Life With PonoPlayer

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I’ve been playing this thing daily for 5 months now. Here’s more thoughts on living with it (and some new pictures):

  • The form/shape is still nearly perfect. The only thing it doesn’t like is working out with tight clothing. If you workout with loose clothes (or don’t work out at all) you can usually find a pocket or ledge for it. It’s far better than a slab phone shape at most things: sitting up, sitting down, displaying, passing around, holding in your hand, using from inside pocket, not ruining your headphone jacks, coexisting with keys. The soft-touch plastic also feels better as it wears, and the buttons are easy to understand and operate in any environment. Nearly perfect design for an audio player.
  • Sound quality is still amazing and every day several things in my collection surprise me. I have about 400 CD’s ripped to it now and it’s astonishing how much of a sonic downgrade we accepted in the name of convenience when MP3 was introduced.
  • I have a hard time even listening to an MP3 now, I want a decent version immediately, and if I’m online I see if a 24bit version is available. I’ve re-bought 2 albums so far, knowing that I gave Apple $10 for the MP3 version a few years ago but it was a mistake. I find myself turning down MP3’s on the pono because it can’t work magic. One of my favorite moments lately is when I replace MP3’s with FLAC’s and delete the MP3’s forever. It’s like waking up from a musical nightmare.
  • Most people don’t notice it when I have headphones on, there’s so many devices out right now. As far as the folks that are curious, it’s about 50/50 whether they seem to understand it immediately. I’ve had a few people go “oh wow that’s a Pono!?!”. One guy said he didn’t want to hear it because he doesn’t want to have to buy one! I kinda get that, but he’ll own one eventually.
  • It’s magical when you bring it out amongst friends who are phone-listeners. Find any song they know and play it on speakers and they nod and smile, then immediately focus in and ask you to turn it up. They get big eyes, and start to bop, move, grin. They usually look at me like we are making a discovery together. Often times we both lock into and zone out for most of the song, something almost never done when playing MP3’s. I now have friends who want to share a song apologize to the group for playing music from their phone 😉
  • Most people understand “it sounds better” but they don’t all care to understand the details. The curious ones usually know about either lossy compression or deficient playback hardware, but usually don’t see both in their current rig until they’ve experienced the pono smile.
  • I like how owning a DAP has freed my phone from doing something it was not really cut out to do. I have not had a song interrupted by an alert, a phone call, or another app in 5 months. I play my music while waiting on hold. I have not forgot to play the next song or gotten a headache from too much music. I don’t have to keep turning it down from loudness wars and digital ear fatigue. I’ve cleared 10gb and counting from my phone by deleting those horrible mp3s
  • It’s not all good: The main round button is suspect. Mine is currently working correctly but it’s not the smoothest, and I am not confident it will operate properly for decades. This button does play, stop, next, last, sleep and wake so it gets a lot of use.

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The OS needs a few minor UI features, and I think they can add them without ruining the focus of the device. My suggestions to Pono Inc:

  1. A “Go To Album” link when shuffling songs, since shuffle on the Pono almost always triggers me to want to hear more from that record.
  2. Sleep/Lock could use more refinement. Being aware of charge-state would be great – I want separate prefs for battery or wall power.
  3. The song/artist banner across the top covers album artwork in landscape mode. It should autohide after a few seconds and reappear upon button touch. You know your own stuff and should see 100% artwork when the music plays.
  4. After adding a lot of music it has to rescan the music library and can take over a minute to do so. I have been adding batches of 15-20 CD’s and the artwork also glitches on first scroll through album covers, by shifting artwork amongst the items. It clears up after the first pass though. [*Update* Haven’t seen this issue since the last firmware upgrade]

 

I definitely recommend getting a PonoPlayer – it’s the best thing to ever happen to my ears and my CD collection, and the handful of 24bit albums I’ve bought so far all sound better than their 16bit counterparts.

There’s just more there, and you can hear it quite literally sound like more. Not louder, more. With a high quality playback device you can better enjoy high resolutions, and it’s very portable.

Hopefully soon I’ll pick up a $100 Fiio and do some Pepsi challenges against the Pono, and so my wife isn’t killing her ears and mood anymore with MP3s.

If you took part in the MP3 revolution like most of us you might still be there (streaming or local), so you have to hear lossless files on a PonoPlayer. You won’t want to go back.


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The Ultimate (Final) Digital Music Collection

I’ve got my DAP that plays everything wonderfully. It’s got expandable storage and prices are low enough that I think it’s time to abandon the iTunes catalog I’ve spent 15 years curating to the smallest size possible and build a full-quality digital music library to last me the rest of my life.

This will be moved from my various hard drives to MicroSD flash storage using 64gb and 128gb cards. I am going to start at ~ 1.3tb and grow from there, achieved with 10 128gb cards.

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The tech is all simple and affordable. I’m looking at $40 for a multi-slot card reader and storage book for the cards. The reader plus my laptop will give me 3 slots for easy file management.

The cards themselves are priced about $60 for 128gb right now, so I’ll eventually spend about $600 on media. For $650 and lots of feeding discs into the ripper I will have all of my digital music in a single booklet, forever available at the highest quality I own.

Here’s the challenge, I call it my #1 modern problem — how to index/organize the cards?  I have been thinking on this for weeks now, and have asked several people’s opinions, and here’s a chart laying out how I see my various options:

How to organize 10 terabytes of music?

How to organize terabytes of music?

 

As you see, I’ve already excluded 2 methods A & B, leaving 6 more suggested ways to file all this music away. Each has pros and cons and none are scoring ahead of the others based on listenability, findability, and variety.

I will post more on this as I work out this problem. What are you thoughts on the best way to organize over a 1TB of music?

Also, see previous post on this topic of new storage space and great Rip 2.0

Project Overview: 

Combine 1000+ CD collection with a 20gb-sized MP3 collection, ripping the CD’s as 16/44 FLAC, (replacing any lower resolutions), purchasing some new 24bit albums, and storing it with a single index across 10+ MicroSD cards. Managed either manually or with JRiver/Ponomusicworld client.

The PonoPlayer contains 64gb of fixed memory plus the MicroSD card slot. I plan on using the internal storage as my “favorites” library and then I can load an additional separate card for separate occasions. If I’m stuck without a card I will still have over 100 of my favorite albums on the internal storage.

 

Triangle Love

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More random reasons to love the PonoPlayer, the more I live with it:

  1. It has no EQ. Thank you. The mix is perfect, or at least final. You can buy different headphones/speakers, or run an external EQ if you insist, but the PonoPlayer stays pure and presents the files without any EQ or degradation. From artist to you, perfect.
  2. It will shuffle all songs or playlists, but won’t shuffle albums or songs within the album. So it doesn’t break continuity of an album, has lossless playback, and let’s you concentrate on something other than the screen as the album plays. I sometimes miss the iPod shuffle features but you can make it work if you like specific types of shuffles. Playlists can take care of most custom concepts, but PP likes to play traditional album/CD style by default.
  3. They’ve just about worked out all the minor kinks with the 2 firmware updates. Rotation is still frustrating because a triangle divides a square perfectly, leaving you right in spin zone all the time, so I lock it to landscape.
  4. The mac version of desktop client has also been updated 3+ times since 12/2014 and is becoming quite pleasant. It (“Ponomusicworld” is a rebranded version of JRiver Media Center) really kicks iTunes ass when it comes to library management and tag editing. It’s growing on me.
  5. A few more good reviews are out there, and the attacks against me in online forums have dwindled as people at least acknowledge basic signal chain -aka it sounds good. No matter politics or beliefs in audio science, it very simply sounds nice and it’s hard for people to hate on that.
  6. This thing doesn’t have a great battery. That sucks, but it is standard and easily replaceable so I’m sure someone will recommend an upgrade as these first generation batteries age. Thus even the bad battery is a net positive because you’ll be able to pop any number of 3rd party batteries into PP and get better performance than what I’m seeing for many years to come. Note that I have the kickstarter NY001 version, so they may have already moved to a better battery.

 

Bring On The Competition

Can’t wait for that Pono?

Can’t handle the power of the triangle?

Here’s the Fiio X1 finally available in the US at around $100, and that ain’t too much to pay for some serious hi-res music playback. Pono’s are gonna be about $400 and probably not 4x better sounding, since they are basically similar in important specs.

You know that iPod and that phone just don’t sound that good. Investigate with your own ears.

Walkman IV – The Return of Fidelity

[deep ominous movie trailer chord]

Walkman 1 (1980) – by Sony – stereo cassette – 2 headphone jacks – powered by 2 AA batteries for runtime of 20 hours.

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Finally private jams!

Walkman II (1984) – Discman by Sony – compact disc – 1 headphone jack – powered by 2 AA batteries for runtime of 30 hours.

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Finally digital private jams!

Walkman III (2001) – iPod by Apple – digital file player w/max resolution of 16/44 – 1 headphone jack – powered by rechargeable internal lithium polymer battery for runtime of 10 hrs per charge

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Finally bootlegged private jams with no skipping!

Walkman IV (2014) – Pono Player – digital file player w/max resolution of 24/192 – 2 headphone jacks with 4 output configs – powered by rechargeable battery for runtime of ? hrs per charge

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Finally master-quality in my ears like the artist intended!

You know I’ll have a review as soon as I get mine.


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My HD Digital Audio Life Begins Soon

My new sexy little digital audio player (aka DAP) is arriving at the end of this month. I was an early supporter of PonoMusic and their PonoPlayer on kickstarter, so not only will I have one of the first Pono’s out in the wild, but I was extended a pretty awesome benefit as an early investor – free file quality upgrades for life!Three_Ponos_02_773

That means any purchases I make from the Ponomusic store are guaranteed to be the highest native resolution available. If this is not the case (say the artist puts out a new version at higher native resolution, or licensing changes and Pono gets access to a better version) Pono Inc. will offer me the choice of a free upgrade if I want the bigger files.

This is VERY cool, and a big part of why I signed up. Sadly I don’t believe this feature is going to be available for all customers, at least not at the base price. They should offer it – the “lifetime” digital version. If 32bit/384k audio is all the rage in 2030 it would be great to not have to purchase half my collection again.

They are also claiming they will launch their store with over 2 million HD songs from the 3 major record labels so we will see. Initially PonoMusic and HDTracks will be the go-to places for HD audio, but I think Apple, Sony, etc. will be moving into HD Audio in the next year.

Here’s a pretty and concise (if not totally accurate*) chart showing you the amount of audio data that the formats move:

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Note that the blue box above is soon to become the standard for streaming, which is the low-end of the market. If you are storing the media you expect the highest quality possible

[*My issue with the chart is how it ignores bit depth change for sample rate promotion. If you understand what the “24-bit” part of that signal means, the jump from the blue box to the light yellow box, shown as a small jump on this chart, is actually much larger of an improvement to our ears because so much of it deals with timbre, spatial, room sound, overtones, decays – aka the hard to quantify but easy to recognize side of music and recording. The chart shows raw data bandwidth but nothing about sound accuracy and quality.  That said, it is titled “Music quality spectrum” which is misleading and probably applied by marketing people. But I also haven’t heard Pono yet, so maybe it is 5x better than CD!]

I am also developing a strategy for how to buy digital music again, and what exactly to seek in HD. My current idea is to buy 1 album/month, and to alternate between new (to me) and re-buying existing stuff that I only have at low-res mp3 or damaged vinyl. If I own it on CD I’ll probably just rip 16/44 WAVs again, since the jump in quality from 16/44 to 24/96 is not worth $20 to me.

imagesFor storage I plan on having several 64gb cards to swap in and out of the Pono, but how many albums per card, and how to organize those cards is still up in the air. It’s a new world!

The Pono Player is a new type of consumer device (at least in audio) – a portable digital device that performs at a very high level but focuses solely on it’s core task and does not include many other features. The Pono Player plays portable digital music at a very high quality level. It does not stream, in or out. It doesn’t have any cell, wifi, or bluetooth radios on board. It does not play games. It does not run a smartphone OS or multitask. It doesn’t even have an inline music store on the device.

It just plays music at the highest quality available for a <$500 device, from crappy mp3’s, to ripped CD’s, to super high def 24/192 flac files. It has headphone and line-out. It syncs through a cable to your computer for side-loading of tracks like the first iPods. In fact it reminds me alot of the early iPods except with vastly greater sound quality, which is why I refer to it as “iPod Pro”.

Once it’s in my hands I’ll post some pics and my version of a review, but I can’t wait to hit people with the sound of this thing, either in their headphones or over speakers. The power of music is strongest when the music is the purest and most accurate it can be, and hearing such things in the last 10 years has required that you know a music snob with lots of money invested in their system. Pono brings the pure audio to the portable masses, and I can’t wait!

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Hi There I’m Walkman 2014

Neil Young’s preaching has been working — Sony recently announced their latest WalkMan, the 35th Anniversary model, and it’s pretty bad-ass. Save the Audio!

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That little slab of gadget-lust has got hi-fi audio specs (DAC, amp, wiring, shielding), excellent build quality, and it plays high resolution digital!

This is the proof that there is a market for true music playback systems again. If Sony’s 35th anniversary walkman plays HD audio it immediately differentiates it from the “low-fi” phone and iPod world we’ve been in for the last 10 years.

Some general information, in case you are interested in purchasing one:

  • available in Japan and Europe late 2014, street price expected around $700 US
  • plays up to 24 bit, 192k FLAC and other formats
  • 64gb on-board memory, not expandable
  • runs the full android OS with app installation allowed, including outside music stores
  • wifi and bluetooth expected for non-audio features. not clear if it can send audio over bluetooth

 

Compared to the Pono player, I think we will have some choices in this emerging market:

  • available in the US late 2014, street price expected to be $400 US
  • plays up to 24 bit, 192k FLAC and other formats
  • 64gb on-board memory + card slot for swapping 64gb cards (128gb cards coming soon)
  • runs a proprietary OS with audio only features. no apps or internet connectivity
  • no wifi or bluetooth. Neil says you can’t take away the wires if you can’t replace what originally went through them 😉

 

There’s two other DAP’s I found on the market in the US, one from a company called Fiio and one from an upscale stereo maker whse name is slipping my mind. But the Fiio one was around the $400 price point and looked to be an impressive device. The other one is high-end all the way, with the player over $1k and even the cables were $100+, so no thanks on that.

 

 

 

My First Laptop

I’ve been more or less living on a laptop since about 2002. I had a desktop machine as my only rig from ’87-’96 (Atari, Apple, Tandy, Gateway, Dell, IBM, white boxes, you name it…) and around 1996 I was finally able to pick up my first laptop on that new thing called eBay: an Apple PowerBook Duo 230 with a built-in modem, fax, rollerball and an extra battery. I quickly picked up a duoport SCSI adapter and was on my way.

It came from a guy in California that said he used it on the beach and hoped it didn’t have any sand in it – it did. I never managed to buy the whole desktop portion to slide the closed duo into, but it was one hell of a laptop.

This was the first netbook by about 15 years, I think. It was smaller and lighter than anything else out there even when I bought it used. The rollerball was killer, the buttons worked great, plus it had a built in modem, ethernet, and retractable legs!


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