The rise of the MP3 in the 90s may have brought digital music into the internet age, and the launch of the iPod line of media players made it cool to carry around thousands of songs in your pocket (I know it was hardly the first portable MP3 player, but it was certainly the most iconic).

But for years audiophiles have been complaining about the lousy sound quality of MP3. Musician Neil Young has decided to do something about it. He’s put his weight behind a new high-end portable music player and digital music store called the PonoPlayer and PonoMusic.

The PonoPlayer goes up for pre-order for $399 with a Kickstarter campaign launching March 12th.

Update: The Kickstarter page is now live, and if you order one during the campaign you can reserve a PonoPlayer for $300. It should ship in October.


The PonoPlayer is shaped like a triangle, features high-end audio hardware including zero-feedback circuitry, an ESS ES9018 DAC chip, and a custom digital filter. It’s expected to support 24-bit, 192 KHz audio.

More importantly, while MP3 files use digital compression technology to save space, the PonoPlayer is designed to play music encoded in a proprietary format the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) that allows for higher quality audio. You’ll be able to purchased and download DRM-free music from the PonoMusic website.

The PonoPlayer features a touchscreen display, physical buttons, and 128GB of storage — which is reportedly enough to store between 100 and 500 high-resolution music albums. There’s also support for removable memory cards which you can use to store music and playlists.

While there’s probably a relatively limited audience for this type of device in an era when millions of people carry portable MP3 players called “smartphones” in their pockets, the PonoPlayer could actually make a bit of a splash in the audiophile space.

Right now you have to pay around $1000 and up to get your hands on a truly purpose-built, high quality music player. That makes the $399 price tag of the PonoPlayer actually look kind of reasonable… assuming the prices for music are also reasonable (and that there’s support for adding your existing music to your PonoPlayer library).

via The Verge and Pitchfork

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10 replies on “Neil Young’s PonoPlayer media device launching soon for $399”

  1. At this point of smart phone saturation, most people need a separate audio player like a fish needs a bicycle.

    I’d be more excited about this proprietary (lossless?) compression format if they had the sense to make Android and iOS player apps, permitting playback on regular smart phones first, to popularize the format.

    Further, once you do make physical playback devices, while a triangular shape maybe neat, you should first think about the best fit for people’s pockets. Trying too hard to be different in the wrong area will kill a new product all too fast.

    If you’re going to have a low volume, high end music device around $400, you should make it useful for musicians ala Tascam, Olympus etc playback + recording devices, which offer a lot more for less.

    1. now that’s just mean.
      And untrue.

      Someone with good ears can hear the nasty MP3 warble in anything but high bpm bluegrass.
      I do not use mp3 files at all for this reason, I use AAC (which suffers less from the warble problem) and FLAC.

  2. I assume this plays FLAC audio? Otherwise I can’t see anyone buying it.

    1. indeed.

      Going by some of the comments here, people with poor auditory acuity dominate the field anyway.

  3. Spending $400 on a device tied to a proprietary format from a company that may not last the rest of the year is not a gamble I am willing to take. It should at least be able to play FLAC and other standard lossless formats.

    1. certainly, I won’t buy hardware without FLAC support.

      One format that I can move between high-end and low-end playback devices as I please.

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