Neil Young Unveils His Music Player

Pono will deliver music the way the artist intended, promises the musician.

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Neil Young unveiled his Pono music player last night - and its associated Kickstarter campaign drew over $1m in pledges in the following hours.

He took to the stage at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas, to show off the triangular device and tell the audience: "Once you hear this you can't go back."

Pono has been under development for nearly three years after Young decided he couldn't live with the sound output of MP3 players. He said: "Everything started to die because of the MP3 and the cheapening of quality to where it was unrecognisable.

"The album had no value. Only individual tracks had value. As a guy who'd been making records for many years, I was pissed off. I love every note on every song on every record.

"People were still buying it because they like music - but they were buying xeroxes of the Mona Lisa."

Young says Pono will deliver music the way the artist intended, and the project has the support of the major record labels. The launch edition of the player contains 128MB of memory, which is enough to carry up to 2000 high-resolution songs saved in a new format.

A promotional video on the Kickstarter page shows David Crosby reacting to having listened to the new device, saying: "That's the best sound I ever heard in a car - in fact it might be the best sound I ever heard." Other big names including Dave Grohl and Jack White offer their own support.

But not everyone agrees Pono is a good idea - tech site Gizmodo says there appears to be "no science" behind the project, arguing that producing higher-resolution audio files doesn't equate to a better sound. They add: "When the folks at Pono provide us with scientific evidence which proves that 192kHz/24-bit audio is better than the CD-quality standard, we'll let you know."

The Kickstarter campaign runs for a further 24 days, with its original $800,000 target set to be exceeded several times over.

51 comments sorted by best / new / date

    Arunas
    2000 songs in 128mb that doesn't sound like sh!t? Would love to see that happen.
    syntheticocean
    Why do you guys keep saying FLAC? The article clearly states that him and his team designed a new type of audio file. It will not be using FLAC.
    Yabba Who
    "The PonoMusic Store uses FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) audio format as its standard". Taken from ponomusic.com, the official website.
    syntheticocean
    Ahh, ok. Interesting. I didn't go to the site as the thing looks bad, and uncomfortable to begin with. Wonder why UG stated that A) its 128MB and B)It uses 'new' format. From what i gather it started development in 2001 and was released in version 1.0 in 2003. Thats 11 years old.
    INSULIN
    I have no idea what any of this is.never had a mp3 player or download /I got records ha ha and I have caseetes I recorded the records on ha ha
    guitarist5477
    What are you technophobic? Also I don't get the "ha ha" 's, is that some kind of defiant laughter to a convenient technology that lets me carry around hundreds of albums wherever I go?
    DexterF
    Where is commercially available 192kHz/24-bit audio going to come from? As much as I love the idea of going past 16b/44k I see frauds chomping at the bit...coin.
    UniformRecon
    They're working with the major labels to produce the music back at 192kHz/24-bit quality.
    deathofagod
    UG, sort your details out! I can't think of any format that allows 2000 songs to take up a mere 128mb. Also, what kind of tech comes out these days with only 128mb of.. anything?! Did the person writing this out not do a double take? The Sansa Clip already does lossless formats, the only benefit I can see to this product is its' aesthetics and the storage (which I'm assuming is in fact 128GB) and the star appeal garnering it more attention. But hey I love lossless formats so I'm not about to knock the product - just please don't rave on like it's something new Neil Young.
    Anjohl
    Flac is great, but it has two problems: 1) FLAC'd songs from a CD will only sound as good as the CD. 2) The human ear cannot distinquish between Lossless and 320kb/s mp3.
    babysmasher
    Neil's been trying to get itunes on board with selling FLAC songs but doesn't look like it is going to happen. They will have to open up a new online store or find another to get on board. I think they will be looking for $20-25 an album like CD prices. I think most record companies will be happy to sell songs at that price point. The majority of people probably won't be interested in it but the people that actually have spent the money on a stereo system capable of taking advantage of the music quality will want it. I'm afraid however once these files are out there they're going to be pirated just as easily as mp3s.
    bigblockelectra
    Did he drive the USA showing this unit to people? That white Eldorado Biarritz shows up in every clip.
    Jmoarguitar
    Likely. He took his lincvolt up to Fort Mac in Canada to support the Native American treaties that the government has been violating.
    avaris15
    Might want to update it to GB, not MB. Unless they've come up with some crazy non-lossy compression format.
    DaniArrow
    It is GB. The format is FLAC.
    crazyhorse174
    I think he meant the detail in the article itself - showing the size in MB, not GB. Pretty sure 2000 FLAC songs takes up more space than 128MB...
    DaniArrow
    What I mean is the player has 64GB and there's a card slot for additional 64GB so altogether you've got 128GB free space which is more than enough for 2000 flac files
    Randomisti
    Neil Young must be a hell of an engineer if he really invented a way of fitting 2000 FLAC songs into 128 MB of memory. Edit: just to clarify, according to Wikipedia it's indeed gigabytes instead of megabytes
    julianholguin
    Sounds like porno
    MrZEDO
    Yep, that's what I read the first time I saw it "Neil Young unveils the Porno". Where, and why, did they come up with that name?
    Black Bass
    2000 songs on 128 gigs? So It's awkwardly shaped, and is better then Apple Lossless files, or FLAC as far as music quality is concerned? It takes a hell of an ear to pick out the better quality above those 2 formats, and if the average fan is concerned or cares then cool. IDK how this will make people buy the whole record though. Unless you can only purchase whole albums in this format, in which case, you'll get about 15-20 albums on it. I'll take my 15,000 songs at 326kb/s thanks. They're lossless on my computer and I don't expect quality so much as quantity on my iPod.
    jebbe9696
    In fact, no ear yet has picked out the differences. In a controlled ABX test. Expectation bias is a powerful thing. When it comes to the music player, i think it's nice. Large memory, better playback circuitry than average. When it comes to high-res downloads, silly doesn't even begin to describe it. Everyone should watch the video.D/A and A/D | Digital Show and Tell (Monty Montgomery @ xiph.org)
    and here is an article that is more specific towards high res downloads. http://people.xiph.org/~xiphmont/demo/ne... And if high res downloads get popular, there is little speaking against IMO that labels will just send their old 44,1/16 catalogs to mastering where they will upsample to put on the high res sticker, to sell the whole back catalog again at premium prices.
    jebbe9696
    Hmm, the video disappeared
    guitarplaya161
    Holy crap, to an audio geek like me that was really informative, I just watched that whole thing...
    DaniArrow
    I bounced my bands latest song in MP3 (320) and FLAC and there definately is a difference. So I think being able to download songs in FLAC/WAV soundquality is definately better than MP3 or Apple's format. If I'm gonna pay for downloads, I want it to sound good.
    jebbe9696
    To be harsh, it's your imagination. I really mean it when i say that expectation bias is powerful. On the other hand, if you really can tell a difference, more power to you. Just show that in a test, and these guys will write feature-length article in honor of you. The challenge has been public since September 2013, and no one has succeded yet. http://www.trustmeimascientist.com/2013/...
    DaniArrow
    I'm gonna read that, but I swear to god the song that iTunes sells sounds different than the master file Logic plays on our bands laptop.
    shwilly
    I'd read about this a while ago and have to agree with the last comment by the tech site: I'll have to hear it myself first before jumping on the bandwagon Still, that promo they just released where all those musicians have their say makes you wonder: could it all really be a bunch hot air if that many people are that excited...?
    shwilly
    Take in mind that many of these musicians are likely to be biased, and probably with good reason because it's their music that's being compressed into these lossy files. I don't think many people enjoy that thought (well, except for Rick Rubin maybe: asking that guy to be a spokesperson for near-lossless music formats is like asking Dennis Rodman to become your secretary of state) A lot of these people seem to love (Eddie Vedder) or even glorify (Elton John) vinyl over CD's and have also showcased a general distaste for digital recording (Grohl) in the past. If you enjoyed that Sound City docu or are the kind of person who wouldn't listen to music through a pair of Beats if someone held a gun to your head, you're probably in for a treat. If, however, you're the kind of person who can't even be bothered to download yer pirated mp3s to 256kbps or higher don't even bother: this stuff ain't for you I for one really like the idea of experiencing music in the best possible way, but it's not as if I haven't been able to enjoy the hell out of it up until now due to the 'constraints' of digital audio formats. Quite the contrary: from the moment I bought my first sh*tty mp3 player I've been having quite the blast. Yeah, having friends send me the occasional super-compressed song eventually got on my nerves (“check out this band dude!”, *hears what can only be described as 5 minutes of underwater garble), but the advantages of being able to carry your entire discography -or at least a big chunk of it- around in your pocket is something I can’t overlook Still, it’s great that someone’s pushing the boundaries here. Even if I can’t predict whether I’ll notice as big a difference in sound quality as these musicians, I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people who can. Due to technological advances this step was bound to be taken sometime, only record companies weren't likely to lead the way because they still have CD's to sell. It’s cool that Neil turned to kickstarter, because with some lobbying he probably could've gathered it all by himself. Instead it's becoming this community-thing, which I really dig. It would be a shame if a few years from now people look back at crowdfunding as another fad, because the possibilities are incredibly appealing I mean, we could for instance gather tens of millions of bucks and bribe Justin Bieber into retiring and stop corrupting our youth with his d*uchebag antics...
    almadacr
    I still prefer to listen to vinyl ... most of the time but if the recording sounds like crap it doesn't matter what format you listen it will sound as crap but if there's out there a MP3 player with that amount of memory where i can put a lot of my FLAC files i am all in and trow my ipod truth the window
    gerrywm
    Same here, but you cant bring your record player jogging or in your car
    daveinbloom
    When they make one with a lot more memory i will get one
    Patrijz
    This will not be convenient in the pocket of my jeans.
    DaniArrow
    I'm glad he did it and I'll get one of those things too. I download a lot of music these days (if I don't buy the vinyl for collectors reasons). And if I pay for the downlaod, I might as well get it in a losless flac file rather than a compressed and lossy apple file or mp3.
    THE BULGE
    The folks at Gizmodo don't sound too intelligent. Other mobile players that arent't playing flacs or alac files are outputting compressed MP3s not CD quality, and DVDs have had better quality audio from the start and the cinema and blue rays higher resolution than that, so there is proof higher resolution is a better sound, 192kHz is maybe overkill but with memory becoming so cheap why not?
    Chronologo
    "When the folks at Pono provide us with scientific evidence which proves that 192kHz/24-bit audio is better than the CD-quality standard, we'll let you know." Of course is better, but it is on the human ear to note the difference and that's where the question is
    morbidguitar
    I thought it was going to be a record player from 1963 til I read the article. Flac files really aren't necessary on a player that uses headphones. FLAC would really only matter when it comes down to either burning cd's/dvd's or recording music(ish).