Cashing in on Cachet

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If backing crowdfunding projects for the last year or so has taught me one thing, it’s that the most effective use of the platform is to trade notoriety for cold hard dollars. Whether that bump comes from the good will of fans or the free publicity such a project generates varies from project to project, but the end result is the same: people who are well known tend to do better than someone you’ve never heard of, whether their cause deserves to or not.

This week we have a doozy.

Neil Young wants your money to make a music player. I have three problems with this:

  • He’s Loaded – According to several websites, he’s worth at least $65 million dollars. He’s been a celebrity for a very long time. If he wanted to launch a venture he was really passionate about, he could do it with his own damn money.
  • It’s a project looking for a niche – In an age where even the venerable iPod, the most successful mp3 player of all time, is being replaced by cellphones for portable media solutions, and high end audio devices for the home are getting ever cheaper the PonoPlayer has a foot in both worlds. Too large for many uses, too many compromises for others, this player doesn’t really have a home.
  • It wants to reinvent the wheel – In addition to building a brand new hardware device, this project wants to make its own webstore where you can buy high end audio files for it to play. Why link these two goals together? Why not put high quality audio files on a known platform, and fund just the player you think the world needs?

I’m glad they have raised 500% percent of their goal, and I wish them all the best, but to me this project has all the makings of a vanity project. It will probably fulfill its pledges to its backers, but I don’t see where it goes from there.

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This entry was posted by David Winchester.

2 thoughts on “Cashing in on Cachet

  1. He could fund it himself, sure, but it’s a risk. Why NOT spread the risk around. It makes sense to me. Doesn’t mean I care about the product, of course. That I think is a waste of time and money, mostly for the reasons you state.

    I will add, though, that it has probably the most awkward shape that I’ve seen for a portable device. I mean, you can’t exactly pop that thing into your pocket. And while FLAC are, theoretically, better quality than MP3s, I would be willing to bet money that in a blind test, the self-identified “audiophiles” wouldn’t be able to tell a FLAC file from a 320kbps MP3 that can be played on any music player.

    So, yeah, I figure it’s got about 3-6 months after it starts shipping before it slips quietly (but a high-quality quiet) into obscurity.

    • Brian, you are 100% correct about not being able to tell a high-quality MP3 from a FLAC – or even from a raw WAV file. We did that very blind test in a recording studio while I was in school for Sound Engineering, and with the right compression algorithm and settings, the difference is completely inaudible, even on the best professional studio monitors.

      That’s not to say that this project has zero merit; the sound alteration you hear doesn’t end with the audio file compression/perceptual coding. This device could very well improve the resulting audio getting to your headphones/speakers to some degree. But again, not nearly as much as the actual speakers or headphones themselves.

      This is (perhaps unfortunately) the perfect project for Kickstarter. It’s a product that can promise a fundamental change to something that everyone enjoys, and even deliver on that promise, while remaining completely underwhelming once acquired, and promptly forgotten. I agree that this Kickstarter will be the only notable time in this product’s life. Neil may as well be pitching a new social networking site to replace Facebook.

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