Neil Young – yes, that Neil Young – has a $400 portable music player he would like to sell you. Called the PonoPlayer, it’s essentially an MP3 player for the audiophile. But it doesn’t use MP3 files at all. Instead, the PonoPlayer supports FLAC audio files that contain significantly more data than their MP3 counterparts, resulting in a dramatically higher quality sound than a traditional MP3 player.
The device debuted on Kickstarter yesterday and in less than 24 hours, surpassed its funding goal of $800,000. As of publication, 3,900 people had pledged money towards the device with only 400 not pre-ordering a device.
Clearly there is a pent-up demand for a high-fidelity iPod.
“Our goal was to offer the highest quality digital music available from all the major labels and build the world’s best sounding, easy-to-use portable music player,” PonoMusic CEO John Hamm said in a statement.
Music is served through the PonoPlayer’s music store. The files are all lossless audio, therefore the file sizes are larger than the average iTunes download. The PonoPlayer sports 128GB of storage, which is good for about 100 albums.
The company brags that the odd shape — it looks like a Toblerone bar — allowed the engineers to opt for larger and higher quality components including a larger battery, bigger capacities and space them far enough apart to minimize interference. At this point in portable electronics, consumers have countless ways to consume music. Form factor is no longer the most important aspect.
The smartphone has largely consumed the MP3 player. Apple sold less than half as many iPods during the 2013 holiday quarter than in 2012 (6 million vs. 12.7 million units). Part of this could be the dramatic adoption of streaming music services, which require a data connection. The PonoPlayer is for a uniquely different listener, though.
The PonoPlayer will never outsell the iPod. It’s not going to spawn an explosive rebirth of dedicated portable music players. But like the revival of the vinyl record, the PonoPlayer serves a growing niche of music listeners that want to hear and feel the nuances not available through MP3 musics.