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Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Neil Young’s Pono Ecosystem Will Put a ‘Freemium’ on Sound Quality |

Neil Young on “David Letterman” - September 27, 2012
(Click photo to enlarge)

As we await the next chapter in the Crazy Horse saga, what's going on in Pono world?

Last we checked, the question was Is Neil Young's hi-res music service PONO still a viable technology? Well, that still seems to be the question.

From Neil Young’s Pono Ecosystem Will Put a ‘Freemium’ on Sound Quality | by Eliot Van Buskirk: has learned new details about this promising service, which is expected to launch at some point this year, including which devices it will work with — and how its sound quality will differ depending on which one you use.

The main thing to know here is that only one device will be capable of playing Pono files at their maximum, Neil Young-approved sound quality. You guessed it — this is the Pono player, the yellow thing Neil flashed around on Letterman last year, which, to this former MP3 player reviewer, recalls similarly-triangular iRiver models of the past.

Yes, if you want a Pono file to play properly, you’ll need to play it on the Pono device — no computers, iPhones, Androids, or high-end D/A converters for you (more on that last one later).

However, according to a source with knowledge of the situation, Pono files will play on any digital audio device, just at a lower sound quality (i.e. something like what most of us listen to today). In other words, you should be able to load the songs up on your iPhone — they will just lack the amped up sound that made you go with Pono in the first place.

In that sense, Neil Young and his Pono team have figured out how to do something Spotify did for subscription music, but to sound quality: To make it “freemium.” You might be able to “borrow” a Pono file from a “friend” and play it on whatever you want — but in order to get the top-notch sound quality, you’ll need to play it on a Pono, from what we hear, and you’ll need to be the person who purchased it.
As the article goes on to explore, who is the target market for PONO? High-end audiophiles? Folks who like free music?

Maybe folks who care enough about sound quality to pay but aren't necessarily high-end audiophiles?

And, here's the big question -- will PONO be the platform of choice for The Archives Volume #2?

If so, then the next question will be whether the PONO format will have a legacy similar to the BluRay format and The Archives Volume #1.

And don't anyone ask about the format for The Archives Volume #3!

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At 8/13/2013 04:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Don't see how Pono could be the platform "of choice" for Archives 2 if it doesn't deliver visuals.

At 8/13/2013 05:51:00 PM, Blogger timothy fontenot said...

I've promised myself not to invest in his Pono(even if it involves Archive 2) after what that debacle that was Archives 1. I don't trust Neil Young.

At 8/13/2013 06:20:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher Wheat said...

@04:28:00 - fair enough. point taken.

How about Pono could be the platform "of choice" for audio only?

@Tim - can understand the frustration but in terms of "trusting Neil Young", well. Lots of cliches come to mind like "trust but verify" or "only trust yourself" or "trust only loved ones".

It's hard not to be cynical about some things. we just try and keep things in perspective.


At 8/13/2013 06:36:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I do trust Neil, but I don't think Pono is going anywhere.

The minority of people who actually still want 24/192 audio already have platforms for that out there. I'm quite sure Pono would probably focus on the other aspects of hi-end audio as well, such as speakers, headphones, hi-end converters, better mastering etc. But again, audiophiles already have access to all this stuff, in abundance.

Dvd-audio and SACD basically failed....why? Because people can't hear the difference. Why change format yet again, when it sounds exactly the same?

At some point, all the talk of "radically improved sound" has to evolve into an actual perceivable difference, and 24/192 is not the way to provide that. It was an interesting idea, but ultimately an ineffective one. As a format, it does work as a placebo, which may or may not be enough, depending on your viewpoint. In my opinion, that's not enough. People are smart.

The bottom line is that 24/192 has become 'old news' in the audiophile community; already they are moving on (and progressing) from what was essentially a failed experiment.

"To think about how close we came". - Neil Young, Walk Like A Giant.

Meanwhile, the rest of us are discontent with changing formats and platforms every 5 minutes. That's why Apple has been so successful with the mainstream market.

At 8/13/2013 09:12:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the Pono folks on their Facebook page (sounds suspiciously like AG to me): "Don't believe everything you read. Lots of stuff in that article is not correct. ... We're still in testing, and as you know, things change in testing and under duress. If we give information now that will change in a month, what good is that? Appreciate everyone's patience, but we want to make sure that the info we get out there is correct & not subject to radical change as we throw the units down the stairs, run them over with a few vintage cars, and test the audio quality to insure that it's beautiful sound."

At 8/13/2013 09:20:00 PM, Anonymous Craig said...

I'm glad someone is talking about sound quality. Unfortunately, hirez is a smoke screen or red herron. The real issue with sound these days is mastering. Music is compressed and mastered way too loud. Even Neil's recent remasters were loud and lacked dynamic range. So, if Neil is going to release 'studio masters' that have up to 15 dynamic range, I'm all for it.

As far as tracks only being able to be played on Pono, well, that seems like we're back at DRM or de-coding HDCD. Again, you might decond HDCD or have an SACD player, but if the master is loud, then it's still shit. Unfortunately, I'm leaning toward Pono being a scam much like blue-ray, mastered for itunes, HDCD, SACD, DVD-A, 180 gram vinyl. You name it, Neil's done it. His intentions are probably good, but he's completely ignorant on these issues. If sound really mattered, you'd think he'd really be able to have a critical thought about it.

At 8/13/2013 10:21:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As with so many projects instigated by Neil, it's a promising idea hindered by being far too late to launch.

The Archives will eventually all be released when both Neil and his fans are all beyond being able to hear them; and Pono will be released just as audiophiles are becoming widely aware of the redundancy of hi/res audio (Craig is unshakeably correct in his assessment above).

They have spent months perfecting a product that will, in all probability, not survive it's initial encounters with a very particular market.

Don't get me wrong: there is most certainly a place for better sounding audio (better masters, in particular). But stating that some kind of special format is required for this purpose comes close to scamming people.

I do applaud them for having the insight to test their assumptions; at the same time, I believe this same diligent approach will ruthlessly reveal the fundamental flaws in the basic concept itself.

At 8/14/2013 04:14:00 AM, Blogger La Johnson said...

Yeh we'll all be in OAP homes (with any luck) listening to the Archives 2.3.4 saying why has it taken 50 years to get this to us? Pono Nopo - it's all nonsense - we just want the music in any shape or format!

At 8/14/2013 04:28:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I couldnt afford it anyway....stlll paying my hotels off in Liverpool & London.

At 8/14/2013 07:26:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

@Anonymous @ 6:36 - again with the placebo word when talking about 24/192 audio? I must respectfully disagree with that choice of words. It's as if you are saying that 24/192 Linear PCM or DTS HD-Master Audio are just marketing ploys used to disguise something inferior.

While I will likely never purchase a PONO system, I truly believe that high end audio is real and there is a HUGE difference between 24/192 and a cd or an MP3.

Color me clueless if you want but my ears and my brain know what they are hearing.

At 8/14/2013 07:35:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One other factor that isn't really being discussed within this topic much is speakers. Someone might have the finest receiver and quality DVD/Blu-ray player available and be listening to 24/192 audio, but if they are listening to music on crappy speakers then they'll hear crappy quality.

I personally spent way too much money on my Boston Acoustics many years ago but to this day I don't regret it. Powered subwoofers built right into each tower speaker = amazing sound. With each speaker running north of $1,400, it was quite a purchase for me (not to mention the other surround speakers and receiver, etc.).

To Craig - exactly how is 24/192 audio a scam? I just don't get it.

At 8/14/2013 08:17:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I truly believe that high end audio is real and there is a HUGE difference between 24/192 and a cd or an MP3."

And that is why you hear a huge difference - because you believe.

And the more you believe, the better it sounds. In this respect, It can closely be compared to a placebo. I used to believe in the superiority of 24/192 as well, but I tested my assumptions and found them to be incorrect.

Above all, It is hard to dispute the multitude of tests that have been done on the subject, tests that show even golden-eared professionals are unable to distinguish between 24/192 and CD quality, when subjected to blind tests.

At 8/14/2013 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous Simon said...

Excuse my ignorance but can someone please clarify whether the point of PONO is listening through headphones or speakers? I prefer natural sound waves myself travelling through some air before reaching my ears.
Come to think of it how many pictures of Neil wearing headphones are there?

At 8/14/2013 11:18:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

When an ordinary man attains knowledge, he is a sage; when a sage attains understanding, he is an ordinary man.
--Zen Saying

Throwing away Zen mind is correct Zen mind. Only keep the question "What is the best way of helping other people?"
--Seung Sahn

It's like a bolt out of the blue
It could be calling now for you
--Spinal Tap

At 8/14/2013 03:25:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One word: VINYL


At 8/14/2013 03:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ha, ha, T., you really got it right. Famous last words: "And don't anyone ask about the format for The Archives Volume #3!"

Archives 2 will be Pono. That's a good thing. I believe in Neil. My wallet doesn't, but he's not human, so who cares. I was just thinking that he's going to sell Pono with the Archives vol. 2 as a set.... I don't know, I already like it but at this moment box sets in it's traditional form are out of fashion. We had an overkill in the last couple of years. So, yes in this case buying a yellow monster it isn't a bad idea. But audiolovers in 2013 like to buy records made of vinyl for pure joy that comes with a digital version of the same record for other reasons.

This reference to Dre in the article is nice because he did a real genius/commercial thing with those headphones. etc. More bass.


At 8/14/2013 09:54:00 PM, Anonymous Craig said...

Scam was probably too strong a word. In retrospect, hi-rez is really just working on the wrong issue. It's the mastering that is a problem. If you have a crappy master then hi-rez it's just a hi-rez crappy master.

Hi-Rez is audiophile territory. These dudes are interested in recreating sound exactly. Most people aren't. Before we go on trying to make that the new common denominator, we have to fix the original masters of what we already have.

Neil is focused on the wrong thing. I want better masters, not better sounding shitty masters.

*Now, I'm not even getting into the reality of hi-rez being a myth.

At 8/16/2013 01:55:00 AM, Anonymous LRR said...

Read Neil's Book. He wants to take PONO to 384 khz...I wonder if he's ever heard 384 khz

At 1/20/2014 07:46:00 PM, Anonymous J Neo Marvin said...

The big question: how BIG are the files? How much space do they take up on your computer or portable player? How many terrabytes of capacity will a Pono player contain?


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