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Neil Young talks Pono download service and hardware players

  • Remember earlier in the year when Neil Young spoke about how he had in been in talks with Apple and the late Steve Jobs about a new hi-res audio format? It seems that Young is pushing ahead with his dream to get better sound quality into the hands of more people. His Pono hi-res music download service will launch soon (TBA) and will be underpinned by a range of hardware players and (presumably) a new file format.

    Young has been plenty vocal about CDs shortcomings for many years now and and it took many years for some of his own work to be released on the format (I’m talking about you On The Beach).  Rolling Stone has reported that Sony, Universal and Warner have been in talks with Young for some time and that Warner already has 8000 titles converted to 24/192. No word yet on whether these will be available when Pono launches but 8000 titles is considerably more than is currently available via HDTracks.

    Moreover, Neil Young gets on Letterman and HDTracks doesn’t. He can start the conversation. The man in street digs 1080p, LED TVs and retina displays so why does he seem to be indifferent to great sound quality? Hardcore audiophiles know that MP3/AAC encoding is all but a facsimile of what they spin at home.

    Some commentators have already begun to cast doubt over Pono’s long term viability, calling it a cynical cash grab to twist the public’s collective arm into buying their music collection yet again. They might be right. I suspect in besting iTunes for sound quality Young will ultimately force Apple to up its game. We shall see…

    John Darko

    Written by John Darko

    John currently lives in Berlin where creates videos and podcasts and pens written pieces for Darko.Audio. He has also contributed to 6moons, TONEAudio, AudioStream and Stereophile.

    Darko.Audio is a member of EISA.

    Follow John on YouTube or Instagram


    1. Neil’s reason for doing this may be different than the record industry’s motives. But it brings awareness to higher resolution music. So I say, bring it on.

      I know Neil is a fanatic. You can tell if you ever listened to the 40 year old Harvest album on DVD-A. It’s pretty damn amazing.

      I am curious, is Warner gonna let him remaster all those albums or are they gonna use the remasters they’ve already been sending to HDtracks which are a mixed bag? I’d like for his team of people to do the remasters. But that may be wishful thinking.

    2. I think this is a good idea. If back catalogue is remastered at hi-res, I’ll be happy. Neil mentioned on Letterman that he was working that Day on “Highway 61 Revisited” and “The Freewheeling Bob Dylan”. There are already some good remasters of these, but I’ve go nothing against another go if SQ is the goal.

      On the downside, it appears this will require it’s own HW (the player he showed off) and will there be some kind of reasonable alternative (not at high-end prices) to feed these files to a home audiophile setup (DAC or amp)?

    3. I agree with Larry. HDTracks had us all excited some few years ago, but that has faded. The ‘high res’ downloads have not, IMO, lived up to the hype. IMO, if redbook is done right there is no GOOD impetus to re-buy your entire music collection. With that said, I think its great that Neil is archiving this fantastic music for posterity. Those in future generations will have it available, and actually only buy it ONCE! That alone could solve world hunger! – Eric

    4. JI’m not sure even done well that redbook captures everything. With CD there are trade-offs you don’t have to make at higher sample and bit rates. One has to ask why remasters usually sound better in 24 bit formats? I’d guess for whatever reason it’s easier to thread the needle with a larger window, even if by accident. The technology is so inexpensive these days so why not go for the best format.

    5. True, no-one would argue that high res. can be, and should be better sounding than redbook. My point was, I dont feel it is worth re-buying your entire music collection. It does no-one any real benefit to have a few high res. albums that your dont really feel like listening to! Give me 2,000 redbook rips to a dozen high res. downloads any day.

    6. I wish I could share more – will be able to soon, but the intentions are terrific (what they have done w/ the Warner archive is amazing) and the possibility shouldn’t have to end w/ their players only. Compatibility w/ iTunes/iPods/Phones/Pads is not out of the picture.

      John, I salute you for taking this stance on what Mr. Young is standing for, and you see it for what it is, in terms of his abilities to get out in front of millions of people FAST. HDTracks and all the rest will benefit as well.

    7. I can’t imagine Warner remastered 8,000 albums exclusively for a single proprietary format. I suspect the 24-192 files are converted into a composite file format compatible with the Pono player. complete with meta info & DRM, encryption etc. to satisfy the record industry’s need for the false sense of security that it provides. Though past history proves otherwise. When will they learn?

    8. Audio quality has been heading south since the dawn of the digital age, and in the process, the public’s expectations have diminished. When CDs first appeared, listeners were dazzled by the complete silence between tracks as well as the deeper bass reproduction. But a price was paid in the mid and upper frequencies. It was as if all the great sculptures in the world had been converted to Lego.

      An even greater loss in audio quality can be found in television, where satellite and cable TV audio is heavily compressed to allow more channels to be broadcast on a single connection. The average listener is not consciously aware of over-compression, but if they heard the same broadcast without it, they would certainly choose the latter.


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      An audiophile’s plight reminds me of that of a mediocre artist who has to explain why his or her work is worth looking at: masterpieces don’t have to be explained but appreciated; in the same fashion, really good (and perceptible) audio quality doesn’t have to be described but actually listened to. Otherwise subjectivity plays a more significant role than practical, perceptible quality.

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