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Pono and Harman hook up to bring hi-res audio to cars


Pono Player 27

Rock legend Neil Young has announced a partnership with audio giant Harman, in order to bring the Pono Player experience to cars.

The Kickstarter-backed company aims to bring high quality digital music files to the masses with the Pono Player and the recently launched HD music store.

However, it seems Young is already looking beyond the player itself, having “discussed solutions to offer the PonoMusic catalog and supreme, lossless HD quality playback in vehicles,” with Harman CEO Dinesh Paliwal.

Harman hasn’t yet announced a speaker or a device that’ll do the job, but it appears the company may get a ‘Pono certified’ stamp of approval.

In a press release, Young said: “The PonoPlayer is not for audiophiles, it’s for music lovers, who come in all shapes and sizes. We want all of them to feel the power of true HD quality sound.

“Our collaboration with HARMAN, the leader in branded car audio, is an exciting step forward in our journey to bring HD-quality music to people wherever they want to listen to it. As the company that brought us Studer, Soundcraft and Mark Levinson, HARMAN is the ideal partner for us.”

“Music is about the feeling you get when you listen to it. Up to 90 percent of a song’s nuances are lost in the digital compression process,” added Young. “I speak for many songwriters, performers, producers, engineers and fans, including myself, when I say, we all deserve better.”

Read more: Hands-on with the Pono Player

The $400 (around £263) Pono Player is one of the most popular Kickstarter projects ever, bringing in over $6m (about £4m) in funding from excited backers.

The player offers can handle super high resolution /FLAC files, which offer much greater quality far eclipsing iTunes downloads or Spotify streams.

The store went live this week, but audiophile-grade 192KHz/24bit albums certainly aren’t cheap, as we detailed in our report.


January 10, 2015, 5:23 am

this could be really big. the player is amazing but a niche product, since most people won't even think to leave their cell phone for music. sad but true.

but in cars, assuming they pull off the audio quality and don't just pimp the brand name out to the first car stereo that plays 24bit files, i'm all for it.

auto sound is a different beast as far as EQ but i can attest that the ponoplayer even sounds good going through my tape adapter to a jbl-toyota 6-speaker auto system.

if they put that DAC and that amp stage in a car head unit, I could be wanting to test drive that car, and I know i look good in a lincoln.


January 10, 2015, 5:48 pm

The idea of an in-car Pono Player sounds ridiculous to me and would probably cause more accidents as a result of ridiculously turned-up volumes. I doubt if Vladimir Putin would approve either; the Pono Player would get lumped along with transgender/transvestite/fetishistic (probably some truth in the latter) and be banned from Russian roads.


January 10, 2015, 7:38 pm

"Up to 90 percent of a song’s nuances are lost in the digital compression process,” added Young.

That's what I like, a bit of technical detail, none of this snake oil business from Pono - it's all based on fact.

Steve Hickley

January 10, 2015, 10:17 pm

Oh yes, if there's one kind of saleman you can trust to give accurate, fact-based information, it is the kind selling audiophile equipment.

Steve Hickley

January 10, 2015, 10:19 pm

FF Bookman, I don't know if you've noticed, but cars tend to be quite
noisy. Even ignoring the fact that the only reason the pono player
sounds good is because of its' DAC
(http://xiph.org/~xiphmont/d... and not the "high res"
24/192 files, the fact that Neil seems keen on integrating his product
in an environment where there will be no audio quality benefits seems to
suggest that the Pono Player is another gimmick for so-called
audiophiles with more money than sense.


January 11, 2015, 1:35 am

Hehe, maybe it's too early to be cynical about the Pono Player. For the audience it's aimed at - audiophiles with money to spend - it might find its niche. However, things like the quote above don't exactly fill me with confidence.

Steve Hickley

January 11, 2015, 12:19 pm

I imagine it has a good DAC which is why everyone seems to think it has an amazing sound, but the sample rate of a CD is mathematically perfect up to 20Khz (actually slightly more, 44.1Khz/2) and a bit depth of 16 bits gives twice the dynamic range of a vinyl if you include surface noise and way more than you need even for something like the 1812 overture.

But yes the quote above proves to my cynical mind what it's all about. He's presumably took the fact that a 320kbps mp3 is about 10* smaller than a 24/96 flac and distorted that fact to mean that file size is directly equivalent to quality.

Steve Hickley

January 11, 2015, 12:19 pm

24 bit files are completely unnecessary in a living room, let alone an environment as noisy as a car!


January 11, 2015, 4:10 pm

unnecessary in the same way a well-cooked, healthy meal is "unnecessary". you might not need it to survive, but it still tastes better and makes you feel better. it's called quality of life.

of course you can hear it in a living room, even with cheap speakers. it's a simple quality improvement, very basic.

in the car you can hear it as well, and i even run mine through the tape deck. quality in = more quality out, no matter how much noise or other problems. understand signal flow -- the speakers are 2nd to last and the room is the last. change is much easier affected up the chain.

on good speakers, playing 24bit files, music sounds like it should. if you've never heard it too bad for you. you are living at mcdonalds trying to tell people they don't need those home cooked and/or gourmet meals.

Steve Hickley

January 11, 2015, 4:57 pm

There is no scientific basis whatever for 24 bit files. 16 bits offers 90dB of dynamic range, which is essentially infinite for music as it is more than you need for any genre of song, even something like the 1812 overture.

Important also to mention that speakers don't output steps, they output sines. The mathematics (Nyquist Shannon) tells us that to get a perfect analogue wave of an original recording, you only need to sample at twice the maximum frequency you want to sample. The 44.1KHz sample rate of a CD wasn't chosen out of the blue: it is double 20kHz with a bit of padding added to it.

Given that the player is designed for the audiophile market, the music offered on the download sites is probably well-mastered, unlike most CD's. Any other difference is just either a good DAC (which will also make CD's and mp3's sound better) or the placebo effect.


January 12, 2015, 3:59 pm

Which is the biggest strike against the validity of said science. This area of study is very active and we are constantly updating what science knows about human senses. Good science knows when it doesn't know, and in this case the science comes to very incorrect or at best incomplete conclusions.

The studies you base your worldview on are myopic and very specific within a certain context. None of them are from professional audio or musicians, and none of them allow the test subject to live with the music and integrate it into their normal listening environments or habits. A few are from the society of audio engineers, which I do not take lightly as an organization, but the flawed experimental model still led to scientific conclusions that are incomplete. Science is always incomplete, that's what internet science experts always fail to mention.

Of course speakers don't output steps, the steps are taken care of inside the DAC. I understand signal flow, both analog and digital, something that many DSP types skip. Some of these same computer geniuses buy $400 Beats headphones to play MP3 on an iPhone, showing their ignorance of analog signal flow and professional audio.

I'm not an audiophile, never been one. Never owned a piece of consumer gear nicer than mainstream affordable. Most of my stuff is vintage crap or stock stuff. But I play instruments and I record using microphones and I mix at both 24bit and 16bit with my laptop, and its easy to hear for me, and anyone who wants to.

You all miss the point, it's not about dynamic range or waveforms. It's about the accuracy of what was recorded being distributed properly. MP3 and CD, and all the tests you can throw at me, focus on the primary instrument/voice in the program. They focus on recognition and they develop tests that trick the ear. The ear is not a switch or anything near simple and predictable. It's abilities change with our emotional state. We pick up sound throughout our body so our posture, our jaw, our physical state, all color the findings.

If you learn to focus on "the room" in a recording, not the main instruments, you will hear it clear as can be. MP3's have no room whatsoever, they sound like the performers are inside of the speakers.

CD's and 16/44 played well (like on a ponoplayer) have some room, but the room is a squarish, cold place with harsh, short reverbs, and the stereo delays don't really tell you where the instrument is. The center is hard to find. You can't sort it all out, and it starts to sound like 2 speakers blasting music at you. Fatigue goes up, emotional pull goes down.

24bit digital (and 1 or 2" analog tape, and good vinyl) have more room, enough that the room you are in hides behind the room from the recording. You can place exactly where instruments are, everything comes in without blocking other things, and you start to think you are in the room at the studio. There is much more air, and the detail is so good not only can you hear reverbs and decays nicely, you can hear the differences between them.

Again, if you know how to listen and you love good music, it's as easy to hear as anything. It's the full recording, and no amount of bad science or internet keyboard jockeying makes it not there. Trying 24bit files on an inferior digital playback system doesn't show much improvement, I agree. But playing them on a properly designed player is the best sounding digital has ever been, and it should not be stopped by the ignorance of a few with their psuedo-science backing them.


January 12, 2015, 4:03 pm

Also, Mr. Nyquist worked for the phone company and died of old age before the CD was even developed. His life's work centered on telephony and early digital sampling theory in regards to voice communication. He never had anything at all to do with professional recording or music production. Who can hear better -the scientist from the phone company or the musician?


January 12, 2015, 4:09 pm

I don't think that's it's market. $400 for the entire signal chain is not a lot in the audiophile world at all.

Believe me, I took my ponoplayer into a high-end stereo shop and they stared at me like a fool. They said so what, I have a new iPod, and they sell DAC's for $1500 alone. Arrogant bastards didn't understand that I had the same DAC, plus a great AMP, plus lots of outputs, plus 128gb storage, and a full player for $400. You'd spend a lot more to get this sound.

I hate most audiophiles too, but you people act like no one else can hear anything. My father in law heard it, my mom, my son, my wife, even my drummer, they all heard it when I played pono @ 24bit. Damn, that's big, clear, full, no digital sound at all. I don't even know audiophiles, we are poor people up in here!

It's iPod II, Pro style, Purist style. That's it. Neil expected Apple to build it and they never did, so he put his money where his mouth was and good for him, it sounds amazing and I'm buying music again.


January 12, 2015, 4:12 pm

no because pono loud still doesn't distress the ears. you can still hear other things and even hold a conversation at full volume, because of the dynamic range and the clarity the thing has.

loud mp3 is like a quick trip to the funny farm. CD/cassette could get loud but so crispy/buzzy. vinyl usually doesn't get that loud because it would feedback, speakers to stylus. but this pono @ 24bit, crank it and the material gets louder, but since the room is so big and natural, you don't hear the speakers straining and hurting your ears.

Steve Hickley

January 12, 2015, 6:03 pm

Nyquist's theorem is independent of the abilities of the human ear. As sound is a combination of sines and cosines, above-CD sample rates can be debunked without even analyzing how human ears work.


January 12, 2015, 6:24 pm

Your math is incomplete and your science is just starting. The listeners know that they can hear what you have no math for. You have no math for timbre. You have none for soundstage or accuracy of delays. You have none for the full sonic experience. If you had any of this math you could create real digital voices and instruments that fooled the discerning ear. You are trying to commit fully to 1978 corporate engineering and it's tiring.


January 12, 2015, 6:29 pm

well then, my ears can hear it and your's can't, na na na na na na! guess you might want to figure out why?


January 12, 2015, 7:34 pm

Thanks for a different point of view. I've yet to experience it, or read any reviews, so it's good to hear about the Pono Player from a user's point of view. I'd also be interested how much of the increase in sound quality is down to the player using FLAC files, and how much is due to the very good DAC they've put in it.

As it stands, with hard drives increasing in size, maybe going FLAC isn't such a bad idea - if the Pono store prices were more in line, or identical, to their mp3/aac counterparts that would be even better.

I also recall Neil Young saying he was working on a high-end audio iPod with Steve Jobs before his death. I'd have like to seen how that would have turned out: http://www.theguardian.com/...


January 12, 2015, 7:42 pm

yes me too. i've heard it described a few times, that neil basically asked steve when the hi-res version was coming out, and steve said he was a little surprised that mp3 became the standard, but it had and apple made mainstream devices for the masses that could play 16/44 and mp3 just fine amongst thousands of other features, and that maybe neil should build one himself, get the entrepreneur bug. and so he did. took about 5-7 years to make it to market but i have one and it sounds very very nice.

Steve Hickley

January 12, 2015, 10:06 pm

There is a difference between producing a timbre, accurate voice e.t.c. and storing it. Someone can take a wonderful picture of a coastline with great perspective and whatever else photographers are good at. I can't input parameters into a machine and get the exact same output so by your logic digital cameras are a nonsense.


January 12, 2015, 10:11 pm

no way are digital cameras nonsense. you are correct, and digital cameras rely on the highest resolution possible to give us the full beauty of that coastline photo. can you imagine if the first generation of digital cameras came out and people said "this is all the resolution we will ever need, because we can't prove in a lab that people can see the pixels" and that actually held for 30+ years?

honestly, 16bit audio is from the 70's computer world. it sounds pretty good, but it's not the whole thing. nyquist was right and wrong, and he worked for the phone company. music was not his subject matter.


January 12, 2015, 10:12 pm

i don't know how much sense i might have, but i don't have much money and have plugged my ponoplayer into all kinds of cheap gear. it improves everything you plug it into and everything you play on it. just like speakers and rooms go from bad to good, so do source files.


January 13, 2015, 2:30 pm

I think anyone believing that 192 kHz 24-bit tracks can really be distinguished from 48 kHz 16-bit tracks is due for a trip to the funny farm himself. I'm astonished by the amount of hype generated for the Pono Player and the belief in something that frankly amounts to a case of the emperor's new clothes. If someone would care to stage a proper blinded test of different formats with different players in different settings, it might just help to settle some of the arguments.

Steve Hickley

January 13, 2015, 5:08 pm

But images (even those in a 1080p video) are subjected to higher compression ratios even than mp3's. I don't see any "spectrophiles" demanding uncompressed several Gbps videos, which may be because in the quality domain the eyes are less subjective than the ears.

Steve Hickley

January 13, 2015, 5:16 pm

If you lie to someone and tell them you've bought them a new audio cable for them they may immediately 'notice' a difference in sound quality.

The gubbins of the player, though exaggerated by Pono's statement about $10,000's of value or whatever they said, may be the best available today. If there is any difference in sound quality it is either that or the mastering engineer did a better job on the files. It is not because of its' bit depth or sampling rate.

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