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Neil Young PONO player Review

Rate this player:

  • 1. Poor (headless panther)

    Votes: 158 85.9%
  • 2. Not terrible (postman panther)

    Votes: 20 10.9%
  • 3. Fine (happy panther)

    Votes: 1 0.5%
  • 4. Great (golfing panther)

    Votes: 5 2.7%

  • Total voters
    184

Jimbob54

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I had one of these. Maybe still do. The rubber coating was starting to feel decidedly icky the last time I looked at it.
 

Matias

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That was a nostalgic review for me. Never had one but the whole marketing was amusing back then.
 

MacClintock

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It is like insisting on home-made ketchup on a McDonald's burger or premium motor oil for an old Honda Civic, won't make it any better.
 

wwenze

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This is "just good enough" so I wouldn't fault it in terms of audibility performance. But so isn't "hi res" music going to come out of that player. I don't judge what people considers good enough, but inconsistency and self-contradiction bugs me.
 

wwenze

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Yep, that was my thought too. It's a 2015 player, so we should compare it against 2015 technology. Any comments on that Amir? How does it measure up against contemporary music players?
How about iPhone 4

16-44_RightMark.png



Heeeey guess there's no need to buy the player after all
 

Mart68

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This was always one of those things where you read about that it's in the pipeline and you know - for certain and right away - that it's a bad idea and it's going to end badly.

If I knew him I'd have said to him 'Neil, mate, just leave it.'

He has made some of the greatest records of all time so he still gets a pass from me.
 

tktran303

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still gets a pass from me.

You’re not the only one. And this is essentially how it all works.

Someone of note in one field can use that eminence as leverage to go to market something that is obliquely related.

Buying Air Jordans don’t help you play basketball any better, but it sure does give you a feel good feeling.

What a rational human should be doing i calling him out on it.
 

Mart68

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You’re not the only one. And this is essentially how it all works.

Someone of note in one field can use that eminence as leverage to go to market something that is obliquely related.

Buying Air Jordans don’t help you play basketball any better, but it sure does give you a feel good feeling.

What a rational human should be doing i calling him out on it.
The difference is Air Jordan is successful and Pono was always going to be a disaster. He could have given the money he wasted to Farm Aid. That's what I'd have advised him to do, that's not the same as calling him out on it.
 

DanielT

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In case you are not familiar with this player, Neil Young started to rant about poor quality of compressed music online and took out his music of the services of that era. And then partnered with Ayre to introduce this player and music service to go with. The key selling point being high resolution music. I didn't have a Pono player but found their service to have lower prices on CD and high-res music than many other services so bought good bit of music from them before they closed the door.
Thanks for the test Amir.:)

Okay, but has Neil Young done anything general about compressed music? By that I mean protested against "The loudness war", propagated for more dynamic recordings and so on.
 

Mart68

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Thanks for the test Amir.:)

Okay, but has Neil Young done anything general about compressed music? By that I mean protested against "The loudness war", propagated for more dynamic recordings and so on.
No because he doesn't understand what the problem is.

He's an analogue man and thought the issue with digital SQ was the 'gaps between the samples' with 16/4.1 and lower. Hence the hi-res player and hi res downloads.

I'm sure some people must have tried to tell him. but Southern man don't need him around, anyhow.
 

raif71

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Does this player support usb audio out, at least can use it as an audio transporter ?
 

antcollinet

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Thanks for the test Amir.:)

Okay, but has Neil Young done anything general about compressed music? By that I mean protested against "The loudness war", propagated for more dynamic recordings and so on.

Different types of compression - lossy encoding vs dynamic compression of the music.
 

respice finem

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I would like to see a single man in the planet that would tell this device, in a properly done ABX test, from any of the "ASR top product". I guess there is no one, so who cares, then??
It's a mild form of madness, called hobby :) Without it, hardly anyone would spend time here or in similar places.
I am mildly disgusted with such "publicity stunt" products, because in a way it is lying to people for profit.
What they hear or not is secondary IMHO. Mostly less than they believe, anyway.
 

AndreaT

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Most of the guitar sounds of Neil are (or seems to be) using devices to add harmonics to the sound of the electric guitar. It is not surprising the Pono adds further layers of distortions to the source. He is a good artist and I mostly like his music, however I never like to add tinted and unevenly polished lenses to make the source even more fuzzy. One needs to listen to his most excellent soundtrack of “Dead Man”, where he plays right at the threshold where music is about to become noise.
 

AudioSceptic

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This is a review and detailed measurements of the discontinued Neil Young PONO "high resolution" player. It is on kind loan from a member. Online prices today range from US $400 to $600 and more!
View attachment 329388
The player comes in an attractive wooden box with nice accessories such as a pouch to hold the triangular shape of this player. The LCD display is grainy. I did not like that it would time out to just a bland bar of what is playing instead of staying on "now playing" screen. To get that you need to press the "O" button again and then you see your controls to skip and such.

Music transfer was easy using USB connection.

In case you are not familiar with this player, Neil Young started to rant about poor quality of compressed music online and took out his music of the services of that era. And then partnered with Ayre to introduce this player and music service to go with. The key selling point being high resolution music. I didn't have a Pono player but found their service to have lower prices on CD and high-res music than many other services so bought good bit of music from them before they closed the door.

The purpose of this review is to see the capabilities of the Pono player to deliver better than CD experience. So let's measure that.

PONO Player Measurements
I maxed out the volume and captured our dashboard (into high impedance):
View attachment 329389
Despite not putting any load on the player, the headphone output maxed out at just 1 volt. This is what mediocre phone dongles output. As a minimum the output should have been 2 volts. Apparently you get this if you combine the line out and headphone out into a balanced output. I did not have such a cable so all of my testing is in the default mode.

The output is fair bit distorted with one channel much worse than the other. Averaging the two lands in the Pono player into the "poor" category of all dacs/players tested:
View attachment 329391

As a reference, an Apple phone dongle has SINAD of 99 db, nearly 10 dB better.

Lowering the output to half a volt improves things some:
View attachment 329392

But we are still worse than performance of a proper 16 bit system (SINAD of 93 dB). Multitone test operates at this level so makes a better showing:
View attachment 329393

Dynamic range test shows that even at max volume we barely clear the bar for 16 bit audio:
View attachment 329394

Jitter test is decent although a lot of dirt could be hidden under that high noise floor:
View attachment 329395

Since my analyzer can't control the player, these are all the measurements I have. But I think we all know the story here.

Conclusions
The pono player would rate at below average for a CD/16-bit player. As such, it cannot have any claim of doing justice to high-resolution audio. Cleary little attention was paid to verifying the device actually performs at the level that was assumed. The late Charlie Hansen was apparently behind this which makes it surprising to see such low level of performance. Measurements in Stereophile magazine were just as awful as mine:

315Ponofig08.jpg

Notice the distortion being much higher in one channel just like mine. The worse channel second harmonic reaches -68 dB making its SINAD just as bad. Yet, JA finishes the review with:

"Even taking into consideration its relatively affordable price, the PonoPlayer measures very well.—John Atkinson"

Measures very well? How on earth can someone say that about a digital player with that kind of measurement in 2015? The thing has copious amount of distortion, far in excess any proper CD player. Such is life of commercial publications. :(

Anyway, we now know this is not a performant player and the fact that it met its demise due to market forces was well deserved.

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I remember other reviews giving this a "fail". The claims for hi-res were a joke when it is outperformed not just by any iPhone, but even a 20 year-old iPod! It wasn't cheap either, so why Ayre didn't do a better job is a mystery. The stupid shape didn't help either.
 
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