Neil Young launches new music player

PonoPlayer compatible with FLAC.

For those in the audiophile community, the term ‘MP3 player’ may as well have four letters. But thanks to famous Canadian musician Neil Young, those who wish to listen to high resolution (24-bit/192kHz) music easily will finally have an outlet. The Pono digital music player, which launched its Kickstarter campaign last Wednesday, will be a high-fidelity alternative that is as convenient and portable as an iPod or other MP3 players.

The word ‘pono’ is Hawaiian for righteous. Young, who is PonoMusic’s founder, has been working with audio engineers for several years to create the player. Young has been a longtime critic of the highly compressed and less dynamic audio quality of most digital music.

Young pitched Pono in Austin, Texas at the South by Southwest Festival last week. South by Southwest is a set of film, interactive, and music festivals and conferences that take place annually. The following morning, the Pono Kickstarter launched. At press time, the campaign has raised four million dollars USD, with 12,000 backers.

Young’s Pono ‘ecosystem’ consists of two distinct platforms: the PonoPlayer hardware, and the PonoMusic Web store.

The PonoPlayer definitely sticks out in comparison to other music players—the hardware itself is a small device measuring five inches high by two inches wide, with a triangular shape. It will feature a touch screen and total of 128GB of storage. The player also features a light that indicates when you’re listening to a “certified PonoMusic song,” but the details of what will set those files apart remain a mystery.

The triangular shape of the player enables the player to use a large, cylindrical battery, which the team at PonoMusic claim is “more efficient than a flat battery.” The shape also allows a user to easily hold the device in one hand, while also being able to lie flat on a desktop to keep the display visible.

The player’s main sell is its compatibility with high-resolution music files, such as FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, and ACC (unprotected).

To accompany the player is a PonoMusic web store at ponomusic.com, which will charge between $14.99 to $24.99 USD per album. Prices for individual songs have not been disclosed.

The device and web store are slated for an October 2014 release, with an expected retail price of $399 USD. Already, Pono has garnered multiple endorsements from famous artists. As a Kickstarter perk, backers can receive artist signature series PonoPlayers with engraved signatures from the likes of Willie Nelson, My Morning Jacket, Tom Petty, Arcade Fire, Beck, Dave Matthews, and, of course, Neil Young himself.

“Pono is about the music, it’s about the people who make the music and the way it sounds to us when we’re in the studio making it,” Young says in a video on the Kickstarter site.

“It’s about you hearing what we hear, and that hasn’t happened in a long time.”

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