Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Pono Will Save the Sound of Music

The Pono portable music player.  This one is signed by Neil.
We had one of the great sound experiences of our life.  I mean it was just absolutely amazing.  And you could feel, you know, what kind of an impact it could make in terms of addressing so many of the problems that exist in today's record industry. The sound is absolutely amazing and we were transformed by listening in this fashion, it was fabulous.

-  Mo Ostin, Chairman Emeritus, Warner Brothers Records


That's the best sound I have ever heard in a car in my life. As a matter of fact, it might be the best sound I've ever heard.


- David Crosby 


That music made me feel good.  Much better than I've felt in a long time listening to music.


- Norah Jones


This gives it to you as good as you can get it.

- Tom Petty


It blew me away.  It was like being in a recording studio.  It was like you were listening to Bob Dylan and you could hear him playing harmonica right next to you.  You could hear the drums and the backing vocals in Respect by Aretha.  I haven't heard a sound like that since vinyl and it's so impressive and so brilliant to hear.


- Elton John


It creates a warm analog sound that takes even your digital records and gives them a certain sort of bottom, a certain sort of glue, but more than anything else a closeness, an intimacy that digital recording can lose very easily.


- Bruce Springsteen


The sound and energy of it was so much richer and fuller and warmer and fatter and yummier.


- Sarah McLachlan


I have mentioned before that Neil Young is out to save the sound of music.  Even though I have labelled myself as "an MP3 man" instead of "an iTunes man" all these years, it was really a choice between two bottom dwellers.  CDs are not much better, frankly, even though it was cool experiencing them when they first arrived on the scene.  No scratches or pops and they last "forever".

DVD and Blu-ray are clearly superior audio formats, not just a step up in terms of video.  But those formats are not widely available for music. SACD tried to ramp-up the CD sound, but was ultimately a failure as a format.

So now comes Pono, riding to the rescue. Pono is something Neil has been working on for many years.  Saving the sound of music is not exactly what you might think.  It is bringing back something that used to be there.  It is an example of how technology can degrade stuff as well as enhance stuff. As the Pono home page puts it: "We're not changing music. We're letting music change you."

That remains to be seen (or heard in this case).  I trust Neil. I believe sound matters to Neil and I believe he gets it right. But, still, there are plenty of detractors out there.  None of them seem to be actually in the recording industry, however, as the above sampling of quotes might indicate.  One of my friends poo-pooed it flatly with: "Yeah, they're trying to cut out music privacy."  OK.  That don't make it sound bad does it?

The buzz has generated plenty of excitement with those who care about music quality.  Neil launched Pono yesterday on Kickstarter and met his goal of $800,000 in a few hours. The portable player promises to provide "30 times better" sound than your iPod (or iPhone, does anyone actually use iPods anymore?). Appropriately, Pono means "righteous" in Hawaiian. 

I am watching all this with a certain enthusiasm.  I did not participate in the Kickstarter scheme.  If I'm going to shell out $400 for a player with just a couple of pre-loaded tunes I'll probably wait until closer to the Christmas gift-giving season.  I have questions.  Does it sound that great on my existing stereo? Or am I limited to the ear buds that come with it? Anything special need to be added to my car audio besides the player? Will there be any bugs from mass production?  What about support issues? 

I'm thinking I will get one of these things eventually, but still I wonder how much the high-quality (and huge) audio files are going to cost? Will I be able to listen to Dark Side of the Moon in this format? That used to be the ultimate test for analog stereo systems back in my college days. Everybody had a copy of that record to show off the quality of their sound.  Maybe I'll get to experience that again. Will that make me young again? Even for a moment? The money is cheap for that kind of feeling. We'll see.  Go Neil. Go "righteous." Go Pono.

Neil explained why he was driven to create and market Pono at SXSW on Tuesday.  His speech was posted on the All Things Considered blog.  Listen to it here.

Late Note:  Pono pledges on kickstarter surpassed $5 million before the end of the month. 

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