Tuesday, March 19, 2019 09:49

Pono by the numbers (but not the ones you think)

March 17th, 2014

Let’s junk these silly ones:

“$4-million in Kickstarter pledges.”  This shows, paraphrasing Barnum, that there are about 12,000 of them born every millennium.  Pono’s choice to fund using Kickstarter in the first place suggests that ALL venture capital sources were too smart even to put up $800,000 which was Pono Music’s initial goal

“6 times more musical information than MP3 files.”  This is essentially meaningless.   CDs have about 10 times more musical information than MP3 files and Neil Young crapped on CD sound at his SXSW talk.

So let’s take a look at some real numbers.  I can assure you that they are real because they’re about me and my perception of Pono.  They have their roots in the responses I entered on a rating form using the Creative Product Semantic Scale (CPSS).  I’ve found that process useful for gear evaluation projects.  (So have some Fortune 500 folks.)

Let me be clear that I have not seen or touched or heard a Pono player.  I have not tried to use the music service; I don’t even know if that’s possible yet.  I based my responses on information gleaned from all sorts of sites and reports, not to mention opinions and commentary (often conflicting) by other online scribblers.

The graph below presents the CPSS results that my responses generated.  Pono didn’t fare real well.  The red bars show the components of the Novelty (a miserly 1.78), Resolution (on the low side at 3.46, , affected by the extremely low Valuable facet), and Style (a fairly respectable 5.20).  The maximum in each case is 7.00 so the N, R, and S averages also top out at 7.00.

Pono via CPSS

Surprising and Original:  Clearly Pono is nothing new.  Media players have abounded for years, even a couple of years before the iPod swept in.  So some 15 years later, a music player is far from original and Pono isn’t surprising either, touting a well-established lossless compression/decompression scheme doesn’t help the red bars go higher.  That lossless compression format is FLAC.  I currently have four FLAC devices around the house and if my phones had Android 3.0 at least, that would add two to the count.  I’m not counting various laptop and desktop computers all of which can handle FLAC files.

Logical, Useful, Valuable, and Understandable:  The third one stinks up the blue average, but that makes sense to me.  I’m not going to see Pono as Valuable if its functions so easily duplicated and in fact are within arm’s reach for me.  So why is Useful so high?  I guess because it appears to do what it purports to do:  play music.  Playing music is a useful thing in my mind.  Logical is in the middle range.  There’s nothing illogical about coming out with a new media player but logically speaking it’s not necessarily called for.  Understandable?  Well the idea of a media player is understandable.  One that doesn’t stream (so far anyway) and hangs in with the 20th century notion of downloading and installing, and paying handsomely for that isn’t so understandable.

Organic, Well-Crafted, and Elegant:  It looks good.  It’s a bit thick and seems not very pocketable.  The assemblers that Pono has tapped to handle production are well known and well respected.  Apparently that was enough to have my responses give Pono a break in the green range.

You can imagine that the conflict between a minimal Valuable rating on my part and the announced $399 retail of the Pono player means that the notion of buying one isn’t going grow in my consciousness.  I’m not even tempted to hit Pono up for the loan of a review sample.

I imagine they’d be pleased to know that.

Pono? PONO! pono.

March 12th, 2014

I’m a little late to the party. I hadn’t heard of Pono until reading Paul McGowan’s Righteous commentary. Paul is the CEO of PS Audio and produces daily musings, mostly dealing with music and audio.  Righteous introduced me to Pono.  It showed up yesterday.

I forwarded Paul’s comments to Bob Lefsetz. Bob is a music industry pro, commentator, and gadfly.  He sends out and posts the Lefsetz Letter, mostly dealing with music, artists, the recording industry, and technology.  Along with Paul’s Righteous observations, I included my own as follows:


Pono?  Paul McGowan says “You’ve no doubt heard of Pono.”  I hadn’t.

Apparently Neil Young’s going to try to roll his own digital music distribution service.  Apparently he figures he can do it better than Apple, Amazon, Spotify, Pandora, SiriusXM, and all that.

The way I read it, Pono is going to sell files…okay license files…that sound better than current digital distribution (files or streaming).  That’s a damn low bar of course.

But selling rights to store files on one’s own hard drive, card, what have you is starting to sound like “been there done that.”  And I’m not going to buy another damn copy of “Kind of Blue.”  I picked up the original LP while in high school, bought two CDs since then.  That’s enough.

My phone’s loaded up with MP3 stuff that I listen to in the car via the Bluetooth link.  I wouldn’t do that except that the sound quality on SiriusXM is absolutely intolerable on so many feeds…the ones I care to listen to anyway.

In the house, I flip on Pandora more than anything.  The sound quality is decent, although not consistently so.  And over time I’ve fine-tuned my list of “stations” to produce what for me is a wonderful mix that’s mostly familiar and guaranteed enjoyable but often surprising, challenging, and enlightening.

And who needs a pay service because Neil Young thinks he’s getting screwed by the usual suspects?

A new Lefsetz Letter arrived as soon as I finished typing what’s immediately above and forwarding Paul’s post. Clearly Bob Lefsetz had already been typing his Pono views and sent them out to all his readers as I was forwarding my quick thoughts to him.

Of course I had to share  Lefsetz’s Pono comments with Paul McGowan.  I included the following:
I forwarded your “Righteous” email to Bob Lefsetz and found this in my inbox seconds later.  I’d guess he was preparing his take on Pono well before I sent your piece along.


Paul’s reply:

Then he’ll absolutely love tomorrow’s.  🙂
He certainly knows how to be a grump.


Finally (for now) here’s today’s Kicking Butt from Paul McGowan.  It’s the “tomorrow’s”  that Paul referred to.

Comments welcome.

B&W P7 announcement: What’s in a preposition?

October 2nd, 2013

BowersWilkins-P7-on-White-reflectionThere’s a terminology question here that I’ll get to after I do the right thing by B&W and their new model P7 headphones.

The press release announcing the P7 arrived the other day. By the numbers (model designation and price), this new set enters at the top of B&W’s headphone product line. And in case one might miss those clues, the announcement specifies the P7’s position with clarity matching the sound that the set is designed to provide.

BowersWilkins-P7-Folded“Bowers & Wilkins’ P7 headphones deliver an enveloping, pristine listening experience. A combination of new drive-unit technology, luxurious materials, and a clever folding design, make the P7s Bowers & Wilkins best mobile hi-fi headphones yet.”

B&W, of course, is most appreciated as a producer of very high quality loudspeakers and their design people decided to use a construction approach similar to that of hi-fi room speakers as they worked out details of the P7.

BowersWilkins-P7-Driver-Close-upThis headphone set contains a drive unit that, like loudspeakers, involves the use of a basket structure so that the diaphragm that produces the sound is not also called upon to provide its own suspension. The means that the driver structure needs a bit more space and that presumably led the engineers to conceive the P7 as an over-ear headphone set. (There’s the preposition that bemuses me somewhat.)

To further liberate the sound-producing diaphragms, B&W opted for a light weight copper-aluminum alloy for the P7’s voice coils. And to put that liberty under necessary control, the drive units have a perforated resistive fill for a more piston-like action.

So what of that preposition? Here it is in B&W’s context: “Our first over-ear headphones, the P7s provide…”

I first understood “over” to be equivalent to “on,”  supra-aural as opposed to circumaural. But I was pretty sure I’d seen supra-aural (on-ear) phones from B&W and in fact the P3 and P5 models are such.

This is probably one of those “a rose by any other name” situations. but it could also be a “windscreen” vs “windshield” matter.  Perhaps in B&W’s home base of the UK, “over-ear” is preferred to “around-ear.”

In any case, the P7s appear to be a welcome topper to the B&W headphone line. According to B&W, they’re available right now with MSRP of $399.99.