The iPod created a revolution in portable music but the price we pay for portability is a lack of quality. Now Neil Young has created the ultimate portable player for audiophiles, Pono
Thanks to Apple we're all totally used to the idea of 10,000 songs in our pocket. The iPod opened up the market for portable music and became an icon, we've probably all had one. But the price we pay for the portability and convenience is quality. MP3 encoded music loses a lot of the information that was in the original recording, hiding the omissions using clever psychoaudio trickery so we don't necessarily notice things are missing. Even CD's are far from perfect with only 44.1khz sampling
Super Audio CD and DVD Audio gave us the option to listen to better quality audio at home, but they really only appealed to the Hi-Fi enthusiast and there was no portable solution. Even Vinyl is making a comeback, the Optimal Vinyl pressing plant in former East Germany is one of the few plants still running and it now runs 24 hours a day, with pressings booked a year in advance. Still, a portable record player is hardly convenient, even for the most ardent hipster.
So last year Neil Young (who knows a thing or two about music) launched a project on Kickstarter to create the ultimate portable music player, called "Pono" which means righteous in Hawaiian. Capable of playing music at up to 192khz 24bit in FLAC format (Free Lossless Audio Codec) as well as WAV, AIFF, AAC and MP3 it was launched with a target of $800,000 which it broke within 24 hours, going on to raise over $6 million
The Pono player is a peculiar shape, triangular like a Toblerone, but this allowed the designers to use bigger components like capacitors to create a better sound and also allows for a bigger battery. It has 64GB of onboard storage but also has a Micro SD slot so the storage can be expanded. It comes with a 64GB SD card as standard. It has a 2.5" touchscreen for navigation and just three physical buttons for power, volume up and volume down.
There are two mini jack outputs and Pono allows you to use them in four different ways. Usually one is for headphones, with a variable level controlled from the player, and the other is a fixed level output for connecting to your Hi-Fi or your car. But you can also use the two jacks for two pairs of headphones and share the experience, or you can use the two jacks to deliver a balanced audio output into professional audio equipment.
Pono is not cheap, the player sells for $399, and the music is not cheap either. You can download albums and tracks from the ponomusic website with prices averaging around $20 for an album, but what you are paying for is quality. The experience of listening to Pono blows people away, from musicians who know what their tracks should really sound like to people who have only ever heard music on MP3, the reactions are amazing. Check out the video below.
With over 2 million tracks available the content is there, so now it's just a case of seeing if we really want the quality that Pono can deliver and whether we are prepared to pay for it.