Neil Young unveils new music media ‘ecosystem,’ PonoMusic

“In a show appropriately resembling an Apple product rollout, Neil Young took the stage at SXSW Tuesday to present his new music media ‘eco-system,’ PonoMusic,” Carlton Wilkinson reports for TheStreet. “”Pono’ means the one, the whole,’ Young said. ‘It’s a Hawaiian word.'”

MacDailyNews Note: Pono’s Kickstarter page states, “‘Pono’ is Hawaiian for righteous.” Hawaiian words can have more than one meaning, so…

“The iTunes-like product for distribution of ultra-high-quality digital audio files includes an online store of downloadable files from major and independent labels, a software library that lives on the customer’s device and a triangular piece of hardware about the size of a mobile phone that can fit in a pocket and can hold hundreds of albums of high-quality audio,” Wilkinson reports. “Young prowled and growled his way around the stage solo for about half an hour, flanked by a SXSW backdrop and images on two giant screens. He explained his complaints against CD and mp3 formats, his fixation with creating a better technology that can represent music to the public with all the detail the artists intend, and the launch of his Kickstarter campaign after failing to generate interest from traditional investment channels.”

“Young aims to create an experience for the the next generation of musicians and listeners that will be even better than the high-quality vinyl analog recordings of his youth, he said. ‘I don’t want to bring anything back,’ he said. ‘I want to take it forward,'” Wilkinson reports. “Major and independent labels can sell their music through PonoMusic at whatever resolution they prefer. Young himself is making all of his music available at the highest resolution possible (192 kHz/24 bit) but he acknowledges that many artists won’t have access to that format or won’t choose to use it… Pono’s Kickstarter campaign has gained significant ground in its early stages. While it still had fewer than 4,000 backers Wednesday morning, it has already well exceeded its goal of $800,000, at a pledged amount of $1.28 million.”

MacDailyNews Note: $1,788,378 currently.

Certain language in the following video may not be suitable in certain venues. NSFW:

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Niche.

But, if it helps to elevate quality audio reproduction across the board, it’s worth the effort.

UPDATE, March 16, 2014, 13:01pm EDT: PonoMusic sounds like a boondoggle.

Please read:
Neil Young’s 24 bit/192kHz ‘PonoMusic’ project is a very silly boondoggle – Sunday, March 16, 2014


  1. Look, the human ear can only listen to so many notes. One has to trim those notes in order to not tire out the brain. CD quality has been determined to be just enough data as to be indistinguishable from live, to the human ear. Any more notes, just doesn’t register. It’s like listening to music at 100KHz.

    On the other hand lower notes, ~0 – 20Hz may not be heard, but they can be felt, therefor the rule of thumb, trim off the top.

    Hey if you want to pay for mythical notes, by all means. 128bit MP3 works just fine. 🙂

    1. I apologize in advance for my bluntness, but you’re a tin-eared moron.

      192 kHz is SAMPLE RATE – a totally different thing than human hearing range, generally stated as 20 Hz to 20 kHz (everyone is different).

      1. Hey, I didn’t asked to be insulted. Haven’t you ever herd the line, “Too many notes?” Look it up. I was being both funny and serious, and you didn’t pick it up, or you fed it back at me.

        128kbs – Funny

        range of human hearing – serious

        Over-paying for music you can’t possibly appreciate – serious (actually appreciation is in the money spent.)

        I think 192kbs VBR maybe all that is truly necessary. Anything better is okay, as long as it’s at no additional cost. The rest is just your brain lying to you.

          1. Like my deaf father, “I don’t need any hearing aids” There are other hearing problems an aid can’t fix. Hearing is an amazingly complex sense. Did you know you have a 300ms delay built into your brain’s processing of sound, in relation to what you see? It’s all subjective.

        1. Sampling rate has nothing to do with the amount of notes being played. If you really do know what you’re talking about, care to explain why some people want to record at a 24 bit, 192k sampling rate? Betcha can’t… ’cause you have zero idea what you’re talking about.

          1. I know a lot more than I led on. I was making a joke. I know the difference. I don’t know all the mechanics, but I have been working with digital audio for more than 28 years.

            If you watched the movie, “Amadeus,” you would get the basis of my joke.

            A record has no bit rate, it is analog. However as we learn about the world around us, analog also does not quite describe how our senses work. We are actually bio-digital, with a finite resolution and sampling rate. Much of that is controlled by our brains, and it tends to fill in the gaps where our physical senses can’t possibly pick up all the detail. Where the detail is more than what our brain can handle, it just chops it off. There is a delicate balance, which everyone is different.

            1. Gollum, I think you are RIGHT. There is too much BS about sound quality. be happy that we can transport gigantic libraries of crappy music around with us. I worked in the music biz and watched endless sound engineers justify their existence by going on and on about sound quality, when they knew perfectly well that it was going to played on a f**king transistor car radio.

            2. The best sound I ever heard was on an Eko radio from the 1930s, I had done a thesis on 30s radios and then a friend who knew my interest was actually given one the very model I had fell in love with from a visual aspect and played it to me as a tease knowing I would be solo jealous. The depth of sound was fabulous and can only be replicated by a valve amp in my opinion. But we all perceive sound differently and to be honest I only ever enjoyed vinyls the first few times I played them the clicks and other distractions through deterioration just destroyed the experience for me. No amount of over sampling however will make the sound like that Superheterodyne radio unless it is played back through related technology. So yes for me the original file size and quality is only part of the story.

            3. You’re somewhat correct in the relation to the way the eye works. Think of it as a Retina display. People with even the best vision can only see X PPI from a distance of Y. Now how would you feel about doubling that pixel density even though nobody could view it at a distance less than Y and there would be costs associated with that. Namely, the storage capacity on your device would be 1/6 to 1/12 the size that it is today, battery life would be reduced, and the overall image fidelity may be slightly worse.

              The comparison I gave doesn’t even fully paint the picture of overkill:

              Human hearing ranges from 20Hz to 20kHz. However, we don’t hear all of that frequency range the same. In order to hear a frequency at 20kHz, it has to be incredibly loud. The whole sound has to be incredibly loud. So if you’re in a test lab with headphones and they play a 20kHz frequency cranked up, you’ll hear it, but if they play that frequency within a song, that song would have to be at a volume that would burst your eardrums to maintain that frequency at the detectable level.

              CD quality is 44.1kHz, which allows for frequencies at 22kHz and the .1 is used for rounding the sine waves. In other words, CD quality is already “Super-Retina” and capable of producing results greater than what the human ear can distinguish.

              To answer The Mac That Roared’s question of why someone would want to record at 24-bit 192kHz, there are several reasons. One is to produce greater accuracy of capturing the original signal. Another is to have more data to work with when filtering and applying effects. The “eye analogy” would be to take a picture with a high megapixel camera, and then editing it in Photoshop with the final output being a scaled down image for display. In both examples, you have more data to make corrections in a space above what will be perceived directly in the final output.

              If you want more information about why Pono is a bad idea, just from a technical perspective (it’s also a bad idea from a business perspective), see:

            4. My ear…shit, anything sounds fine. I was watching a show the other day where a teacher was watching a student at at the piano.

              He said, finger 5 is weak. Ok, it was a show, but there are people that can hear that we’ll. The point is if the sampling rate is not high enough to collect the information necessary to relay this information, then the audio is not replicated in all it’s glory.

              CD is crap. It uses an 8-bit DAC. “Super audio” CD’s are better with a 24-bit DAC giving smoother waves with less stepping.

              I suppose he may be talking about a 128-bit DAC which would be awesome.

              The sampling is 44,000 samples or 48,000 samples per second per channel (left/right).

              FLAC is the way to go.

              Now compress this at crappy mp3 sampling of the original audio at 128k samples per second and you get horrible sound (this is left and right).

              256k AAC audio per channel is pretty good. But you still may lose something.

              In the end, it’s what is good enough for you and your ears.


            5. The article goes into this. The piano teacher is trained to hear a weak finger. Much like someone who specializes in wine tasting can tell you more than you would care to know, about wine. The point, according to the author, it’s not that the information isn’t there, it is, but you just don’t know what to listen for. His second point, if you can’t hear it in CD-Audio, then the problem either is upstream with the master or SACD won’t be able to help and reveal what your ear can’t hear to begin with. His explanation is that most SACDs are produced from higher quality masters, that would benefit CD-Audio, to begin with.

    2. I once ran tests and to my old ears MP3 at a minimum 192kbps was reasonable. BUT I now encode everything with Apple Lossless. No reason not to. A friend of mine is into the HD Tracks 24/96 & 192 stuff but my hearing cannot really take advantage of it (too much heavy metal way back when). I suspect it’s more feeling it than hearing it, except for dogs at that range.

      Infrasonics (the range below 20 Hz down to 0.001 Hz), which you can only feel, though is really interesting in what it can do to humans in terms of creating imagined fear. Like with those 9 hikers lost in the 50’s in Russia’s Dyatlov Pass.

      1. MP3 compression is very noticeable, regardless of the sampling rate. The algorithm used shows up plainly when listening to classical music, live music. It has a tinny or washed out quality, especially with percussion (Cymbals, especially) and many other instruments. It’s not as noticeable in Rock Music, but if you know what to listen for, it’s there. Apple’s own compression codec is a vast improvement over MP3. The results are not as noticeable. And if you have VERY good ears, you can tell the difference between vinyl (Analog) and CD (digital) recordings, although much of those differences go beyond the typical listener experiences. Basically, go to a concert of live classical music in a concert hall with good acoustics to establish a baseline: then start comparing.

        Also worth noting is the high compression used on FM Radio, which is especially evident with classical music as well as some rock music on live performances.

    3. 128kbps mp3 (assuming that’s what you meant) is horrible. You’re either listening on a clock radio, or your ears are beyond destroyed. With 128kbps mp3, compression is easily audible in any music more complex than pop radio. Strings, piano, and especially cymbals sound like complete crap at 128kbps mp3.

      1. No, he was referring to 128-bit sampling, not the bit rate. The point he was making is that CDs at 16-bit 44.1KHz already cover the range of human hearing. Neil Young is trying to start a business that will offer the ability to have files that are 192KHz and 24-bit. The joke that Gollum was making was that you might as well go up to 128-bit and then encode your MP3s that way.

        Gollum speaks the truth here, but one thing missing is why this higher recording rates exist, and that’s because they’re helpful both in the actual recording itself and for editing and applying effects. Even then in both cases, the amount of possible benefit isn’t significant for consumer use.

        Which is one reason why this is doomed to fail. The industry isn’t likely to incur increased costs for delivery of files where the only benefit is to those who would re-use the work.

      1. Strictly an opinion. Difficult to measure. However, aren’t there laser “needles” that can act like a touchless method to pickup audio off a record and it will eliminate scratches? Also, what do you think the bumps on the groove of a record actually represent? It’s not perfect and you’ve got problems with it. It too has a resolution and can’t possibly represent true life sound.

      2. As long as surface noise, rumble and wow & flutter go along with your love of vinyl. Not me. I HATED vinyl since I was a kid for those reasons. The best of all worlds is a mixed & mastered 15 or 30 ips stereo studio analog tape (which I’ve heard many times) which exhibits none of those unnatural vinyl attributes. Vinyl sound defects inherent in the medium have been romanticized ad nauseum. Not MY thing. I wanna hear the sound the Producer & Engineer first heard. Your mileage may vary.

      1. I am willing to put some time into it, but I am not going to take away from my quality time to do it. So it’s on the back burner. I am not lying about what I am saying. I know music is very passionate. It is like diamonds.

  2. “Self-Pono”
    That pretty much describes this self-righteous prick who pisses on his former country (he’s American now you can keep him) to make himself look relevant and important. Stay south of 49 you jerk. Don’t buy his shit whatever he’s foisting.

        1. Who proclaimed it a fact free forum? I have noticed a very large number of facts adduced as evidence to support various assertions. Lots and lots of facts. Fact City! Facts far outnumber opinions in this forum. More facts than one can shake a stick at, so many facts that one experiences a choking sensation, drowning in an excess of them like Lothario in Rosalind’s crushing embrace.

          What’s troubling is the presumption that facts can in any way sway another’s opinion, when it is plain that they were marshaled only to bolster one’s own position.

          1. The truth is multi-faceted and the more views of it, the closer we get to the reality within. When we have attained true knowledge, we will admit that we know nothing compared to the vastness of absolute truth. There are no ‘facts’, in my opinion.

            1. What you say seems true enough, but only if “we” take in those views. “We” have an emotional stake in the set of ‘facts’ we own, and an aversion to opposing ‘facts’. That’s a fact.

  3. I’d be interested in Pono if I could get 192k recordings of the 300+ CDs I already spent $5000+ on. If the artists are truly interested in getting the recording into our ears in the way they were intended to be heard… let me send you my CD for a rebate.

    If I were younger, I’d be very interested but I don’t really buy new albums anymore. Judas Priest is going to release a new album in 2014 and I’ll purchase it, but my collection is mainly from the 70’s and 80’s.

    I love the idea Neil, you rock. Good luck, hopefully the younger generation buys in.

  4. Most music these days is recorded at 98Khz/24 bit. During mastering the recording is converted to 44.1 KHz/16 bit for CD.

    The reason it’s recorded at a higher rate is that the tone of say, a violin is made up from the fundamental frequency, say 440Hz and it’s harmonics which can go to infinity. If you filter off those harmonics, the shape of the fundamental changes.

    Basically, harmonics are why a violin playing middle C sound different to a trumpet playing the same note.

    When you listen to a piece of music performed live, all those harmonics are there and the tone of each instrument made up by them.

    This is why a recording which filters off anything over 22.1 KHz (CD format) sounds different compared to reality.

    All of this way more complicated than I have described but basically this how it works.

    Pono will definitely sound dramatically better than CD and mp3’s which sound like an old transistor radio. I hate mp3s.

    I have been doing digital recordings for many years in my own studio and others. Mainly I do mastering for clients projects which mostly come as 96Khz/24 bit. All mixing/mastering is done at this rate and the last step is the down-sampling to 44.1/16 for CD.
    The masters are kept at 98/24.

    The difference in the quality of the sound of 96/24 and CD at 44.1 is very noticeable. You don’t have to be an audiophile nutter to hear it.

    1. I agree that there is a difference between 96/24 and CD at 44.1 but your ability to hear that difference will depend on at least four things:
      1. The type of music–and how it was mastered
      2. Your ears–how old, how much exposure to over-loud music.
      3. Your sound system
      4. Your room–a crappy acoustic environment will ruin everything.

      Most people have, how shall I say it, a sub-optimal situation in all four areas.

    2. “The difference in the quality of the sound of 96/24 and CD at 44.1 is very noticeable. ”

      Actually it’s not. I do a lot of work with soundtracks (@96/24) and simply bracketing (bit depth reduction) and limiting the HF response (reducing sample freq) is pretty much inaudible.
      What is audible is the rest of the manipulation that is done in the post/finishing process.

      Two of the most destructive processes are; compression, done because the dynamics are typically too great for most (virtually all) listening situations (consumers typically have a high noise floor and won’t, don’t or can’t get too much above 100DBa (in most listening situations)) the second is sweetening, which is done to “target” 90% of the listeners “preferences” and less than optimal equipment and environmental acoustics.

      What I am saying is it isn’t the format (96/24 vs 16, it is extremely difficult (even for trained engineers & even “golden ear’d audiophiles”) to hear any difference on 95% of material. Music is recorded and mixed at high sample/depth rates because it gives the engineers far more headroom & flexibility both in recording and in the multitrack mix down.

  5. Other than convenience and portability of a “mp3”, which is fine, hearing music at 24Bit is more transparent. It’s far way from only a 20hz 20khz human range’s parameter. Who talked at this video is usual to listen music at 24Bit 192Khz on HD audio equipment. They know what a compressed digital does to audio. So many artists and professionals giving that testimonial, maybe something is happening here. Or Neil Young has more friends than supposed. But it’s all about maths and 24/192 is heavy load to stream around.

  6. Watch the video in which many musicians, most of whom I respect greatly, rave about the experience. If you find that irrelevant, then wait until you’ve had a chance to check it out yourself. I can’t wait to. The only thing I can say for sure is that the triangular player is ugly. Amazing how people can deem their opinions as “expert” without evidence. Why not pontificate about the meaning of life and the concept of infinity while you’re at it?

    1. I agree.

      I don’t get how people can argue about something that they haven’t even experience for themselves, especially with a topic that is so subjective.

    2. 192KHz/24-bit isn’t a new invention. We’ve had consumer level equipment that can record and playback that level for many years now.

      There are many things missing from the video, notably, there’s no A/B/C testing being demonstrated.

      What would be impressive for any new audio format to be demonstrated would be for one source recording “A” to be played and then test subjects trying to determine whether “B” or “C” sounds most like “A”, where “B” and “C” were both made under the same process from “A”.

      If you walked into my studio, you might be blown away by the sound quality of some arbitrary format I had recorded at. However, if I ask you to compare that to another format, and ask to tell me which one sounds most like the original, then we have something actually meaningful.

      Those of us working with digital media for decades now, know that 192KHz/24-bit is massive overkill for consumers and for a variety of reasons, this business venture will fail.

      And this is coming from a fan of Neil Young, who’s also a neighbor and goes to his Bridge Concerts each year. I wish him well all around, but Pono is a massive waste of time and money.

  7. read all the comments with interest.
    I have little knowledge of audio files etc.
    Watching the video it seems lots of high profile music people are impressed with Pono, so why doesn’t Apple have something like it? somebody with more knowledge can enlighten me (seems like apple has more than enough money and resources). Apple can charge more for high end audio files etc.

    (not trying to be flame bait, I’m honestly trying to understand all this)

    1. The video is well made to have high profile people seemingly endorse the format, but this is a logical fallacy in a couple of different ways. First, they’re musicians, not engineers and developers. Second, they’re commenting on how great the audio is that they’re hearing. It’s anecdotal and in a flawed testing environment. What’s really needed is A/B/C (or A/B/X) testing where B and C are processed from A using identical methods and where numerous people compare B and C to A with the same equipment and in the same environment.

      If you really want details on this, read:

      This is a really great article by Chris Montgomery and includes links to tools you can use to do an A/B/X test yourself.

      It’s worth noting how crazy Neil Young actually is here. The file sizes he’s proposing are 6 times greater than CDs. That means your typical album would be about 3-4GBs. Not only that, but the playback fidelity can actually be worse than the format used for CDs.

      Apple doesn’t want to have the increased bandwidth costs, the lower capacity for their devices (measured in song capacity), and the battle with the labels to offer this when in the end, the fidelity may be slightly worse.

      Instead, I could see Apple offering ALAC (lossless audio), but even that is a lot of money, and negotiation for very little actual benefit. Really the big benefit of doing that is for the so-called audiophiles who may be more inclined to buy the lossless files.

      1. I agree with kevicosuave, and would add that I noticed that they were compairing 128kbps MP3
        It seemd odd, MP3 is a very old and audibly flawed format (particularly at 128KB/s) and is clearly (audibly) inferior to Apple’s 256kbps AAC.
        So why test against 128 mp3? It isn’t what people are buying (from apple) and listening to on their “iPods”. It just made me feel like this was “rigged” demo

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