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PonoPlayer: Neil Youngs HD iPod competitor hitting Kickstarter for $399


Neil Young has been on a crusade to save digital music from itself for the past few years. Now, his PonoPlayer is ready to bring studio-quality HD tunes to music lovers, but the price of entry will be steep: $399.

Presumably youre going to get a pretty top-notch pair of headphones for that price, too. All the high-end digital audio wizardry in the world doesnt mean squat without something amazing to transmit the sound waves to your ears. A pair of Apple earbuds arent going to cut it.

The official press release says the 128GB PonoPlayer will be able to store between 100 and 500 high-fidelity albums. Thats an incredibly impressive feat, if true. An hour of 24-bit/192kHz FLAC music requires about 2GB of drive space, which would mean only 60 or so would fit on the PonoPlayer. Could they really have come up with a compression algorithm thats that much more efficient than FLAC and yet better at accurately reproducing the original recordings?

Its probably a mix of things. Pono may be better, but theres obviously some PR puffery going on here, too. Ultimately, it wont matter much. The PonoPlayer and PonoMusic arent aimed at consumers that want to cart around a thousand or so of their favorite tunes. Theyre for connoisseurs who demand perfection from their audio experiences.

There is at least one bit of good news. According to Computer Audiophile, all the tracks available to purchase from PonoMusic will be DRM-free. Thats a good thing, especially since theres a good chance that well be asked to pay a bit of a premium for the HD tracks theyre selling. HD albums can cost almost double what they do on iTunes, and theres little reason to believe that PonoMusic wont follow their lead.

If youre going to overpay for a player and tracks that may not produce audio that actually sounds any better to your ears, well, at least its nice to know that the tunes arent locked down.

Head on over to Kickstarter on March 15 to reserve yours if youre interested. Yep, theyre using Kickstarter, instead of the PonoMusic.com site where theyve been setting up shop for the past couple of years. Also dont balk too hard at the price. $399 might seem like a lot of cash, but the PonoPlayer is a real bargain compared to some high-end PMPs. Astell & Kerns has one with just 32GB of storage that retails for more than $1,000.

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