In the weeks since Since Neil Young unveiled Pono, billed as a high-fidelity alternative to the iPod and other .mp3 digital music players, music fans have been debating a host of issues, including whether or not listeners can truly hear a difference.

According to the sound purist Canadian rock icon — who officially launched Pono during the South by Southwest Festival and with an instantly successful Kickstarter crowd-funding campaign — the player  is "about the people who make the music and the way it sounds to us when we're in the studio... [and] it's about you hearing what we hear."

With a bit more than two weeks to go, the Pono Kickstarter campaign is hovering around $5 million US (after rocketing past its initial $800,000 US goal in less than a day).

The first run of the $399 US devices — which use the FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) audio format and can also play other high-resolution music formats — is slated to debut this fall.

Pono high-fidelity digital music player

Neil Young's Pono digital music player soared past its $800,000 US Kickstarter fundraising goal in a day and is well on its way to production. But can regular music fans really hear a difference? (Pono Music)

But will it be for audiophiles alone or can Pono's makers persuade enough average consumers to make it a mainstream success?

"A lot of people listen on their headphones and you can definitely hear [the difference between FLAC and MP3] on the headphones because you're inserting them right in your ears," says Joe Dunphy, audio engineer and co-owner of Revolution Recording Studio in Toronto.

The difference is "in that range, that high frequency range. People probably don't know they're hearing it...but if you point it out to them, you know, people automatically go 'Oh! I can hear that!'"

In the attached video, Dunphy gives CBC's Deana Sumanac some pointers on telling the difference between FLAC and MP3 music files.

Tune into The National Friday night for Sumanac's report on the debate over Neil Young's Pono player.