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March 23, 2015

Pono Player Interconnect Cable

So you've taken the plunge on Neil Young's sweet little Pono player, however it uses a unique way to export those tunes to your balanced headphones or balanced rig. I'll be covering how I built an unbalanced cable, and how to build a balanced pair of cables so you can extract every juicy detail from those Hi Res tracks. As you may know, Zynsonix Audio offers these in any length or configuration, so reach out if you need one.

The Pono player features dual stereo 3.5mm outputs. You can use these to output to a pair of balanced headphones, a balanced rig that uses 3 pin XLRs (or mini XLRs / TRS plugs), or a single ended rig that takes good-old-fashioned RCAs.

Stereo 3.5mm connectors have three connections, the sleeve, the ring and the tip. When used in typical applications, the sleeve is a shared ground, the ring is the right signal, and the tip is the left signal. However not the case with the Pono in balanced mode.

Tip, Ring and Sleeve on a 3.5mm mini connector

In the case of the Pono player in balanced mode, each of the two 3.5mm goes to an individual three pin XLR. The Sleeve, as you'll note below, connects to the Pin 1 (ground). The Ring connects to Pin 3 (negative). The Tip connects to Pin 2 (positive). For a balanced headphone cable, you will note that the Sleeve connection is not used, only the tip (positive) and the ring (negative).

Pono Player wiring pinout / diagram

I made a handy dandy visual for the back of an XLR connector (note mini XLRs are different!) so you can see the pin assignments.

XLR pinout for reference

Finally, for an unbalanced pair of cables, I confirmed the connections with the engineer over at Ayre Acoustics. They confirmed that the TRS tip (positive) goes to the tip of the RCA, and the TRS sleeve (ground) goes to the ground (or shield) of the RCA, and the TRS ring (negative) is floated. Tying the ground and negative like one might do for a balanced adapter cable was not advised by the engineer, as it would require the Pono be set for balanced output.

For this post, I'll be building a pair of 3.5mm stereo mini to RCA cables using the great sounding Zynsonix Trebuchet 99.99997% pure ohno cast copper. The Viablue RCAs are an interesting little beast. They're very well made and use set screws rather than a traditional boot or crimp sleeve.   

You'll require a small allen wrench to take them apart. Take note that the connector can accept three different sizes of wire, depending on the number of plastic rings used in combination with the set screw. I'll be using the smallest configuration for this cable.

Viable RCA Connector

Below you'll see the Trebuchet wiring with the transparent dielectric showing off the pretty copper wire underneath.

This was braided up into a triple litz, then two wires were soldered to the ground, and one to the signal. 

And the final cable terminated with the very nice Amphenol 3.5mm gold plated mini connectors. The have the recessed "shoulders" that allow them to be plugged into a phone or DAP with a case. As mentioned previously, the TRS tip (positive) goes to the tip of the RCA, and the TRS sleeve (ground) goes to the ground (or shield) of the RCA.

The final Pono Mini to RCA interconnect cables

I hope you enjoyed this post on building a pair of interconnects for a Pono Player. Please reach out to Zynsonix Audio if you'd like your own custom Pono interconnects or headphone cable, and keep enjoying those high res tracks!

The Fine Print:
The above steps detailing the build of a Pono player cable are for entertainment purposes only, and not intended to be used as assembly instructions. The owner of this blog and all associated parties can not / will not be held responsible if you attempt the process posted and cause physical harm to yourself, your surroundings or your property.