Access Journalism vs Accountability Journalism

John Atkinson writes:

I write this in a Seattle coffee bar—my flight home to New York has been canceled due to a snowstorm. As I try to put down these thoughts, I'm listening to the high-resolution masters of the April issue's "Recording of the Month," Sasha Matson's jazz opera Cooperstown, on my Pono player using Ultimate Ears UE18 in-ear monitors. I was in Seattle for Music Matters 10, held by retailer Definitive Audio, and this was my first road trip with the Pono since I reviewed it for the April issue. (Bruce Botnick and Charles Hansen comment on that review elsewhere in this issue.)

I realize now that, in my review, I did not say enough about the compelling nature of music played through the Pono. During the long flight out to the Northwest, and now as I write these words, my attention keeps being drawn to the music in a way that rarely happens with my iPod Classic. This happens not only with hi-rez PCM files (and DSD files, which, with the release of firmware v.1.0.5, the Pono can now play), but with CD rips and even MP3s. Perhaps the best way to characterize the Pono player is to say that for $399, you get a D/A processor almost as good as Ayre Acoustics' QB-9 ($3250), with a 128GB hi-rez media player thrown in for free.

So it was with not a little astonishment that, while writing about the Pono, I read negative reviews of this little gem in the mainstream press. David Pogue, late of the New York Times, wrote for's Tech pages: "The Emperor Has No Clothes . . . Neil Young and the believers in high-res audio aren't fools, and their hearts are in the right place. But Pono's statement that 'Everyone who's ever heard PonoMusic will tell you that the difference is surprising and dramatic' is baloney" (footnote 1). "Neil Young's PonoPlayer sounds no better than an iPhone—no matter what the audiophiles say," wrote Seth Stevenson for Slate.

Do these writers really not grasp what Pono is about? And do they really hear no improvement in sound quality—not just with the Pono player in particular, but with high-resolution audio files in general?

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