Pono Player Teardown

My pono player arrived yesterday, time to take it apart!

Audio Output

The Pono Player is using ESS’s ES9018K2M 32-bit Sabre reference DAC to convert the digital to analog audio, which can handle up to 384kHz sample rates. This chip looks like it is already finding it’s way into some DIY projects as well.

On the front-side of the pono PCB, the output section looks to be made up of discrete transistors laid out very symmetrically (I like that). Near the output is also a OPA4376 precision, low noise, low quiescent current operational amplifier.

The rear side of the circuit board has two 1000uF 6.3V thru-hole capacitors near the output as well that are part of the audio amplifier section. The board itself is nicely laid out and it looks like each section is separate from the others. It’s also worth noting that the silkscreen layer on the circuit board is very informative with every component and signal line clearly labelled which is very nice.

Power

The battery is very easy to replace and disconnects from the circuit board with a 3-pin connector, and is press-fit into the rear of the case. This battery is a 3.78V 2950mAh Lithium-Ion battery made by McNair New Power Co. in China. This appears to be a standard 18650 size battery. The pono player uses Texas Instruments’ TPS65921B1 power management and USB chip to regulate the voltages, manage charging and do USB stuff. On the rear of the PCB is an LM26 chip, which looks to be for thermal management of the battery since it is placed to be very close to the battery.

Memory

On the rear of the PCB is Micron’s JW734 NAND-based multi-chip-package. I don’t know if this is the main processor of the pono player as well, maybe someone knows this chip. The memory chip is mounted opposite to the micro-SD slot and is a Samsung KLMCG8WEBC-BB31 which is a 64GB NAND memory chip with built-in controller it looks like. Sadly, it looks like there is a 128GB version of the chip available that Pono chose to not use. With the size of high-definition lossless audio files, I’m already wishing they would have opted for the larger chip here. But hey, the fact that they included a micro-SD card slot is nice. Update: I received an email from one of the guys at Pono and they said that the 128GB chip was “much, much more expensive and would have put the price point well above $399″ – Thanks for the clarification guys!

Opinions


At the end of the day, being able to carry around hundreds of albums in your pocket is amazing full-stop. The build of the Pono Player is very simple, no nonsense. Where there is compromise, it isn’t with any part of the player that is responsible for music production. The build quality looks nice, very simple and repairable and it looks like a lot of care went into the actual circuit board layout. The enclosure is simple and cost effective, but I can’t help thinking that the toblerone-shaped case that a lot of people seem to dislike could have been avoided completely. Maybe it was an aesthetic decision, because the triangle shape is iconic. But it seems if the battery and 1000uF capacitors are what dicated the triangle shape, they could have used a flat battery pack and laid the caps sideways or used multiple smaller caps to acheive the same 1000uF. But it fits in my pocket fine, and spends most of it’s time on a flat surface anyways.

How does it sound?

It came pre-loaded with Neil Young’s “There’s a World” in 24/192 and I think it sounds great with headphones. The mix sounded more dynamic than I was used to, but that’s more about the mastering and not necessary about the high definition of the audio file. In the next few weeks I hope to be running a few tests on the sound quality though to see I feel a difference. I’ve been listening to FLAC files on my old iPod video running RockBox for years. I can tell the difference between badly encoded MP3’s and FLAC files no problem, but I’m not entirely convinced that “high resolution audio” is something I can distinguish compared to CD-quality FLAC files from the same source. But I’m open minded and I have a decent set of headphones, so I’m looking forward to posting more tests soon.

Stuffomatic – manual “pick and place”

I finally got a chance to test out this little invention I call the “Stuffomatic”. It is used for stuffing circuit boards with components by lighting up the correct part bin. It is activated by a footswich, and uses a Teensy 2.0, buzzer, OLED 2×16 character display and a MAX7219.

While manually stuffing and hand-soldering Therevox circuit boards, I wanted something that would speed up the process and cut down on errors. On first test, the stuffomatic seems to speed up the “stuffing” process by close to 30%. Grabbing a component directly out of the lit bin is also a lot less prone to errors, compared to the normal way (reading the reference off the board, cross referencing it with the Bill of Materials to get the part value, find the right value part bin, grab the part).

The stuffomatic advances to the next part when a footswitch is pressed. I used a buzzer to make a small “click” noise when the footswitch is pressed for some audio feedback. There is also an “up” and “down” switch on the stuffomatic to quickly go through the list of parts.

The only problem with this project was that the Teensy couldn’t store the entire BOM (bill of materials) in memory. Instead, larger amounts of data need to be stored in PROGMEM which requires very messy code to declare the variables. To get around this, I wrote a PHP script that reads a CSV file and outputs the PROGMEM variable declarations as a 2 dimensional array. This also makes it easier to recompile the stuffomatic code for different projects.

On the front of the stuffomatic is a “note” LED to draw attention to the display if there is a special note or instruction being displayed. The stuffomatic can show messages like “flip board over” or “solder”, or a specific component might have a note with it.

So far I’m happy with the stuffomatic, it did take a lot longer to finish than I expected, but building it was more fun than stuffing circuit boards.

New CD in the mail

Me, Brian and Tim finished recording last month and I just got the CD’s in the mail today. I’m happy with how they look, and we had a lot of fun recording these tunes.

If you’d like a physical CD, they are $10 through the bandcamp page.


Recording therevox

Me, Brian and Tim finished recording our 6 song album last week. I couldn’t resist adding a little Therevox ET-4 onto the last track. This is going through my Yamaha E-1005 Analog Delay (for sale if anyone’s interested) with the ET-4 panned to one side and all the delays panned to the opposite side.

Garage sale speakers, counter top and dust


Nice luck = finding a pair of studio monitors for $10 across the street at a garage sale several days before starting to mix an album!


This is a counter top I made out of some maple. It is finished naturally, but I probably should have stained it a bit “colder” to remove the pink-ishness that maple seems to have under cfl.


From the winter, very dusty! I gotta say that a full face mask for wood working is pretty awesome. It makes you feel like an astronaut and you can never forget your safety glasses – Norm would be proud.