The Premise. Audiophiles and musicians alike have bemoaned the digital era for ripping all the humanity and natural sound away from listening to music. Despite a dedicated community who still swears by vinyl, the rest of the music-listening population has merely accepted these imperfections as something that comes with the territory.
The Product. Named for the Hawaiian word for “righteous,” PonoMusic makes it clear that it is not a new file format or audio standard, and yet what it does is revolutionizes the digital music store. Using FLAC as means to distribute sound at a bitrate well above CD quality and without any compression, Pono wants to deliver users music the way it was meant to be heard. The player itself looks like an early MP3 player but has a unique, triangular shape and a LCD touch screen making control as easy as other personal music players.
The Pitch. With a lengthy campaign promo video, viewers are shown a parade of legendary music acts ranging from David Crosby and James Taylor to My Morning Jacket and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Each of these mega-stars talk about Pono as if it were the best thing that’s happened to home audio, a telling endorsement if nothing else. The rest of the campaign helps explain what makes Pono’s audio playback unique, and how it stands above other existing digital distribution models, making it more like the digital equivalent of a record album. Pono’s goal is to raise $800,000 to help establish the format for the consumer market.
The Perks. A first edition PonoPlayer can be had in yellow or black for a pledge of $300, with an expected release date of October 2014. For $100 extra, backers can get their hands on a limited-run chrome version with a laser-engraved signature from a variety of different artists supporting Pono.
The Potential. Even if the glowing praise from all of the high-profile rock stars in the video have more to do with how well Pono sounds versus trying to be respectful toward Neil Young’s vision, it is difficult to see Pono taking much momentum from smartphones and existing streaming services. Not only is the price high, but the campaign is built around the notion that hearing is believing; it will be some time before most folks can experience he triangular player versus lesser alternativs.