every single CD in existence.

Jacek's picture

modern CD players and DAC are so good that not only they show more harmonics that your ears can hear but the spoil the pleasure of the listening as they reveal too many details. I cannot listen to some records anymore, because I can hear everything separately - every item that used to add to the harmonius illusion on a vinyl now shows how primitive were means of the creators. I can hear that Bono struggles with 'everything', many singers have difficulties controlling their vocal boxes. And so many sounds that are part of musicians as human being not playing robots.
But what annoys me the most is that I have the impression that I play the piano, as I can hear swings of the instrument. Most of the recording are made from inside of the ensemble of musicians, thus the reproduction shows it clearly - with auditore "sitting" inside as well. I cannot be sure, but the concept of binaural recording comes to my ears so often only recently.
Time to invest in a proper digital source and DAC and discover the new life.

Osgood Crinkly III's picture

Harmonics are stripped not only by digital, but by solid state, as well. It's impossible to tell if you aren't able to retrieve harmonics from vinyl because of inferior equipment, but I can swear that any and all digital media do not adequately reproduce them, esp. compared to live performance (that old Martin pressed against your chest). The quality of vinyl recordings, of course, varies widely.

U2 recordings, btw, have crap sound. It would be better to listen for harmonics on acoustic, not amplified and highly processed, music, like U2.

Jacek's picture

1. if solid state an digital strip harmonics - how sure can you be that only tubes and analog processing has been used in the process before pressing the vinyl? digital recording was in use at least 40 years ago or if not there were solid state tape recorders.
2. After how many uses you replace the old record with a new one?
3. I regularly visit philharmonias and concert halls, of course there will be a huge difference between the life and recorded sound - unless you build yourself a replica of a concert hall and place all your 120 speakers in the rights places and power them with 120 individual amps. Yes, of course, do not forget to hire a inhouse sound engineer to calibrate the system before every new piece

dce22's picture

About the so called "illegal" signal just like anything in physics if you pass short pulse and FFT that signal you will see the full bandwidth in the system (its the same for a speaker testing optical lens or whatever), the correct phase linear filter will reproduce in that moment in time every frequency from DC-22khz in a short burst also the same thing happens in reverse if you take infinite amount of sine signal generator and reproduce every frequency from DC-22khz you will see the same Impulse shape (with ripple in the start then the pulse and ripple toward the end the incorrectly stated as pre post ringing) on the osciloscope and if you take that shape superimpose the same shape in opposite polarity you will see that all the zero crossing match and all the ripples add up to create distortion free sinewave at 22.05 khz you can clearly see that the pre and post ripple are crucial part of the building block in digital audio.
The pre and post ripple are the things that create the high frequency in the digital audio if you take the correct oversampling filter and phase rotate (allpassfilter) the frequency from 17khz-22khz by 180 degrees the pre ringing (ringing is incorect word) will go at the back and double the post ringing if you rotate 17k-22k at -180 degree the post ringing will comeback at front and will double the pre ringing because as previosly stated the ripple part of the pulse creates the high frequency audio and if you rolloff the highs you will get no pre post ringing as you can see from the graph of the Pono player.

In oversampling digital filters there is a thing called !Pre-post filter ringing or passband ripple! and the less of this ringing the better the sound.
Passband ripple (prepost ringing) is how long the tails from the both sides of the pulse response, the longer the tails the less ringing (reverse of what audiophiles think) the better the sound that means longer tap filter more latency less distortion.
Now this is well known in the Engineering world and two makers of audiogear promote this phase rotation allpass filter as reducing preringing (NOT TRUE!) and audiophiles fool them self that it improve the sound because is difficult for the ear to detect distortion at 18khz if you rotate phase at 1khz nobody would accept this fraud as sound improvement.

John Atkinson's picture
dce22 wrote:
About the so called "illegal" signal just like anything in physics if you pass short pulse and FFT that signal you will see the full bandwidth in the system (its the same for a speaker testing optical lens or whatever), the correct phase linear filter will reproduce in that moment in time every frequency from DC-22khz in a short burst...

Yes...but...it is not a signal that can be recorded from an analog original and is in that sense illegal. Any attempt to record such a signal would, of course, include the impulse response of the A/D converter's antialiasing filter. I created the test signal I use in these tests by taking a digital-black 16-bit/44k1 PCM file and raising the level of just one sample to full-scale in a DAW program. (Actually I created a series of double pulses so that the first pulse triggers the storage 'scope and the second appears in the middle of the time window.)

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dce22's picture

That is Correct it has higher frequency than the sample rate system capability it can't be recorded so the so called "pre post ringing" will never happen, but you can use it to see the filter coefficients to determent if the filter maker use these phase distortions to market bulls**t custom filters.

Anything that deviates from the standard (so called pre post ringing) phase linear filter is just distortion, the problem with digital filter desigh is that the tails from both sides are not long enough to gracefully blend into the noise but stop abruptly, commonly used AD1896 chip only has +- 0.01 db passband ripple that's why high end dacs made from people like daniel weiss use DSP chips to build sufficient tap length not to distort the audio data, chip manufacturers knows all this things but always design to a price point because clearing passband ripple from ASRC chips will quadruple the chip die size, so they use most math efficent stacked half band filters, the problem is even in a decent A to D devices like Benchmark ADC1 and Lavry AD11 anti aliasing filters leak up to 24khz and most used Protools system ADC is even worse when you couple that with bad anti image filters in the todays D to A devices the distortion in high frequency is always there can even creap up to the midrange using 96k sample rate helps alot.

The point i was trying to make is if you explain how FIR filters work audiophiles will not be fooled by this exotic not properly functional (Slow roll off/Apodising/Whatever the new Buzzword is) filters, These filters are built into the cips so you can use them at must have low latency positions when you have latency buildup thru multiple digital systems and low latency monitoring precedes the sound quality not in a high quality hifi system.

sharpnine's picture

David Pogue review The Emperor Has No Clothes includes another poorly performed blind test IMO. He doesn't say anything about the configuration of Pono output (line or headphone) vs. iPhone, how level matching was done, etc. And the a/b switch and cabling looks like it would likely decrease the quality of both signals.

Also doesn't help that they are comparing different audio files and different players at the same time (2 variables rather than 1). And of course he links the discredited 2007 AES Journal article.

jmsent's picture

to test the transparency of the RS switchbox and cables. Just insert them in the tape monitor or processor loop of a preamp and have someone switch it in and out of circuit while you listen. Good luck trying to pick out which is which. I've done this experiment numerous times, and a cable and switchbox would have to be seriously busted to be able to discern any audible degradation to the signal.
As for Pogue's article, I think he nails it pretty good. The "superiority" of Pono isn't just a function of the player or the format. It's an entire ecosystem dedicated to high quality, where the source material is supposed to be of the highest mastering quality and then delivered to the customer in an uncompressed format (mostly 16/44.1 for now). Compared to a crappy MP3, sure, it will probably sound much better. Compared to streaming Tidal files over an Iphone uncompressed, using high quality earphones, I doubt the "improvements" will be easily heard. Pogue's admittedly "imperfect test" seems to confirm this.

Jacek's picture

well, with iPhone, iPod this is an easy game. While the pre Gen6 iPods sound very clear and detailed, my AUNE M1 (paid 490 MYR, like USD 130 at that time) eats them alive - the scene expands, the spatials effects are overwhelming. I still like iPod while commuting, but at home it is a waste. So Pono over iPhone proves nothing - you can get the same result, or better with CD quality.

dce22's picture

Dudes if you see Figure.7 from the measurments the PonoPlayer has so much distortion that even can't do 16 bit, the point of the player is the store where you can buy properly mixed and mastered records, for people that don't know how todays records are mastered and old records are remastered let me tell you, after all the EQ ing and correction is done mastering engineer use look ahead limiting to get it loud as possible (until its harsh then backoff a bit) usualy shaves about 13-20db dynamic range then it goes thru DAC-Preamp-ADC where is pushing ADC ito cliping 2-3 db then uses the editing software to hard clip again around 2db and it tweak these values to get almost listenable record and he is monitoring thru Lavry Gold DA924 that can do distortionless peak oversampling without issues (the rest 90% of dacs cant) and you buy these bullcrap so called music.

PS. For people that want to see how this music deterioration happend thru the years you can see the video from DSP designer Leif Claesson who build Undo algorithm to restore some sound out off this mess (Undo is used by radio FM processors to restore the sound before it compressed again to be competitive for Radio Market)

www.youtube.com/watch?v=HyaWXYiB_44

The Music in the video is only Undo algo without radio processing
Its very informative.

John Atkinson's picture
dce22 wrote:
Dudes if you see Figure.7 from the measurments the PonoPlayer has so much distortion that even can't do 16 bit...

Incorrect, dude. Fig.7 in this Web reprint shows the waveform of an undithered 16-bit sinewave. It has the correct shape other than being overlaid with some high-frequency noise. As this is a 16-bit test signal, it tells you nothing about the player's ability to play audio data with a greater bit depth.

As I pointed out in another graph, the PonoPlayer's noisefloor is around the 17-bit level, which is good for a device with a 1V maximum output. This is in unbalanced mode. As I describe in the follow-up in the June issue, the balanced output mode increases the resolution by another bit's worth.

If you are talking about fig.7 in the print review, this is now fig.8 in this reprint, and you are also incorrect.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dce22's picture

OK if you say so ... ;) i recommend this player to anyone i like it very much it has inaudible faults but in the everlasting words of John Atkinson "Turning down the volume control by 6dB reduced the levels of all harmonics".

John Atkinson's picture
dce22 wrote:
OK if you say so ...

Indeed I do say so. You appear to misunderstand the nature of the test in fig.7. The data describing an undithered 16-bit sinewave at –90.31dBFS consist of three levels: –1 LSB, 0, and +1 LSB. But in the 2s-complement encoding used by CD, the data are actually:
+1 = 0000 0000 0000 0001
0 = 0000 0000 0000 0000
–1 = 1111 1111 1111 1111

So if there is any mismatch between the change in a DAC's analog output voltage due to all 16 bits changing value and just the 16th LSB changing value, the resultant waveform will be asymmetrical and in the worst case, with the frequency doubled.

This used to be a common problem in the days of resistor-ladder DAC chips, but has almost entirely disappeared now that almost everyone uses sigma-delta DAC chips. But I still perform the test as it occasionally uncovers deviant behavior in a DAC.

dce22 wrote:
in the everlasting words of John Atkinson "Turning down the volume control by 6dB reduced the levels of all harmonics".

I felt it a fair comment given that no-one will listen to the PonoPlayer on headphones with the volume control set to its maximum. YMMV.

John Atkinson
Editor, Stereophile

dce22's picture

I see no problem with the conclusion and the measurments data everything you say is correct it has 17 bit noise floor and it can decode 24bit files in a proper manner but the THD+N is too high to do a correct 16 bit reproduction you need at least -100dB THD+N to extract all the data from a modern 16bit recording that is converted from 24bit with noise shaping dither, in reality you can't just split distortion and noise it always go together and if you back off the digital volume control you are losing the extra 6dB SNR that can be clamed as 17bit resolution so you get not really 16bit but lets just call it 16bit player.

John you should add 1kHz analog filter notched THD+N measurements to your data arsenal to get real data instead just report the ADC distortion of the Cirus Logic ADC that is built in the AP (for the highend pre's and dac's offcourse).

PS. My condolences to Robert friend's and family, i really loved reading his reviews over the years he will be missed by hifi gear and music lovers.

scottbuzby's picture

John,

In your review, you published Figure 7 showing "waveform of undithered 1kHz sinewave at –90.31dBFS, 16-bit data (left channel blue, right red)" but did not show the 24-bit measurement. It IS a bit noisy. Please show the 24-bit performance, as this is how to get the best sound quality out of the device (playing 24-bit files).

I am a new PonoPlayer owner as of March 11, 2015. After leaving it playing music 24 hours a day for at least a week, the sound quality it provides is to me, in a word, SPECTACULAR.

I knew it would good given it contains features from the Ayre QB-9, but the Diamond class A-A/B output stage throws it over the top. It is so musical with dynamic speakers or headphones, and jaw-dropping with electrostatic headphones in Balanced Mode.

A friend wired up two 3.5mm TRS male to XLR male cables to take advantage of PonoPlayer's Balanced Mode output.

The Audiostream.com review from Michael Lavorgna incorrectly states that the PonoPlayer uses TRSS audio connections (they are actually TRS, i.e. 3 conductor connections). This can be verified by calling Pono Tech Support and requesting TECH SHEET 02 and 03. These tech notes describe how to build your own cables for Hi-Fi Systems or Headphones, respectively, in Balanced Mode.

dalethorn's picture

The iPhone 6-plus sounds much better than my many iPods and older iPhones.

dce22's picture

I Phone 6 Plus measurments

-103.7 dBV (17bit) 22 kHz band unweighted noise floor using Zeroed 16bit file wav.

-0.08 dB 20hz-22000hz response 35 ohm load

THD 0.0025% 2kHz (-92db) at 1V 35ohm just 2nd harmonic and slight of 3rd in the (-90tees 2nd -100drets 3rd) at lower level distotion dropout both channel identical

-56.5 dB Crosstalk L to R and R to L

3.18 Ω Output imedance.

30mW Power envelope don't use Headphones with less then 30 Ohm Impedance

Intermod at 44.1k Sample rate looks like PonoPlayer at 96K Sample rate

I Phone 6 has headroom to handle Oversampling Peaks and do not distort at full volume 1V RMS and distorion spectrum is very ear friendly it is a excellent player.

The problem is the I Tunes store's crappy recordings they all sound like s**t, and ordinary people that buy these player use the recomended record stores so the pono by default has better sound not because it has superior electronics.

PS. The measurments are done on a headphone type load not line level like the Stereophile standard, the same chip Cirrus Logic 338S1201 is used on 5S 6 and 6Plus Apple phones its a customized DAC/Headamp chip and IOS only plays 16bit44.1khz, and US version has volume control cap that can be turn off in the menu the EU Version has second cap that can't be turn off so you can't run at full level, that is implemented in the OS software to measure EU version you have to jailbreak.

f3rdgill's picture

Hi, not a regular user of stereophile, but it is the place I refer to first for authoritative opinions in music reproduction. But just had to express thoughts on this thread.
Who do so many contributors seem to be more interested in their own sounding brass than in listening to music?
Anyone can hear the difference between 16/44 and 24/88. If you have decent ready equipment. Just listen. If you cannot tell the difference then check either equipment or hearing.
Not all improvements in clarity are beneficial, sometimes the difference highlights faults in recording or just simply sounds less familiar. If you don't like it, don't have it. But don't diss those who want to hear the closest reproduction of the original sound.
If you cannot be polite, then discuss this in the proper place, the barroom, not an audiophile forum.
Thank you Stereophole for the forum
Don't feel obliged to give flamers repeated platforms. Just kick them off.
Thanks for giving me room to vent.

Hearitright's picture

Jacek may have a tin ear, but without listening to a pono he will never know. As far as Frequencies above human capability goes; instruments don’t “shut off” at the perceived human hearing limits they transition to and from. Having a smoother slope most definitely adds to the listening experience. Also, like eyesight not all ears are created equal.

Seanh19788's picture

Just a heads up on customer service issues

Luckily I got my pono from a dealer because I would have been even more furious otherwise. Upojn the initial sync or transfer of files it froze after 42 songs. Could not add anymore it delete those initial 42. Called customer service and spent 45 minutes troubleshooting. Tried adding just one song, tried deleteing and starting over, reinstalled pono music world twice nothing worked so they escalated the ticket. 5 days go by with no response I finally have to call them and they have no answers other than we will send you a return label and we will fix your player, seriously ? It doesnt work out of the box I was expecting them to send me a replacement with a return label to send true faulty unit back. No supervisor to talk to and rep didn't seem to care that I was returning item to dealer and buying something else. Was excited about this product as I'm sure many are and I'm sure Its a great product when working and I'm small percentage of people with bad units but I don't care how good a product is when something goes wrong and the customer service is awful it doesn't matter, I wouldn't want it if it were free

mgeagan's picture

Great to hear of progress being made on the portable front, and I'm looking forward to trying one soon.

Regarding the iPod as competition: There's a case to be made for the iPod Video, or generation 5.5, as a benchmark for comparison to newer players. This was the last of the Wolfson DACs and had a better analog section. It seems that when Apple stretched the battery life on the 6th and 7th generation (last of the breed) iPod Classic, sound quality took a hit.

I have three of these generation 5.5 players, each one expanded to 240 GB via a hard drive swap. Two are loaded with 256 kbps AAC files; the third holds whatever selection of ALAC full-res music I'm into at the moment... about 400 CDs worth. I feel that the generation 5.5 is a significant step up from my 160 GB iPod Classic, and that this was the high-water mark for the iPod. Yes, they are obsolete and ten years old -- this is a hobby after all!

Snow_Buck's picture

I'm new here on Stereophile. Having read both John Atkinson's detailed Pono review, and the March 26 2015 review by Tyll Hertsens from innerfidelity "The Pono Player and Promises Fulfilled".... I was impressed by the detail of the evals & the writing, and with the passion with which both reviewers jousted with doubters & nay-sayers of their respective user groups. IMHO reviewers & poster's alike should refrain from dissing Pono if they haven't even tried the device, or haven't tried it using hi res files, or havent used it in Balanced Mode where more & more reviewers are finally discovering Pono evidently shines.

I'm no audio engineer, I don't claim to be an acoustics expert, my hearing isn't what it used to be, and my budget at the moment can't handle spending tons of cash on +thousand dollar audio gear I'd surely love to own. I do love listening to good music, and I really wanted to try hearing the best quality music I could afford to buy. I read many reviews on hi res players... positive, negative & non-committal, and I studied the subject before I decided to order a Pono. I have owned my Pono player since January 2015. Even without using the best cans or iem's or cables, I found that Pono does exactly what it promised to do. For me, Pono is an amazing DAC equipped music player that gets me in the hi res game for a reasonable $400, makes most of my existing standard res music library sound much better....and when using hi res flac music files Pono sounds absolutely incredible. The music is so much more detailed & lush. I can't wait to aquire better headphones & balanced cables so I can try Pono out in Balanced Mode. A couple of points I can offer.

1) According to Charlie Hansen of Ayers Acoustics, there are at least 30,000 Pono players out there now in the wild. $399 Pono can compete very well with far more expensive DAC equipped portable hi res music players from the big names.

2) Pono was started from scratch in just 3 years time... New company, new player, new software, new music store, new employees... there will always be bumps in the road for any new product but Pono is here, it works and has a store on the web that sells music. All that Pono is now can be improved as they grow & develop. Nope... their store is not my fav one to use, but they have a growing library of both hi res & standard CD quality music available & more music arrives every day. I can shop for hi res or standard res music elsewhere if I wish (hdtracks is decent) and their files work great on my Pono. If you prefer the iTunes store & standard Apple file quality, you can also use your iTunes music library with your Pono player. Yup the software has had a few glitches, but they update it regularly with fixes & improvements. The Pono player & Pono software ecosystem works just fine as it is.

3) If the original recording of the music is of poor quality, nothing is going to change that, and listening to it in a hi res file version will probably reveal even more of the recording flaws.

4) Pono can use iTunes files, mp3's, CD rips...can use several music file formats (FLAC, ALAC, WAV, DSD, AIFF, AAC (unprotected), MP3) already in your music library, and the software can convert or rip files to other formats if you prefer.

5) If you have decided not to like the Pono player, or you can't hear the difference in hi res music for some reason...then Pono is probably not for you... so don't worry about it. If you are trying to compare the Pono player or any other hi res music player to an iPhone, you are completely missing the point.

6) I can listen to Pono as a portable battery powered device using cans/iem's, or battery powered & tethered in my car via a 3.5 mm to 3.5 mm stereo adapter cable, or plugged into the charger cable and tethered to my AV reciever/home speakers/TV/tabletop stereo etc using a simple 3.5 mm to dual RCA stereo adapter cable.

bvanpelt's picture

Craig Rosen, who writes for Yahoo Music, published a review of the Pono Player today (9/2/2015). He does some A/B testing with ordinary folk and comes to the conclusion that the player is not worth the money. I would be interested in Stereophile's take on his review. His review is at https://www.yahoo.com/music/the-quality-of-streaming-was-neil-young-righ...

Thank you,

Brian VanPelt

drakesaxprof's picture

Wow, what a flame-fest. Such a preponderance of self-assured received knowledge, so little direct experience, and such a dearth of basic common courtesy. My experience: I read JA's articles dealing with Pono, bought one used, along with a balanced cable from Surf Cables, and now listening through my LCD-X with great pleasure to my jazz and classical library. Most is 44/16, and sounds better than it ever has.

I run into this phenomenon all the time -- as a professional saxophonist, I can easily discern difference in reeds, mouthpieces, neck materials, etc. The naysayers (usually armchair saxophonists and internet "experts") will point to this or that study saying that my direct experience cannot be possible. With all of our human flaws, there is nothing more significant than our direct experience of the world around us. It is really all that matters. Anyhow, this is the not only the best portable listening experience I have ever had, but is as good as most home systems in the tens of thousands. Nothing to refute - this is my experience, and it cannot be argued against. Nobody is twisting your arm to agree or to buy!

NeoDoc's picture

Oversold and overpriced describes this device - the lack of non-wired interface, horrible software infrastructure with need to restart the device repeatedly to download files, poor playback options, duplicate file issues, firmware crash with 1.0.05 since April 2015 without a fix, etc, etc - ruin the overall experience. Not to mention the overpriced albums! This will be remembered as a big miss four a long time, then forgotten.

dunnopono's picture
svoboda123's picture

I will note that I am a huge Neil Young fan and have seen him in concert many times. I am also a 40-year audiophile and the holder of a related engineering degree. I have wired amps, designed and built speakers, owned and operated an A/V business, etc. I have also been an early adopter of almost every audio and video format to come down the pike- Minidisc fans unite! I have never used a Pono.

To see Mr. Atkinson and his brethren continue to tilt at windmills on some of these topics is simply sad. For years these subjectivists tortured themselves into pretzels arguing that A-B-X testing could NEVER disprove the incremental efficacy of, say, $5,000 loudspeaker cable. So now it's that the objective blind testing has never been executed in a sufficiently rigorous manner? First Iraq had a hand in 9-11 and then they had WMDs. Right.

The simple logic remains that if Stererophile and its peers TRULY believe that the performance of the given technology is superior they would be fighting FOR the funding of highly rigorous testing and rallying high-end manufacturers to support such a process. Watching this space for 40 years, I'm still waiting to see such effort. I know that Pono has been approached by qualified engineers to develop such a test and chose not to pursue it.

While in graduate shchool some 15 years ago, I constructed a small test to entertain peers to see what resolution of digital audio files were distinguishable. The system was highly compromised and there was almost zero rigor but it remains as anecdotally valuable as the above review, IMHO. Most 20-something engineering students could not distinguish beyond 160kbps MP3 tracks. Even in my home system (with Class A Stereophile speakers, a solid chain and a custom built listening room), I have trouble telling the difference between lossless and 320kbps. And my ears are not terrible. I'm simply honest.

I have zero agenda. If I thought the Pono had even half a chance of being clearly better than ALC tracks off my iPod I would have bought one in a blink. But I think the advertising revenue conflict of interest is what drives this industry- manufacturers offered to buy an ad for the same issue as a review of their product, AFTER they get to preview the review. It doesn't get more conflicted: Revenue driving editorial content, at least subconsciously.

My personal opinion is that, for the audiophile, this is all driven by a rejection of the notion that technology can wipe-away knowledge and technique and a large investment, giving the more casual listener essentially the same experience. Doing vinyl right takes time. And care. And more $$$. How can it not be better than CD?

The industry never will conduct rigorous blind tests because they know but won't admit even to themselves: The high end is a sham at some level. The French held a blind wine tasting competition decades ago as California was taking market share. "French winemaking has been honed over centuries- of course it must be better!" They actually believed their own hype. The American wines won overall.

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