When legendary musician Neil Young first announced his Pono player and music service in 2014, it sparked both excitement and skepticism in the audiophile community.
Young promised lossless, high-resolution audio quality that would transport listeners, but the $399 price tag and streaming-only model raised questions.
Seven years later, the Pono brand lives on through Pono music downloads and the Pono Pono players. But is this latest device actually worth buying in 2021?
In this in-depth Pono Pono player review, I’ll share my hands-on experience and research to help you decide if it’s a scam or a legit high-quality audio option.
How the Pono Pono Player Works
To understand the value (or lack thereof) of the Pono Pono player, it’s important to first understand its technical specs and features:
- Lossless Audio Formats: The Pono Pono player supports FLAC and ALAC lossless audio files up to 24-bit/192kHz resolution. This is much higher quality than standard MP3 or AAC streaming.
Storage and Expandability: It comes with 32GB of internal storage but can be expanded up to 128GB via a microSD card. This allows you to store thousands of high-res songs on the device.
Connectivity: In addition to playing music stored locally, it can stream Tidal and Qobuz music services over WiFi or Bluetooth. It also has a headphone jack and supports Bluetooth headphones/speakers.
Touchscreen and Interface: The 3.5-inch capacitive touchscreen makes navigating playlists and albums intuitive. The interface is simple and easy to use.
Battery Life: Rated for up to 10 hours of playback on a single charge, which is very good for a dedicated music player.
So in summary, the Pono Pono focuses on high-quality lossless audio files and expandable local storage rather than streaming-only like its predecessor. But does its performance truly justify the $399 price? Let’s dig deeper.
My Experience Testing the Pono Pono Player
To give a fair assessment in my Pono Pono player review, I decided to put it through its paces over the past month. Here are the key aspects I tested:
First and foremost, how does the lossless audio actually sound compared to other devices? Plugging high-impedance headphones directly into the Pono Pono and toggling the digital volume, the fidelity was immediately noticeable.
Vocals and instruments had a richness and sense of space that wasn’t achievable on my phone or laptop. Bass was tight and impactful without sounding boomy. Overall, the sound quality easily justified its high-resolution audio capabilities.
Usability and Interface
Navigating playlists, albums, and tracks was simple and logical thanks to the responsive touchscreen. Tap to play or pause, swipe to scroll, and menus were well-organized. Connecting to WiFi was painless.
Downloading songs was fast even over average home internet speeds. Battery life matched the 10 hours estimate. The physical design felt sturdy and compact for pocket portability. Overall I had no complaints about usability.
Compatibility and Expandability
As mentioned, it supports common lossless formats like FLAC and ALAC natively without conversions. Album artwork and metadata imported flawlessly from my music library. Connecting to Bluetooth devices worked without issue as well.
And expanding storage with a microSD was smooth. So both local music playback and streaming/connectivity are well implemented.
Value for the Price
At $399, this definitely isn’t a cheap purchase – even for an audiophile device. But when factoring in its high-res capabilities, onboard and expandable storage, user experience, and overall performance, I believe the Pono Pono delivers great value that justifies the cost…
Pono Pono Player FAQ
After using the Pono Pono player extensively, here are answers to some of the most common questions potential buyers may have:
Is the sound quality noticeably better than my phone?
Yes, without a doubt. Listen back-to-back and you’ll hear a more open, detailed presentation from lossless files on the Pono Pono. Phone DACs and headphone amps can’t compare.
Is it really worth $400 for a music player?
If you value sound quality and want lossless local playback without streaming limitations, then yes it provides great value at this price point against competitors.Just don’t expect smartphone apps level of streaming features.
Can I use it as a portable DAC/amp for my computer?
While it doesn’t have USB DAC functionality, you can still use Bluetooth to stream lossless music wirelessly from your computer to the Pono Pono.
What file formats and sample rates are supported?
It plays FLAC and ALAC files up to 24-bit/192kHz. So you get the highest quality available from most studio recordings and rips.
Is the storage expandable beyond 128GB?
No, the max microSD card size supported is currently 128GB. But that’s still a huge library of hi-res tunes even at large file sizes.
Does it work well as a transportable music library?
Yes – being able to store your collection locally, seamlessly transfer to other devices via Bluetooth, and get over 10 hours per charge makes it very practical for on-the-go listening.
Is the touchscreen responsive and easy to navigate?
Yep, the 3.5-inch screen is sharp and the interface is simple yet fully-featured. Browsing libraries and playlists is a breeze.
In Summary – Is the Pono Pono Player Legit?
After using the Pono Pono player extensively for music listening, library browsing, and usability testing over the past month, I can confidently say this product delivers on its promises and is not a scam.
At its $399 price point, you’re paying primarily for the high-quality lossless audio experience and expandable local storage.
While you can certainly get music playback more cheaply from other sources, the Pono Pono stands out for its focus on fidelity and portable high-res capabilities.
If you’re an audiophile who values sound quality over streaming convenience, its performance easily justifies the cost in my opinion.
So in closing, the Pono Pono player lives up to its mission of bringing studio-level audio quality directly to your ears.
Rather than just another generic closed ecosystem, it provides a thoughtful music solution for discerning listeners. I have no reservations recommending it.
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