Neil Young has more than reached his Kickstarter goal of $800,000, managing to raise a startling $6.2 million for his new digital music player and download store, Pono. His other goal: to “fix” the state of sound he wearily regards as a direct result of MP3 and music streaming’s prioritisation of convenience over quality. Only nine Ponos (which, incidentally, is the Hawaiian word typically translated as “righteousness” and is part of the state’s motto) are currently in circulation as demos. Omnifone, London’s digital music company, will provide all the final touches on Pono, as it does for SiriusXM, Sony Music Unlimited, Guvera, rara and others.
With a face reminiscent of the iPod Photo from ten years ago, and a triangular body that is meant to sit nicely propped up on your desk, Pono has two headphone sockets on its top and a trapdoor on its bottom for an HD card to increase memory. Although we’ve become accustomed to storing upwards of thousands of songs on our devices, Pono will only hold hundreds, as the extra memory space is used to store high resolution audio files, which can be more than twenty times the size of the same song downloaded from iTunes, and 150 times bigger than the same song played via a smartphone. This is the sacrifice we must make if we desire better audio quality.
So far, those who have tested Pono say that it does indeed fulfill its promise of improved sound. Eamonn Forde of The Guardian demoed one recently and reported, “the sound was definitely fuller and sharper. Too often ‘improved audio quality’ has been a euphemism for ‘more bass’, with the lower end swamping and pawing over everything else, but here there were intricate audio checks and balances to ensure that each part sounded right in relation to everything else. It was genuinely impressive.” Unfortunately for those hungering for quality sound, there is no set release date for Pono, however, the first batch will most likely go to those who supported and pledged to the Kickstarter for it. After that Pono will be available for purchase by the general public for an estimated $400.
The download store, which will be selling music at the highest bit-rate, will be linked, but for now will not be embedded into the actual player, until Omnifone can settle licensing terms and pricing with record labels. Once that’s taken care of, the store will offer a stepped catalogue featuring some tracks sold in high-res, some in lossless and some in MP3 format. In the meantime, Pono owners will have to buy or rip songs from their PCs and then sideload them onto the player. The only other downside to this righteous little guy is that it does not support Wi-Fi (and therefore won’t connect to wireless speakers). Find out more about Pono and preorder one here.