March 11, 2014 at 3:23 pm

SXSW: Neil Young’s PonoMusic Goes Live on Kickstarter

ponoplayer_kickstarterAs reported earlier, Neil Young plans to launch PonoMusic here at SXSW. The Kickstarter page that will apparently fund the production of his portable music player (PonoPlayer) and the music download store where owners of the device can purchase songs to play on it (PonoMusic) is live, four hours before Neil Young is set to take the stage to explain more about the player.

Pono also revealed more about the formats it will sell:

  • 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

The player has 64GB of internal memory plus an additional 64GB microSD card to hold those files, as well as other AAC, AIFF, Apple Lossless, FLAC, MP3, and WAV  files.

That means it can hold “about 200 to 800 high-resolution digital-music songs, depending on the resolution and length of the original recording,” according to Pono, which envisions people putting music on multiple microSD cards to virtually increase the device’s capacity.

Each album in the PonoMusic store will cost between $15 and $25, after the devices become available in October.

Pono explains that it initially tried to make the device something that could snap onto a smartphone, so that its customers wouldn’t have to go back to carrying around a separate music player device, but that proved too difficult:

“We talked a lot about making the player thin, to snap onto the back of a phone so it could be carried as one unit,” reads the website. “But that meant you’d need a different player design for each phone model, and we found that it was not possible to put some of the large audio components – required for the best performance – into a thin package.”

Are music fans in 2014 ready to pay $400 for a standalone music player that can only load songs from a computer via USB, with no ability to stream from the internet, and to buy $15-$25 albums from a store that could have less music than the competition, with only a subset of that music available in the ultra-high-bit-rate format that’s the biggest reason for buying the device? Will Pono succeed in selling consumers on higher bit rates, where SuperAudioCD and DVD-A failed, and where HDTracks has only gained limited traction?

Assuming Pono reaches its $800K goal on Kickstarter over the next 34 days, we should find out after October, when the first devices ship. It’s possible that dedicated music fans with an audiophilic streak might be willing to carry around 200-800 high-resolution songs on the Pono to supplement the tens of millions of tracks they can access on their phones.

  • Anonymous

    Let’s hope this kicks Apple into opening the 24/96 iTunes store and shipping iPhones & Pods to play the same. They have been collection 24/96 masters for some years so it should be doable.