March 9, 2014 at 12:57 pm

Neil Young To Launch PonoMusic at SXSW on Kickstarter

pono kickstarter sxsw

Neil Young plans to release his $400 PonoPlayer portable audio player and the proprietary music download store that goes with it at SXSW, via a Kickstarter campaign set to begin on March 15, according to a press release making the rounds. The device will play PonoMusic files, with audio elements designed by Ayre Acoustics, after a deal to do the same with Meridian apparently fell through.

In some cases, these PonoMusic files have reportedly been remastered for this new format. It’s not clear how much each song download will cost, but it could be more than Amazon and iTunes charge, due to the extra work involved with creating these new downloadable audio files. The player will not support streaming music.

“The PonoPlayer has 128GB of memory and can store 1000 to 2000 high-resolution digital-music albums,” reads the press release, which appeared on Friday, three days before its March 10 date (updated). “Memory cards can be used to store and play different playlists and additional collections of music.”

Based on its capacity and the number of albums that apparently fit onto the PonoPlayer, these files should have a bit rate of around 360 Kbps, which is also the maximum bit rate allowed by MP3. As some have noted, Pono will have to have its own, new compression scheme to fit these apparently higher resolution music files into that amount of space.

According to details first published on Computer Audiophile (which broke the news) and apparently since deleted, the PonoPlayer will feature the ESS ES9018 chip (.pdf) for turning the ones and zeros into sound, as well as a custom-designed filter from Ayre Acoustics with minimal phase, and without the “pre-ringing” Pono claims is present in other audio file types. It will also have a small LCD touchscreen, and will come in three colors.

“Our goal was to offer the highest quality digital music available from all the major labels with the world’s greatest sounding, user-friendly portable music player,” stated PonoMusic CEO John Hamm. “We’ve achieved our goal and we are excited to launch our Kickstarter campaign next week to invite music lovers everywhere to join the PonoMusic community and reserve a PonoPlayer for their own enjoyment.”

Will music fans be willing to pay $400 for a music player that is not also a smartphone that handles so many other tasks, and to buy their music in download form from a single store? Audiophiles are notoriously spendy, and for them, $400 isn’t much for a piece of audio equipment, but it’s unclear how mainstream music fans will react. We should have a better idea about that soon, once the Kickstarter campaign launches.

Neil Young is scheduled to speak at SXSW at 5pm on March 11.

  • David Gerard

    If Neil Young, age 68, can reliably tell a Pomo file from a FLAC
    prepared from said Pomo file in A/B/X testing, I will give you a
    lollipop. Two lollipops.

  • Anonymous

    The news release has been updated to read “can store 100 to 500 high-resolution digital-music albums”, not 1-2,000 as originally stated.

  • FF_Bookman

    right on! get a pono player now (or another HD DAP coming out) to put music back where it belongs, on a device that is built to deliver it properly!

    we all have a million songs on our phones, or can stream a billion, but this is about sound quality again. you can’t watch 1080p on your phone either, so you probably still have a large screen specially built to watch movies.

    ignore the FUD online (pushed by the DSP industry) saying no one can hear the difference. these people have been telling musicians and producers they can’t hear more than 16/44 since 1982, and they were wrong then and wrong now.

    most people, especially given some idea what they are listening for in their own music, can tell a file that is less than HD. there are tell’s all over the place if you like reverbs, or timbre in your voices.

    a simple high-hat can expose digital compression flaws, and hitting a simple kick drum gives you some idea what your cd is throwing out.

  • FF_Bookman

    give me 100 lollipops, because people who make music hear the difference all the time. we all bounce our stuff to various bit rates and can easily hear the difference. it’s stupid misinformed consumers and psuedo-scientists that claim there is no difference.

    every ABX test ever done is so flawed you need to throw that data out. bad assumptions everywhere. if you need more details as to why i feel this way (and believe me i’m not alone, just about everyone in your music collection you love feels the way i feel about this) i’ve written many more words on the topic here:

    short story – your ears & overall sense of hearing is far more advanced and nuanced than any “scientist” anywhere can explain or measure. they throw out most of how our sense works so they can find something to quantify. this is a poor implementation of the scientific method.

    a digital signal programmer (and there are lots of them) are not audio experts, they are audio assassins, or audio cheats at best.

    audio is analog, and so are humans. any digital copy we make should be at the highest resolution feasible, whether you think you can hear it or not. you can.