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Review: Pono Music Store (bargain shoppers rejoice)


Staff Member
CFO (Chief Fun Officer)
Feb 13, 2016
Seattle Area
Review: Pono Music Store (bargain shoppers rejoice)
I have been purchasing a lot of music downloads and surveying different sites offering them. It is remarkable how different each are. It is almost like wild west with each one deciding a different way to do business and offer its services to customers. Previously I reviewed Prostudiomasters (see http://www.audiosciencereview.com/f...sters-high-res-music-distribution-service.19/). This installment is about Pono Music Store, not the device, but the music download store (there is nothing special about the files): https://www.ponomusic.com/

Richness of Content Library
This is one of the most important things to me. Many sites have so little coverage of music that most of the time you walk way not finding what you want. I am very pleased to say that Pono Music Store has an incredibly large library of music. If I were to estimate, it would be 100 times larger than all of its competitors combined!

This must be the power of Neil Young in the music space to have landed so many deals. Where this comes very handy is when I run into an out of print or nearly out of print CD with outrageous pricing. Invariably Pono Music will have the same time at the very attractive price (see next section). It doesn’t matter if this is Pop music or classical.

No, it is not Amazon. It doesn’t come close to richness of the library they have. But of course Pono offers high-resolution versions of many albums. It gets its strength in amount of music by not being picky and offering 44.1/16 versions if that is all that is available. So again, this fits the bill of buying those files instead of expensive CDs.

Also, the coverage is not always inclusive of what other high-res sites. I find HDTracks sometimes has albums/audiophile albums that Pono does not have. Sometimes also Pono has the album but only in 16/44.1 whereas the others have it in higher bit depths and sample rates. Both of these are rare but have happened to me.

The good news carries into pricing. Pono by far is the lowest cost of any download site. Its regular pricing is as good if not cheaper than the sale price with coupons of other sites like HDTracks and Prostudiomasters! A typical coupon from those sites is 15% and Pono’s regular prices are at that or at 20% lower level, every day. Pono also has a place to put in discount codes but I have never gotten any.

To give you an idea, regular 16/44.1 albums typically go for $10.66 or so. Sometimes this rises up to $12. If it is popular CD, Amazon can beat it including Prime shipping so you should check both sites.

As an example of high-res pricing, I just check out His Best: The Electric B.B. King by B.B. King at 192 Khz. Prostudiomasters has it at $24.99. Hdtracks is $24.98. Pono has it for $20.99.

I should say that Prostudiomasters has gotten aggressive on pricing and I just found that their specialty sales prices were better than Pono so you do have to do comparison shopping. But in general, there is no denying of Pono’s advantage here.

This is another area that Pono shines in. It is search that actually works! Cut and paste an album description out of Amazon or Google search and 8 out of 10 times it will show you the title. The display is also rather rich with separate hits shown for album, track and artist:


Its search is by far more accurate than Prostudiomasters and HDTracks. They are not even in the running. Again, Google, Amazon, etc. are better but in the small world of high-res music sites, Pono is king when it comes to search accuracy.

User Interface
Unfortunately, all the good news is behind us. Pono trails in almost all respect from other sites. Here is the main interface when you go there:

I mean honestly, who could design a more boring site? That stale, washed out, Grammy logo is there weeks after that was a real deal. You don’t even know that it is a hot link and clicking on it gets you to the list. How could someone in creative art not have access to resources to make this page prettier?

Looking below, we see a near useless list of new releases. No prices. No Review ratings. No sample rate. No idea if anything is on sale or specially priced (of which there is none). Just a bland list of albums in a few categories like David Bowie and such.

But wait, it gets better! Click on any of those albums and you land on this type of display:

Can you tell how you can preview a track? There is no indication. If you click on the track list and this is your lucky day, you may get it to open a control for playing that track. I say that happens in 1 out of 100 albums! Yes, you read that right. The site essentially has no preview capabilities. Can you say no music discovery is possible here? I knew you could.

I mean really. Is there some new research that says people don’t need previews to buy music? As it is, I have to go and search for the music elsewhere on Youtube, or Prostudiomasters just to make sure it is the album I am looking for. How could Neil Young not get this? Does he not use his own site?

Reviews and editorials? Forget about it! There is no trace of it here. You better know what you are interested in buying. Yes, there is the right side pane that is supposed to be discussions in their forums about said albums. I have only seen that come up once and it was some useless banter about pricing from a couple of years ago. FAIL, FAIL, FAIL!

Downloading Music
Let me say this up front: I hate music sites that don’t offer a download manager and instead dump the files in a zip file in my download folder. I then have to go there, open the zip file, create a directory with the right now, and copy the files there. What are computers for if I have to go and hold their hands???

Thankfully Pono has a download manager. Well, actually it doesn’t. What it does is that it installs a full copy of iRiver music manager/player branded under Pono. Pono does not let you download the files any other way than to install this big application! Did I say FAIL? I think I did.

And a “world” it is with this massive piece of software.

I need yet another media player polluting my laptop like a hole in the head. And this is one lousy implementation here that keeps timing out:

And time out it did, forcing me to reinstall the whole bloody thing. I need a curse word that says FAIL to use here.

And oh, you get these lovely error messages when you install boat load of software to do a simple thing:

And nice warning from Windows firewall saying this thing wants to call home for something:

Does it say Pono music? Of course not. It says Media Center 20 which I assume it is the name of Jriver Media Player.

But yes, if you are not as grumpy as me, it will be there to download music and it does that job well:

Pono is one of few sites that has its own credit card clearing house. This means you don’t have to resort to Paypal. It also remembers your credit card number for good or bad.
It is more of a pain to buy things though as it insists on verifying your address every time and agreeing to its terms of service. Not a huge deal but annoying.

They also make the same mistake others make in emphasizing the “SKU” number. In retail this is the unique number/name for any merchandize. In virtual world of course there is no such thing but they have assigned it to the titles. This is fine for their use but what the heck do I need that for?

And quantity? Give me a break. Yes I know they use a standard shopping cart but why? It can’t be hard to customize it to not have that column or SKU.

What I really dislike is that the there is no link to the albums you bought. Clicking on “included items” gives you a list of tracks but does not take you back to the page in the store where you bought it. I like to pull those pages into our site and show where people can buy the same albums but I can’t. I have to manually search and find the tracks myself! Again, what’s wrong with what Amazon is doing with giving you links to your purchase pages?

Pono Music Store has an enviable catalog of music in lossless and high-resolution formats. No other site comes remotely close to their breadth of titles. This, combined with reasonable, everyday prices makes it one of my top destination sites for purchasing music. Excellent search makes this trio of features unique in the industry (of high-fidelity music).

Of course I grind my teeth every time I use it. So much potential to offer that catalog of music in a user friendly manner is lost. Some of the sins are shared with other sites but many are of their own making.

Net, net, good or bad you want to use Pono to satisfy your purchasing needs for lossless and high-resolution audio. It reduces the premium for high-res audio and no other site offers CD replacement downloads at such attractive prices. Let’s support them with our purchases so that they stay in business.

Note: I have no financial interest in Pono Music whatsoever. I wrote this review based on my own purchasing experiences with no contact with the company.
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