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Can Pono Save Music?

Musician Neil Young officially launched Pono, his long-awaited high-definition digital music player, during the SXSW Festival with a Kickstarter campaign aimed at funding the production of the player.

Through Pono, as the high fidelity digital music player is called, and the accompanying online store, Young and his team are aiming to "bring back real music," which they hold has been taken away because of the mainstream use of the MP3 as the default digital music storage format. When digital music first hit the mainstream back in the days of Napster, the MP3 file was vastly smaller, and because storage was not as plentiful as it is today, the MP3 quickly became the most popular storage format.

But, "in the process of making music more convenient – easier to download, and more portable – we have sacrificed the emotional impact that only higher quality music can deliver," explains the Pono Kickstarter page.

"CD and MP3 simply doesn't give us back what we put down," explains James Taylor in the project's accompanying video.

With the Pono, Young aims to bring high-fidelity music back to the mainstream, from where is has been missing since the advent of the CD and later the MP3 became the default music storage format. The Pono player will play the majority of high-quality formats, the most popular of which is FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec). FLAC files can compress a music file by 30 - 50 percent, but still contain "about 6 times more musical information than a typical MP3," according to the group's Kickstarter page.

The Pono Kickstarter video contains some of music's biggest names extolling the sound quality of the product. Elton John, Tom Petty, Bruce Springsteen, The Black Keys, Foo Fighters, Willie Nelson, Arcade Fire, Beck, Dave Matthews Band, Herbie Hancock, Norah Jones, Pearl Jam, My Morning Jacket, and James Taylor are just some of the artists featured in the video. Many of them also teamed with Young to offer limited edition "Signature Series" Ponos that come with a laser-engraved signature on the player.

Here's what some of them had to say:

"Its like hearing a different song" - Beck

"Never heard music like that before" - Marc Ford of the Black Crowes

"My drug of choice is now potent again" - Eddie Vedder

"Amazing" - Rick Rubin

"You forget listening to your IPod how amazing the music can be" - Todd Moscowitz

Watch the video for Neil Young's Pono Music player for their Kickstarter campaign (Source).

But not everyone is buying the hoopla about high-definition's superiority. Steven Finch writes the Pono is the worst audio player he has EVER seen. "The Average person can’t tell the difference between and MP3 Audio File and a FLAC Audio File," he says, decrying the player as a PR Stunt.

But if the success of the Pono Kickstarter campaign is any indiction, there are plenty of people hungry for the player. The campaign exceed it's goal of raising $800,000 in the first day, and had $4 million as of this writing from more than 12,000 backers. The Kickstarter campaign ends on April 15, and the minimum pledge is just $1.

As Neil Young explains, the project is about much more than a digital player. "It's about the music, about people who make the music and the way it sounds in the studio making it, about you hearing what we hear. [We] wanted you to help us launch this music system into the world ... a music ecosystem ... a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating," says Young. He compares listening to an MP3 track a listening to audio underwater.

In case you were wondering, "Pono" is the Hawaiian for righteous. "What righteous means to our founder Neil Young is honoring the artist’s intention, and the soul of music," explains the group's Kickstarter page. The Pono player, which has a prism shape, will reportedly sell for $399 and will be able to hold between 1,000 and 2,000 songs, depending on the length and quality of the track. The player will also have a slot for an additional memory card. In addition to the Pono player, the project also includes a digital music store at PonoMusic.com, where high-definition recordings will be available for purchase.

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