Real World Listening — PonoPlayer Review Section 9

Rock City

Rock City

 

Real World Listening

I have lived with my Ponoplayer for over a month now and have used it in a variety of listening roles. I have loaded it with about 20gb of high-definition music and another 4gb of ripped CD’s. I have not purchased any new gear and have used the Ponoplayer in all of my current listening environments. We memorize more about our listening environments than you might realize so I was sure to plug the Ponoplayer into my existing setups to get a feel for it’s quality and fidelity.

My Listening Rigs (not a penny wasted*):

A – Living room record player rig: Altec Lansing computer speakers with powered subwoofer model BXR1221. These affordable ($50) and cute little suckers sound clear and warm when I plug them into my Gemini PT2000 turntable through a Bozak phono preamp ($20). I told you I wasn’t an audiophile!

It even sounds good going through the tape deck.

It even sounds good going through the tape deck.

B – Office computer speaker rig: Cheap-sounding Logitech speakers with a powered subwoofer that is usually plugged into my laptop for MP3 streaming.

C – Car: stock ’03 Toyota/JBL CD+Cassette system with 6 speakers and no aux in. I had to use the cassette adapter, that’s how I roll.

D – Home studio: I have 5 sets of speakers wired into my home mixing studio. 2 are self-powered – a set of Fostex PM05 5” 2-way monitors with 40W Per Speaker, and a consumer Samsung 5.1 surround system that mangles everything. The other 3 sets are powered by a late 70’s Pioneer consumer amp model SA 5500 II, pushing a mighty 15W per channel! These three sets of speakers are all low-end consumer speakers: Technics 3-way towers model SB-A27, and two sets of bookshelf speakers of various brands.

E – Headphones: For over the ear, I use Sennheiser HD-203 ($50) and for earbuds I have a set  of Monoprice 10152’s ($7).

F – Rehearsal space: At my rehearsal space we have a frankenstein PA consisting of a 20 year old powered mixer we call “Knight Rider”, a Roland CPM-120 with 120W powering a mismatched set of PA speakers- 1 JBL SF25 and 1 Shure Vocal-master. This thing hums, crackles, buzzes, and sounds all kinds of not accurate when playing pre-recorded music but it gets loud enough to practice with.

No more fear of turning it up on the PA.

No more fear of turning it up on the PA.

*This list should dispel any notion of snobbery or audiophile rich-guy attitude, as most of my setups are not only consumer grade, they are ancient and/or low-end. I go for value and flat, accurate audio wherever possible.

 

My Listening Habits: I spread my listening throughout the day at various volumes. I like to play vinyl in the morning with a coffee and late at night, keeping it quieter at night so as to not wake the chitlens. I crank the radio & CD’s in the car and I stream MP3’s at moderate volume while I work during the day. Probably pretty average. Before I mix my own music I usually listen to a reference CD at low volume to set my ears, and when I ride my bike I play MP3 but usually have 1 earbud out so I can listen for cars. At the rehearsal space everything is loud or frickin loud.

 

My Source Material: Before Pono I listened to vinyl for about an hour per day, CD for maybe 30 minutes per day, radio for an hour, and MP3 for around 4 hours per day. I enjoy lots of funk, rock, soul, with some jazz, singer-songwriter stuff, classic metal, classical piano and random hip-hop rounding out my usual suspects. I rarely go a week without listening to Stevie Wonder, P-Funk, Bowie, ELO, Beatles, Ohio Players, The Meters, Aretha, Roxy Music, Alice Cooper or Led Zeppelin so I am definitely a 70’s music lover. I also dig much from the 80’s, 90’s, 60’s, 50’s and an occasional modern band like Man Man, Cody Chesnutt, Menomena and TV On The Radio. I hate most modern pop and what they call rock now. The jazz I dig is Monk, Hawkins, Mingus, Coletrane, The Headhunters, and Sun Ra. My heart beats Chopin solo piano and my id belongs to Fishbone. I also have started to love the old standards from Armstrong, Bennett, Holiday, etc. but I admit I’m naive about most music prior to 1950.

Sadly it doesn't make me better at drums.

Sadly PonoPlayer doesn’t make me better at drums.

Loaded on the Ponoplayer I have several of my favorite albums: The Cars self-titled (24/44), Stevie Wonder’s Fulfillingness’ First Finale (16/44), Cody Chesnutt’s Landing on a Hundred (16/44), TVOTR’s Return to Cookie Mountain (16/44), Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Blood Sugar Sex Magik (24/96), Led Zep’s Houses of the Holy (16/44), Bowie’s The Next Day (24/96), The D.O.C.’s No One Can Do It Better (16/44), and Roxy Music’s Siren (16/44), along with several single tracks of classical and jazz at 24/96. I plan on buying 1-2 releases in 24bit per month.

While taking notes for this review I used a chart mapping out what I played, when, and how it made me feel, but I quickly lost interest in such tedious documentation of my listening. This is about you and your music anyway.

Do what you can to hear a PonoPlayer (or one of it’s new competitors) for yourself. If you love music and have felt something was really missing the last 15 years I think you will pull out your credit card asap. If you play vinyl I think you’ll appreciate that digital has finally matched vinyl in sonic fidelity. Stores like PonoMusic, ProStudioMasters, HDTracks, and Linn Records will be happy to sell you the last version of the album you’ll ever need to buy. PonoMusic even promised their kickstarter investors free upgrades to any purchased files if they prove to not be the highest quality native version available. This is called provenance, and it’s the new battleground amongst stores and labels, so watch out for upsample scams.

Note that there is still a lack of popular music at 24bit digital for sale, but part of the goal of Pono is to change that. There is a long way to go though, so remind your favorite artists or label that you’d like to hear the full version from now on, and you’d like to buy it. That should get their attention.


 

Continue to Section 10: Cliff Let You Borrow His Notes >>

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  • I loaned mine to my father in law who was going out of town for a bit. I told him to pick out a favorite album in 24bit and I’d buy it and load it up with a few CDs ripped to FLAC. I grabbed the cable, charge port, and PP and threw it in a plastic bag for him.

    I just left it at that, figured the device and the music would do the trick — or not. He knew of the device but wasn’t convinced he would hear a big difference, like a $400 difference. He had loved his iPod from version 1, and before that it was a decent CD collection, before that a killer 70’s vinyl collection. He is in his 60’s.

    I got the PP back Sunday with the following report: “Here man, thanks! At first I didn’t really get it, ya know, hear it directly, but after a few days, man, I think I am going to get one. I have to! I don’t want to go back to the crap I’m listening to now. The CD’s sounded amazing! When I get mine you have to tell me how to put all my CD’s onto the Pono. That 24 bit version you bought, let me tell you, wow, that’s how it should sound, the whole thing. Very cool, thanks for letting me borrow that.”

    Sold.

    He then took it around to several other people visiting and made them listen to a 24bit song. All 3 said the same sort of thing, quickly.

    I agree the signal chain of the PonoPlayer makes everything played sound pretty good.

    But I also know that the 24bit files possess more data and the PonoPlayer seems to present that little bit more quality and depth at 24bit that get the emotions flowing.

    so basically,It’s CD Ripping Time, ala nineties, but this time into 16/44 FLAC. Then you can sell the disc, it’s identical. We were all so ignorant 18 years ago ;-). It was just storage and bandwidth compromise all along.

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