Neil Young's high-quality music player, the Pono, is finally going on sale. After completing a successful Kickstarter campaign last year, the Pono is heading into retail stores on Monday. It's a niche product, so it won't be everywhere — just 80 locations — but you will be able to find it at a number of Fry's stores across the US. It'll sell for $399.
"What other music players are out there? I think we have a chance."
The retail launch announcement comes following the launch of the Pono music store this morning, where you can buy high-quality audio files to listen to. Unfortunately, those files will cost you a bit more than what you're probably used to paying for music. Pono is also starting to work with the audio company Harman to bring its technology into the vehicles that Harman is installed in, so you may be able to listen to those files in a few more places down the road.
While it's hard to knock Young's interest in letting people listen to music that sounds better than what you can get in an MP3, the idea of an expensive music player and expensive music files in 2015 is a hard sell. The thing is, Young makes it sound like he really doesn't care. "I didn't listen to music for the last 15 years because I hated the way it sounded and it made me pissed off and I couldn't enjoy it any more," he said at on stage at CES this afternoon. "I could only hear what was missing."
Young says that Pono is here largely because he wanted it and it turned out that so did a lot of other music lovers who showed up on Kickstarter. "I'm a musician. I want people to hear my art. A lot of people feel the same way," Young said. "In my mind, this is a success already because it lives."
The age of the MP3 player may be over, but the companies still making music players seem to recognize that. Like Sony with its high-end, $1,119.99 Walkman, Pono sees its speciality as giving it a chance in the market against the move over to smartphones and streaming services. "People are gonna have their phones anyway," Young said. "A music player? What other music players are out there? I think we have a chance."
Pono's hope is that a few audiophiles will pick up the player, show their friends, and maybe win over some more fans. So while Young may be out there proselytizing for lossless music, he isn't necessarily looking for a revolution. Even if Young is playing coy about Pono's interest in succeeding (there is money in this, after all), it really does sound like he wants something good to listen to.
Young does think that the average listener will be able to tell the difference between lossless audio and an MP3 once they hear it. "If you use Spotify you can recognize the song immediately," he said. "But can your soul recognize it? That's what I'm talking about. Do you feel this, or is it just wallpaper?"
"It's been 15 or 20 years since anyone heard anything like this in a new product," he said. "We just want to play music."