Neil Young’s iPod-Killer Has Already Made $2.5 Million On Kickstarter




In a plot ripped straight from 2005, Neil Young announced this week that he’s taking on the iPod with his new high-def audio music player, the Pono.

We had a good laugh talking about the Pono on this week’s CultCast, but after checking the Kickstarter page this morning it might be Neil who gets the last laugh as his project has already earned more than $2.5 million in pledges.

The iPod is pretty much a relic already, but $2.5 mill is still a long way from the iPod’s $937 million of revenue generated in Q1 2014 alone. Still, it’s impressive for an awkwardly shaped, crowd-funded portable music player, with no phone or internet capabilities, in the year 2014.

Despite its $399 price tag and 128GB of storage, Pono’s selling point is its high quality audio. The Kickstarter video packs a galaxy of rockstars in awe of the studio-like audio quality of the Pono player, but others have questioned whether there’s any actual scientific evidence to prove 192kHz/24-bit audio is better than the 44.1 kHz/16-bit CD-quality standard.

Watch for yourself and tell us if you’re convinced:

Source: Kickstarter

  • BucTroop

    I don’t care if I can hear unicorns humping and mermaids gossiping on it… I would NEVER look twice at it because it’s triangle shaped and won’t comfortably fit in the pocket of my gym shorts. END OF STORY.

    • you definitely are an idiot, and that’s just the beginning of the story.

      did you miss the part about his being a device to play music at the highest fidelity? what does that have to do with the shape of the case or where you stick your vibrating smartphone?

      If you need the ultimate in portability, no matter the sound, get an iPod. If you need the ultimate in portable sound, get a Pono.

      good thing you decide to buy audio devices based on their shape. look – shiny!

      • BucTroop

        I. Don’t. Care.

        It’s TRIANGLE SHAPED. What’s the point of making something that small if its portability is compromised?

      • a triangle is half a square. it also doesn’t roll, and can display easily from a variety of angles.

        the compromise you are ignoring is audio quality. watch the videos on pono kickstarter. the went with triangle so they can get the components that sound best, not the ones that do 8 other things in a 4mm chip.

        that is the compromise, poorer audio quality in the name of style, your small pocket, or whatever.

  • Ron Hawkins

    Barnum was right!

  • Mark Langston

    Quite the feat to get so much cash built on Kickstarter but I don’t see how a device that doesn’t connect to the net can be successful in 2014.

    • why would it need to connect to the net to play studio masters? it can connect to your computer (just like the first 8 years of iPods) and it can also take SD cards with 64gb of music on them.

      i get your point and i’m not trying to be snarky, but it’s a stereo playback device. it does not need the net for anything. plus radios to get on the net are notoriously noisy to your signal chain.

      • Mark Langston

        Being forced to constantly tether a device to a computer doesn’t gel with a typical user.

        Today it’s all about the cloud. Even the dying iPod figured that out a long time ago when Apple not only made the iPod essentially an iPhone sans a cellular connection but also made iOS a self-sustained system that no longer required a traditional computer to activate and start using it (a long-running joke during the early iPad days: needing a computer to use a computer).

        I’m no way suggesting that this device won’t be a hit even on a niche level but I don’t see how a one-trick pony device like this can survive in today’s always on, always connected, always listening existence.

        Maybe studio geeks/gods like Pharrell or Kanye West will start using it and start a new trend. Or is this device the next Flip camera? Time will tell and again, an incredible start based on the amount of donated funds.

      • i agree with you, and i don’t think this is mainstream (25 million sold) type of product.

        i really don’t expect it to compete with any other multi-device. it’s clearly a music-only device. it doesn’t stream, it doesn’t shazam, it’s doesn’t twitter, it doesn’t suggest or share, and it doesn’t track your listening habits.

        it’s the walkman III, but since everyone’s devices play mp3’s just fine it won’t ever sell nearly as much as walkman I or walkman II (iPod).

        as long as they sell enough to keep making and supporting the hi resolution store and the player, i don’t care how many people have it. if that many people buy one apple or samsung would consider buying them up.

        learning more about pono’s business plan (they are being pretty open on the kickstarter comments page) i think they are going to have far more overhead running the store and securing the licenses to the best masters than being hardware makers. hopefully other prosumer audio companies are working on pono knockoff designs right now. we will all benefit from higher standards, and the store will grow if more players played hi-res audio and more people heard it in their ears.

  • sanfordandsons

    What a bunch of crap. For one thing, unless the original music was recorded at 24bit, the replay cannot be better than it was recorded. Most of those old farts were recorded on tape, which is ANALOG, and when they were converted to digital it was done at 16bit unless the tape was originally recorded at a high speed: 16 inches per second or higher then it could possibly be digitalized at 24 bit. But the sampling rate cannot improve the quality of the sound even at 190 kHz. The other thing is that those old farts don’t have good hearing after blowing their ears on stage in the 60’s and 70’s. If Neil Young can get away with screwing his fans, then more power to him.

    • CelestialTerrestrial

      tape speed doesn’t matter, it’s the AD converters. They have just started converting analog tapes to 24 bit not too long ago and you can get them at HD Tracks and other download stores, but they are OBVIOUSLY more expensive and take up more room than standard 16 bit compressed files. Having a 24 bit DAC inside a iPod is better, but there isn’t that much content right now. Astell & Kern have 24 bit iPod killers, I guess all of these people in the video haven’t seen those. They live under a rock and don’t get out much. The problem is these 24 bit iPod killers aren’t going to outsell Apple any time in the near future.

      • sanfordandsons

        Tape speed is THE most important factor in A-D transfer. When 60’s music was recorded on Ampex 1/2″ tape,(each channel was given 50% of the area of the tape, 4 channel takes up LESS room than two channel or stereo) it was very rarely recorded at high rates, usually at 7.5 inches per second. The faster the tape speed the better the sound since the tape machine is not having to place information by bunching magnetic “bars” close together. The best transfers of music, when tape was the primary recording source, was speeds of 22 inches per second on 1/2″ tape, and only two channels were recorded mixed with several different microphones. Half-Speed Masters (ran even faster) only use two channels of 1/2″ tape and one song took up one whole reel of tape.

        To prove my point. Go purchase a TEAC or a SONY real to real tape deck and then try to find a pre recorded tape, remember, consumer tape was only 1/4″ which further degraded the sound. You will find that the sound of the recordings are crappy with frequency responses of 250 to 12000 Hz instead of 20 to 20000 for digital. Cassettes were 1/4″ wide and carried 4 tracks of music, two forward and two in reverse. Reel to reel carried two channels on 1/4″ tape. Studio recordings carried two channels on 1/2″ tape. Which do you think sounded better?

        The AD conversion is totally at the mercy of the original recordings. If you got into the CD buying business when I did in the mid 80’s and tried to replace your record library with CD’s, you found out early that the sound was horrible because the originals were horrible. It was only when sound engineers actually took the original recordings and electronically re-arranged them, did they sound better. Just because you can sample at higher rates does not mean you will have better soundings. That only works fantastically when you go from microphone to digital on a live recording using a DIGITAL mixer board. that is why jazz and classical music sounds so much better recorded live than does rock since rock requires so much sound enhancement both at the board and at the instrument and at the voice mic (echo, compression, etc.)

        The difference between a 192k@ 24 bits and 44k@16 is so minimal, it can’t be discerned by MOST listeners because if you are a rock listener and use headphones for your listening, you have already lost your highs and much of your lows. Quality is absolutely perceptive: men have crappier hearing than do women because we do stupid things like shoot guns, go motorcycling without helmets, etc., etc., etc.

      • it’s not the freq range (that’s a bit of a distraction) it’s the bit depth.

        there just isn’t enough “room” in 16 bit to hold all the audio data the computer needs to recreate a credible copy of the audio.

        24/44 actually sounds way better than 16/44 or 16/96.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    wow, the sold 7800+ units in how long? 24 hours? Apple sells probably that many iPods each hour. The problem is that 24 bit iPod players are already out. They are called Astell & Kern, but they don’t sell that well because there isn’t much 24 bit content. To me, you have to have content to make the player worth buying. This is just based on hype , so 7800 people isn’t that many. Once they get out all of the suckers, then that’s it. They need to attract MILLIONS of users YEARLY. Apple got 26 Million units sold last year. I think by the time they get enough content in 24 bit on the market will be when Apple changes their DACs over and then the case is moot. I think Neil Young has successfully BS’d 7800 people into thinking that they are just going to magically sound better. Well, when you download 24 bit files, which they are expensive and not that many, sure.

    These people must be living in a rock and haven’t cruised down to a high end audio store in the last 20 years.

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    A 24/192 album on HD Tracks costs $25. A 16 bit AAC file on iTunes costs about $9.99 to around $11.99. Now, lets talk about file size. A 16 bit MP3/AAC song (5 minutes) takes up about 9 MB, and a 24/192 5 minute song takes up about 160MB. But they don’t tell you that, do they? 24 bit is great, but it’s expensive and takes up a lot of room and for a mobile device, I”m not convinced it’s really going to change what the masses are going to buy. Then there is content, there is only hundreds of 24 bit albums on the market, but for 16 bit AAC/MP3, there are millions. Do the math.

    • they tell you that, you can do the math to figure what you can hold and what you can afford. no one is making anyone buy anything new. but it can play better than any iPod, no matter the add on.

      just like iPod – capacity is based on file resolution and song length. i’m hearing 80-100 albums @ 24/96 was the target for the 1st pono device’s 128gb. Remember you can swap out 64gb cards, so each card you own can hold another 40 or so HD albums.

      That isn’t bad at all. 40 vinyl LP’s and a player with a RIAA preamp, or Pono? People will be carrying ponos – DJ’s, bands, music lovers…

  • CelestialTerrestrial

    It’s scientifically proven that 24 bit conversions of analog is generally going to be better than 16 bit with everything else equal. For instance. If you have an expensive DAC that does both 16 and 24 bit playback and you take the same analog recording and then convert it using the same ADC that does both 24 and 16 bit and then play it back on a DAC that can playback 24 and 16 bit, the 24 bit WILL sound better. 24 bit has much higher dynamic range than 16 bit and that’s both theoretically AND in reality. But MOST digital recordings were originally done in 16 bit, so up sampling old 16 bit recordings probably won’t make THOSE sound better, but if the digital recordings were originally done in 24 bit and then they down sampled to 16 bit, then yes, there is a HUGE difference. So you have to be careful as to what you are comparing. converted from analog tape to digital, and how the digital recordings were originally done. But to take 16 bit digital recordings and up sampling them to 24 bit? They have to go through an up sampling process and then through a filter and it’s dependent on the quality of the filtering, but any difference will be fairly small if any, but that’s dependent on the equipment/sw you are using. But the Pono is not up sampling to my knowledge, they will play back 24 bit files, but they are expensive, large and far and few between. I think they are just getting attention because some of the musicians that are famous that don’t really know what they are talking about are pushing it. Again, Astell & Kern already have 24 bit iPods on the market, the sales of those are as much as Apple iPods, and then there is the content. You can get a iFi battery powered USB DAC and connect it to an iDevice through the camera connection kit and do the same thing if you want something in your car or to carry around. That’s only $189 and it plays 16, 24 and DSD recordings which Sony is going to start releasing and those are supposed to be even better than 24 bit recordings.

  • Wow! I’m amazed that these 7800 people imagine these prism-shaped bricks will fit in their pockets or be large enough to fit many songs at 24-bit. If each song is roughly 160MB each and every scrap of the 128GB of memory were used for songs (i.e. nothing used for the operating system), you can fit 819 songs on the Pono, that’s nearly 200 songs fewer than on the original iPod released in 2001.

    To hear the difference in sound quality you’re going to have to use good quality over-the-ear headphones and not cheap earbuds. So there you’ll be, walking along the street with your big bad headphones and sporting what looks like a stiffy in your pants. Sorry, the sound quality on my iPod/iPhone is more than acceptable to me for my listening needs when I’m out and about. Neil may be a fellow Canadian, but he won’t get my $399. The extremely awkward and goofy shape of the thing alone is enough to make me stay away. The tiny amount of music available at 24-bit is not good, and if I can’t connect to the Internet with the device, how am I supposed to get the music on it? Do I have to dig up all my old CDs and re-rip them onto the Pono? Wait, isn’t the music on CDs only 16-bit? My head is starting to hurt.

    My suggestion to Neil: Hire some capable product designers who can figure out that these things have to go into and out of a pocket in your pants, and that a blunt-ended prism shape will be a pain in the butt (or crotch) any way you sit down.

  • Nick_Germ

    I just wonder if this device makes any sense with modern recordings. Most modern songs are compressed so much at the mastering stage. Sting almost says the other thing i was thinking. Most musicians have bad ears, playing music for a living makes you go deaf to certain frequencies fairly quick. Also, I don’t think testimonials from neil young’s friends are valid testimonials

    • Modern recordings in certain genres (well, most) are garbage, you are correct. Too much brick-wall compression, bad digital instruments, overly automated, etc..

      But this is the result of stripping data from our music for over 2 decades. Pono is needed to help reverse this slide. If even 20% of people are walking around with High-Def players, they will be the trendsetters and the tastemakers, and their device will sound so much better when shared with a group.

      plus there was millions of hours of great music made before 2005, and Pono is very much about preserving them for the digital generation. With CD’s all but dead, mp3 is destroying our quality expectations year by year.

  • Thom Goertel

    How can a device that doesn’t exist be called a ‘killer’ ? This thing may be better than sliced bread, time will tell, but your approach to editorial writing could use some improvement immediately.

  • BTW – go outside and listen – that’s unlimited resolution.

    Everything digital is a re-creation of audio, an analog phenomena.
    iPod and mp3 was a revolution in going portable. This is the coming revolution in being portable with full quality available.

    The “CD standard” is 1970’s marketing by japanese electronics companies. Professionals of all stripes have moved beyond 16/44 many years ago. It’s just the consumers that are lied to and deprived.