Neil Young wants to take high-resolution FLAC audio recordings mainstream with Pono

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Pono Music, the digital music startup founded by music legend Neil Young, is getting ready to announce its first product at SXSW in Austin this week: Young will officially unveil the company’s Pono player during his keynote at the conference Tuesday.

Pono will also launch a Kickstarter campaign on Tuesday that will offer music fans a way to get their hands on a Pono player for a discounted price. Later this year, Pono will make the player available for $400 through its website.

The triangular-shaped device will feature 128 GB of flash memory, which will be expandable through memory cards, and an LCD touch screen. However, there won’t be any wireless connectivity, so users will have to plug in the device to sync music.

Music for the Pono player will be available through PonoMusic.com, which will offer high-resolution songs from all major labels. Downloads will be offered in the lossless FLAC format, but there is no word on pricing and other details yet.

Pono’s official launch has been a long time coming; Young first showed off the Pono player during an appearance on David Letterman’s show in 2012. Last year, Pono announced that it had teamed up with high-end audio company Meridian to produce the player. The company never publicly discussed the exact technical details behind that cooperation, but Young said in a previous statement that Meridian would work with master recordings to “unlock the richness of the artist’s music.”

However, in recent months, Pono shifted its focus and actually switched hardware partners, replacing Meridian with Ayre, another high-end audio equipment maker. Now, it looks as if the focus is more on popularizing hardware that plays high-resolution audio files than on polishing each and every song to give it certain audio qualities.

That approach sounds a lot more scalable — but it also puts Pono more directly in competition with other makers of high-resolution audio equipment, including big companies like Sony. Pono likely hopes that the portability, and the celebrity name attached to the product, will help it stand out.

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