Those are supposed to be the future of high-fidelity music listening enjoyment according to Neil Young. Yes, THAT Neil Young. Long an audiophile, ol’ Shakey has spent enough years railing on about how horrible the state of today’s music mastering and download-quality is that he’s finally doing something about it – and it’s heading for crowd-sourcing site Kickstarter for help (and maybe to gauge public appetite).
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you PonoMusic and the PonoPlayer.
Now, I’m all for better remastering, available at CD quality (16 bit/44.1kHz) or better, at a reasonable price. So if this project leads to more competition, more availability of such product, and more awareness of the need and want for lossless music downloads (in lieu of physical product – which is still my personal #1 choice), then I’m all for it.
But, once again, industry prophet and resident curmudgeon Bob Lefsetz got it right:
And now I’ve got a single device that lets me play music, surf the web, talk, text, stream music and files…and Neil says I’ve got it all wrong, I’ve got to go back ten years and get a single player, that looks chunky in the pics, so I can get higher quality audio. Why don’t you just lobby for a faster Internet connection, so I can get hi-res streams? Isn’t Google Fiber gonna wipe you out? Do you really want me to go back in time fifteen years when MP3s were cool? What next, a return to BlackBerry, because it had a keyboard and it was such a good e-mail device?
And – BOOM goes the dynamite!
First off, the thing is TRIANGULAR! If you stand it up, you have wires popping out the top. If you lie it down – on one of the TWO SIDES that lack controls – it still just looks…weird. Second, Young wants to sell us an audiophile experience to be listened to THROUGH HEADPHONES. Yes, I realize there are some tremendous-sounding cans/IEMs out there from Sennheiser, Grado, Ultrasone, Etymotic, etc., but my idea of an audiophile experience involves a couch or comfy chair planted in the sweet-spot between two speakers. (Notice I said “two speakers” – don’t even get me started on 5.1 remixes!)
In my humble opinion, you could get virtually the same audiophile experience Young and his partners suggest by adding a high-quality headphone amp and good headphones to the computer or portable player you likely already own, and load it up with high-definition FLAC files already available for purchase at sites like HDTracks or Qobuz.
And you won’t need a $399 one-trick-Pono/future doorstop or paperweight to accomplish that.
UPDATE 3/12/14: Apparently, Pono reached its Kickstarter goal of $800,000 on Day 1. Hmmm…do you think this would’ve happened if, say, JOE Young had conceptualized this?