Now that the dust has settled from SXSW and PONO's massively successful Kickstarter campaign, and all of us have had ample opportunity to pour over the PONO FAQ, it's time to look at the pros and cons of PONO and what effect it will have on us audiophiles.
I will admit that I vastly underestimated the influence and importance "star power" would have on creating PONO's preliminary success. If only I had ruminated more on Noel Lee's groundbreaking marketing adventure with Beats headphones I should have seen that having the phalanx of stars talking up your product has become one of the most sure-fire ways to "Blow up" a product in the 21st century.
All right, only a negativistic misanthrope could call PONO's initial Kickstarter rollout anything but a success, but what's next? Obviously the metal Tablerone player is only the first step in PONO's odyssey. Next comes the website with music for sale, the PONO app, and of course delivering the players.
If PONO accomplishes nothing else Neil Young and his compatriots are to be congratulated for raising public consciousness about higher definition music sources. Sara Trujillo, and industry PR specialist who currently represents HDTracks wrote, "I find myself emailing a lot of the mainstream press, who don't typically cover this and educating them on the fact that the format has been around since 2008 when David and Norman Chesky from HDtracks (my client) created the genre and launched their site."
PONO has raised Jane and John Q Public's awareness that there ARE better music resources than low-bit-rate MP3s, and that there is a qualitative difference between lower resolution and higher resolution music. That is a very important factoid that will hopefully be one of the primary "takeaways" from the PONO PR push. That is good for the industry as a whole.
The primary negative aspect of the PONO introduction is the "what if" PONO doesn't deliver on its promises. If the PONO player turns out to be a dud it will give the entire CE industry a black eye. With some of the PONO player's primary technology coming from Ayre I'm pretty sure it will work and work well, but what if the players aren't delivered to their Kickstarter customers on time? That would be bad. Since the financial health and growth of PONO will depend as much on their web site as their portable player, what if the website isn't "compelling" enough to generate sales? That, too, would be bad.
The second strike against PONO is that in reality it delivers little to the market that isn't already in place. Need a place to buy high-rez music? HDTracks is already up and running. Need a portable player that supports high-rez music? FiiO, Astell & Kern, Colorfly, HiFIMan, and even Sony make 'em and they are available NOW.
Given that everything PONO promises is already available now, I wonder how PONO players will do when they are just another product on the retail market, not a Kickstarter project. Will a PONO be the best option when it comes to $400 portable players? Only time will tell.
Calling PONO a "success" is still rather premature. Its first steps have been strong and positive, but PONO still has to deliver on its promises. And all the star power in the world won't save PONO if they suffer from any major manufacturing or website glitches during the initial rollout.
Obviously, I was overly negativistic when I wrote that PONO was a NO-GO, but until John and Jane Q. Kickstarter have their PONO players in their pockets and are happily downloading every high rez music file they can get their hands on from the PONO website, it's too soon to know whether PONO will fly like an eagle or sink like a stone.