Two popular perceptions have emerged about people who buy vinyl – that they are record collectors or that they buy it as ‘part of the furniture’. However, pharmacy there is a select group of music fans who purchase vinyl because the sound quality is far superior to that of MP3 players. Anyone with a strong ear will agree that even the big bulky stereo systems we used fifteen years ago sound crisper than an iPod.

Well, search the legendary rock veteran Neil Young is on a mission to revolutionise the way we listen to music with the launch of his new download store and digital music player Pono – the gadget he claims will help to restore the ‘soul’ to the music listen experience. It is designed to give music lovers access to their favourite music exactly as the artist created it. PonoMusic promises to have the largest library high-quality tracks available for download. Young raised $6.2 million in a Kickstarter campaign to fund Pono.

The PonoPlayer boasts high resolution audio playback through quality components. It is compatible with audio files of up to 192kHZ/24-bit giving it better dynamics, greater detail and a more natural sound. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit and emotion that the musicians put into their original recording.

One of the most prominent criticisms about the PonoPlayer has been its triangular prism which is akin to a Toblerone. It certainly won’t slip into your pocket comfortably like most MP3 devices. This unwieldiness will undoubtedly put many people off. However, the ability to lay the Pono on its side with the controls and screen facing you is a handy feature that it makes seem more like a stationary audio player.

The price tag of $400 will repel many shoppers, particularly because you can buy devices with more memory for far cheaper. But for the group of high-fidelity music enthusiasts that spend hundreds on vinyl, the cost may not be as exorbitant as it seems.

Another uninviting aspect is the file size. Nowadays, digital music is designed to take up minimal space on your hard drive. The PonoPlayer pays no attention to this tendency. Because of the rich sound quality, its audio files can be up to 20 times the size of the same song downloaded from iTunes. Even with a generous 128GB storage capacity, users will have to settle with hundreds of tracks rather than thousands.

Pono is unlikely to become a worldwide sensation for Neil Young. The majority of listeners will not even notice the difference in terms of the sound quality. Therefore, it won’t be for the mass markets. But it will attract a cult audience that strives for sharp and fuller sound quality that their iPods cannot provide and it may mark the beginning of a trend which will see high-res audio becoming a norm for music players.

One thought on “The Case for Pono

  1. Well written article on a usually confusing topic! I agree with your take and my pono player is on the way soon. Early reviews have been amazing with people hearing and feeling things from their music that they either missed for decades or have never heard before.

    The iPod was a jump forward in convenience and jump backward in sound quality, and they never righted that ship. Apple could have made a pono-like device but they didn’t see the market as mainstream enough. Steve Jobs listened to vinyl at home, so we know where his heart was.

    Pono is a high-end file player, DAC, and amp in a compact, portable package for under $500. That is a valuable product, even if not mainstream. Musicians, DJ’s, sound guys, producers, performers, super fans — they all want the best quality they can afford, not the best quality that can also play angry birds and do facebook.

    The 2nd part of the story is Pono Inc’s promise to sell the highest native resolution only in their store, and to upgrade any purchases if they eventually stock a higher resolution. To combat the lying/misleading on provenance (origin) Pono named legendary producer Bruce Botnick as VP of Content Acquisition, putting his name on the guarantee to not sell up-samples or otherwise.

    Good article and I hope you put up some reviews of the pono player once it’s out in the wild. Music is emotion and naming a music player “righteous” is a bold move that appears to be panning out.

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