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  • Blind Tests Reveal that Apple's iPhone Preferred Over Neil Young's PonoPlayer for Music


    Tests conducted by Yahoo Tech’s David Pogue, an ex-professional musician, revealed that there is no difference between the sound quality of the PonoPlayer and Apple’s iPhone. For those of you who didn’t already know, the new Pono music player is a uniquely shaped triangular device that is backed by legendary rocker Neil Young and said to deliver high-quality music for audiophiles. Young claimed that the he had been working with Steve Jobs on a new music format that would improve audio quality, the plans unfortunately fell through, but he sought out public support for the PonoPlayer which was said to support high-fidelity audio up to 192kHz/24-bit resolution.

    Sadly, not only could Pogue not tell the difference between music from the PonoPlayer and high-quality MP3s on Apple’s iPhone but he also found that tests with others didn’t bode well for the high-end portable media player either. In a blind trial using identical songs and identical headphones, Pogue found that listeners actually preferred the iPhone playback with high-quality MP3s. Surprisingly, Apple’s iPhone won out over the PonoPlayer when using both earbuds and headphones. Pogue wrote the following regarding the matter afterwards:

    Pono's statement that 'Everyone who's ever heard PonoMusic will tell you that the difference is surprising and dramatic' is baloney. When conducting the test with today's modern music files, I couldn't find even one person who heard a dramatic difference.
    A review from the folks over at ArsTecnica didn’t have as many bad things to say about the PonoPlayer but did admit that the 192kHz/24-bit FLAC audio files played on the Pono didn’t sound noticeably better than high-quality MP3 files. Switching to the Pono requires users to re-purchase their music library at a cost of $2.50 per song, a move that many are unlikely to make. Coupled with the sluggish touchscreen, an awkward triangular design, eight hours of battery life and the fact that it overall tends to perform worse than Apple’s discontinued iPod classic, the device is unlikely to garner much attention.

    Ultimately Pogue had the following to say regarding the PonoPlayer and its claim to be the best audio quality for portable media players on the market:

    It's like saying that wearing a crystal or a magnet makes you healthier: There's no scientific or measurable basis to the statement, but then again, if it works for you, nobody can argue with you.
    What do you think of the PonoPlayer? Will you be getting one?

    Source: ArsTechnica, Yahoo Tech
    This article was originally published in forum thread: Blind Tests Reveal that Apple's iPhone Preferred Over Neil Young's PonoPlayer for Music started by Akshay Masand View original post
    Comments 22 Comments
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      This doesn't surprise me. There's so much fluff out there in the audiophile world. It's very easy to prey on consumers by increasing specs way beyond anything us humans can detect:

      24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

      24-bit depth, 192+kHz sampling rates, silver cables, external DACs, external amps, etc. In most cases, it's all snake oil. I recently tested several "high-end" amps and DACs and in most cases they were worse than the direct output of my iPhone 6 - especially in respect of the low-frequency response and the noise floor.

      BTW, if anybody has any references to contradict the above finding, I'd be interested to see. Any double-blind studies out there showing a statistically-signifcant preference for 24 bit-depth? I doubt there are. Then again, there are people that genuinely enjoy purchasing and owning those crystals and magnets and some recent studies have shown that the more expensive the placebo, the more effective it is. Some people will undoubtedly swear by the awesomely-improved sonic experiences of their Pono players. Most normal humans beings can save their money, and won't be missing anything at all :-)
    1. flash66's Avatar
      flash66 -
      Hell no! For what? I can't imagine carrying an iPhone and a triangle log in my pocket. Also I never liked Neil Young's voice either. Only in the chemically induced 60's and 70's could a voice like that be appreciated.
    1. luvmytj's Avatar
      luvmytj -
      The Cobert Report had Neil on last October pushing the Ponoplayer. Here's the clip - Neil Young - Neil Young - The Colbert Report - Video Clip | Comedy Central
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      He didn't ever say where you have to put it to "feel" the music ;-)
    1. mrrom92's Avatar
      mrrom92 -
      Anyone who is against the adoption of higher resolution standards for audio is completely ******* mental. End of story. Everyone has that one weird relative who still uses a VCR or DVD player because Blu-ray "doesn't make any difference" "it's still the same movie" "who cares". Unfortunately many people don't realize they are just like that person, for audio, holding onto standards defined in the 70's which only hold us back.
    1. Zokunei's Avatar
      Zokunei -
      Quote Originally Posted by mrrom92 View Post
      Anyone who is against the adoption of higher resolution standards for audio is completely ******* mental. End of story. Everyone has that one weird relative who still uses a VCR or DVD player because Blu-ray "doesn't make any difference" "it's still the same movie" "who cares". Unfortunately many people don't realize they are just like that person, for audio, holding onto standards defined in the 70's which only hold us back.
      I would like to see an option in iTunes to download a CD quality version or something, but it's been scientifically demonstrated that anything far above 40 KHz is just enabling recording stuff beyond the human audible range (like recording ultraviolet in video, not a higher resolution). There has never been a true scientific test that has proven 192 KHz is actually better for listening. It can be better for recording because of antialiasing, but it can then be down sampled to a CD without any loss in audible quality. Almost anyone can tell the difference between 360p and 1080p if they are paying attention, but as many tests have shown, the same isn't true for 16/44.1 vs. 24/192.

      (And no, the test in the article was not scientific.)
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by mrrom92 View Post
      Anyone who is against the adoption of higher resolution standards for audio is completely ******* mental. End of story. Everyone has that one weird relative who still uses a VCR or DVD player because Blu-ray "doesn't make any difference" "it's still the same movie" "who cares". Unfortunately many people don't realize they are just like that person, for audio, holding onto standards defined in the 70's which only hold us back.
      Nobody is holding you back. You go buy yourself a pono player. Just understand that you'll be stuck in the 80s with your limited 24 bit-depth audio. I'm working on up-sampled 32 bit-depth and 384kHz sampling rates which sound far better than pono. Only at 32/384 can you really feel the emotion in the music the way the artist originally intended.
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Sorry - duplicate post.
    1. SpiderManAPV's Avatar
      SpiderManAPV -
      I can actually tell the difference (it's tiny but there) in .flac (*cough*.alac*cough*) vs normal mp3s, but the files are so huge and the difference is so small that I admit I don't see the point. Not even sure if this is the argument here, but hey that's my piece.
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by SpidermanAPV View Post
      I can actually tell the difference (it's tiny but there) in .flac (*cough*.alac*cough*) vs normal mp3s, but the files are so huge and the difference is so small that I admit I don't see the point. Not even sure if this is the argument here, but hey that's my piece.
      There are certainly differences to be heard between flac and mp3 (or flac and re-mastered flac) - especially with enough compression in the mp3. The issue here is bit depth (how many levels of loudness do we need to represent the sound) and sampling rate, i.e., how many times per second do we update the signal. The point here is, exactly as Zokunei pointed out, Neil Young is trying to sell you a TV that covers frequencies into infra red and into X-rays - frequencies that are simply not detectable by any human. 24/192 would only benefit Neil Young's dog.
    1. mrrom92's Avatar
      mrrom92 -
      Nyquist theorem is just what it says it is. It has nothing to do with achieving higher frequencies, as even very high end DACs fail to trully output above 20k, regardless of whether you'd hear it or not. The issue is that quantization distortion exists. There is truly greater accuracy in recreating the original waveform at higher sampling rates due to distortions created in the audible range at redbook resolutions.

      The difference between 16 bit and 24 bit depth is also very apparent with dynamic material, especially when any DSP is applied. Even something as simple as digital volume control truncates data as it is no longer the original samples being reproduced. Noise and distortion are introduced into the audio. However at 24 bit, the noise is well below the range of audibility.


      There is a reason that professionals worldwide have long been using these higher resolution digital standards, myself included. I have no interest in Neil Young's player or his store. The only reason it even exists is because Apple fails to provide audio in a level of quality equal to what we've had for 30+ years, let alone better. Maintaining redbook resolution audio would even be a big step up. I know it's not apples current priority, but I look forward to the day when I can purchase hi-resolution music on iTunes, import my own high resolution media, and sync them to a device that has the audio capabilities of the Pono device - 24/96 at a minimum, with flac decoding
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      I'm not disputing the fact that quantization distortion exists (it exists with any sampling rate). What matters is whether the human ear can discern it. If not, the product is snake oil. 16 bit is also sufficient to go "well below the range of audibility" and all the way past the threshold of pain. 24-bit is useful in recording because it's easier to mix together various samples without worrying about the gain on individual tracks. But on the final master, 16-bit has never been shown to be inferior (in terms of human perception) to that of 24-bit. Again, if anybody has any links to a double-blind A/B test showing otherwise, I'm up for a good read...
    1. unison999's Avatar
      unison999 -
      It is marketing that is doing this test, they do not want people to even try different technology.
      The thing is it is article like this that makes me want to compare the two even more.
      People buy expensive sound equipments, it is ab out time there is something that matches the quality of those equipment to plug into.
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Quote Originally Posted by unison999 View Post
      It is marketing that is doing this test, they do not want people to even try different technology.
      The thing is it is article like this that makes me want to compare the two even more.
      People buy expensive sound equipments, it is ab out time there is something that matches the quality of those equipment to plug into.
      Absolutely you should make the comparison. That's what everybody should do. Nobody is trying to dissuade you from making the comparison. Nobody is going to stop you from buying a pono player if you hear (or "feel") the amazing sonic improvements from 24/192.

      IMHO, this is simply a case of somebody who already has enough money, preying on the gullible and the ignorant. But sometimes being a consumer advocate is like trying to rescue the Princess from the evil ogre in the dungeon, only to find out that she's in love with the ogre and actually enjoys the rotten damp, moldy stink of the dungeon.
    1. mrrom92's Avatar
      mrrom92 -
      Stockholm syndrome is a *****. But anyway, at 16 bit, when enough resampling is done, the noise floor raises considerably. and most media playing hardware/software do not ensure bit perfect playback as they process the audio during playback. If they didn't, then yeah, 16bit would probably be adequate in most cases. Unfortunately not the case though.

      Simple test - record digital silence, at both 16 bit and 24 bit. Now digitally amplify each (non)waveform by whatever amount. X times 0 should be zero, right? But which file remained silent?
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      Yes, but consumers/end-listeners aren't resampling. As I said before, I've no issue with 24-bit in the studio, but it's overkill on the end product (CD or flac file).

      I'm not disputing your hypothetical scenario about the noise floor either, but it is hypothetical. If you had either of those signals on your hi-fi/headphones and a signal suddenly came in at maximum gain, both 16-bit and 24-bit would instantly blow out your eardrums. The situation you describe is of zero practical concern to anybody that listens to music at normal (or even loud) volumes, no matter what the dynamic range.
    1. mrrom92's Avatar
      mrrom92 -
      My point is that a lot of consumer products do perform on the fly resampling of some sort (even something so simple as lowering the volume on your iPod from 100%, or any use of EQ) and that at 16bit, it does introduce noise into the signal. It's just not very audible with most pop/rock recordings, where production techniques tend to have a greater limiting effect on the dynamic range anyhow.
    1. csglinux's Avatar
      csglinux -
      I understand about the limited dynamic range of a lot of current pop, but even recordings with large dynamic ranges aren't an issue - even if you're trying to damage your hearing. Check out this link: 24/192 Music Downloads are Very Silly Indeed

      Of course it's possible to get some crappy hardware/software that digitally clips its output and limits your useful dynamic range, but an iPhone's internal volume control does not do that. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus have a fairly impressive internal DAC and amp. Lowering the iPhone volume from max to min will give you (well at least me, even with extremely sensitive, 114 dB/mW, 8 Ohm headphones) absolute silence.

      What you're saying is indisputable. 16-bit dithered will introduce noise into the signal. Yes. But so will 24-bit. It's just that 16-bit dithered might introduce a tad more. The question is, as a normal human being, can you hear the difference? Truly? Have you visited HDTracks and compared? Not tracks that are re-mastered, but a direct comparison of the same master at 24/192 vs 16/44?
    1. mrrom92's Avatar
      mrrom92 -
      As an audio engineer myself I've directly done comparisons on many occasions in studio. Between all sorts of formats both digital and analog. Original master tape, lacquer, pressed record, dsd, 32 bit float, 16 bit, 44.1, 48, 96, 192. You name it. There is certainly something lost at lower resolutions. Not a lot, and by all means 16/44 is adequate for most people. But then again, so are mp3s re-transcoded 7 times from YouTube. But it's there. If people are willing to pay for the ultimate in performance, then I don't see the problem with it. The problem is that people do not understand it, and also do not have the hardware to compare for themself, or even the trained ear to know what to listen for. I can't say I like the Pono approach but I'm glad that it's putting this in the public's eye.


      As we can both agree, the increase in performance is based in scientific fact, and indesputable math. There is no audio voodoo involved, no mystical shakti stones or magical cables, etc. In an age where less and less people are spending money on music at all, if the people who want even the slightest increase in performance want to pay a little more for it, that's not a bad thing. $20 for a high quality album is not at all an exorbitant amount. FLAC compression is very powerful, decoding is not processor intensive, and storage space is cheaper than ever. We're finally getting what digital promised 30 years ago - *THE* sound as heard in the studio. There's no reason to get lower quality files in this day and age. Whether or not our gear is capable of resolving that, or our ears can discern it, I'd rather live in a world where we all have the option to have the music we enjoy in higher quality, rather than one where lossy files are all that are available. Good on Hdtracks and Pono for taking the first steps in making this available. I personally can't wait to see when Apple will jump on the bandwagon too, and begin offering their audio in hi-rez. They've already begun accepting masters from labels in 24/96, it can't be long now. The pricing and the backlash will probably be much smaller - all it takes is apple for everyone to fall in love with an idea, apparently.
    1. Zokunei's Avatar
      Zokunei -
      I'm just hoping that HP's promise of having technology that will allow 100 TB of memory on a smartphone within a few years is true so that there's no reason for lossy files of anything to exist anymore. Right now offering even CD quality for a 16 GB phone would be kind of ridiculous.