PonoMusic Store Is Now Up and Running – and Irrelevant

November 9, 2014

“Since the advent of the CD, listeners have been deprived of the full experience of listening.” – Neil Young
PonoPlayers for early Kickstarter participants are now shipping. The PonoMusic store website is up in beta; however, until you receive your PonoPlayer, you will not be able to purchase and download anything because you won’t have access to the special PonoMusic software and authorization. In addition, until you have the PonoMusic software, you will not be able to determine the resolution and cost of music downloads. Once you get the software, downloads will only be available to backers in the U.S. If you live anywhere else, you’ll have to wait until sometime in 2015 (or later) when the Pono folks get around to negotiating licenses for your country.

It’s a moot point really, since according to available information, only 1%-2% of the downloads in the PonoMusic store will be high resolution anyway. And what little high resolution material the PonoMusic store offers is already available at the same or lower cost from half a dozen other sources including HDtracks and Acoustic Sounds. The rest will be CD quality. Yes, you heard that right. Substantially all of the music available from the PonoMusic store will be CD quality – the same quality the music industry has been selling us for the past 30 years, the quality that Neil Young has said deprives us of the full experience of listening.

From my vantage point, PonoMusic is little more than Neil Young enabling the music industry to sell us the same CD quality music all over again, this time in the form of a download instead of a shiny silver disc. Is that what Pono backers signed up for? No wonder the labels were so eager to jump on-board. So now that backers have paid $399 for the high resolution PonoPlayer, where is all the high resolution audio we were promised, you know, where we can rediscover the soul of the music? Unfortunately, thousands of young music lovers have been duped by all the Pono hype. They are getting the same quality music their grandparents had believing it to be high resolution. It’s just not right.

If you are satisfied with CD quality available in the PonoMusic store, I’d suggest that you subscribe to the new Tidal streaming service instead. There, for $19.99/month, you will have access to all the music you can listen to from a selection of 25 million tracks (ten times as many as PonoMusic) in the same CD quality that PonoMusic is selling as downloads for $14.99/album. And you can listen to it on your cellphone with the slick Tidal app without worrying about carrying around a separate music player, downloading, syncing computer and player, file management, and storage. Do the math – it’s a no brainer. The quality of the music is identical.

For those who prefer to have their music loaded on a dedicated player instead of streaming, used CDs are readily available on Amazon or eBay – or at your local used music store – for a couple of dollars. Don’t like to buy used CDs? Even new CDs from Amazon are usually cheaper than the equivalent download at the PonoMusic store. What’s wrong with this picture? Of course, if you have the money and can’t be bothered to rip them, then I suppose downloading them from the PonoMusic store for $14.99 a pop is an alternative – albeit an expensive one. It just doesn’t make any sense to me. If you are going to go the download route, be sure to check to see if they are available directly from the artist’s website. Downloads (and physical CDs) are often less expensive there and the artist will get the money, rather than Neil Young, his investors, and the labels. It’s important to support your favorite artists.

Sorry Neil. PonoMusic just doesn’t live up to all the hype surrounding it. CD quality music? Really? It’s too little, too late. It offers the past instead of the future. The best that can be said of PonoMusic is that at least it’s not MP3s, which falls alarmingly short of what the whole Kickstarter campaign was all about – high resolution music. Shame on you Neil. PonoMusic isn’t pono; it’s same old, same old.

PonoMusic – it’s the second coming of CDs.™