Cheap build quality. Basic plastic case. Touch screen interface is too small, over-responsive, hard to manipulate with adult fingers. Buttons on device can get knocked easily, along with over-responsive touch-screen makes it a real pain in the arse when you carry it in your pocket, songs get switched or paused accidentally. While it was cheap on Kickstarter, its retail price is a bit of an ask considering its limited functionality. For it to survive its price will have to drop- market forces will decide that. Battery life ain't too grand. Considering the 'Toblerone' design was to accommodate a better battery, getting 4-5 hours isn't much chop. ... And the player gets quite warm in your pocket. Another issue with the battery (sheesh, it's starting to sound like a 787 Dreamliner!). ON-THE-FENCE:
The 'Pono World' software. Personally I think it's great, but the majority out there hate it. It's basically an audio-only version of the 'I-River' software, which, is the best multi-media playing, encoding, media serving/streaming, all-round kvetching software out there. Once you get the hang of it after about 3-months of hair pulling, it is a powerful piece of app. PROS:
Overall, it sounds great. This website is called 'Perfect Sound Forever' and the PONO has set the ball rolling to achieve that state. It's not the 'best,' but for a small device, it delivers a spacious and often detailed sound. It can get a bit 'shrill' or overtly 'trebly' on some upper end sounds (a perfect example is the guitars on the Pixies Doolittle album). I think the interesting thing about listening to music on the Pono is the fact that you are not relying on sound 'coloring' anymore. Essentially there are no EQ, Bass, or Digital Signal Processing gimmicks programmed into the device. You just get the straight sound and volume control. If an album was recorded crap to begin with, the Pono will not give you much help, and will more than likely accentuate the flaws of the recording. I have played hours of music through it of a different variety, my brief observations as follows:
Giorgio Moroder/Donna Summer "I Feel Love" extended version 192/24 FLAC. I use this as my personal reference/demo track. I sounds magnificent, like it's 3D. It pulses and throbs beautiful, and the kick drum sounds like a kick drum, not a headache inducing 'beatz'/'doof' crap. Vocals are mixed perfectly and the analogue sequencers affect you on a molecular level. Rolling Stones "Sympathy for the Devil" 176.4/24 flac. This is another track is would refer to as a reference track. I haven't noticed this before but it sounds like Bill Wyman is using a semi-acoustic electric bass?? (ED NOTE: That's actually probably Keith) You hear the complexity and density of the rhythmic tracks, and also how dirty and piercing Keith Richards' final guitar solo really is. Neil Young "Cinnamon Girl" 192/24 flac official PONO version. PONO WORLD tracks have a special embedded tag that makes that makes the player emit a blue light track, and notifying you it's 'Pono standard.' You notice how dirty the fuzz is on this track, and Neil Young's vocals have a 'space.' You can almost hear the reverb off the wood in the vocal booth, it's hard to describe. Prince "Controversy" 192/24 FLAC. This was a track where I was able to demonstrate to a friend the difference between 'compressed' and 'uncompressed' HiDef music. A friend of mine claimed that the quality of streaming on Spotify had improved remarkably, and they do in fact offer an 'extreme quality' of streaming for Premium subscribes. I played him "Controversy" through my hi-fi system, and initially it sounds 'bigger', 'bassier,' more obvious. When we switched to the Pono, it sounded quieter, more laid back, but the subtle, but ultimately big difference was that we could notice Prince double-tracking his vocals with a high-pitched and deeper pitched vocal that harmonizes with that '80's synth. This couldn't be picked up via Spotify, the double-tracking seemed blended into one vocal. Big Star "Try Again" 88.2/24 FLAC from SACD remaster. Even with your bog-standard official Apple iPad bugs, you can hear the double tracked acoustic guitar, even something that might be a mandolin, but is actually an overtone. And then you hear Alex Chilton quite clearly do a one-off harmony on 'again' in the last stanza. St. Vincent 'Digital witness' 96/24 FLAC. While this track has a lot of 'space,' and takes advantage of all the cutting edge tricks in contemporary production and electronic instrumentation, it's a victim of this 'loudness war' issue. It's mixed way too loud, like most music produced since around 2001 and the PONO makes this as obvious as fart in a chapel.
The PONO sounds better than my Yamaha's RX-V777 built-in DAC playing FLAC, and as good as the DAC on my Oppo103 Blu/CD/DVD/audio/SACD player. Directly into my PrimalLuna Dialogue valve amp, it sounds great BUT not better than an Anstel&Kern AK100. The PONO sounds fantastic in my car stereo through the Aux input. Way better than the CD player and MP3 player. Makes long drives an utter pleasure, mix tapes never sounded so good, should become a staple for bands on tour. Official 'PONO' product is embedded with a metadata tag that activates the blue PONO LED on the player - an electronic stamp of 'top quality'! Its naff, but I like it.