Can this music player succeed in an ever-changing music industry?
By Jony Roy, Social Media Coordinator
Earlier this month at SXSW, Canadian rock veteran Neil Young made a sales-pitch for his new PonoMusic player. The “high-resolution” audio player will allow users to buy music directly from the PonoMusic store. He felt like the MP3 format, which the current generation listens to, lacks a lot of the original depth that music used to have with older formats. Young hopes to change this in “an artist-driven movement to take [music] back” by introducing this new player. However, beyond the initial hype, I find it hard to believe that this device will actually be much of a hit.
The first thing that needs to be addressed is the design. This thing is shaped like a Toblerone chocolate bar. It’s hard enough to imagine that a triangular device would sit well in one’s pocket, but since it’s only a music player, it’ll be even less appealing to smartphone users.
This device isn’t cheap either; the new music player will retail for $399. And to make it worse, it doesn’t even appear to display album artwork. This is beginning to feel a lot like the MP3 players that hit the market a decade ago.
The question is: will the difference in sound quality make this device worth these inconveniences? For most people, no. The PonoMusic store will be using the FLAC audio format, which depending on the original studio recordings will range from CD-quality to marginally higher resolution. While this might sound significant, the difference in quality isn’t very noticeable to the untrained ear. You’ll probably notice more of a difference if you spend your money on a good pair of headphones instead.
As stated on PonoMusic’s website, their store will be “supported by all major labels and their growing catalogues.” This shouldn’t be a surprise as it’s another opportunity for these labels to make money off of people re-buying their music in a different format. Albums will also cost a lot more: between $14.99 and $24.99 instead of the conventional $9.99. This in many ways brings up the real heart of the issue: does it make sense to charge more for music when fewer and fewer people are even buying music in the first place, and when those who still do pay are migrating towards streaming services such as Spotify and Rdio? Probably not.
While this new music player and store will probably receive some short-term success with all of the hype, and maybe even a niche market with audiophiles, PonoMusic player is no iPod killer. It’s a great idea on paper, but this is a changed music industry, and most people value the convenience and functionality of the smartphone ecosystem to the cost and inconveniences that come with the PonoMusic player.