Written by 5:52 am SACD/DVD-Audio

Oh No! It’s Pono!

Steven Stone looks at an idea that is behind its time

Back in 2012 when Neil Young first announced his PONO high definition music player I was thinking, “Yes! Great, bring it on!” But two years can make a huge difference and now my response is, “Too little, too, late, and too bad.” What changed? The world changed…

AR-pono2.jpgThere was a time before Astell & Kern, HiFiMAN, Colorfly, and Apple’s iPad, when the audiophile world desperately needed a portable high-definition digital music player. Now we have several to choose from, most of which have gone through more than one iteration and regular improvements since they were first unveiled. I’ve used the Astell & Kern AK100, AK120, Fiio X3, Fiio X5 and Colorfly C4 and they are all capable of playing back high definition music, and doing it well.

AR-pono3.jpgWhile in 2012 PONO had a clear field with no competition, now there is plenty of competition who already have market share. That clear blue sky of opportunity looks more like a heavy thunderstorm.

And then there’s the price. $399 may not be much when compared to an almost $2500 Astell & Kern AK240, but when you start adding up the cost of music into the equation the Astell & Kern may prove to be a better value than the PONO could ever be because the Astell & Kern is an open system that lets you play any digital music file you ALREADY OWN. The cost of populating your PONO with PONO music (some of which you probably already own in Red Book or even hi-def) could, in the long run, be far more than $2500. (This was written before PONO’s FAQ page – according to the FAQ, PONO music will be FLAC format, and the player will support all the main formats including AIFF and ALC as well as WAV and FLAC.)

AAR-pono4.jpgAnd then there’s the method of initial sale. Kickstarter. While Kickstarter is a great way for artists to fund individual projects, I’m not convinced it’s going to succeed on a $399 portable player. Why? Because $400 is a lot more to risk than $15 or $20 (typical Kickstarter contributions). And as all budding economists know, as you raise the price, the number of potential sales goes down. Also, since Kickstarter typically gives a “discount” to backers (just announced the Kickstarter price will be $300),  At a retail price of $399 the Fio X3 ($200 Street) could be a better value…

The time to “invent the wheel” is before anyone else is making circular objects that roll. We got the wheels, big wheels, fast wheels, shiny wheels, and we are rolling along nicely, thank you very much. PONO is so go-no…

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