Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

David Pogue reviews the Pono Player for Yahoo:

The company says it has 2 million songs for sale, but 90 percent of it is in 44.1kHz format — no better than what’s on a CD. The remaining 10 percent, the good stuff, the remastered high-resolution songs, is hard to find.

[…]

At 96kHz (which is still not 192), there’s one album each from John Mayer, Kid Rock, Harry Connick Jr., David Bowie, Sting, Carole King, and Blake Shelton. Out of Tony Bennett’s 68 live and studio albums, only two are available at 96kHz.

The Pono store is almost completely devoid of high-res classical music, which is baffling — wouldn’t classical fans cherish high audio quality as much as rock fans?

If anything, classical music — with its much greater dynamic range — would be the most beneficial from higher-resolution audio formats. This whole thing feels like some kind of sham. Take this part of Pogue’s review:

You may remember that 14 of my test subjects said they didn’t hear enough difference to justify buying a Pono. The 15th guy, however, said, “I would and I did!”

That is, he was already the owner of a Pono.

I pointed out to him that in my test, even he had preferred the sound of the iPhone. His reply: The Pono may not actually sound better, but it delivers more emotion.

Re-read that sentence, but mentally change the subject from the Pono Player and sound quality to putting a drop of honey in your water every day for supposed health benefits. It feels as dishonest as any sort of homeopathic health claim.

Update: Sam Machkovech reviewed it for Ars Technica (via Michael Tsai):

Want to use studio-quality headphones with your new audio player? They better come with a 3.5mm adapter, because Pono doesn’t support any larger jacks. If you happen to own a pair of headphones with two “balanced XLR connectors,” you can plug them both in for supposedly improved sound.

I don’t get this decision at all. Isn’t this supposed to be for “audiophiles”?

We took the Pono Player on the go for an entire day, which proved to be a bit of a logistical nightmare. This isn’t just a bad device to put in a pocket—the triangular shape feels noticeable and obnoxious in your pants pocket—but it’s also lousy in a messenger bag. The creators elected not to include a hardware “hold” button of any sort. As a result, the volume and multi-function buttons got pressed on a regular basis during our testing—meaning this thing reached its maximum, incredibly high volume level so quickly that we had to rip earbuds out.

Gross.