Neil Young’s Music Player Pono Promises to Make Digital Sound Like Vinyl



Neil Young has launched his Kickstarter campaign to fund the high-quality digital music player called Pono, and reached his goal of $800,000 within 24 hours. The campaign now has over $1.5 million pledged and has until April 15 to continue fundraising.

PonoMusic was started by Young to create a way to listen to music digitally without sacrificing sound quality like MP3s and CDs do. As music has become more portable, the sound quality — or the way an artist originally intended for a record to sound — has been compromised. Pono is a portable digital music player that plays recordings at a much higher quality than traditional MP3s.

“Generally speaking, MP3 files have a bit rate of 192kbps or 256kbps.   These are highly compressed files and are much smaller in size than higher resolution music files. The good news is that you can keep a lot of MP3 files in a small amount of storage on a portable player or mobile device. The bad news is that they’ve lost a lot of the musical information that often reveals the most pleasant and satisfying aspects of the music. It is mostly that sense of realism, dynamic range, and detail that higher resolution recordings typically capture in a way that restores the emotion in the song,” the Kickstarter page says. Even at the lowest quality level, PonoMusic files are six times larger than MP3s.

The Kickstarter page has a video with glowing testimonials from a huge variety of legendary musicians including Arcade Fire, Jack White, Tom Petty, Norah Jones, Rick Rubin, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, Elton John, and many more. Many complained about the poor quality of digital music that they feel has compromised their artistic vision. Some compared the sound quality of the device to vinyl. The sound was described by the group of renown musicians as “deeper,” “warmer,” and “more analogue.”

“It blew me away. It was like being in a recording studio. You were listening to Bob Dylan and it was like he was playing harmonica right next to you,” Elton John said. David Crosby commented, ”That’s the best sound I heard in the car ever in my life.”

The Pono player looks like an iPod crossed with a Toblerone chocolate bar. The device can be used similarly to an iPod or other MP3 player by listening through headphones or plugging into a car stereo or separate speakers. But Pono isn’t just a player, it’s an entire music ecosystem with an online store that sells music in FLAC files, trying to achieve a sound as close to an album or song’s master recording as possible.

“In the process of making music more convenient — easier to download, and more portable — we have sacrificed the emotional impact that only higher quality music can deliver. However, the world has changed in the last 10 years; technology has solved some of the underlying problems that forced that tradeoff. You no longer have to choose between quality and convenience when listening to music — you can have both. This is the fundamental idea behind PonoMusic,” the Kickstarter page says of Young’s quest “to revive the magic that has been squeezed out of digital music.”

Those who pledge $400 or more can receive a limited-edition Pono player signed by one of their favorite artists, which also comes pre-loaded with two of said artists’ favorite albums. Given the large amount of cash the campaign has raised already, it seems many music lovers are getting behind Young’s project to free digital music from bad sound quality.

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