Very early in this thread I laid out who I am and what I do. I am a moderator on the Pono forum, have no commercial relationship with Pono of any nature and am a music lover. If you want to doubt my integrity that is up to you. Is a bit dubious to do so though TBH.
All I am saying is what I have found. I am used to reasonably high end hi fi, including headphones. Not the best, but pretty good. The A&K 120 I bought 18 months ago and very impressive it is too. I backed the PonoPlayer because of what it was attempting to do and I like what Neil Young stands for and how he stands for it. I just took a gamble along with 18,000+ others. I had no idea whether it would deliver or not. My first impressions of the sound from it were not good to put it mildly, it sounded harsh, bright and thin. But, for me at least, it seems to be one of the most susceptible devices to burn in I have used. It got better quite quickly, equalling the 120, more or less. It then took a few more weeks before it really opened out. And now it sounds, like music really. Is that simple. Even albums I had written off as 'great music, shame about the quality' bring a smile to my face. The PonoPlayer is way down on feature count, it's an odd shape (but for good reason - take a look at the discrete component count) and doesn't have the super precision production engineering of the A&K. I couldn't give a stuff. Not when I find myself bopping to albums I never thought would make me do so again.
And then there is the balanced mode output, which is unique in its configuration I think? I use a pair of modified HD600s - not the best cans I know, but they are half decent - and in balanced mode with doubled output to 2v the Pono drives them well enough volume wise and sounds great - without a headphone amp. For $400. I think the A&K 240 is their only balanced mode output player and that costs a bit more than $400.
Have you seen the Tech Sheets on the PonoPlayer - the ones that describe the volume control from Ayre, the balanced mode output and the rationale behind it and so on? I was fortunate enough to be part of a three hour natter with Charlie Hansen, the designer. He has put more or less everything he knows into the PonoPlayer - and that is a lot. And it shows. He reckons it delivers 90% of the quality of his $20K DAC. I can believe it.
The Pono store and software are still Beta and have some way to go yet. But they are Beta. The players will all be shipped in the next week I think. That will make them a bit late on the estimated October dates for some and early/on time for the estimated December delivery dates. Yep, there are teething problems. Did anyone really imagine there wouldn't be? On a KS project that was almost 800% oversubscribed?
I really don't care what anyone thinks of me or whether you want to cast aspersions on my integrity, experience, honesty or anything else. That's up to you, if you do so, that says as much about you as anything else.
As for the kit I use right now, there's an old but fully up to date Michell Gyrodec SE with modified Rega arm, Dynavector DV20a going into Arcam C31 pre and P1 mono bloc power amps driving Wilson Benesch speakers with a REL sub, all hooked up with good Chord cables, and a CD37 and a StreamMagic 6. Like I say, not the best, but not too shabby. Previous kit has included Audio Research, Meridian, Proac, the usual suspects really. Oh, cans include Ety ER4-P, ACS Evolve customs (used to be called the T1s), the HD600s and some lesser stuff too.
And I assume you have actually heard the PonoPlayer?