With over $4,000,000 raised in kickstarter funding over seven days, the last week has seen the rise and rise of Neil Young's new music player Pono - or at least the notion of it. But whilst this concept of high quality music on the go seems initially well supported, questions are starting to surface about the product.
I have to admit that the first time I watched the Pono trailer, with it's home movie approach to documenting the reaction of the musical great and good, I was completely taken in. It is a very clever piece of footage; there are no high definition shots or expensive studio settings, just our musical hero's in a variety of mundane locations discussing this revolution in sound.
The questions then, seem to be in the detail. Pono is a portable music device designed to play high quality FLAC files which will be sold from the companies online store. All seems fine so far, until we consider that Pono are offering these high quality FLAC files in varying resolution (dependent on the quality of the available master recordings):
This raises three scenarios. Either all albums are priced the same and some are better quality than others. Record's with better quality master files available are more expensive. Or, and it should be noted that I am speculating here, a pricing structure will come into play - making downloading your favourite album a lot less enjoyable; Do you opt for the 1411 Kbps file (guaranteed 6 times more audible information than MP3) or pay extra and go for the 9216 kbps version (30 times more audible information than MP3), and if Pono is about obtaining the best sounding music why give us the option to compromise on that ethos?
Elsewhere on pricing, the pono tech video presented by Pedram Abrari (SVP Technology & Engineering) shows us a snapshot of the store in which albums are priced at $17.98 (£11.92). Compare that with the $9.99 that iTunes offer the same album's for and there is a sizeable gulf between the two providers.
Pono seems to be based on a 'You get what you pay for' attitude, and the device, like all quality products, looks as if it is going to take some considerable personal investment. Before you write the venture off though, just step back and consider how nice it is to have a music product pitched at people to really enjoy music on, rather than making listening a bi-product of commutes or gym sessions.
The startup certainly has its fair share of high profile backers, and with one of the most iconic singer/songwriters of all time at the helm, it is little wonder that so many have engaged with Pono so quickly. Despite concerns I remain with Neil on this one, and I love the idea of looking back in ten years and grimacing at the concept of ever having listened to something as compressed as an MP3.