Pono and the Ayre Codex

Hi everyone, a recent review over at Audio Science Review made me put a few things together.

The review from 4/11/2019 is here:


Couple of things I have to wonder about. First, what’s interesting to me is how close the distortion and output impedance measurements are to the Pono, measured by Stereophile here:


The ASR reviewer (amirm) unfortunately measured the Codex before listening to it. I say unfortunately because honestly to my ears the Pono was one of the best headphone amps / DACs I’ve ever heard. In particular, I’ve never heard my Shure E4s sound as good as they did with the Pono, so the Codex has always been kind of interesting to me, now that the Pono is gone. I never ended up buying a Pono for user interface and size issues, but I have always kind of wistfully remembered it. Instead I’ve gone with Fiio.

It is impossible to tell if Amirm would have come to the same conclusions about the quality of sound if he/she had listened first.

As it turns out I’ve kept my desktop setup cheap and used a Topping which is quite nice.. but I wonder now and then if my memory of the Pono was wrong, or whether Ayre would ever make another portable amp, like say a module for the Fiio portable.

Sorry, this is a bit of a ramble, especially since I’ve not heard the Codex, and my time with the Pono was years ago.

For those of you who have heard either or both, what are your thoughts??
Another epic review at ASR destroying a fetiche product of hi-fi reviewers.  ASR  is the must go place if one wants to have a clue of what is purchasing. I just wish Amir could expand to speakers.   Very few hifi products are passing the engineering tests at ASR -> many people have been ripped off. 

The funniest thing for me of the Codex review, is that this unit has been the reference in its price bracket of a 'golden ear' reviewer of another popular forum. Really funny.

Sadly not measuring the balanced headphone output on the Codex, or Pono for that manner, completely misses the core of this units design and performance.  A simple qualitative test between the output forms reveals a noticeably large difference in audible performance.  Ayre designs balanced circuits and, I believe, adds additional circuitry so there is a single ended output to meet market expectations.  I own both a Pono and the Codex as well as recently acquiring a QX5 twenty.  The reduction in XLR output noted has not been my experience in use, but I have not made any quantitative measurements. 
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I haven't heard the Codex, but the reviewer's methodology is backwards.

Measuring, and then listening, is the wrong way to do things. By the time you listen you are pandering to confirmation bias. Best if two different people do each.

Without knowing why, the Pono, which measured similarly to the Cortex by Stereophile, was one of the very best headphone amps I have ever heard.

The Oppo desktop DAC/headphone amp on the other hand one of the absolute worst. I think I posted about ASR's' review a couple of weeks ago.

The point is, measurements are not the goal, listener satisfaction is, and this sequence is the wrong way to go about finding out what that is.


i agree. it was my unit reviewed on asr. i also now have a burned in khadas tone board at home. side by side i much prefer the codex. it just sounds more real. maybe not the same depth of bass and detail but everything has real meat and bones on the body. the khadas sounds like frequencies or harmonics are missing.

either the sounds of ‘distortion’ makes it sound more real or we don’t yet know what to measure to show why something sounds more real. i’m tending toward the latter even though i want to follow measurements as an engineer oriented person. i’m not so sure we know what to measure and it bothers me a little that a lot of people on asr are militantly sure that they do and the rest of us are just delusional. why people have to be so rigid and pick absolute sides i’ll never grasp. feels a bit desperate trying to convince themselves of something...

that said i like the site and appreciate the measurements they produce, i just wish they continued the search for new knowledge and new understanding vs dismissing subjective experience and entrenchment in rigid ideas. that’s not really how intellectual curiosity should work. IMHO...
I have a Pono and have heard a Codex. I suspect the asr review is a case of confirmation bias. 
Hey @beetlemania -

How close do you feel they are in sound quality??
It is also possible that Amirm is doing something I’m a little afraid I am doing.

He’s training his ears with his scope.

I’m much more sensitive to, and more accurate, than other audiophiles, when it comes to frequency response aberrations. This has to do with me using a measuring microphone as much as I have. Kind of like how working at a sandwich shop you end up learning to weigh exactly what 2 ounces of meat feels like. Use the scale enough times and you’ll be dead on.

It may also be that having Parasound and Class D amps I've trained my ear out of distortion which Pass and fanatics love. Maybe this is why my taste in amps and my utter dislike for Pass comes from. Ear/brain training.
I think the Pono and Codex have similar 'guts'. They sounded pretty much indistinguishable when I had a chance to listen back-to-back.

Having said that, when I had the opportunity to compare the Codex to the C-5xeMP and the QB-9 DSD, both of which I still own, I thought the Codex wasn't quite as good. It was less resolving and sounded a touch more forward vs. the older sources.

The thing I loved about the Pono was how it handled my Shure E4 in-ear monitors.

It was really pretty eye opening. Not an experience I've heard repeated.

Have you found something similar in the Codex or Pono for you?
How close do you feel they are in sound quality??
I’ve only heard the Pono with headphones and my short demo of a Codex was with speakers.
But, if you like the SQ of the Pono it seems you would like the Codex at least as much. Supposed to be similar topology but with better power supply and parts quality. Ayre is not a company that will charge you more for the same or worse SQ as you move up the product line.




Also, Jim Smith has credible ears, IMO
I think when I first listened to the Codex with a pair of HD 600's in balanced mode can be counted as a highlight. I certainly felt that the Pono didn't give up much ground vs. the Codex in overall enjoyment, though it's much more portable.
I have an original "CSNY" edition Kickstarter Pono player.  I love the thing, and could never understand what all the haters were hearing (or not hearing, as it were).  It was something like $400 for a portable DAP engineered by Charlie Hanson at Ayre Acoustics for chrissake.  And people were bashing it against the A&Ks and Chinese competitors of the world.

I started off with using it with Beyer 990 Pros (great sounding combo) and a set of P5s for travel, and I loved it.  Later I added a pair of Massdrop 6XXs and a balanced cable and it was like...holy crap...more of everything.  More power, more bass, more detail, better everything.  For something like $650 all in, there is no better personal setup.

I've heard the Codex a handful of times at Audioconnection in Verona, NJ, and the digital always sounds great there.  I only recently learned that the Codex uses the same digital section of the Pono, and combine it with a great headphone amplifier and power supply.  Makes sense based on what I heard.
ASR is usable only as a general guideline. You will be in trouble if you blindly follow ASR's advice. I have Linn and Chord Dacs/DS which are among the best measured Dacs by ASR and Codex, which is one of the worst measured DACs by ASR. I can say from my experience the Codex sounds better (i.e., better weight, more mid range pureness, more analog sounding, more transparent, more dynamic, more of an ease) to me than the Chord and very competitive against Linn considering the price differential.