Pono Now Does DSD

IMG_7812Pono released a firmware update for its Player this last Wednesday. The big news: DSD playback has been added.

Last weekend I downloaded and installed the update, then sideloaded a batch of DSD files to the Pono Player. I bought Blood On the Tracks from AcousticSounds’ store and cued up “Buckets of Rain” and “If You See Her, Say Hello.” The detail is just outrageous; the effect eye-widening — in the best possible way. No, DSD can’t coax Dylan into singing in tune. But, on a good pair of headphones, the acoustic guitars on this recording seem like they’re being plucked by your synapses; the percussive snap of the strings on “Buckets of Rain” is a thing of beauty.

Next up was a 2.8 DSD rip from the US Geffen SACD of Peter Gabriel’s 3rd. The transients on this album’s ubiquitous gated percussion are fast, and Ayre’s ESS ES9018 chip is up to the task. Equally prevalent is multi-layered Fairlight fuckery, heavy with texture, grain and drone. There’s a little of the DSD etch here, but the sound actually seems to benefit from it. “Family Snapshot” and “Not One Of Us” possess a drama that’s missing from CD, FLAC and WAV.

I also loaded Ryuichi Sakamoto’s Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence score, obtained on DSD from e-onkyo before they brought the hammer down on international customers. Sad to say that this wasn’t one of my wiser purchases. The bonus tracks aren’t that exciting unless you’re a rabid fan (me?), and the DSD version of this classic sounds extremely…flat. I even pumped Pono’s single-ended miniplug output through my Zesto Leto preamp and Cavalli Liquid Glass headphone amp in a valiant attempt to infuse some tube goodness into the DSD files, with limited success. Mind you, this wasn’t Pono’s fault. DSD just couldn’t improve upon the source material.

Overall, Pono’s DSD implementation is VERY welcome. The sound is remarkable, especially considering it’s a $400 device. More hardware manufacturers need to develop products that increase in value via user-installable firmware updates. Pono and PS Audio know this. Others should (and hopefully will) follow.

A full list of the firmware update’s changes is pasted below. It appears that some of the new developments aim to improve the stability of the PonoMusicWorld software, and, while I haven’t attempted to test those various improvements yet, it looks promising.

Below the release notes you’ll find a short, helpful video tutorial on how to update the Player’s firmware.

Firmware Version 1.0.5 Release Notes:
Feature Enhancements & Bug Fixes

Added DSD playback capability

  • Playback of DSD file utilizes the DSD mode of the player’s DAC. The data in the DSD file is presented directly to the DAC.
  • Support for 2 channel DSD64 and DSD128 files
  • Support for DFF file container (containing uncompressed data)
  • Support for DSF file container including ID3 tags
  • Improvements to Audio file support

  • Corrected “Scanning Music Library” issue for MP3 files that have malformed UTF-8 tags
  • Added handling for truncated/malformed WAV files
  • Added handling for AIFF files with invalid chunks (some HDTracks files had this issue)
  • Added support for 32 bit WAV files
  • Improvements to USB mode and device management

  • Fixed issue where the PonoPlayer drives weren’t always detected if the player was asleep when plugged into a computer
  • The screen rotation locks automatically while Music Transfer Mode is enabled
  • Detect corrupted files that cause the “Scanning Music Library” issue and display a dialog with the filepath of the file to allow users to connect via USB and remove the file.
  • Detect if the internal storage is formatted to an unsupported filesystem or has filesystem errors that the player cannot repair. Display a dialog allowing the user to reformat the internal storage if this occurs.
  • General Improvements

  • Improved support for microSD cards with certain types of invalid partition tables
  • Exit Balanced Mode if a cable is removed while the player is powered off
  • Prevent overwriting playlist number if microSD card is removed and firmware is updated
  • Fixes related to playback with Volume Leveling enabled
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