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Neil Young's KickStarter Music Player Raised $4.2 Million in a Week

But is the next-gen iPod any good?

 PonoPlayer promises high-quality music that can fit in your pocket.

 PonoPlayer promises high-quality music that can fit in your pocket.

Music legend Neil Young is sick of low quality stuff—but he's not talking about his "Ditch Trilogy." He means audio files.

According to Young, digitally compressed mp3 music files have “squeezed the magic out of digital music.” To solve this problem, he’s worked with a team of audio engineers to develop Ponomusic, a mobile listening device and platform that intends to bring high-definition sound quality to the masses. He asked fans to chip in to help build the device on kickstarter. The goal was $800,000. He's raised almost $4 million.

That's a lot of money, but this is the Bay Area—you can raise funds for almost any technological startup. Is it time to pay attention to Pono?

Depends if we really should care if our music plays at a bit rate of 192kbps vs. 9,216 kbps and if we need to hear Miley at the exorbitant sampling rate of 192 kHz, with a depth of 24 bits.

If you have no idea what any of that means, it’s okay. You’re not alone.

It’s doubtful that most of the 13,000 backers on Pono’s Kickstarter page do either. Young’s page has only been up about a week, but thanks largely to a star-studded endorsement video (Featuring the likes of Sting, Elton John, Arcade Fire, and dozens of others) donations have already sky-rocketed. Now PonoMusic CEO Jon Hamm is looking for office space in San Francisco.

So is this hipster iPod the real deal? Maybe. As we saw with Beats Headphones’ astronomical take-off, music listeners are willing to shell out cash for quality, or at the least the sexy, over-marketed sheen of quality.

We talked to an audio engineer at Hyde Street Studios, Charles Beutter, about his thoughts on Neil Young’s latest pet project.

“There’s no doubt that it will deliver higher quality sound. And as a sound engineer it has been frustrating to work so hard perfecting a sound only to see it compressed into an mp3. It’s like how a photographer would feel seeing his picture come out pixelated," he said.

Though Beutter liked the prospect of clearer sound, he also admitted that the threshold between low-quality and high-quality audio depends mostly on a person’s frame of reference. "It’s quite possible that the average user won’t hear the difference between mp3 and higher definition formats." He also noted that "the difference won’t be noticeable on laptop speakers."

While Pono seems to provide a happy medium between the vinyl-collecting audiophile and the on-the-go Spotify shuffler, the playing field of music apps remains crowded and unpredictable. And with an initial price estimate set around $400, Young better hope that prospective buyers have hearts of gold.


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