PonoMusic Raises $3 Million, Surpasses $800,000 Kickstarter Goal

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Is this the future of digital music?

There was a time not too long ago when the only way to listen to music was through a stereo. There was no such thing as playing your favorite tunes at your own convenience. And although the advent of MP3 technology fixed this problem, it was at the sacrifice of quality.

MP3 files typically have a bit rate between 192kbps and 256kbps. This is an extremely compressed version of the high resolution music is actually recorded at. A lot of the information that makes music enjoyable is lost when it’s converted into digital format. MP3’s, however, are very convenient. Music fans are willing to sacrifice quality for the ability to carry their entire music collection in their pocket.

For the last couple of years, Neil Young has been trying to figure out a way to make high-quality music portable. His solution is PonoMusic, a new type of digital music experience that is capable of playing music the way it’s intended to be heard. Choosing between quality and convenience could potentially be a thing of the past.

Introduced by Young himself at SXSW earlier this week, PonoMusic raised over $1 million in just 12 hours. This is one of the fastest Kickstarter campaigns to reach the elusive seven figures and people are still making donations with 32 days to go. As of today, over 9,000 people have backed PonoMusic and the current pledge total is over $3 million.

PonoMusic is not a new audio file format or standard. It simply plays music exactly as the artist created it in the studio. It’s also an ecosystem like iTunes where users can buy albums for an estimated price of $14.99-$24.00.

This price may sound steep to a new generation of music fans who are accustomed to paying nothing for their music. It’s also hard to imagine these people buying a new type of music player when they are used to having everything on their phones. But, if Kickstarter is any indication of success, PonoMusic seems like it will be very popular among audiophiles.

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The triangular “Toblerone” shape allows larger audio components and separates them far enough apart to prevent electrical interference between the various subsystems. It also allowed us to use a large cylindrical battery that’s much more efficient than a flat battery.

According to PonoMusic, they will “not compromise” their approach to sound quality. Some of the key design features include:

  • The digital filter used in the PonoPlayer has minimal phase, and no unnatural (digital sounding) pre-ringing. All sounds made (including music) always have reflections and/or echoes after the initial sound. There is no sound in nature that has any echo or reflection before the sound, which is what conventional linear-phase digital filters do. This is one reason that digital sound has a reputation for sounding “unnatural” and harsh.
  • All circuitry is zero-feedback. Feedback can only correct an error after it has occurred, which means that it can never correct for all errors. By using proprietary ultra-linear circuitry with wide bandwidth and low output impedance, there is no need for unnatural sounding feedback.
  • The DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) chip being used is widely recognized in the audio and engineering community as one of the best sounding DAC chips available today.
  • The output buffer used to drive the headphones is fully discrete so that all individual parameters and circuit values and parts quality can be fully optimized for the absolute finest sound quality. The output impedance is very low so that the PonoPlayer delivers perfectly flat frequency response and wide volume range using virtually any set of headphones.

This philosophy has attracted the support of many musicians who want their music available in the highest quality possible. Arcade Fire, Beck, Willie Nelson and more have all stepped forward to help launch the device. It’s unclear how PonoMusic will pay artist royalties but these endorsements make a strong case for music fans to give it a try.

PonoMusic promises to be supported by all major labels and their growing catalog of digital music. They are also working with independent labels across all genres to bring a diverse selection to the PonoMusic Store.

PonoPlayers will have 128GB of memory and storage will depend on the size of the files. It will hold roughly 800 tracks of ultra-high resolution recordings (192 kHz/24 bit) or 5000 tracks of CD lossless quality recordings (44.1 kHz/16bit). The PonoPlayer is also designed to play any type of digital file you already own and claims:

“It will probably sound better than you’ve ever heard it.”

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11 Responses to PonoMusic Raises $3 Million, Surpasses $800,000 Kickstarter Goal

  1. CD March 17, 2014 at 11:39 am #

    Why can I not just put lossless audio on a 128GB SD card and play it on my phone? Will it really be that different?

    • MP3 March 17, 2014 at 11:56 am #

      I’m not going to read the article for you. Suffice it to say… yes, it will be that different.

  2. VINYL March 17, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    really? Well for one your phone’s hardware is not made to process and put out high resolution music files. There’s very little in the hardware that has 0 interference, there’s LOTS of feedback in the phone’s sound design, and finally; with all of those components crammed into a phone none of the hardware is going to operate at an optimum level for audiophile quality music listening.

    It’s really simple, CD.

  3. PoweredByDodgeV8 March 17, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    rip a cd to wav files – save wav files on hard drive – plug high quality audio card (soundblaster xfi / asus xonar / etc.) into hi-fi audio system. done. while this ‘pano player’ may serve a purpose for headphone or portable listeners, keep in mind that a 400 dollar pair of PORTABLE headphones will have a frequency response of dog sh*t compared to an actual 400 dollar hi-fi setup. if you’re listening on commodity (less than 100 bucks) headphones, this device will do you no good… it’s a matter of ‘stacked tolerances’ as we refer to it in the engineering field. or, in more simple terms – the weakest link defines the performance of the whole system.

    • Dave March 17, 2014 at 9:35 pm #

      well said… I agree!

  4. zebulon March 17, 2014 at 5:48 pm #

    >_> cool so…. people who dont know how to torrent quality music can buy it… and so now higher quality music will be available for torrenting. Ill get behind it but i aint payin a dime for this tomfoolery.

  5. Edward Casey March 18, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    The description of feedback is electrically incorrect. Feeback, properly applied, limits the gain of a circuit and can cancel out non linearities inherent in the electronics

  6. postmarkj March 18, 2014 at 8:54 pm #

    And this makes listening to music on the bus or in your car or walking down a busy street better how? I’m sure the beautiful highrez sounds will easily overcome 90+ dB of noise.

  7. Jarps March 19, 2014 at 3:52 am #

    Dear PonoMusic: Please do what Apple won’t. Make a portable music player with a 250gb+ drive. 500GB preferred. I have a 500gb hard drive small enough to comfortably fit in my pocket. I know the technology is there, even if it’s a tiny bit bulky. My music library is larger than 140gb so even the 160gb iPod is about to be too small. Damned if I’ll ever have to walk around with anything less than my full music library. If this is for audiophiles, let me have ALL THE MUSIC.

  8. psuedonymous March 30, 2014 at 1:51 am #

    Yeah, there’s a nugget of a good idea here, but it’s wrapped in layer upon layer of audiophile woo. 192kHz for consumer listening? A ‘best sounding’ DAC chip (it’s a DAC! You use it within spec and if they don’t produce an identical output then your circuit is driving it wrong!)? Yeah, there’s a lot of bull**** in that thar spec-sheet

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