These days, it's as common to see the name of a popular artist appear on your audio device as it is a major electronics company. Dr. Dre obviously paved the way with the mega-successful Beats Music. Garth Brooks started selling music with the recent launch of GhostTunes. Bob Marley has even inspired a line of audio products.
This tradition is alive and well at CES this year as legendary rocker Neil Young briefed the press on his new company PonoMusic. What started out as a Kickstarter campaign launched last spring hoping to raise $800,000 ended up earning more than $6 million and is now an online music store with more than two million tracks and a music player scheduled to hit select retailers Jan. 12. The $399 device is available for pre-order for delivery next month through PonoMusic's official website.
"I couldn't listen to music for the last 15 years, because I hated the way it sounded, and it made me pissed off," said Young during his CES 2015 press briefing. "If Picasso could only paint in black and white and a little sepia tone and you had to look at it through a screen door, that's kind of what I felt like when I heard an MP3 of one of my songs. So I really wanted to change that."
Enter the PonoPlayer, a triangular DAP, or digital audio player, that plays MP3s, WAV and FLAC music files from any source. The first generation of the PonoPlayer can fit 64GB of data, which means it can fit about 1,000 songs. Devices with 128GB of storage are expected to hit the market soon.
However, the difference between the PonoPlayer and your regular old iPod is the sound quality. "Pono" is Hawaiian for "righteous," and that's exactly the kind of sound Young is going for with this device. The audio playback on PonoPlayers range from CD-quality 16-bit/44.1kHz to 24-bit/192kHz "high-resolution" sound.
"It's the same an an iPod except it sounds like God," Young said.
And just as iPod is to iTunes, PonoPlayer has its own music store called PonoMusic World. Just like the PonoPlayer, the more than two million tracks currently available are formatted for greater sound quality. Right now, you can get your hands, er, ears on artists ranging from Young to Taylor Swift to Ray Charles.
To many, launching a digital audio player in this day and age when music streaming services, such as Spotify, are on the rise may seem so 2000-and-late. However, Young thinks that listening to music goes much deeper than just convenience.
"If you want Spotify, you can recognize the song immediately," Young said. "But in your soul, will you recognize it? That's what I'm talking about. Do you feel this, or is it just wallpaper?"
Still, you can't help but be skeptical of how successful the PonoPlayer and PonoMusic World will be. Even the least tech-savvy among us have probably noticed that people don't listen to music on audio players anymore. Consumers are now using their smartphones as one-stop-shops for all entertainment needs. Even Apple discontinued the iconic iPod Classic this year. But if nothing else, with Young at the helm of this new music venture, it's sure to be interesting to watch.