Can Neil Young & Pono ‘Restore The Soul Of Music’?

pono-music-player

Neil Young has a mission – to get people to listen to music in an uncompromising format, on uncompromising devices.

PonoMusic was conceived of by Neil Young as a mission ‘to restore the soul of music’, bringing the highest-quality digital music to listeners want to ‘hear music the way its creators intended,’

“We want to move digital music into the 21st century,” says Young. “PonoMusic does that.”

PonoMusic is a full system that includes both an online music store (PonoMusic.com) and a playback device (The PonoPlayer):

  • The PonoPlayer is a high-resolution digital-music player designed and engineered in a ‘no-compromise’ fashion to allow you to experience studio master-quality digital music at the highest audio fidelity possible. Instead of engineering the device for mass-market prices, it’s engineered for the best quality sound.
  • PonoMusic.com will offer the digital music from both major labels and prominent independent labels in q high-resolution format. The Pono desktop media management application lets you download, manage and sync music to a PonoPlayer and other high-resolution digital music devices.

Here’s the official intro video:

PonoMusic will offer music in several formats, depending on the quality of the master recordings:

  • CD lossless quality recordings: 1411 kbps (44.1 kHz/16 bit) FLAC files
  • High-resolution recordings: 2304 kbps (48 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
  • Higher-resolution recordings: 4608 kbps (96 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files
  • Ultra-high resolution recordings: 9216 kbps (192 kHz/24 bit) FLAC files

The PonoPlayer has 128GB of memory and can store from about 100 to 500 high-resolution digital-music albums, depending on the resolution and length of the original recording. Memory cards can be used to store and play different playlists and additional collections of music.

Here’s the official summary of the unique features of PonoPlayer’s technology:

  • The digital filter used in the PonoPlayer has minimal phase, and no unnatural (digital sounding) pre-ringing. All sounds made (including music) always have reflections and/or echoes after the initial sound. There is no sound in nature that has any echo or reflection before the sound, which is what conventional linear-phase digital filters do. This is one reason that digital sound has a reputation for sounding unnatural and harsh.
  • All circuitry is zero-feedback. Feedback can only correct an error after it has occurred, which means that it can never correct for all errors. By using proprietary ultra-linear circuitry with wide bandwidth and low output impedance, there is no need for unnatural sounding feedback.
  • The DAC (Digital-to-Analog Converter) chip being used is widely recognized in the audio and engineering community as one of the best sounding DAC chips available today.
  • The output buffer used to drive the headphones is fully discrete so that all individual parameters and circuit values and parts quality can be fully optimized for the absolute finest sound quality. The output impedance is very low so that the PonoPlayer delivers perfectly flat frequency response and wide volume range using virtually any set of headphones

The PonoPlayer will be sold at PonoMusic.com for $399 MSRP and is available for pre-order at a discount on Kickstarter as of March 12th. The Kickstarter project is already fully funded after one day.

Check out the details and let us know what you think. Can Neil Young and Pono get people to pay more for high-end audio – and ‘restore the soul of music’?

94 thoughts on “Can Neil Young & Pono ‘Restore The Soul Of Music’?

  1. I wish them a lot of luck. I like the design of it, but I think it’ll be hard to get people to adopt. Too many people are already walking around with cheaper musical players, including smartphones. I’d like to know what the pricing will be for songs/albums and what kind of catalog will be available.

    1. And we already can listen FLAC formats on a smartphone… it’s not a problem of technology… just a problem of sound and musical culture. Finally, it’s the responsibility of the distributors (like iTunes) if we still listen MP3 today…

  2. how ignorant can neil young be? to assume the “soul” of music is about digital transparency….meanwhile instead of listening to one neil young record, on this expensive ipod which is an expensive mp3 player i can fast forward through 800,000 songs while i’m jogging on a treadmill watching tv and fighting with my girlfriend on facebook and tweeting about the whole thing….and be backed up in the cloud. but at least its 192khz for me to listen to with some cheaply made expensive to be “designer” headphones that have some meaningless branding crap about ultra hifi studio reference quality.

        1. FLAC is limited to 24bit integer encoded source material (wav/aiff). Try putting a 96kHz, 32bit floating-point, encoding source file through a FLAC encoder and it will just tell you to go away.

          Here’s what I do to meet it’s harsh demands:

          $ sox source_file.wav -r 96000 -b 24 96k-24b.wav
          $ flac -8 –bps=24 –sample-rate=96000 -o 96k-24b.flac 96k-24b.wav

    1. Incredible how one can can fast forward through 800,000 songs while jogging on a treadmill, watching tv, fighting with girlfriend on facebook , tweeting about the whole thing and call it LISTENING TO MUSIC.
      You´re not listening to anything. You have gigabytes stolen from the web, packed into a little a machine just to keep your ears busy.

  3. Yikes. Troll bait potential…

    It may find a small following, but I suspect that people who are serious about their ‘digitals’ already have another solution worked out. (That said, elegance and convenience were THE things missing from early MP3 players. Not sure this has either, but it will likely appeal to some)

    1. dude, i’m surprised no one made a device that can play cassettes! cassettes are small enough to fit in your pocket, are analog and have a super “indie” lo-fi sound, plus with all the mixtapes out there it has total DIY appeal! Why hasn’t anyone made a portable cassette player yet man! that would be insane!!!

  4. This has bad ergonomics written all over it, nobody in their right mind wants to hold a wedge or put one in their pocket. There’s already portable hi-fi players out there that are less pretentious but just barely.

    1. yeah, i already had a triangular shaped mp3 years ago (i think it was by iRiver) had decent specs for the time but it definitely did have a “is that an mp3 player in your pocket or are you happy to see me” effect going on…and as for this pono thing playing flac, well my sansa clip plays flac now and all flac does is kill the battery faster and waste more space, when you’re walking around an urban area with trucks and sirens and car stereos, having portable flac is a waste of time.

  5. From the kickstarter:
    “Can I play digital music files I already own on my PonoPlayer?
    Yes, you can and it will probably sound better on the PonoPlayer than you’ve ever heard it.

    The PonoPlayer is designed to play PonoMusic with stunning clarity. However, the player can play almost any kind of music track including FLAC, ALAC, mp3, WAV, AIFF, AAC (unprotected).

    What this really means is the PonoPlayer can play all your digital music, and all of it will sound great.”

    Kind of defeats the point of a proprietary format designed to ensure profits for the artist…

    1. Lolwut, how on earth would can you “not stand FLACs”? The output is identical to the .wav input, 60% of original size and most software can work with it without issue. Maybe you are just stupid.

      1. Or maybe some of use iPhones/iTunes and don’t see the point of having to convert from a minority format to a more universal one.

  6. $15-$25 per album for music I have already bought? Ouch. How many more times do I have to buy the same freaking tracks over and over again in different formats. I’ll stick with my MP3s and Apple/Amazon/eMusic. Sure it will sound better, but its got Zune written all over it.

    1. $15-20 bucks? come on, man, i could order the fricken vinyl for that price…this thing will get hyped to hell on all the “indie” blogs for a couple months and then go to zune heaven.

        1. i loved my Zune too,i fell on it a couple of months ago and cracked the screen i need a worthy replacement but don’t think this is it,but good try

    1. Man! Thanks for that. Freakin hilarious!
      I especially liked the ‘Myrtle Blocks’ or “BITS OF WOOD” as they are more commonly known.
      and the fact that:

      “Attention! Due to the rising cost of Myrtle wood and the labor to make these blocks, we have had to raise the pricing. All of the blocks have gone up approximately 50% in cost beginning February 1, 2014.”

      that. really. says. it. all.

  7. There’s a market for this, just as there is one for McIntosh tube amps, and systems from NAD, Rotel, or T+A.

    1. I would not compare this to those brands. If anyone buys the PornoPlayer they are to stupid to know better or just have way to much money to purchase anything sensible.

  8. As soon as you start talking resolution and compression, the masses will tune out. This device is total geared towards hipsters that can’t seem to find a real problem that they need invest themselves in solving.

  9. There we go again, falling into the trap of another marketing onslaught.
    Would Neil Young have been able to interview all these people if he was just an average Joe?
    It’s too late anyway, every single young person’s ears have already been destroyed by -3dB limited MP3 files. How are you going to hear all these buttery top frequencies with tinnitus? Every single artist that I just saw talks about analog quality, whilst their records have all been squashed to smithereens. Already at mixing stage every single instrument track has been compressed, so why do they now suddenly need 24-bit when they’re not utilising the full scope of such a huge dynamic range?

  10. Where are we going to be able to get those 24-bit 192kHz files from?
    Correct, we have to pay for it yet again, just like we did when we went from vinyl to CD and from CD to MP3.
    It’s a clever way of making us pay for the same music again.

  11. purely for those who are very serious about getting the highest quality sound out of their digital/portable music experience. definitely a niche market but i commend neil young for going ahead with this project. too many times niche markets get ignored for low-quality junk catered towards the lowered standards of the mass consumer market. i’m not sure if i would have any use for that high of quality audio for portable music, at least not at this time, but i like the idea a lot. i like the option. in the comments, people are all down about the pricing but c’mon, only those who are serious about audio quality would consider investing in technology like this anyway. also, how much did the very first ipod cost? lol.

  12. Well, as a long time owner of both a DVD audio player and a SACD player, I can tell you this: the sound quality is spectacular at high resolution records. It would hard to understand the difference between a high def audio recording and an MP3 or AAC high bit rate unless you hear it. And a record isn’t close.

    If you ever got to her a 24 track tape deck, or a 1/2 inch master tape, you really don’t get how much more impactful the audio is: it really does sound better on so many levels.

    Yea, the thing is very ugly in my opinion, and at $399 it’s way too expensive, I have NO idea why it needs to be that much, a high quality D/A isn’t in the hundreds in cost, and the rest of the materials again don’t cost that much.

    So I would have a hard time going for the device, but I LOVE HD audio record, I have already got a few (I use my RME Babyface as a D/A converter) and yea, the cost is high, especially for a recording that I have already owned 5 or 5 times on record, cassette, CD, Remastered CD, and now HD Audio…

    Anyways, that’s my 2 cents.

    1. and a simple test for people who have an m-box or D/A’s that support 192 (you can even try this with 44.1 files that are laying in the mix, the difference is still huge to my ears) is bounce down the raw tracks of your mix (no plugins) at 192. Its like whipping a blanket off the speakers. You can hear around the sound even in a busy and/or poor mix

      1. Try the same test in a blinded format (without knowing which source you’re listening to) and watch the huge difference disappear like a puff of magic smoke!

  13. It’s probably a great listening experience and yeah there are people who will appreciate that, not to mention all these artists giving great reviews because they like the idea of selling their tracks in a proprietary format that sells for top dollar….

    The reality is …. the mainstream population don’t want the reality ! They want convenience and the ability to grab tracks for free online… the sad fact is that for the majority of the population music is just something that is around them in the background or on a night out, bloody hell people still listen to the radio and that dishes out some of the most crappy quality on the planet.

  14. Given that 90% or more of my mobile music listening is done in my car or at the office (neither of which are anything approaching optimal in terms of audio environments) the idea of investing in new hardware and new downloads of music I already own just to get a tiny quantum of improvement is a non-starter.
    This is a classic example of Neil’s tilting at windmills. 44.1/16bit is just fine (no, actually, better than fine) for non-optimal environments.

  15. All the needed technology for high quality formats and self distributing are here: But for the mass market only counts: Availability – Comfort – Price.
    The problem is: no successful musician like the guys in the video (1% of the market) will fight against the big players in the music industrie – bang!

  16. Might not be hyped by the indies since it wouldn’t fit well in skinny jeans 😉 … Joking aside, apart from the bad design – which seems like it was made to be able to stand upright on a surface, which is nice, but not really portable as in “fits in pockets” – how many listen to FLACs besides audiophiles with expensive equipment?
    Besides since FLACs are huge how do they propose the download store system will work for people not hooked to a wifi and on a limited mobile data contract?

  17. The name alone… PonoPlayer? Are they out of their minds? In German, you’d add an ‘r’ inbetween the first ‘o’ and ‘n’ and get something that is way closer to “… or are you just happy to see me…” than to 24bit 192kHz audio files.

    Btw, from what source material should these kind of resolutions be obtained? Mono recorded master tapes of Neil Young’s albums from 30 years ago? Give me a break.

  18. i always saddened me that people paid $1 for poor quality 128 mp3 songs.

    better audio quality gives the potential to hear more of the actual performance

  19. I imagine everything sounds great when Neil Young gets you high in his car. 🙂

    So… Neil failed at his web platform for amazing sound, so now he has set out to fail at car audio. Well done there. Sorry to rip on you Neil, but you are an easy target. The masses will ALWAYS take convenience and cost over quality, especially when economics are an issue.

  20. I think part of what is being overlooked here is the D/A part of the system. Going with a high quality convertor for the output means that whatever you plug this in to will sound better. Also, it will play all of the stuff that you already have and make it sound better too.

    I understand the point about buying your music library all over again. i’ve been through it from vinyl and cassettes, to CDs. I hate the low rate MP3 with the fury of a thousand suns. They hurt my ears. When you listen to the music that I produce that is saying something. I have never owned an ipod, but I have tried them and they hurt my ears.

    I have already ordered one Pono pocket boner. Yes, the name is stupid. But so was iPad.

  21. its been proven already that nobody can tell the difference between Cd format quality and 24bit 192khz

    any differences in sound are to do with mastering of the finished material, human hearing does not benefit from material above 16bit 44/48k. 24bit offers more headroom during recording and processing. look at the biological limits of the human ear re: dynamic range and of course frequency range.

  22. There are MP3 Players around with good quality (concerning DA-Wandler). You can get one from Cowon and knows a big range of Formats. Including FLAC. 24bit for a portable music player is a bit overkill. And about Cowon: I like the freedom to convert CDs to FLAC by myself and copy it to the player without any restriction. I’ve had a iPod Nano (2nd gen) – and the quality was poor. But Cowon Player with a good headphone is fine enough for me. Maybe a few Hipsters will buy the Po..no next to a nice looking Marshall Headphones…

  23. For me,this article uses the word “digital” too much. I would be much more impressed,had they stated that the device faithfully recreates the analogue master tape.They look cool,though.

  24. They do state that very thing if you look at the video. There is one artist after another who listened to their own stuff on the system in a car and said they had never heard it sound that good outside of the studio. Watch the videos.

    Other points to consider…
    1- I ain’t no hipster. I am a late adopter. First CD player in 1996. Casstte tape car stereo until 2004. This will be my first digital music player.

    2- Sample rates and human hearing range is only part of the story. They claim to have such a high quality signal path that anything played through this will sound better. WAV, MP3… Whatever.

    3- It doesn’t cost more than an iPod.

    4- I don’t care about file size. That is why Jesus gave us external drives. I never packed my boxes of LPs around everywhere I went. I don’t care about having 2,000 albums in my pocket. I don’t listen to music when I am outdoors, on a treadmill, and rarely in the car. I want to be able to sit down in a quite room and hear the music the way it was recorded. I think this device will serve that purpose.

  25. Not sure how Mr Young would know what high quality audio would sound like any more.
    60 odd years stood in front of a million watt rig turned up to eleven probably doesn’t do much for your ears.

  26. I can only speak for my own preference but in my opinion it’s like this, my digital collection is (various formats all at least over 192kbps) a practical solutions to not having to buy and lug around a massive collection of records. The solution to great fidelity has always been there, vinyl, plain and simple. This just feels like yet another attempt to get music fans to trash the current format and “upgrade” to the next big thing. I understand completely that it is in fact a substantial upgrade in sound, but you’re talking to to a guy who used to rock mix tapes (cassettes) for the better part of his childhood. The digital music revolution allowed me to turn a modest CD/Tape/Vinyl collection into a giant library of very listenable music at the tip of my fingers all pleasantly stored on a small hard drive. Soul has nothing to do with fidelity. The Pono essential for true music appreciation? Gee… how did we ever get by without it? Haha

    It’s simple the albums that you love and cherish and are essential to you, buy on vinyl. Everything else go digital, 320kbps.

  27. With the ever-rising size and ever-shrinking cost of digital storage, MP3 is a compromise that is no longer necessary. Rip your CDs to FLAC, ALAC, WMAlossless, OGG Vorbis or whatever your home computer and portable player both recognise/play, and life is sweet.

    You don’t need a Pono player for this, but the signs are that it is intended to be one of the better-sounding players out there.

    The Pono store, however, if they get all the major labels on board, could be a very useful source of CD-quality downloads, even if you don’t bother with the high-resolution files. It’d be nice if Pono succeeds, but if not, let’s hope it encourages the existing market behemoths to offer better-than-MP3 quality downloads.

  28. As an ex DJ I must say nothing was greater than playing that song from a brand new album. After awhile though you would get those pops and static sounds even doing your best to protect them. Nothing was worse than a scratch that gave you that tick, tick, tick. When CD’s came out,I was one of the first in my area to use them, I would have people stop by the booth and want to know what type of amp or speaker I was using. The sound was crisp but mixing was a real drag.
    So the records finally went on the shelf to die a sad death. It was becoming hard to find replacement needles for your turntables and then hard to find quality turntables.
    Personally I think music died with the mp3 player. Like everyone else I bought one but for me it was a short lived experience. It sits in my bottom drawer of my desk today. Steaming music is horrible and has a lot to be desired. So, in conclusion, I wish pono music great success. I did order a Tom Petty Limited Edition player. $400 a pop is very expensive but for some it is not the money but the experience. My only concern is the 1 year warranty and the battery life.

  29. hahaha,
    all u need is some half deaf rockstar to sell stuff
    to bad it doesn’t have a frequency shifter – so i can hear those 192 kHz frequencies, rofl

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