Neil Young’s PonoMusic finally launches, here’s all the details

on March 11, 2014, 3:15pm

For the last several years, Neil Young been working on a digital music service called PONO, which he says will enhance the quality and compression of MP3s. Now, as The Guardian reports, it’s finally ready to make its debut at South by Southwest on Tuesday.

In anticipation, the company has detailed its portable listening device, the PonoPlayer, a 128GB triangular, touchscreen gadget priced at $399. (For comparison, a 64GB iPod touch retails at the same price). Though no official on-sale date has been revealed, a Kickstarter campaign will launch on March 15th with the PonoPlayer available for pre-order at a discounted price.

ponomusic Neil Youngs PonoMusic finally launches, heres all the details

Developed with Ayer Acoustics, the PonoPlayer reportedly makes use of zero-feedback circuitry and a minimum phase digital filter aimed at eliminating the “unnatural pre-ringing” that can often be heard on digital tracks. As Young stated late last year, the goal of all this technology is to liberate “the music of the artist from the digital file and [restore] it to its original artistic quality – as it was in the studio.”

With 128GB onboard storage and space for memory card expansions, the PonoPlayer is said to store “1,000 to 2,000 high-resolution digital-music albums.” These numbers, however, have already come into question on sites like Computer Audiophile. User goldsdad, for example, points out that a 128GB device “typically stores fewer than 500 albums in 16/44.1 FLAC [a prominent high-lossless format].” Details regarding how PonoMusic goes about compressing its files have yet to be fully discussed.

In addition to the player, PonoMusic will offer a desktop “media management application” where users can download, organize, and sync tracks to the PonoPlayer as well as “other high-resolution digital music devices.” The site will also offer downloads of songs formatted from “artist-approved” master recordings taken from from “both major labels and prominent independent labels.” PonoMusic recommendations for earbuds and headphones will also be sold through the site.

Update: The Kickstarter has gone live, as has the PonoMusic site, and with it has come new details. The page explains the much-bemoaned triangular shape of the PonoPlayer. The choice to go Toblerone came from a need to fit in larger audio components as well as space them far enough away to avoid electrical interference. In addition, the shape allowed for the use of cylindrical batteries that are “much more efficient than a flat battery.”

As for file size, it looks like goldsdad was right: the actual storage capacity of the PonoPlayer is far less than the 1,000 to 2,000 albums previously mentioned. At the lowest quality available on the PonoMusic store (44.1 kHz/16 bit FLAC), the device will hold up to 5,000 tracks, which would be about 417 12-song albums. Though most hi-res formats will play on the PonoPlayer, the PonoMusic store will exclusively use FLAC files. How many will fit on the player is based on the quality of the master recordings the Pono uses:

- CD lossless quality recordings: 1411 kbps (44.1 kHz/16 bit) FLAC files
- High-resolution 48 recordings: 2304 kbps (48 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
- High-resolution 96 recordings: 4608 kbps (96 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
- Ultra-high resolution recordings: 9216 kbps (192 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files

Finally, while early-bird pledgers have already snapped up the $200 pre-sales, $300 black and yellow PonoPlayers are currently available via Kickstarter. What’s more, for $400 pledgers can get a special edition “Artist Signature Series” PonoPlayer from the likes of Young, Arcade Fire, Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters, Herbie Hancock, Tom Petty, Beck, Patti Smith, and others. Limited to just 500 for each artist, the chrome players are numbered and engraved with the artist’s signature, plus come loaded with the artist’s all-time favorite two albums.

Below, watch the Kickstarter video promoting the project, plus watch Young discuss PONO on the Late Show with David Letterman.


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Anthony Tyler
March 12, 2014 at 7:37 am

High quality music starts in the studio. Record well and you have a great sounding “file.” Period. Players of any kind. Bits of any rate are not going to change the source. Sorry. This is snake water of the most expensive kind, but this is aimed at those with money. Nothing more.

March 12, 2014 at 9:01 am

Have you listened to FLAC (for example) v. MP3?

October 29, 2014 at 4:59 pm

High quality music does start in the studio. But since 1982 or so it’s been stripped of most of it’s data and sold to consumers as sub-standard product.

What do they delete in the name of business/science? The stuff the scientists can’t “hear” or explain with formulas. Tragically, this is the good part of the music – the soul, the players, the instruments, the voices, the human beings – that has been getting stripped from music since the dawn of the CD era.

The mp3 era made everything far worse, and most music now is so squashed and pumped and lacking any headroom or human emotion that’s it survives on annoyance and rhythmic gimmicks using so many layers of plug-ins and compression that everyone’s system sounds equally shitty and overhyped.

if you listen to non-electronic forms of music, you know this. classical people never embraced mp3, and most still have issues with cd. classic rock and the beatles never sounded as good digitally until they finally put out 24bit versions.

Elliott McWhirter
March 11, 2014 at 7:45 pm

Yup, already at $600K in less than 7 hours. Definitely destined to be a flop.

You’d think the people who visit a music blog would care what their music sounds like.

March 10, 2014 at 5:40 pm

This is a destined flop with a horrible design and if you can’t scrobble on it then its not worth a dime

March 10, 2014 at 5:22 am

The shape of that thing looks really uncomfortable to carry around in your pocket.

March 9, 2014 at 11:14 pm

This is a major step…. sideways. I predict that it will be a complete flop and nobody will care.

March 9, 2014 at 3:45 pm

While trolling I thought of another Title for this article!

“Inconsequence of sound”

Knuk knuk

March 9, 2014 at 3:42 pm

…or Spotify


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