Pono – Part Two: PonoMusic World software

Last week my Pono shipping-notification email arrived and included a link to the PonoMusic World software. Even before installing and using the application (and even before receiving my PonoPlayer four days later) I was expressing reservations about it. This isn’t fair to Pono or its software developers, of course. The rarified air exhaled by audiophiles and their ilk often results in a hazy hall of clouded mirrors. I try to floss every day, but I admit that my breath can be similarly ilk-like at times.

That said, let us enter PonoMusic World.

PMW is a customized version of JRiver Media Center 20. Like iTunes, access to an online music store is built in to the software’s browser. Unlike iTunes, everything in the store is CD-quality or better. You plug your new PonoPlayer into a desktop or laptop computer’s USB port, fire up PMW, import your files, then load your music onto the Player, and buy music from the Pono store and sync your Player with your purchases.

I’ve not yet bought any music from Pono’s store. On the day I took possession of my PonoPlayer, I decided to concentrate on using PMW to load the Player with music I already owned.

First step was to import all the music on my eternal hard drive into PMW. For folks unfamiliar with JRiver, this doesn’t mean you’re actually copying your files into PMW. All the import process does is draw paths from the source drive to PMW’s interface. You have the choice of importing all your music, or just a folder or two, and/or telling PMW to stay synced with the folder(s) on the drive, and update its interface with any additions or changes to the drive.

PonoWorldScreenshotOnce the import is finished (it can take 90 minutes or more for a multi-terabyte collection), you’re ready to begin transferring music from PonoMusic World to your PonoPlayer.

Some things are intuitive, some are not. Some are in between. For instance, don’t start transferring music until you see this:IMG_7842Pressing the above “yes” means you’re good. But hey – hold on – don’t press “done” until you’re actually done transferring music.
photoI was using a two-year-old Mac Pro running OS 10.9.5. A substantial amount of time was spent attempting to dial into the seemingly-capricious zen of the PonoPlayer->PMW interface.
IMG_7837PonoMusic World has the familiar JRiver skin, and it behaves like an early beta version of the latter. The application isn’t very responsive, and it hesitates and grinds its teeth a lot. You can almost hear the gears gnashing. It took three or so reboots of the Player, the software, and, ultimately, my computer to get the Player to mount as a device on my desktop and within the PMW app.

Then, after the app stalled yet again, attempting to eject the device – both from within the app and/or on my desktop – brought up a spinning rainbow pizza and locked up my Finder. Simply right-clicking on the PonoPlayer drive icon on my desktop would stall the Finder for minutes at a time. Unplugging the USB cable from the Player would result in that ominous OS X warning about ejecting a removable drive before disconnecting it.

Reboots seemed to clear up the problem, at least temporarily.
IMG_7841Uploading HD files seemed to work best when only doing a couple at a time. When I tried to do about 25 songs (or three or so albums) at once, the progress bar slowed to a near-glacial pace, then the evil rainbow pizza would begin mocking me with its dervish dance — or the app would just crash, necessitating another series of reboots.

When PonoMusic World worked, loading music seemed to take a longer time than it should. Transferring a 24/96 album and an 3-song EP at 16/44 took over 15 minutes, which doesn’t seem right. It’s probable that transferring music from an internal hard drive would go faster – all my files are on a 2TB external FW800 hard drive.

After all the lockups, the reboots, having to re-select files to transfer…trying to fill one 64-gig micro-SD card half-way took me about three hours. Not including the swearing and periodic breaks to pace like a caged animal, of course.

I consulted the Pono Community forums and some helpful souls suggested I bypass PonoMusic World and “sideload” the tracks directly to the SD card using a card reader. I didn’t have a card reader at my office, but did so this weekend at home and found the process relatively painless…and MUCH faster. My sideload end-around of PMW meant that, within an hour, I had a card packed with FLACs and AIFs. I inserted it into the Player, got a “Scanning music library…” screen, and…few seconds all the new music was browsable.

I believe it’s possible that having three installs of JRiver – my original JRMC19 and JRMC20 plus PonoMusic World – might be confusing my system software. But no one at Pono told me not to do that, dude. I’ll keep an eye on the Pono Community forum and see if anyone else is having the same crash-test-dummy experiences I’m having. It’s all about the fellowship.

I’m still working on filling the Player up with my own tracks. I’m hoping that there’s some PonoMusicWorld software updates that improve the responsiveness and stability of the application. Soon I’ll find something to buy on the Pono store. I hope that experience is distinguished by less, um, friction.

Until then, me, my PonoPlayer, and sideloading…we’re going to be spending some quality time.

Next: Pono – Part Three: the PonoPlayer

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