Sound Porn?

Posted: November 28, 2014 in Music
Tags: , , ,

This came by second half of November, something I along with many others helped Kickstart a few months back.

Got Pono?

Got Pono?

After much fanfare and quite divisive (and some derisive) commentary, the Pono – how I hate that name even if it gives me a title for this post – music player created by Neil Young’s company finally began shipping out late October. I had opted for a limited edition artist signature piece which ships with two albums of the chosen artist pre-loaded in their high resolution sounding glory. Why the limited edition? Because I prefer the chrome look to the striking yellow of the other option. And I picked Beck because I have all the Pearl Jam albums and he was the only other artist in the mix at the time I signed up that I was interested in. There was a delay in some of the early shipments. I sent an email to the support team and in a couple of days everything was sorted out. I was well aware that there would be a fairly whopping charge at customs but I wish UPS had intimated me the actual amount before dropping in so I could have kept the money ready. They didn’t and I had not the cash the day the player came in. Another day’s delay. But finally I had it in my hand, out of a fancy and very good looking bamboo box and with a beautiful leather pouch to house it.

The player (I’m going to avoid using the brand name. I did tell you I hate that name, didn’t I?) comes with a USB to micro USB cable and an adapter completely useless in countries other than those that use US standard. Didn’t matter – I have a few adapters thanks to the multiple portable devices that we choose to surround ourselves with. The promised two pre-loaded Beck albums – “Mutations” and “Sea Change” – came in on a 64 GB microSD card. This card is in addition to the 64 GB built into the device (that had one song by Neil Young, “There’s A World” from “Harvest” on it). There are two 1/8 inch jack outputs on the player, one designated for a headphone and another as aux input for a speaker system. It gives you the option of sharing music by connecting to two headphones. Interestingly, you can use the two outputs as left and right channels to systems that take balanced XLR input. Total audiophile stuff but don’t let it bother you 🙂 It’s always good to have options! The engine is a DAC (digital-to-analog converter) designed by the highly regarded folk at Ayre. The Toblerone shape of the player doesn’t make it pocket friendly but then nor are the monster size phone that we get these days. And I can tell you this player doesn’t bend 😉 We are told that they had to go for this form so they didn’t have to compromise on components for lack of space. I can live with that. Moreover, this shape is perfect for placing on a table with clear visibility of the screen. And it makes it very easy and comfortable to hold. The touch screen is OK but nothing like what we are used to on phones these days. The interface is functional but needs redesign. I’m sure that’ll happen over time. One can play WAV, FLAC, AIFF, AAC, ALAC and yes, MP3 sound formats and one doesn’t have to necessarily purchase these from the company’s music store, which is now operational with a number of labels signed up to provide high resolution music and the catalog increases every day. At this point music from the store is available for purchase in the U.S. with a rollout in other parts of the world over the next few months. I’m not overly concerned about that because I get a lot of my music from HDtracks and of course, I’ve been converting my myriad CDs to lossless FLAC (seems to be a never-ending process). The library management software has not yet been released but that should happen soon. I wish it had been in time with the first shipment but again, it’s not a deal-breaker.

While I knew about it, I still think that the player should have shipped with a decent earphone and perhaps (maybe I’m just a bit greedy here) with a good quality aux cable. Well, it doesn’t, so you better have those on hand. But all the little glitches get blown away when this little thing does its gig. I don’t have the geekiness nor the wherewithal to have multiple portable players of this kind (from Astell & Kern, FiiO, Sony etc.) to do a comparison. I could only check it against wav files played on my iPod and on my Nexus 5 phone. And that comparison is neither fair nor relevant because what I hear from this player  – on the headphone as well as on my stereo system – is of a different calibre. I’ve spent time in studio on high quality systems and the clarity and the separation that I get from this little thing is right up there. Subtle bass lines that normally get buried, every crack of the snare, the sparkle of the cymbal, the deft touch on the guitar…all brought alive. That was the promise Neil Young made, that this player will deliver a very high quality listening experience.

Should you buy it? I don’t know. It works for me because I listen to most of my music on my stereo and I buy more of my music as lossless formats – I have little use for CDs. I needed a compact standalone player for my music that provides a high quality listening experience. A computer is not it and as of now, modern phones even with their quite surprisingly capable DACs are not it. It’s early days yet but this oddly shaped but comfortingly non-fussy player that does its job brilliantly well is probably the best single music investment I’ve made in quite a while.

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