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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

MacClintock

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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.
There is a crucial difference of distortion on the source and the reproduction. I think electric guitars without any amount of distortion sound pretty bland, so nothing against this. But at the reproduction, it is a no-no.
 

MacClintock

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Yeah, I hear you. Neil can be a tool, and when it comes to understanding how digital audio works he's certainly not the sharpest "tool" in the shed.

However, Harvest was my favourite album when it came out in 1972. I was 16 and listened to it continuously while surfing on the Nullarbor Plain in the South Australian desert, at a place called Cactus Beach (1/3 of the way between Adelaide and Perth). We would camp there for 2 weeks at a time and it was home to massive white pointers, however, we convinced ourselves there were plenty of fish and that they would leave us alone. (Unfortunately that theory was "crunched" in 2000 when a young New Zealander was taken while on his honeymoon as his traumatised wife looked on from the cliffs). We were very lucky.

Not sure why I needed to tell you that, just bought back some wonderful memories of my youth ... normal transmission will resume.
Nice (and tragic) story, I like Harvest a lot as well. Just one question, how did you listen to it while surfing, I mean technically?
 

Burning Sounds

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Neil Young, Roger Waters, Gary Lineker - just a reminder, that if you are really talented in something, it does not mean that you are smart.

:facepalm:

There was a time not too long ago that ASR was a place you could come to that had interesting, well thought out, civil discussions. Now there are ridiculous pile-ons whenever something gets a poor review. Both this thread and the recent LS3/5a review thread are prime examples. Others may have a different viewpoint, but I'm finding it very tedious.

What the heck does Gary Lineker have to do with a review of a Pono player?
 
OP
amirm

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What was the format of the music you bought?

And did you analyze any of those files to see if they were mastered from source to that format or just reformatted from a lower resolution?

And what formats is the device speced to play?
They were .flac format just like other download services. No, I had not analyzed them. I was buying them because I could have the content immediately (compared to buying CDs) and prices were really good, often matching CD sale prices. A number of them were just CD rates. But I just looked and here is a 96 kHz one:

1701034562074.png


It does roll off on the right but if you play it, that shape changes and follows the rhythm of the music above 20 kHz. So if it is noise, it is being modulated by the music.
 
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amirm

amirm

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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??
What are you talking about? Connect a low sensitivity headphone to this thing and it will sound like crap. It has quarter the power of a half-decent headphone dongle! So no, it doesn't remotely have a chance of competing with an ASR recommended product in its end application (listening with headphones).
 
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amirm

amirm

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Why the headless panther? It's far from being state of the art, but it's able to deliver an audio signal with imperceptible distortion and imperceptible noise if you gain-stage right. It seems like a perfectly fine playback device to me.
Even a $10 headphone dongle would get a failing grade from me if it had this level of output power to drive headphones. No way this is "perfectly fine" digital audio player.
 

Somafunk

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What the heck does Gary Lineker have to do with a review of a Pono player?

I think we can reliably infer what way Fidji swings from his mini rant
 

peniku8

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Even a $10 headphone dongle would get a failing grade from me if it had this level of output power to drive headphones. No way this is "perfectly fine" digital audio player.
I didn't see any power graphs in the post, so I rated the device on the basis of "player with line output". What power does it deliver?
And is the line output cleaner than the HP out that you measured?
 
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amirm

amirm

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I didn't see any power graphs in the post, so I rated the device on the basis of "player with line output". What power does it deliver?
And is the line output cleaner than the HP out that you measured?
Line output was identical to hp out. On power, it is V*V/R. So at 1 volt out, you only get 3 milliwatts into 300 ohm load. Here is our graph for dongles there:

index.php


3 milliwatts would land it pretty far to the right, right around what a Samsung dongle did.
 

Smog

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I had one of these, and am a Neil young fan so that’s disclosed. fwiw I think he started pono with good intentions and was always gonna be a struggle (read - impossible) to disrupt apple dominated market, and was genuine in using his platform to prompt more awareness on mp3 shortfalls. shakey is a great bio, and agree he is a curmudgeon but dammit at his in the ditch period best, his music transcends.
 
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amirm

amirm

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Did you play anything on it?
I did with the music that came with it: a single track by Neil Young (how cheap to only include one track of his) and two albums from James Taylor (this unit was the James Taylor special edition). The Neil Young track sounded lousy but that is likely the recording. The James Taylor tracks had barely enough volume for my Dan Clark Stealth. With Sennheiser HD-650 there was decent volume and performance was good. Nothing jumped out to show this sounding better than anything else.
 

CedarX

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A cool 2014 teardown posted on Head-fi: https://www.head-fi.org/threads/whats-inside-the-pono-player.745703/ The HW seems pretty decent: standard 18650 battery (Great!!!) and an ES9018K2M DAC—same chip as the JDS Labs Atom DAC, DAC+ (reviewed on ASR, both excellent), and newer DAC 2.
The HW summarizes well the whole project: original but somewhat questionable basic design, quality elements, but in the end, a sloppy execution…. Time for a JDS Atom Pono revival?
 

Nango

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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.

Specifications:

SCREEN2.5"
OSAndroid 2.3
CPUARM Cortex-A8
RAM256MB
MEMORY64GB (plus additional 64GB MicroSD card included)
PORTSMicro USB, MicroSD card reader, 2 x 3.5mm headphone jacks
SIZE5" x 2" x 1" (13cm x 5cm x 2.5m)
WEIGHT4.6 ounces (130g)
BATTERY"Up to 8 hours"
------------
As always, questions, comments, recommendations, etc. are welcome.

Any donations are much appreciated using: https://www.audiosciencereview.com/forum/index.php?threads/how-to-support-audio-science-review.8150/
Isn't it the premium mfr Ayre who makes this piece? "Well done", Ayre!! What about their genuine items??
 

Nango

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I've got a Fiio M3K and it really works for me. It's a low powered DAP but also very low cost. It can store up to 2 TB of music files, has limited eq settings. Probably not the ultimate in fidelity but pretty good for cheap and tiny:

If it only fed a DAC by USB as a host ....... maybe by modifying it's firmware or similar??
 

Ajax

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Nice (and tragic) story, I like Harvest a lot as well. Just one question, how did you listen to it while surfing, I mean technically?
We had a portable tape recorder that I think ran on "D" type batteries, which we were always replacing. We would listen at nigh time around the camp fire while smoking ridiculously large joints and drinking flagons of red wine. I thought I was very grown up and in heaven.

I surfed there all through my university days (73-78). It was a 10 hour drive from Adelaide in an old Holden (GMH) ute with 3 guys in the front and a 3 gear column shift, and our tent and boards in the back.

It was incredibly hot, av temp was around 40-45C, with it hitting 48C once or twice. We spent our time between surf sessions sitting in caves along the shore line. It was around the same time as the short board revolution, fantastic experience. Check it out on google maps - look for a town called Penong and Point Sinclair.
 
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mags65

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We had a portable tape recorder that I think ran on "D" type batteries, which we were always replacing. We would listen at nigh time around the camp fire while smoking ridiculously large joints and drinking flagons of red wine. I thought I was very grown up and in heaven.

I surfed there all through the my university days (73-78). It was a 10 hour drive from Adelaide in an old Holden (GMH) ute with 3 guys in the front and a 3 gear column shift, and our tent and boards in the back.

It was incredibly hot, av temp was around 40-45C, with it hitting 48C once or twice. We spent our time between surf sessions sitting in caves along the shore line. It was around the same time as the short board revolution, fantastic experience. Check it out on google maps - look for a town called Penong and Point Sinclair.
This reads like a micro-short story by Tim Winton - great stuff
 

fordiebianco

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Neil Young, Roger Waters, Gary Lineker - just a reminder, that if you are really talented in something, it does not mean that you are smart.
Neil Young, Roger Waters, yes, but Gary Lineker? The man is an intellectual giant compared to the other two. And a genuinely nice human being.
 
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