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Neil Young's PonoMusic Launching Kickstarter Campaign At SXSW

Pono-kickstarterBy Eliot Van Buskirk of

Neil Young plans to release his $400 PonoPlayer portable audio player and the proprietary music download store that goes with it at SXSW, via a Kickstarter campaign set to begin on March 15, according to a press release making the rounds. The device will play PonoMusic files, with audio elements designed by Ayre Acoustics, after a deal to do the same with Meridian apparently fell through.

In some cases, these PonoMusic files have reportedly been remastered for this new format. It’s not clear how much each song download will cost, but it could be more than Amazon and iTunes charge, due to the extra work involved with creating these new downloadable audio files. The player will not support streaming music.

“The PonoPlayer has 128GB of memory and can store 1000 to 2000 high-resolution digital-music albums,” reads the press release, which appeared on Friday, three days before its March 10 date (updated). “Memory cards can be used to store and play different playlists and additional collections of music.”

Based on its capacity and the number of albums that apparently fit onto the PonoPlayer, these files should have a bit rate of around 360 Kbps, which is also the maximum bit rate allowed by MP3. As some have noted, Pono will have to have its own, new compression scheme to fit these apparently higher resolution music files into that amount of space.

According to details first published on Computer Audiophile (which broke the news) and apparently since deleted, the PonoPlayer will feature the ESS ES9018 chip (.pdf) for turning the ones and zeros into sound, as well as a custom-designed filter from Ayre Acoustics with minimal phase, and without the “pre-ringing” Pono claims is present in other audio file types. It will also have a small LCD touchscreen, and will come in three colors.

“Our goal was to offer the highest quality digital music available from all the major labels with the world’s greatest sounding, user-friendly portable music player,” stated PonoMusic CEO John Hamm. “We’ve achieved our goal and we are excited to launch our Kickstarter campaign next week to invite music lovers everywhere to join the PonoMusic community and reserve a PonoPlayer for their own enjoyment.”

Will music fans be willing to pay $400 for a music player that is not also a smartphone that handles so many other tasks, and to buy their music in download form from a single store? Audiophiles are notoriously spendy, and for them, $400 isn’t much for a piece of audio equipment, but it’s unclear how mainstream music fans will react. We should have a better idea about that soon, once the Kickstarter campaign launches.

Neil Young is scheduled to speak at SXSW at 5pm on March 11.