Home business Neil Young’s Super MP3 Player, Pono: Won’t Be Coming in 2014

I was among those cheering on Neil Young for his Pono MP3 player. When he ran his Kickstarter campaign last winter, I championed it. And Neil raised around $6.25 million. He promised that Pono orders would be fulfilled this fall. Well, Labor Day is Monday and there is no Pono. There won’t be this year at all.

According to the Pono website, the super MP3 player that would offer lossless music (as opposed to the highly compressed sound of actual MP3 or Apple’s system) will be seen sometime in “first quarter 2015.” People who pre-ordered Pono will get a signed certificate from Neil by December 15th.

Today, Pono announced it was extending its deadline on a second crowdfunding campaign, which offers equity in the company for a minimum $5,000 investment. This is separate from the Kickstarter raise. This one has raised $7.1 million through a firm called Crowdfunder. This is 179% of their goal, which was $4 million, so Pono and Crowdfunder have extended the deadline til September 30th. There’s no question that Neil Young’s name — and those of the celebrity musicians he’s enlisted– has attracted money.

If Crowdfunder is accurate that means Pono has a little over $13 million. Is that enough money? And does it matter? Both Apple and Samsung offer plenty of lower priced, better looking devices. And aside from that, most young people– the target audience– don’t even use stand alone players anymore. Their music is on their phones. Ask the kids.

Not only that– it’s still unclear how Pono is going to operate vis a vis an online music library. Their whole shtick is FLAC– original digital recordings. The only company with a real library of that stuff is the excellent HDTracks.com owned by Norm Chesky. But Pono has no deal with HDTracks, which already operates on existing devices. Where is all this lossless music going to come from?

We all love Neil Young the musician and activist, and wish him well. But Pono is starting to sound like a big problem. It won’t be long before the fans who put up $399 and $499 start questioning where this thing is, and what the heck is going on.

11 replies to this post
  1. Chauncy and Pedram, I have a question that I hope you don’t mind answering. I’m a kickstarter backer and just received access to the Pono store. I was under the impression that the whole point of pono was to make available high resolution music. You have a lovely chart showing the differences between mp3, cd quality music and high res music. BUT the vast majority of the music for sale is only cd quality. Probably way higher than 90%. Can I buy a single hi-res springsteen, U2 or van Morrison album. NOT ONE. Out of Dylan’s 50 albums maybe 5 are higher than cd quality. What about our man Neil Young? About 3 or 4 high res albums out of about 50. Harvest is the only classic Neil album available in higher than cd quality.

    I feel like this is a bait and switch. I even asked early on whether there would be plenty of high res music available and was assured that there would be. If even Neil can’t get his own albums on there in high quality what hope is there for any significant amount of material from major artists. I will never buy a cd only quality download from pono. Why should I? I already have hundreds and hundreds of cds.

  2. It”d sure b interesting 2see what “Roger” said about pono. Everything I see about it looks good but it’s like the new iPhone – get in line, w8 2b wowed! Prospective purchasing doesn’t always guarantee quality, but the Neil Young – the ultimate bipolar (acoustic – metal/electronic) rock star – endorsement actually MEANS something: “this pono’s for you.”

  3. @Roger – Pono normally doesn’t respond to every post and article about us as there hundreds of them. But normally they are at least 80% accurate about their claims about Pono. In the case of your post, we had to make an exception because about the only things you got right were the spelling of our name. Here’s a list of the errors and corrections:

    – PonoPlayer is NOT an MP3 player. It’s a hifi (or hi-res) portable digital music player. Calling it an MP3 player misses the whole point of Pono!!! It’s like calling an HDTV an SDTV! Pono exists to move the market away from compressed music. So call Pono an MP3 players is an insult!

    – PonoPlayer plays a variety of audio format including: FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, AAC (unprotected), and MP3

    – The Kickstarter player rewards were promised to be delivered in two batches: The first batch of about 10K units ships by end of October 2014 and the second batch of about 5K units ships by end of December 2014 – we’re actually doing our best to get these shipped before Christmas. You can check out the commitment dates on our Kickstarter campaign before making claims about us being late. We are in fact on schedule and will be meeting our Kickstarter commitments.

    – Our Preorder store currently is for preorders of units for delivery after the Kickstarter commitments because our production pipeline for 2014 is for the most part allocated to Kickstarter fulfillments. Units preordered now will be made available in Q1 of 2015, but likely will be shipped earlier in the quarter than later. The Neil hand-signed certificates are meant to be a stocking stuffer for people who preorder before December 15.

    – Just because Crowdfunder lists over $7 million in Pono interest that doesn’t mean the entire amount is raised. The investors have to be vetted to be US accredited investors and have to go through the process of finalizing their investment, which is time-consuming. Ultimately, a fraction of the total interest is actually raised as many people don’t meet the criteria to invest.

    – Can you list the Apple and Samsung hi-res players that you claim are available? If you’re referring to their MP3 players then again you’re missing the whole point of Pono – back to the difference between HD and SD!

    – Your argument about kids only listening to MP3 players could have been also used when everyone was watching standard definition TV. How could kids be listening to Hi-Res players if no good affordable players exist? 20 years ago, you would’ve said why buy an HDTV when everyone’s watching SDTV. Look how that turned out! Once people experienced the difference and could actually afford to buy HDTVs, SDTVs became a thing of the past. This is precisely what the PonoPlayer does – it makes the technology of a $20K audiophile grade preamp available to the masses for $399. Once people hear the difference, there’s no going back.

    – Let’s address your concern about Pono’s music library and the claim that it’s unclear where we’ll get our music from. The very suggestion that we should have a deal with HDTracks suggests that you have no idea how the music industry works. HDTracks has their own deal with the music labels and so does Pono. We have already agreements with all three major labels (Warner, Sony, and Universal). Not only do we have access to the same hi-res content that HDTracks does, but we also have access to the labels’ entire CD Lossless catalog and will be the first online store to offer them as a downloadable purchases (without forcing the customer to purchase the actual CD and rip it). We’ll launch our store in October with about 2.5M tracks.

    – We’re also actively engaged with all the indie aggregators to extend our catalog beyond the majors.

    – We use FLAC as our store’s audio standard for downloadable purchases because it’s the de facto open standard for lossless music. HDTracks isn’t the only store with a FLAC catalog. Our partner Omnifone already has 90% of their 30M+ catalog in FLAC. HDTracks provides a variety of formats and at various resolutions. Their site is usable by technical consumers who understand all the formats and resolutions. Pono is meant for the general public so we have one standard (FLAC) and one resolution (the best there is).

    – Lastly, we are planning a major Pono launch at the Dreamforce conference (Oct 13-16), which has an attendance of 125K. Neil’s a keynote speaker and Pono is being spotlighted in a big way by Salesforce (the platform that our store and community run on). Neil’s keynote will be watched by 3M people live online and an additional 1M will watch the recording. So your post is really a bit premature in predicting Pono’s demise.

    Best Regards,

    Pedram Abrari
    Pono’s EVP of Technology

  4. @Roger – Pono normally doesn’t respond to every post and article about us as there hundreds of them. But normally they are at least 80% accurate with their claims about Pono. In the case of your post, we had to make an exception because just about the only thing you got right was the spelling of our name. Here’s a list of the errors and corrections:

    – PonoPlayer is NOT an MP3 player. It’s a hifi (or hi-res) digital music player. Calling it an MP3 player misses the whole point of Pono!!! It’s like calling HDTV an SDTV! Pono entire existence is to push the market away from MP3s and compressed formats. So calling Pono an MP3 player is really an insult!

    – PonoPlayer plays a variety of audio format including: FLAC, ALAC, WAV, AIFF, AAC (unprotected), and MP3

    – The PonoPlayer rewards on Kickstarter were promised to be delivered in two batches: The first batch of about 10K units ships by end of October 2014, the second batch of about 5K units ships by end of December 2014 – we’re actually doing our best to get these shipped before Christmas. You can check out the commitment dates on our Kickstarter campaign before making claims about us being late. We are in fact on schedule and will be meeting our Kickstarter commitments.

    – Our Preorder store currently is for preorders of units for delivery after the Kickstarter commitments because our production pipeline for 2014 is allocated for the most part to our Kickstarter fulfillments. Units preordered now will be made delivered in Q1 of 2015, but likely earlier in the quarter than later. The Neil hand-signed certificates are meant to be a stocking stuffer for people who preorder before December 15.

    – Just because Crowdfunder lists over $7 million in Pono interest doesn’t mean the entire amount is raised. The investors have to be vetted to be US accredited investors and have to go through the process of finalizing their investment, which is time-consuming. Ultimately, a fraction of the total amount listed is actually closed.

    – Can you list the Apple and Samsung hi-res players that you claim are available? If you’re referring to their MP3 players then – again – you’re missing the whole point of Pono. Back to the difference between HD and SD!

    – Your argument about kids only listening to MP3 players could have also been used when everyone was watching standard definition TV 20 years ago. How could kids be listening to Hi-Res players if no good affordable players exist? 20 years ago, you would’ve said why buy an HDTV when everyone’s watching SDTV. Look how that turned out! Once people experienced the difference and could actually afford to buy HDTVs, SDTVs became a thing of the past. This is precisely what the PonoPlayer does. It makes the technology of a $20K audiophile grade preamp available to the masses for $399. Once people hear the difference, there’s no going back.

    – Let’s address your concern about our music library and the claim that it’s unclear where we’ll get our music from. The very suggestion that we should have a deal with HDTracks suggests that you have no idea how the music industry actually works. HDTracks has their own deal with the music labels and so does Pono. We already have agreements with all three major labels (Warner, Sony, and Universal). Not only do we have access to the same hi-res content that HDTracks does, but we also have access to labels’ entire CD Lossless catalogs and will be the first online store to offer them as a downloadable purchases (without forcing the customer to purchase the actual CD and rip it). We’ll launch our store in October with about 2.5M tracks.

    – We’re also actively engaged with all the indie aggregators to extend our catalog beyond the majors.

    – We use FLAC as our store’s audio standard for downloadable purchases because it’s the de facto open standard for lossless music. HDTracks isn’t the only store with a FLAC catalog. Our partner Omnifone already has 90% of their 30M+ catalog in FLAC. HDTracks provides a variety of formats and at various resolutions. Their site is only usable by technical consumers who understand all the formats and resolutions. Pono is meant for the general public so we have one standard (FLAC) and one resolution (the best there is).

    – Lastly, we are planning a major Pono launch at the Dreamforce conference (Oct 13-16), which has an attendance of 125K. Neil’s a keynote speaker and Pono is being spotlighted in a big way by Salesforce (the platform that our store and community runs on). Neil’s keynote will be watched by 3M people live online and an additional 1M via a recording. So your post is really a bit premature in predicting Pono’s demise.

    Best Regards,

    Pedram Abrari
    Pono’s EVP of Technology

  5. Roger hasn’t quite got his facts right. PONO is being delivered for those that signed up earlier this year (shipments start in October). New orders will not be delivered until early 2015.
    The rest of the article has the same “finger in the air” reporting

  6. Boy this guy slapped this blog together without any fact checking or even having the faintest idea of what he is talking about. To call Pono an MP3 player is just the start of the ignorance. Then claiming that no players will ship this year is another false claim. Almost 20,000 units will ship this year. The preorders that are taken ship beginning of next year. Then claiming that Pono needs a deal with HDTracks to get content is the last foolish claim which indicates he has no idea how the music business works. Pono already has deals with Sony, Universal, and Warner music labels and will launch a social music store in October with about 2.5M tracks Pono is already working on deals with Indie aggregators to expand the catalog. This is what they try to pass as journalism these days I guess.

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