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Portable Hi-Resolution Audio? Really?

Taking your music with you these days is a given. Mp3 players (iThings) and streaming media (Hoopla, Pandora, etc.) make your music available pretty much anywhere. But the downside of all that portability and convenience is that those are all lossy formats… in other words, they sound “good enough” to make them listenable, but clearly not what you would expect in terms of quality from an old school analog or high resolution digital recording when brought to life through a decent home or car audio system. But unless you want drag your turntable along with you to the beach (not recommended) or park a computer with a decent sound card in your car’s trunk, we’re forced to let “good enough” be just that… good enough. That is until now.

Frustrated with an industry built on a tradeoff between maximum convenience and minimum quality, veteran music-maker Neil Young is spearheading an effort to make true, lossless high resolution audio available in a conveniently portable format. Allied with some of the leading technical minds in the sound recording industry, PonoMusic is being launched to offer high resolution digital music available in a convenient iPod-like format. But according to the Pono website, “PonoMusic is more than just a high-resolution music store and player; it is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings.”


So, high quality audio can now accompany you anywhere you go… yes, even the beach. But is there really a difference? For the sake of comparison, most mp3 files have a bit rate of 160kbps to 256kbps, 320k if you’re lucky. Mp3 of course is a “lossy” format… some of the sound is actually removed in an effort to make the files smaller and more portable… think of a photograph in a newspaper… it looks “ok” at arm’s length, but up close you’ll see that it’s actually a bunch of dots and not really all that clear. Pono, on the other hand, is designed to play high resolution FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files - we’re talkin’ full resolution 192kHz/24 bit files that will “fill in” those holes with upwards of 30 times more information than a standard MP3; about four times more than a standard audio CD. The result is said to be nothing short of amazing. And you’ll feed your Pono player through a familiar looking online music store not at all unlike iTunes. And yes, your existing mp3 files (and other formats) will work, too, so there’s nothing to lose and plenty to gain.

So after a couple of years’ worth of prototypes, development, and grass roots promotion, Pono (Hawaiian for “righteous”) is preparing to launch later this year with the help of a Kickstarter project. The project hoped to raise $800,000 in capital in 35 days – a lofty goal, perhaps, but enough to put the program on the street and (hopefully) create a buzz among music lovers. Well… the Kickstarter project so far is working… uh… rather well… to say the least. Pono met its initial goal in a mere 12 hours, and as of this writing, the project I hovering just under $4 million… with 28 days still to go!

Here are some pretty remarkable celebrity endorsements of the new system. If you’re a music fan like me, you’ll probably be salivating after you hear these. And if you’re serious about it, log on to the Pono Kickstarter site and ante up… you could land some pretty righteous swag for your efforts.