Would You Buy Neil Young's High-Res Music Player?

Brandon Dimmel's picture

Legendary singer-songwriter and musician Neil Young believes his "Pono" digital music player is the next 'must-have' gadget.

Young says that people who use the iPod and most other digital music players aren't hearing music the way it was intended to be heard. That's also why he firmly believes there will be great demand for Pono.

Unlike the iPod and similar devices, Pono is built with audiophiles in mind. The major difference is that Pono is able to play music using a high-resolution "lossless" audio format, called FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). By default, FLAC will be the audio format standard for the device, though it's suggested other high-resolution music formats will be supported.

FLAC Audio Format Versus MP3

Devices like the iPod use the MP3 audio file format (among others) to play music.

When comparing FLAC to MP3, the difference is substantial in both audio quality as well as file size. FLAC file sizes are considerably larger, and the quality of the audio recording is much cleaner.

That's because MP3 files use a "lossy" algorithm (codec) to shrink the original recordings from a source format (typically CD or DVD audio) into a much smaller size. To achieve a smaller file size, the bitrate of the source audio is reduced. A lowered bitrate essentially strips out data from the original, which then results in degradation in audio quality -- hence Young's vision for a better audio experience with Pono.

Most music devices such as the iPod have limited storage space, so the MP3 format has been widely used across platforms for many years. But that is likely to change in the very near future with substantially faster Internet connection speeds (which is used to acquire audio files), and as storage space in music playing devices also increase.

So, how does FLAC compare to an MP3 in file size?

For comparison purposes, an original (pressed) music CD is stored in a lossless WAV format. As an example: a 3 minute song in WAV format might be around 40MB when it's been ripped and stored on a PC. Converting the WAV into MP3 at 128kb bitrate might yield a file size approximately 1/10 of the original. That's a substantial savings, but the resulting file audio quality would not be anywhere near the same. Converting the WAV into FLAC would yield roughly a 50% compression ratio; however, because FLAC is a lossless format, audio quality would be retained.

Pono: Unique Shape Also Helps to Improve Battery Life

Compared to the iPod, the Pono is also set apart by its look.

The device features a unique triangular design and is quite small: just 5 inches high, 2 inches wide, and 1 inch deep. The company behind Pono, PonoMusic, says the unique shape allows for the use of "a large, cylindrical battery that's much more efficient than a flat battery." (Source: cnet.com)

The Pono's size is also designed to accommodate larger components and give those parts lots of space -- thereby reducing interference. PonoMusic says this helps improve audio quality and will set the Pono apart from devices like the slimmer iPod Touch. (Source: zdnet.com)

Pono features a touchscreen display and 64GB internal storage, with an additional 64GB available through a microSD slot. The Pono will be available in two colors: black or yellow.

Pono is said to have its own PonoMusic Web store, which will be similar to Apple's iTunes.

Pono Raises Millions Through Kickstarter

Young has been discussing an alternative to the iPod and iPod clones for years. But now Young's vision has finally come to fruition, with the Pono unveiled on crowd-sourcing website Kickstarter this month.

Clearly, many others share Young's opinion that there's room for Pono in the digital music market. While the Pono's original Kickstarter goal was $800,000, after just a few weeks supporters have pledged an astounding $3 million. (Source: kickstarter.com)

The Pono is expected to retail for $399 when it goes on sale this fall. That price point is roughly the same price as Apple's 64GB iPod Touch.

What's Your Opinion?

Are you disappointed in the audio quality of most MP3 players on the market right now? Do you agree with Neil Young's vision that the Pono is the next must-have gadget for music lovers? Would you be willing to pay $399 for the Pono, or would you opt for an iPod instead? What do you think of the device's unique shape and size, compared to an iPod?

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3bneil's picture

The guy is a washed up hypocrite who is way out of date. $399 for a music player? That's nuts. My smart phone cost less than that. There may be a tiny market for the player among those who have perfect pitch, but the average user won't buy this.

guitardogg's picture

Okay 3bneil, really? The price point for the 64-Gb Pono is the same as a 64-Gb iPod. Are Apple devices pricey? Very, but they sell them by the millions, so Pono is not out of line there. This should appeal to anyone who appreciates good quality audio. I guess if you listen rap or other trash, you don't care about fidelity, so keep listening to your cheap devices. If Neil is washed up, I want to be washed up! He is as successful now as ever. And what in all this makes him a hypocrite? What contributions have you made to make music better?

kepykay's picture

I answered the question in the headline with a big 'yes', until I read it'll cost $400 (that's 290 euro). I like the shape and styling of the Pono and I am puzzled for years why the public settled to the inferior less-than-hifi-quality of MP3 music players. I am pleased Mr. Young is trying to do something about it.

tmilleremail's picture

what a great treat. i find it painful to listen to mp3/lossy music. i was so proud of getting my 800 cd's in itunes format, but i've hardly listed to them sense doing so. yes, even the sampling rate on cd's is too small for me, but i still like them and listen to them. and while i love the portability and all the other great features of ipods and their like, what comes out is just lousy.

neil young has been a great voice for keeping sound full and clean. he may not have prevailed in getting the music industry to to offer higher definition cd's, but it seems he's made a real accomplishment in helping revert the slide/sacrifice resulting from mp3's.

i find the pricing complaints sad. so many people have never heard music as it was made to be heard. $400 is the price of any decent stereo component, and this product is the full "stereo". i may not go back to vinyl, but with this type of technology i don't have to go down the "dirty" road of highly compressed mp3's.


mummsy's picture

The one thing about the I-pod, is that it is flat. You can have it in your pocket unobtrusively and listen to your music. I'm not sure people will want something triangular sticking out of their pockets while they are doing whatever it is they do; jogging, on a tread mill, young people walking down the street, etc.

I won an iPod nano at a work function several years ago, and for me, the ability to clip it to my pocket while I'm doing "my thing" is wonderful. The quality of the sound cannot compare to my stereo system, but I don't expect it to!! iPod was produced to be a small way to carry your music with you wherever you go. It has succeeded and gone beyond. Now it is time for other ideas. Will I purchase a Pono? I'm not sure, but I bet a lot of people will, even if it is to "just not buy an Apple" devise.

wayupnorth_2000's picture

Neil Young attacks Alberta oilsands and then want support from people for his product..........no matter now good it is I will never buy anything that has his name attached to it........he can kiss my arse........