Edge of Innovation

PonoPlayer: The Future of Music.

André Vatter Writer

In the 1990s, we hoarded away MP3s — the more, the better. One and a half decades later, music consumption has returned to normal. Today, music is bought as a file or via a streaming service and is no longer exchanged. In terms of price, this development occasionally prompts users to ask the question: “That’s all well and good, but what do I actually get for my money?”

According to Neil Young, this answer is this: junk. Commercially available MP3 files contain highly compressed music of 128 to a maximum of 320 kbit/s, which is a fraction of what could actually be included. In order to compress the file size, the audio spectrum is curtailed — in doing so, anything that is seemingly inaudible to people is simply ignored. However, Young believes that it is precisely these sound nuances that make music what it is.

An Ecosystem for Audiophiles

The iPod is a Dying Species

In 2014, Young assembled his Pono team with the aim of countering what he sees as “acoustic fast food” with a product that champions audio quality. However, the objective was not only to develop a music player; the team also set about creating an entire ecosystem for audiophiles.

The PonoPlayer is the beating heart of the concept and was built for one purpose only: to play music. Today, smartphones have replaced the MP3 player around the world. No-one wants to have simply a music player in their pocket anymore — instead, the iPhone or Android mobile phone is a constant companion. The iPod is a dying species. But mobile phone manufacturers do not place too much importance on audio playback; in the iPhone, for instance, a tiny Cirrus Logic unit is installed that barely costs one US dollar to purchase. It is no wonder that sound purists remain unimpressed.

Storage-Hungry Songs

Many Bands Already Agree to Share Unaltered Studio Recordings Directly

In response, the PonoPlayer was born — in the shape of a triangular prism and featuring a touch screen and two audio ports, as well as a new audio chip developed in conjunction with Ayre Acoustics that aims to meet the highest standards. The internal memory measures 64 GB, but can be increased to twice this amount via an SD card. A memory of this size is also a necessity — the ultra high-resolution recordings in FLAC format consume a great deal of storage space: At 192 kHz/24 bit, the 128-GB memory can hold as many as 800 uncompressed songs.

And it’s not only the sample rates and resolution that impress — the bit rates are equally impressive too. By way of comparison, the PonoPlayer plays songs with up to 9216 kbit/s — iTunes offers its buyers songs with bit rates of a maximum of 256 kbit/s, whereas songs via Sony can have bit rates of 320 kbit/s, but no more than that. And it is precisely for this reason that—together with the Pono—a corresponding store is also available. According to Young, the biggest labels are already on board and many bands have expressed their willingness to share their unaltered studio recordings directly.

This is all still to come for the world of music, albeit in the not-too-distant future. Young exceeded his aim of collecting 800,000 US dollars in start-up funds after just one day via the crowdfunding platform “Kickstarter“. Since then, more than six million dollars has been raised. If all goes according to plan, it is planned for the first PonoPlayer to be produced in the summer and for it to be available from October onwards. The price? A cool 400 US dollars, which is roughly equivalent to £240. 

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