Music News

Oh no, Pono! Hi-res player struggles to expand market

Neil Young’s high-resolution audio player Pono opened the eyes — and ears — of the consumer electronics industry to the promise of portable audio that featured audio fidelity superior to that of a CD. With a campaign that included a barrage of music legends offering their endorsement, the project attracted more than $6 million on Kickstarter. But even campaigns that attract millions of dollars can find that crowdfunded largesse can get them only so far, particularly after suffering a healthy dose of anti-hype for the $400 gadget.

Now, according to a Facebook post by Pono guiding light Neil Young in which he notes the company’s primary business partners, the company is facing challenges as it attempts “doing what only one giant corporation has been able to do before” (presumably Apple in integrating iPod and iTunes).” He continues, “Today we are trying to set up stores in multiple countries and are restricted by a lack off resources. This is our highest priority. As soon as we have the funds, those stores will open.”

Young, who opens the post by calling Pono a labor of love, notes that the effort has only one venture capital investor behind it (although some musicians are investors) and that the company is currently without a CEO. However, he notes that Pono has already fared better than many successfully funded Kickstarter projects. Indeed, a return to crowdfunding campaigns may be in the offing as Young reveals that Pono is moving into headphones and speakers as well as “more exciting breakthrough products.”


PonoMusic aims to set new audiophile listening standards with device, digital distribution

The Premise. Audiophiles and musicians alike have bemoaned the digital era for ripping all the humanity and natural sound away from listening to music. Despite a dedicated community who still swears by vinyl, the rest of the music-listening population has merely accepted these imperfections as something that comes with the territory.

The Product. Named for the Hawaiian word for “righteous,” PonoMusic makes it clear that it is not a new file format or audio standard, and yet what it does is revolutionizes the digital music store. Using FLAC as means to distribute sound  at a bitrate well above CD quality and without any compression, Pono wants to deliver users music the way it was meant to be heard. The player itself looks like an early MP3 player but has a unique, triangular shape and a LCD touch screen making control as easy as other personal music players.

The Pitch. With a lengthy campaign promo video, viewers are shown a parade of legendary music acts ranging from David Crosby and James Taylor to My Morning Jacket and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Each of these mega-stars talk about Pono as if it were the best thing that’s happened to home audio, a telling endorsement if nothing else. The rest of the campaign helps explain what makes Pono’s audio playback unique, and how it stands above other existing digital distribution models, making it more like the digital equivalent of a record album. Pono’s goal is to raise $800,000 to help establish the format for the consumer market.

The Perks. A first edition PonoPlayer can be had in yellow or black for a pledge of $300, with an expected release date of October 2014. For $100 extra, backers can get their hands on a limited-run chrome version with a laser-engraved signature from a variety of different artists supporting Pono.

The Potential. Even if the glowing praise from all of the high-profile rock stars in the video have more to do with how well Pono sounds versus trying to be respectful toward Neil Young’s vision, it is difficult to see Pono taking much momentum from smartphones and existing streaming services. Not only is the price high, but the campaign is built around the notion that hearing is believing; it will be some time before most folks can experience he triangular player versus lesser alternativs.