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.
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.”