Neil Young’s pricey PonoPlayer no better than iPhone for music


Neil Young's PonoPlayer digital music player is getting ripped by critics who say it sounds no better than an iPhone. Photo: PonoMusic
Neil Young's PonoPlayer digital music player is getting ripped by critics who say it sounds no better than an iPhone. Photo: PonoMusic

Eccentric rocker Neil Young has never been swayed by the critics. He has always made the music he wanted.

But he may not be able to be so carefree, as some critics eviscerate his latest musical endeavor – a pricey, Kickstarter-funded digital music player aimed at rescuing music from the MP3 format.

The PonoPlayer, resembling a Toblerone bar in shape and color, was supposed to revolutionize the digital listening experience and with a $400 price tag, not to mention a $6.2 million Kickstarter campaign, expectations were high. Users can download music from the Pono site and listen to high-quality files that restore the quality historically compressed out of digital music.

Turns out, it sounds no better than music on an iPhone, according to several critics who have put the PonoPlayer through its paces.

Wood works magic in Grain Audio’s amazing walnut speakers

Chris Weir
Grain Audio designer Chris Weir is serious about sound. Photos: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

Designer Chris Weir is dismissive of products that take a Swiss Army knife approach to features. He thinks a speaker should be a speaker — and nothing else.

“It’s a speaker, not a speakerphone,” he says.

He’s talking about his Packable Wireless Speaker System, a diminutive Bluetooth speaker he designed for Grain Audio, a hot audio startup. Weir resisted all temptation to add a microphone (for phone calls) or the ability to charge phones from its internal battery. It’s just a speaker, and a surprisingly good one at that.

In a market crowded with dozens of unexceptional, me-too products, Grain Audio stands out. Not only are all of its products made of wood (solid walnut, not wood veneer), Grain’s products do one thing, and one thing well: Pump out sound.

Why The Beatles on iTunes Is a Big Deal



It seems like everyone except Steve Jobs was underwhelmed by the Beatles on iTunes announcement today.

The reaction here, on other blogs, and on Twitter was unanimous: Who cares?

Most Beatles fans have already bought the CDs and added them to iTunes. The music is 40-50 years old. Half the band is dead.

Perhaps Apple overplayed it a bit, announcing that this was a day we’d never forget. Then it turned over the homepage, iTunes and Ping to The Beatles. There’s even four TV ads. Overkill? Maybe.

But seen from Steve Jobs’ point of view it is gotta be a big deal. Symbolically, at least. This is the day iTunes triumphed over the old music industry. It marks the complete obsolecence of the old distribution system and the triumph of the new.

The Beatles catalog was one of the last trump cards held by the old music industry. Giving it up is an admission that iTunes has prevailed. Music is fully digital, and there’s no going back. The other holdouts — AC/DC, Led Zeppelin Garth Brooks (CNet has a list here) — must surely follow.

Jobs has been working on this for seven years or more. To him, it’s a massive validation. Like he says, a day that won’t be forgotten.