Neil Young has been talking about how bad music sounds for a while. He’s floated the idea of a high-resolution format and player, and his PonoMusic was announced today. Curiously, the press release is not available on the PonoMusic website yet, but only on the Computer Audiofile forum.
PonoMusic combines a store, syncing software, and a hardware player, the PonoPlayer, which will be launched on Kickstarter in a couple of days.
I think Neil Young has got it all wrong. There are already high-resolution formats out there, such as FLAC and Apple Lossless, than can handle much higher bit depth and sample rates than CD audio. There’s not only no need for yet another format, but it simply makes things too complicated. There is a small demographic who already buys high-resolution files, and they’re not going to be interested in using another format; they’ve generally got specific music player software, and even hardware, for this.
High-resolution music interests a very small minority of audiophiles. I won’t go into the discussions of whether or not it’s worth it – whether it’s simply a high-priced purveyor of a placebo effect or not. If people want to pay more for music, it’s up to them. But it’s not a new, proprietary format and player that will make a difference in the market.
Add to that the somewhat odd, un-pocketable shape of the PonoPlayer, which will not find many users, in part because of its high price ($399), and because of its odd shape. Also, it only contains 128 GB storage, which, at the size of files that Pono should use, would only allow for 100 to 500 albums.
Actually, I think there is a two-pronged strategy here. If Pono fails – which, I’m sorry to say for Neil Young, seems likely, there’s still the high-resolution audio store. There are a few players in the market, but if Pono can develop a good, easy to use store, and syncing software – their press release says the software will sync to the PonoPlayer and to other devices – they might get a foothold in the market.
This said, the fact that the PonoPlayer is being marketed through a Kickstarter campaign suggests that no one believes Neil Young enough to pony up initial funding, not even the musicians who are lending their names to the product: Willie Nelson, Tom Petty, Patti Smith, Pearl Jam, Beck, Dave Matthews, Foo Fighters, Herbie Hancock, Norah Jones and Arcade Fire. You’d think all those artists could come up with the $800,000 that is needed for the Kickstarter. And that even Neil Young won’t risk too much on this, though he has offered thirty dinners, at $5,000 a pop, for the biggest Kickstarter contributors. Time will tell.
Update: As for the storage, and Jon Seff’s comment below. I have 90 high-resolution albums in my iTunes library, ranging from 24/44 to 42/96; I have no 24/192 recordings. They take up a total of 92.6 GB.
That’s 1,380 tracks, many of them classical (so longer than the average song). Most of these albums are 24/88 or 24/96, so 1,000 to 2,000 songs seems likely; 1,000 to 2,000 albums – or 10,000 to 20,000 songs – wouldn’t fit in 128 GB.
Update 2: The PonoMusic press release has been update to say this:
The PonoPlayer has 128GB of memory and can store from about 100 to 500 high-resolution digital-music albums, depending on the resolution and length of the original recording.
It’s hard to believe that they could get something that basic wrong. Makes me wonder about what kind of brains are behind this thing.