Neil Young Delivers Pono News and Witticisms

Neil Young's Pono presentation was loaded with wit and wisdom and included three newsworthy developments. One is that Harman International will market a car audio version of the portable Pono high-res music platform, with early design efforts being shown at the Vegas Hard Rock Cafe. Another development is that Pono has licensed 2.1 million tracks from the big three record companies and is now courting the independent labels. And finally, Pono will make its retail debut on Monday of next week at 80 retailers throughout the U.S. But Young had so much more to say; I could hardly scribble fast enough. Here's a taste:

On flat-earthers who disparage high-res audio: "We proved it's more fun to listen to and we don't have to prove it anymore."

On what musicians think of Pono, after switching among resolutions: "They decided for themselves."

On the 192 kHz sampling rate: "We had a 100 percent win with 192" (compared to 96 kHz and lower rates).

On the advent of the Compact Disc format: "That was an amazing drop. What happened to the air? What happened to the space? What happened to the warm, fuzzy feeling?"

On learning to love listening again with high-res audio: "I can listen to music again. I couldn't listen to it for more than 15 years. I would hear what was missing."

More on the flat-earthers: "If you can't hear the difference, or if you don't want to hear the difference, I don't want to force it on anybody." Emphasis added.

On the Pono player itself: "It's the same as an iPod except it sounds like God."

On whether Pono is an audiophile product: "I don't like the term audiophile. I'm not going for an audiophile audience. I'm going for a music lover's audience."

On marketing Pono: "We have no marketing, only word of mouth."

On Pono not being sold in his native Canada: "That is a crime."

On Blu-ray, a format on which he released the giant Neil Young Archives compilation: "Super-clunky, but it sounds good."

On early attempts to couple the marketing of high-res audio with 5.1-channel audio on SACD and DVD-Audio: "Surround in the home—what a disaster." (Young feels going higher-res in stereo would have been a better move than going multichannel.)

On Pono Music, the nonexclusive purveyor of Pono-worthy software: "It verifies that this music is what we say it is. Provenance is important to us."

On securing provenance from the record companies: "We've had a lot of hiccups, four versions in four resolutions."

On the Beatles and other artists who haven't yet released their catalogues in sufficiently high resolution: "We're pressuring the artists and their record companies to move to 192." Cameo mentions of forthcoming releases included the entire Bob Dylan catalog plus Miles Davis and Michael Jackson's Thriller.

On Spotify's lower resolution: "You can recognize the track. But does your soul recognize it?"

A final word: The sentiments expressed above may or may not reflect the views of Sound & Vision. But I could listen to Neil Young talk all night.

See Ken Pohlmann's post for more on Pono Music.

Jeff Perrin's picture

Up-selling music via increased sample rates has not worked out historically. So Young needs to do what he can to keep Pono in the headlines. -Hence the attention-grabbing quotes.

My take: The Pono currently fills a gap between convenient lo-fi downloads and bulky, jump-through-hoops-to-aquire disc-based mediums. However, once Apple and Amazon start offering hi-res downloads, Pono will have a hard time making the sell. Case-in-point: Apple has been asking labels to upload hi-res masters (up to 192/24) for some time now. All Apple needs to do is wait for the right time to "flip the switch." Pono buyer beware...

And Young is dead-wrong about surround in the home. *Millions* of people have installed and enjoy surround systems in their homes. The reason they don't buy hi-res surround *music* is because few musicians and producers make the effort to produce a great surround sound music experience. Their best efforts generally involve handing off tapes of stereo recording sessions to a surround mixer in hopes the "5.1" label will generate some extra income...

Jeff Perrin