Is the Pono High Resolution Music Player a Complete Bust?


Legendary rocker Neil Young had a dream that most audiophiles would inherently agree with: compressed mp3 music is inferior to what good vinyl sounds like. We need a portable high resolution music player so that we can play high resolution, high bitrate songs for the best fidelity.

This quest isn’t anything new.  Scott Wilkinson of Editor of AVS Forum and host of the weekly podcast, Home Theater Geeks teamed up with AIX records to conduct a non-scientific test to see if people could tell the difference between high res audio files and CD-quality files.  While the results were mixed, one could infer that the better quality the audio system, the more likely listeners were able to tell a difference.  What is new, however, is that Neil Young and his team wanted to bring high res audio to the portable player market.

By any standard, their initial start was a resounding success and showed to a very large degree that people care about their music and getting it in high fidelity. Although asking for an initial infusion of $800,000, the Pono team received an astounding $6.2 million on Kickstarter.

Now that the Pono player and complementary online store are available to the general public, David Pogue, notable for his technology column in the NY Times, took a Pono for a listening spin.  What most audiophiles probably weren’t expecting was his blistering assault on the Pono, calling it: “Neil Young’s Pono Player: The Emperor Has No Clothes.

David Pogue makes many good points in the article and he echoes some of the items we’ve previously talked about here—specifically the quality of the master recording.  In other words, if the master recording was only done at 16/44.1 (CD quality) then up sampling it to somehow become high-resolution won’t yield any sonic benefit.  The data simply isn’t there. The NY Post has also weighed in on this topic with a quick, interesting read here.

Check out David Pogue’s article.  It’s a good read and the inferences of the article are pretty interesting.  First, AAC-encoded audio does a great job of competing directly against lossless high res audio and secondly, the iPhone’s audio hardware isn’t as bad as many think.


    • David, thanks for the link. Great stuff over at the PartTime Audiophile. You may be right, however David Pogue's point is well-taken. The Pono is positioned as a portable music player. If the portable sound isn't superior to what's out there, then that could pose a problem for the product's long-term viability. It will be interesting to see how it plays out for sure!

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