Neil Young Introduces PonoPlayer as the iPod for Audiophiles


Neil Young introduces the PonoPlayer, aiming to spoil audiophiles by focusing on quality music rather than the quantity provided by Apple’s iPod. On Wednesday, the PonoMusic device will launch via Kickstarter for music lovers who want to pre-order the device for the discounted $399 price.

The main reason consumers will choose PonoPlayer over other MP3 players is that the device doesn’t play MP3s. Instead, music recordings played via PonoPlayer will be ultra-high quality (24 bit/192kHz), or about 30 times more data per track. Serious music connoisseurs  should be clamoring for an alternative to MP3 players and smartphones that are only capable of delivering low-quality sound, and Young plans to give it to them.

YoungYoung introduced the device in 2012 on the Late Show with David Letterman by showing off a prototype. “We want to move digital music into the 21st century,” Young said, “It’s about the music.” The promotion of the device is centered solely on offering the best quality music for a reasonable price and is named after the Hawaiian word meaning “righteousness.”

The price tag of $399 will nab buyers 128 GB of storage space for their music. How many songs is that? It depends on the quality of the tracks downloaded. The PonoPlayer can hold about 3,200 high resolution songs (24 bit/48 kHz), or about 1,600 higher resolution selections (24 bit/96 kHz), or nearly 800 ultra-high resolution songs (24 bit/192 kHz) for listeners with finely-tuned listening preferences.

The PonoPlayer itself comes in yellow, blue, or black and weighs about 4.5 ounces. It’s not the smallest player, but people won’t be buying its compact size. Each purchase includes a Li-Ion built-in battery that lasts about eight hours before needing to recharge. The 128 GB memory is split between a 64 GB internal storage device and a 64 GB microSD card.

Young’s PonoPlayer requires audiophiles to sync up with the PonoMusic store, a service similar to Apple’s iTunes, which iPods are required to sync to to download and organize audio catalogs. Major and independent labels are set to release their music in ultra-high quality via the service, so consumers shouldn’t be too worried about a limited selection. Users will also be able to sync new ultra-high quality devices to the store as they are released, PonoMusic emphasizes, as the PonoPlayer just looks to be one of the first major product releases that will focus on quality of sound over quantity.

The device was created partly by an engineering team from Ayre, an audio hardware developer located in Boulder, CO. Ayre boasts a catalog of digital-music players, turntables, and amplifiers and has been instrumental in the PonoPlayer’s design, which includes an LCD touch-screen interface.

One of the key introduction details of Young’s PonoMusic player for audiophiles is that studio-tracks recorded by artists will not suffer degradation of quality when transferred to standard formats that devices like the iPod can play. What’s produced by bands and singers will be delivered directly to listeners’ ears. Whether or not the PonoPlayer can topple Apple and other audio services seems unlikely at first. What is likely is that PonoMusic will be the first real wave in an audio-quality revolution.

Opinion By Matt Stinson


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