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PonoMusic promises audiophile-pleasing portable digital music


March 12, 2014

PonoMusic's audiophile-quality digital music player

PonoMusic's audiophile-quality digital music player

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Influential musician Neil Young says that in the pursuit of the convenience offered by wireless streaming, or storing large catalogs of songs on pocket-sized devices, we have sacrificed the quality of the music, and by extension our overall listening experience. But a belief that the two need not be mutually exclusive has led Young to conceive a system called PonoMusic, which he believes will afford digital music listeners the ease and accessibility of today and the audio quality of yesteryear.

PonoMusic is a system comprising an online music store and a pocket-sized device called the PonoPlayer. Much like you might purchase music through Apple's iTunes store to play on your iPod touch, classic or nano, single songs or entire albums can be bought from PonoMusic to be stored in the cloud, backed up offline and played on the device. The difference however, lies in the type of audio files on offer.

According to PonoMusic, compressed MP3 files with a bit rate of 192 kbps or 256 kbps obscure a lot of the detail and dynamic range that is captured in the music at the time of recording. As such, the PonoMusic platform uses FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) as its standard audio format, ranging from CD lossless quality recordings at 1,411 kbps (44.1 kHz/16-bit) to ultra-high resolution recordings at 9,216 kbps (192 kHz/24-bit). The company says that this equates to between six and 30 times more information available for the PonoPlayer to use in the reconstruction of a song.

The device itself is a triangular "Toblerone" shape available in either black or yellow, weighing 4.5 oz (128 g) and measuring 5 x 2 x 1 in (12.7 x 5.1 x 2.5 cm). Users operate the player by swiping a touch screen to navigate through the music and via three buttons: volume up, volume down and an on/off switch.

A micro-USB port on one end of the device enables music synching and recharging of the lithium-ion battery, with the company claiming that each charge with the 120/240 V AC charger should be good for eight hours of listening. At the other end of the PonoPlayer are a standard headphone jack and a stereo mini-plug analog output designed to connect to your car system, stereo or home theater.

The device comes with 64 GB of memory built-in, with a removable microSD card included to up the storage to 128 GB. Though this may store less tracks in FLAC format than we are used to in a typical personal music player, it is worth noting that the PonoPlayer also supports common formats such as MP3, ALAC, WAV and AIFF.

PonoMusic launched on Kickstarter today and, perhaps unsurprisingly considering who is behind it, has already passed its US$800,000 funding goal. $300 will put you in line for one of your own, with shipping planned for October 2014 if all goes to plan.

You can hear about PonoMusic from Neil Young and some of his fellow industry heavyweights in the video below.

Sources: PonoMusic, Kickstarter

About the Author
Nick Lavars Nick was born outside of Melbourne, Australia, with a general curiosity that has drawn him to some distant (and very cold) places. Somewhere between enduring a winter in the Canadian Rockies and trekking through Chilean Patagonia, he graduated from university and pursued a career in journalism. Having worked for publications such as The Santiago Times and The Conversation, he now writes for Gizmag from Melbourne, excited by tech and all forms of innovation, the city's bizarre weather and curried egg sandwiches. All articles by Nick Lavars

I buy CDs and rip them using AIFF encoder in iTunes. So switching to this would provide no benefit, except for 192/24 files. I see compatibility issues with FLAC though, so I am not excited about that, I'd rather use wav or aiff.


why make it triangular? Couldnt think of a worse shape to carry in my pocket.


If you want better audio than Apple, buy a Sansa Clip and some decent headphones.

Jon A.

Novel idea. But Neil has been at this for over two years. The business metrics may be off. Do the venture capital funds have some well-placed skepticism, thus the need for Kickstarter? Is there truly a sizable market for a PORTABLE bit-rich music player costing $400 and albums at $15-25 (the real 'fly in the ointment')? Neil impresses friends' ears by having them sit in his rolling studio (vintage Cadillac) for a supposed sample of good things to come. But why not put out prototypes and technical specifications to audiophile magazines to be reviewed by critical listeners? Time will tell.


The device is irrelevant to the sound (i.e. it could be any one of many already in production). The mastering is the critical issue. If the mastering has no clipping and minimal final-stage compression, it will be a winner --- but in that case might as well have been a 'Pono version' file for download off all the usual downloading sites.

T N Args

Buy a FiiO X3. It's been around since some time, tested well, decent form factor, and supports FLACs (easily available everywhere), just not a very good battery life.

Neil Young is trying to create an ecosystem like Apple did, the only difference being that Apple caters to everyone and not just a niche audience of audiophiles. Niches tend to find their ways on their own and don't need oversimplification.


All this is worthless if the music companies won't release their catalogues in 24-bit / 96Khz format without DRM (anti-copying protection). I've been asking PonoMusic if there's DRM on their device but they haven't answered my question. I haven't seen any discussion on this either.

If there's DRM on the device, people won't buy it. Super Audio CD was a flop because it had perfect DRM, it couldn't be copied. And users therefore ignored it.

And besides, what's so special about a device which plays 24-bit FLAC files from SD cards? You can buy those dirt cheap from China these days.


so how can you hear all this big difference with background noise, etc (since it is portable)?

how are all the music companies going to re release all this stuff in ''magic sound'' formats?

how will it make the 99% of music that is bad or not interesting, not?

Larry English
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