Pono woes: Neil Young bemoans "lack of resources" for expanding the reach of the lossless music player

Despite a hardcore audience in the tens of thousands, Pono may have trouble expanding its brand of better-than-CD-quality tunes.

Computer Audiophile

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Neil Young’s music startup Pono is running into money problems as it tries to spread the gospel of high-fidelity music.

In a Facebook post, Young said the company has shipped “tens of thousands” of its PonoPlayers, which cost $400 and aim to replicate the sound quality of original master recordings. (Roughly 15,000 of those buyers presumably came from Pono’s Kickstarter campaign.) Pono users have also purchased “hundreds of thousands” of tracks from the company’s online store, where audio quality ranges from 44.1kHz/16-bit up to 192kHz/24-bit.

Still, Pono cannot expand to more countries without additional resources, which are apparently limited. “Today we are trying to set up stores in multiple countries and are restricted by a lack off [sic] resources,” Young wrote, adding that Canada, Great Britain, and Germany are the first targets. “This is our highest priority. As soon as we have the funds, those stores will open. We wish it could be faster than that.”

Young also said “the search continues” for a “proven business leader” to serve as CEO. Young has been filling that role since July 2014, when veteran tech executive John Hamm left the company.

Still, Young is undeterred, saying Pono aims to expand its hardware line to speakers, headphones, and other products. In a previous interview with GigaOM, Young also talked about sharing Pono’s technology and licensing the brand to other companies.

Why this matters: The idea of Pono becoming anything more than a niche product always seemed like a longshot. Despite Young’s claims that compressed music is “a shadow of what it once was,” most people prefer the convenience of streaming and MP3s, and in many cases can’t even hear the quality difference that Pono offers. The problem for Pono now is that it needs a critical mass of users if it wants to convince record labels to keep re-releasing music in 192kHz/24-bit, and that seems unlikely to happen if Pono lacks the funds to expand.

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