pono_yellow

Why I’m not buying into Neil Young’s PonoPlayer

Hello Mr Soul. Pono is the Hawaiian word for ‘righteousness’* and it’s also the name Neil Young has adopted for his venture into connecting the man in the street with ‘studio quality’ music.

Pono can be split into two composite parts: the forthcoming music store (PonoMusic) and an accompanying hardware player (PonoPlayer) that formally launched at SXSW today. The latter is being developed in collaboration with Charles Hansen at Colorado-based Ayre Acoustics. Today’s launch has brought with it further details: the Toblerone-shaped device will ship with 64Gb of internal memory which can be expanded to 128Gb with an additional memory card, touchscreen, headphone output, fixed-level output.

We already knew about the ESS Sabre 9018 DAC chip handling the digital decoding and that its associated ‘minimum phase’ digital filter has been designed by Señor Hansen. What we didn’t know until today was that the Pono won’t be a walled garden. The PonoPlayer will happily play ball with y/our existing FLAC collections as well as “most popular [high-res] music formats from other sources”. Want to get your hands on a PonoPlayer? You’ve four weeks from today to pledge your backing via the PonoPlayer Kickstarter page, where you can snaffle a yellow or black unit for a $100 saving on the $399 RRP.

Also available via the PonoPlayer Kickstarter are “Signature Series” chrome-d models ($399) from a broad selection of rock’s bigger/est hitters. It’s a cheap shot (I know) but I don’t see the Lenny Kravitz model selling anyway near as swiftly as Foo Fighters’. A moot point really as the Kickstarter campaign has already reached its funding goal within its first 24 hours online. The first players are expected to ship in October.

Why Im not buying into Neil Youngs PonoPlayer silver1 580x242

Young has some pretty big names going in to bat for him: Arcade Fire, Beck, Bruce Springsteen, Patti Smith, Dave Grohl, Elvis Costello, Gillian Welch and David Rawlings, all of whom can be seen using fairly emotive language in the Pono promo video to describe their (presumably) first exposure to the Pono sound in Young’s car and/or RV. Watch it and you’ll note the liberal use of words like “warm”, “rich”, “engaging” and “intimate”. It would appear few have heard Pono via headphones or an audiophile-grade two-channel setup (that many readers of DAR might own).

I gotta say, it’s kind ironic seeing Beck hang shit on MP3s and it really underlines how it’s his record company (and not the man himself) that calls the shots on delivery formats. And to Win Butler I say ,”If you dig Pono’s sound so much, how about waking up to how poorly your own records are mastered.” Enough with the bitching.

Kickstarter pegs Pono’s broader ambitions as more lofty and more amorphous: “it is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating. PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings”. Sorry, I’ve no idea what that all means.

PonoPlayer is only one half of the Pono ecosystem. Still to come is PonoMusic. What we do think likely is that this hi-res music download store will deliver its content as 24bit/192kHz FLAC, something that Young likens to breathing air for the first time after the “underwater” listening experience of MP3 and – to a lesser extent – CD.

Why Im not buying into Neil Youngs PonoPlayer pono yellow black 580x429

There comes a time. What we don’t know yet is if the PonoStore will arrive packing freshly commissioned masters or the same aural hit ‘n miss found on the likes of HDTracks. And unless we can get our grubby hands on fresh masters I don’t see the Pono ecosystem’s market advantage. A poor sounding record is still a poor sounding record whether it’s served up as MP3, CD or 24bit/192kHz. Masters matter more than the delivery format. Mastering quality (or lack thereof) impacts the end user’s listening experience more than bit depth and sample rate – a nettle only half-grasped by Gizmodo earlier today.

And that brings us back to Beck and his recently released Morning Phase album whose HDTracks release reportedly featured two tracks mastered from an MP3 source. Hi-res audio buyers need to be able to trust the provenance of the releases upon which they drop $25 apiece – this is something Young has the power to impact with his Pono download store.

Moreover, if the PonoMusic delivers its 24bit/192kHz content without DRM (which Chris Connaker at Computer Audiophile assures us will be the case – see below), why do we need a PonoPlayer at all? Won’t Astell&Kern, Calyx and FIIO owners take the Pono content straight to their preferred digital audio player? That’s exactly what I’ll be doing with my AK120 and Calyx M. I won’t be buying a PonoPlayer because (presumably) I won’t need it to enjoy the PonoStore content. Simples.

Why Im not buying into Neil Youngs PonoPlayer Screenshot 2014 03 12 16.23.55 580x96

Let’s flip that idea around: if the PonoPlayer isn’t required to listen to content from PonoMusic, why do we need the PonoPlayer at all? Many will see it is as a portable hi-res DAP, just like the Fiio X5. It is next to this and Apple’s iPod that Ayre’s digital audio engineering must stand up.

Pono’s long term success won’t depend on its hardware player sonic merits or its (lack of) ability to slip into your jeans pocket, it rests instead on the quality and provenance of the masters currently hidden from public view inside the PonoMusic store.

Thus far, Young is leaning on theoretical arguments about how hi-res sounds superior to CD. Audiophiles already know that (sometimes) a 24/192 download can sound markedly better than its Redbook counterpart but if he’s aiming at the man in the street (which I’m sure he is), Young needs to show the consumer exactly why he needs a hi-res player. PonoMusic will presumably create the need, the player will make it come alive. It’s a shame that Pono has launched arse-first.

If we strip away Young’s name from the player we have what appears to be a competent DAP, designed by a team with formidable digital audio clout that’s selling for a reasonable price. A reasonable price in the context of audiophiles. The man in the street will likely see $400 as a HUGE investment. Put PonoPlayer in front of a non-audiophile in their twenties or thirties next to an iPod Touch – which would they go for? I’d wager that the Apple’s flexibility would win out over the Pono’s performance in 9 out 10 cases.

With a Kickstarter launch, skeptics (like me) and fencesitters won’t enjoy the benefits of feedback from early adopters on review sites and hifi forums. And that’s the rub with Kickstarter-developed products: few folk get to hear the product before it’s released and then (BAM!) suddenly thousands of backers will have one crashing through their letterbox. Only then will we know if it is better or worse sounding than the Fiio, the Calyx M and the AK100? Right now, no-one knows. Not even folk who judge sound from spec sheets.

Let’s hope Neil Young isn’t just pissing in the wind.

For thoughts on what Pono is up against in the mainstream go here.

Further informaition: Pono on Kickstarter

*DAR reader Chris clarifies: “Pono does not mean righteousness. It means balance with self and others. It doesn’t even translate into a single western word. Opening sentence and ya lost me. Ya know any Hawaiians?”


Financial interests: DAR is funded by the banner advertising you see around you. Advertising revenue pays for the time taken to conduct the review but never the editorial commentary contained therein. Writers published in these pages are guaranteed to have no direct (or indirect) financial affiliation with any hi-fi or audio equipment manufacturer/retailer other than those specifically disclosed. Please consider supporting the companies who keep the DAR cogs turning.

Comments
  1. Graham M

    Interesting article, John.
    You hit the nail on the head when you talked about mastering quality; everything hinges on this. However, I do not think that the shape and appearance of the Pono player will help it’s cause one little bit; this thing looks inexpensive and unwieldy in my opinion.
    Further, the market has to be persuaded it needs hi-res players and albums at all.
    Only yesterday I read on Head-Fi the comments of a person who had purchased an Astell and Kern AK10 to ‘improve’ the sound from his iPhone. After a couple of weeks, he returned the AK10, claiming the sound direct from his iPhone was superior in every way.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Well, personally I think the AK10 > iPhone but each to their own experiences. As for hi-res, I dunno: I’d much sooner see better mastering.

    • Graham M

      Er..should read, ‘NOT help it’s cause’. Sorry.

    • Carlos

      Even when we talk about new masters and re-masterisation of original (tapes mostly) sources… if the music to be sold wasn’t produced after, say 1990, it’s physically impossible to reach the definition of more recent, digitally acquired, tracks and mixes. The maximum bit depth from late analogue 2″ tapes (usually 4-8 tracks) is, at most, the equivalent of modern 10-bit. What can really be a whole new thing is if these tapes were to be re-mixed AND re-mastered for the digital domain. It doesn’t matter if they’re “only” 48/16 or 44.1/16 or 48/24 (the ideal situation). Remember Quadrophenia (second part) in the 90’s? That’s ALL we can hope for. And that’s A LOT.

      As for the Pono Player, there’s a reason… people will be eager to buy a cheaper and very good sounding DMP if they find the feel of better recordings. Something really difficult to achieve in the short term: 98% of the people who listen to their music for pleasure, enjoyment and their own well-being use earbuds or their car’s systems.

      We have to recognise, as humbly as we can, that the world of music is not owned by audiophiles, and that most people in the world don’t even know (let alone considering buying one) that a high-end DAC can cost £25,990 with the same chips and architecture of a £1,000 one. Nor that there are stereo speeaker sets that can cost £200,000!!!!! OK… let’s say it clearly… you can ask 1000 people if they know what a DAC is. Maybe only one will tell you… it’s a good idea what Neil stands for, but the idea is to make money. If people feel attracted to it, they MAY find out what good masters sound like, and they MAY buy them. And all these things MAY change the way people listen to music. But I doubt it.

  2. Topman_Chief

    I won’t buy one either, but I sincerely hope this has some legs and helps push decent quality files into the mainstream. Just as headphiles rolled their eyes when everyone discovered decent headphones due to Beats hitting mainstream, I’d love to roll mine when overhearing an excited teenager sharing their discovery via Pono. PonoMusic has a better long term chance than the player IMHO, but the pricing should only increase over an MP3 album by the cost of the additional storage and delivery, which is to say, virtually zero.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Agreed. The PonoMusic store has the potential to be something quite amazing.

  3. Danny

    Well, I’ve read just about everything out there about Pono, and as of today I haven’t seen anything that tells us we will be getting improved mastering, or that Pono has special SQ standards. The opposite seems to be the case – PonoMusic will receive “the highest res master available” of any given album, be it Redbook or 24/192.

    My hope is that with the press interviews NY is giving today, he will tell us that the site will have some standards for SQ, but I doubt it.

    I do see some utility in the player though, if you don’t already own one of the high end players. It is supposed to have great sound and is not expensive compared to some of the other high end players on the market.

    I’m not jumping in yet b/c I’m not a big user of mobile audio. If Pono succeeds, it will result in more – and hopefully better quality – downloads being made available. I’ll be very happy to buy those from PonoMusic.

    Maybe in a year or two there will be a Pono Player II with something like double the memory capacity. That would interest me more.

  4. Norman

    Why?

    Simple, the player will have the minimum phase apodizing filter from Ayre in the built in Dac which, if we believe the online hype, will blow away all other competing portable players. It likely wont beat the far more expensive Chord Hugo, but for $400, you will have a portable, stripped down Ayre Dac with storage!

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      “If we believe the online hype”. ;)

    • earwaxxer

      Min phase ‘apodizing’ filters are available for all to experiment with using foobar and SoX SRC. For free… Been doing that for a few years now, and yes, the min filter does sound better IMO.

  5. Norman

    According to Charles Hansen of Ayre, the problem with PCM has always been poor filters. He claims to have studied SACD and discovered something in the way filtration is done to the DSD and has developed a PCM equivalent one that makes PCM approach its true potential. This is what he has implemented in his QBD-9 and what is supposed to trickle down to the Pono Player.

  6. Manzil

    Well I’m kind of surprised at the lack of enthusiasm for Pono all around, esp.from this Site…Steve Guttenberg also kind of wrote off Pono….For me the math is simple :
    1)A 400 USD ESS 9018 touting Ayre is any day better than 1300 USD AK120 or a Calyx
    2) Even though it is on paper, my gut say Ponomusic.com should be better than HD Tracks
    3)We hate DRM ,so no DRM shouldn’t be a bad thing

    let’s not write off POno so soon

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      If the PonoPlayer does indeed best the AK120 for sound, I’ll be the first to shout about it. Hopefully I’ll get to hear one in the USA or Munich in May?

    • Stephen Graham

      I’m with you on this. If they can produce a high quality product at $400 this could significantly open up the market for audiophile quality music. Yes, it’s true they haven’t actually done anything yet but almost everything I’ve seen so far seems promising. This is potentially a big moment for this industry but it seems the audiophile press just can’t wait to find things wrong with it. It blows me away. This industry badly needs something to jolt it back into relevance. For those who are happy spending north of $1,000 on a portable audio player, more power to you. But for the vast majority who will never do that this might be a real solution. As you said, don’t be in such a hurry to throw something under the bus without any real evidence to support your argument.

      • John H. Darko
        John H. Darko

        Not throwing ANYTHING under the bus. I’m saying it needs to prove itself (or not) – and it’ll do that when Young spills more info on the provenance of PonoMusic masters. Thus far, Young is leaning on theoretical arguments about how hi-res sounds superior to CD. Audiophiles already know that (sometimes) a 24/192 download can sound markedly better than its Redbook counterpart but if he’s aiming at the man in the street (which I’m sure he is), Young needs to first show the consumer exactly why he needs a hi-res player. Store first, player second.

        • SVinTO

          With $1.5million in pledges in 24 hours, he HAS shown the consumer why they need a hi-res player. Those aren’t audiophiles pledging, they’re music fans. He’s pre-sold them on a player AND an online music store! Many of whom may have never felt the need to purchase music in their lives and didn’t even know they needed a music player since their smart phone already does.

          It’s vindication for us audiophiles for wanting high quality music reproduction and the public not caring. The success of Pono could mean the public wants good reproduction again, because they won’t have to give up convenience. Yea!

          But the skeptical wait and see attitude reinforces the stereotype of audiophiles being geeky snobs.

          • John H. Darko
            John H. Darko

            “But the skeptical wait and see attitude reinforces the stereotype of audiophiles being geeky snobs.” <— nope, it’s pragmatism.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I’m not writing it off one bit. I wanna see what comes down the line from the Pono music store.

  7. Gan Solo

    Having sensationalist MTV rock bands, dead singer-songwriters and 600 versions of Jazz at the Porkchop is all well and good, but until the PonoMusic store has got material from DJ Sprinkles or Soil & “Pimp” Sessions listed for sale, I’m not interested.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Bang ON the money.

  8. bruce

    I think your analysis is right. But I don’t think the primary market for the full end-to-end experience is you and your readers: it’s people who don’t think of themselves as audiophiles, who otherwise use iTunes and iPod/iPhone.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Right, but I think Young and co. have gone about this arse backwards: without detailing what’s in the PonoStore that haven’t created the *need* for the hardware player. Why not first launch the store with killer masters delivered in 24bit/48kHz,96kHz,192kHz and then follow it up with “but you’ll need a hi-res player to listen to these and we’re offering one such device for $300 via Kickstarter”?

    • Randy

      The cost may be an issue for most folks, who are currently listening to music pirated from the Internet via iPod and iPod speakers. $400 USD for the PONO player, plus $? for capable headphones, plus $20-ish for an album. That’s asking a lot from the masses who have been getting their music for FREE, and have been listening to it on relatively cheap systems. I’m intrigued by the idea of hearing high-quality music, but not at that price. Replacing my iTunes library alone would cost me a small fortune. :(

  9. earwaxxer

    I couldnt agree more with this article… Pono has NOTHING new to offer from the way I see it. First of all, 64gb of storage is pretty small for high res files, even FLAC (1TB would be more like it). Second, I want something that can play all of my music, and I currently have over a .5TB of CD’s ripped to a portable hard drive. Just dont get it. These players/DAC’s are a dime a dozen. Here today, gone tomorrow. By the time October comes around there will be something better for half the price…

    • Graham M

      Quite. Hopefully we’ll see the proverbial ‘slew’ of players over the next 12 months. The Sony is about to hit the shops if it hasn’t already and I’ve read good things about the Fiio X5.
      Darko still has me pondering the AK10 (as and when they provide 30 pin compatibility) as he was so enthusiastic about it. That’s the trouble with a tech writer who has an inventive, infectious and entertaining style that blows the competition of the screen…
      (No, I’m not trying to blow smoke up your ****, Mr. Darko; it’s true and thank you for the best site on t’interweb)

  10. Joel

    Hey John,

    I shared your skepticism when I first heard about this, and I certainly think that your critical perspective is warranted. However, I think your article is somewhat unfair to the Pono project in one way: a hundred times more people heard about hi-res playback in one day than all those who have ever heard of A&K, Calyx, etc. That has to be good, right?

    I’m just hoping that Pono’s second device is an iPad style server with high-res onboard, upgradeable DAC, RCA outs, huge hard drive, under $400 too! I’ll keep dreaming…you keep writing…

    Joel

  11. Stephen Graham

    If the PonoPlayer delivers as advertised at a cost of $400 vs $1,500+ for the Astell & Kern 120 then I can think of about a thousand reasons why people would be inclined toward the Pono. And I’m one of them. The big question that remains unanswered is whether the Pono will perform the way they say it will. We probably won’t know that until October.

    I agree with some of your arguments. Provenance obviously is a big issue with hi-res music and I didn’t miss the irony of Beck speaking about the Pono after the mess surrounding his new album (a good album BTW despite the sound issues). However, if Neil Young and company can attract a bigger audience for hi-res music then I’m all for it because that means we all win. It will start the ball rolling and who knows what that will lead to.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      That’s right. The very nature of a Kickstarter campaign is that VERY few people will know how it performs before shipping….and then (wallop) EVERYONE will find out in October if its hero or zero.

      Many are keen to point out the awesomeness of crowd-funding audio products but I think it has one big drawback: a product doesn’t have to prove itself BEFORE you plonk down your cash. Instead, it (heavily?) relies on emotionally-loaded promotional material to get your credit card across the line.

  12. AGB

    Amazing how myths proliferate. The ESS is not the best sounding chip by any means. It is a dark sounding, analog-mimicking chip. Meaning one might like it if 12-bit capable analog is one’s model rather than live music.
    The news is this: analog is nice, pleasant, warm and moist. It is what it is. 12-bit capable and we are all welcome to it. I have it, like it, understand what it is.
    PONO is cute, an innovative idea for a 2010 business model, but it may work. Today it may provide a lesser cost solution than other DAPs for the general public. Most of these devices sound close enough to each other anyway – for PCM I like the CEntrance M8 being the best – so the public won’t care except for price – to buy the cheaper one. So PONO can win in a larger marketplace provided its downloads will cost no more than $15US per album.
    For the Niel Young firm the PONO device may be an initial money loser they will make up with music sales and later with the efficiencies of volume. I would not write it off.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Is it better or worse sounding than the Fiio? The Calyx M? The AK100? You gotta drop $300 to find out. :(

  13. AGB

    One more thing: Since DSD is becoming the new norm – at least in the high end – I don’t “get” how the PONO honchos entirely disregard the DSD format. Storage issues?
    As I said, a 2010 business model.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      DSD? I dunno man, that’s another kettle of fish. Fish that Hansen thinks stink. ;)

  14. Smoking Robot

    Neil needs to nut up and tell us how PONO is different from HDtracks.com.

    He’s getting a lot of mileage out of beating up the ‘MP3′ straw man, but he has absolutely not made his case that increasing bit-depth from say 16 to 24 will make any difference in sound quality at all.

    HDtracks has pretty much demonstrated the futility of that approach. So how will the PONO downloads be any better?

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Yup, the store content is the key.

  15. gefski

    Hmm…I don’t think it’s aimed at us. It’s got a bigger target than that.

    Anybody remember a completely unmusical headphone that conquered the world?

    Don’t we keep saying we need more people to hear what high fidelity sounds like?

    If the player is cool, celebrity endorsed, is glitch free, and just sounds “good”, it could be a huge hit with on-the-go general consumers. Then they plug in better cans at some point and are on their way.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      It might not be aimed at audiophiles, no but people bought Beats cans in their thousands because they look awesome/cool/whatever. I don’t see young folk being wowed by the aesthetic of the PonoPlayer…but I could be wrong.

  16. Sagar

    What i find funny is that no one seems to wonder how much of a margin A&K and HiFi-Man are making on their players, if the Pono guys can offer a 128GB ESS9018-based player at USD399 retail (or USD 300 on Kickstarter).

  17. SVinTO

    The audiophile online press seems to be like you, very blasé about Pono. Yet, the player’s specs sound better than anything I’ve read about any other hi-res player’s specs, including the ones that go for twice the price. And the Kickstarter campaign raised their $800K goal in a day and is now pushing $1.5M. I daresay many of those dollars come from people who are non-audiophiles and never even knew there was a difference between MP3 and high-res. This is only a good thing, (particularly with the specs on the player and the lack of DRM on the music). Why the negativity?

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I agree with you on the broader societal plus of Young spreading the good word on the benefits of better sound. However, I’m not being blasé about Pono – my stance is one of pragmatism. The PonoStore has the potential to be game changer (we’ll see) but the player must compare favourably to the baby Fiio and a iPod for me to drop my cash on it. And at this stage, no-one knows if it does or not. Not even folk who judge sound from spec sheets. ;)

      Charles Hansen is a formidable engineer and I don’t doubt that his expertise will make the PonoPlayer sound great but right now WE JUST DON’T KNOW FOR SURE. All we have is a lot of celebrity back-slapping and marketing promo which, frankly, I’m not buying into. I wanna HEAR the PonoPlayer first. And that’s the rub with Kickstarter-developed products: few folk get to hear it before its released and then BAM!, suddenly thousands of people have one crashing through their letterbox.

  18. B-Dub

    Good article Mr. Darko.

    I am always a bit leery of celebrity endorsements of anything…. It screams of style over substance. I’ve been hearing the same exact propaganda about freeing the music from Jimmy Iovine and Dr. Dre ad nauseum for years. Only difference is Young has credibility with audiophiles as I’ve not heard The Chronic or Straight Outta Compton being played at an audio show before.

    I appreciate that Young has some sway and can get some serious press coverage for his device and his upcoming library,- which gives much needed mainstream press coverage to hi-rez audio – which could get more people on board with good sound quality and grow the market – which could in turn compel more artist to get serious about audio quality of the music they put out there…
    But those are a lot of if/ than’s and that is assuming Young is committed to high quality audio writ large…

    But how invested is he really?
    Is he invested like “I want the world to experience music the way it should be experienced….”
    or is he invested like –
    “We’re gonna make a shit ton of cash with this!”
    Verdicts still out. Jimmy Iovine looks really sincere too, when he’s running his drag about ‘saving the music’ with Beats headphones.

    I am not the type to drop $400 on some new device simply because it has an audiophile approved celebrity endorsement. I don’t use my serious headphones in portable configurations anyway… and with all due respect to the Sabre chip and Ayre DNA, I can’t imagine rolling my PC and my DAC out and inserting the Pono in my sound system as transport/ decoder. It doesn’t strike me as that serious a device.

    Despite all the hype. Pono is still just a device with a big celebrity endorsements behind it…. NO different than Ludacris or 50 Cent… only difference is Young has some credibility with audiophiles… but that credibility is as an artist, not as an OEM.

    So with hot rodded and modded iPods, Fiio X5’s Astell and Kern AK line up, Hifiman’s stable of DAP’s, Hell Sony has a high rez Walkman right now and a portable headphone amp that does DSD… The Pono strikes me as the Beats of the DAP world…

    Maybe I am wrong…. I to tend to be a skeptic and a cynic… But after 40+ years on earth it is with good reason. Prove me wrong PONO!

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I don’t think the player has the aesthetics to be the “Beats of the DAP world”. If we strip away Young’s name from the player we have what appears to be a competent DAP, designed by someone with formidable digital audio engineering clout for a reasonable price. However, put it in front of a non-audiophile in their twenties or thirties next to an iPod Touch – which would they go for? I’d contend that the Apple’s flexibility would win out over the Pono’s performance in 9 out 10 cases.

  19. Jake

    Though this undoubtedly varies widely, what are the baseline economics of creating a high bitrate (re)master of an album? Further, is it technically/aesthetically easier or more difficult to master for high bitrate than for redbook and/or mp3?

  20. Ismael

    I am waiting for the $10 hi res albums. Just hoping.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I don’t think that’ll happen any time soon. :/

  21. Earwaxxer

    “The Beats of the DAC world” – that sounded like a good beginning hypothesis, but there is one problem with that. – Kids are even more adverse to “rebuying” their music than us music crazed boomers. That is, if they buy music to begin with. I have a 17 yr old son – much different animal than I was at 17 – he does not buy music.

  22. Alex

    John,

    I am a big fan of this site and you are spot on. I wrote a similar piece today as well (I am not hear to thread crap). My biggest gripe is the fact that PonoMusic.com has not explained HOW the labels that are on board are going to convert their massive “low-end” 16-bit/44.1kHz library to this “high-end” 24-bit/192kHz FLAC world.

    You can’t add missing 1’s and 0’s unless you source from the original tapes. And for those modern records that were recorded at a certain sample rate, all bests are off.

    The biggest issue with modern music today is its production, not its sample rate or bit depth! Mr. Young is seriously misguided.

    I’m sure an Ayre Acoustics designed DAP will sound decent. But honestly, who cares?

  23. antoine

    The store to purchase high quality files already exist,
    no, it is not HD tracks, I am talking about
    qobuz.com they actually go through each file
    they sale, making sure the HD tracks are coming from
    a real master track, and not a cd or a mp3.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Yeah, Qobuz are great aren’t they? :)

    • Danny

      Qobuz has been definitely shown to be marketing 16/44.1 and 24/44.1 files that were upsampled to DSD and then downsampled to 24/96 as “24/96 studio masters”. In short, they were duped by a digital distributor and did nothing to prevent it, and didn’t remove the files when it was proved to them they had been duped (the original recording company in one case confirmed to Qobuz that the files in question had been recorded at 24/44.1).
      So much for the “studio master guarantee”.

      I hope Pono is different. But I expect they will be provided and market the same hi-res remasters everyone else does. So we will continue to get a mix of some really excellent stuff and some junk sounds marketed as “audiophile hi-res”.

    • Danny

      BTW, a thread about Qobuz “Studio Masters” – hundreds of titles – being anything but:

      http://www.computeraudiophile.com/f13-audiophile-downloads/qobuz-when-24-96-guaranteed-studio-master-not-one-18995/index2.html

  24. Bill Hewett

    The title of the article seems more adversarial than the most of the content and your subsequent comments. Are you being pragmatic by asserting from the outset you “are not” buying into Pono? Sounds pretty declarative to me. Then to have to repeatedly say you haven’t written it off? Clarity of message seems a bit lacking. That said I agree with most of your concerns.

    Celebrity endorsements mean little in most circumstances but a few of the artists in the video have history as purists when it comes to equipment and recording. This actually gives me pause to consider there might be “something” to this. David Grohl (“Sound City” speaks volumes), Tom Petty, Dave Rawlings and Gillian Welch, Jack White, Sting – they care about the quality of their recordings. So whatever they listened to I’m believe it made an impression. But the issue, as has been well pointed out is, who knows exactly what that was?

    I want to see the store too. I want to know the provenance. I’m skeptical as well but I also have a little bit of hope that we are finally coming out the era of low fidelity digital music. Even if there is little to be done about older music that I love, a shift to recording and releasing new music at the highest audio quality will be something I though would never happen on a large scale. That said, even if it does come to pass, it will always come down to the actual recording. Can’t escape that. So let me suggest we ask the hard questions but encourage the effort and offer positive suggestions before saying “Why I’m not . . .”

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I take your point re. clarity of message – I absorbed a great deal of Pono-related information yesterday and wrote my piece with more haste than usual. No, I’m not at SXSW.

      I dig the conversation that Neil Young is attempting to propagate with Pono – that sound quality matters – but what I don’t dig is his OTT campaign launch – it’s long on emotive language (from supporting celebrities) and short on details (of the PonoStore). Perhaps I’m just overly sensitive to modern day marketing BS? ;)

      Whatever, I chose the post title carefully: I didn’t say I’m not buying into Pono, I said I’m not buying into the Pono *Player*. Where you see me not wanting to write the whole Pono thing off (pragmatism!) is when I consider the forthcoming accompanying music store – which I reckon could drive demand for the player still further. I’m encouraged by what the PonoMusic store might possibly bring to the table. But at this stage we just don’t know. It might be just like HDTracks or it might offer more than that. I’m hoping for the latter but I wish for all the world that Young had opened with the store and then introduced the hardware player at a later juncture, once the need for it had been sharpened in consumers’ minds (by the store’s downloadable content).

      That said, if you don’t already own a hi-res capable DAP *and* you don’t wanna tap the Onkyo iOS app (or similar hi-res dealing music playback apps for Android) then the PonoPlayer could be a neat purchase.

      I’m sure there are bigger high resolution audio (HRA) fans out there than me. My collection is 99% Redbook and it is this that commands most of my attention when seeking better sound quality at home or on the bus.

  25. John H. Darko
    John H. Darko

    “There’s nothing, there’s nothing new. There is no new thing. It’s just available. It’s available to everybody.” – Neil Young on PonoPlayer from Michael Lavorgna’s interview with the man himself at SXSW this week.

    http://www.audiostream.com/content/hello-mr-soul-my-interview-neil-young

  26. nickolas

    great!!! the record companies have decided to sell the public 24/192 downloads for $15.99-$24.99 that occasionally sound better than the 16/44 media/downloads that the public decided it no longer wanted to pay $12.99 (or less) for several years ago. very similar to price gauging of the vinyl renaissance: charge the loyal suckers who still buy anything twice as much to make up for lost sales.

    note to record companies: DROP YOUR PRICES!!!

  27. mlknez

    I am a little confused. If Mr. Young recorded his first songs on analog tape in the late 1960s, then the sound quality is limited by the technology at the time. If you imagine that the recording is a piece of gold, the value of the gold doesn’t grow just because you took it and put it into a bigger box. You have to record the song with modern, high resolution equipment to get high resolution sound. People don’t seem to understand that the sound is only as good as the recording technology used and cant get any more “high resolution” than the recording itself.

    • Junker

      Your making the assumption that digital recording is superior to high-speed analog tape. How do you know this is true?

    • Studio guy

      This post by MLKNEZ indicates where a lot of the problems of the 21st Century lie. People are dazzled by technology
      Most readers of this site already know that all of the statements in his post are wrong, except for the first one (“I’m a little confused.”)
      In fact, HBO requires their series to be filmed in 35mm instead of digital, precisely because the highest quality analog is still better than the best digital, whether in audio or video (although 8K could change that). HBO is aware that lots of 1990s programming shot in SD video will never look better (e.g. BBC), and the same is true with audio mastered in the 1980s to 16/44.1 (or 12/48) digital.
      And, as far as 1960s analog studio recordings, that represents the best sound quality. That equipment was hand made to exacting standards (I’ve used some of it professionally). The reason that Buena Vista Social Club has reference quality sound, is that the recording studio in Havana was cut off by the boycott, and so their 1960s analog gear was never replaced by garbage 1970s gear. BVSC had the best of both worlds, since the biggest problem with original 50s/60s/70s analog masters is loss of magnetism over decades.

  28. Shawn

    It think what Neil is attempting here is very noble, and the heavy marketing is required to break the long-standing trend of low-quality audio.
    I’m sure many of you (or several) already have audio equipment, possibly portable, the equals or exceeds the Pono specifications; so maybe you won’t by the Pono itself.
    But, here’s the important part; If Neil can enlighten the general public on high-quality audio recording, we will soon be bathing in loss-less master recordings to saturate our high quality audio equipment. As I’m sure you’ve already found; All that fancy gear is worthless unless the source is of high quality, which a majority definitely is not.
    Pono will be the end of convenience over quality for music recording; and that is righteous.

  29. Gan Solo

    Funny though. After a couple of days filled with skepticism, all of a sudden you see a few articles that are saying “it’s not meant for audiophiles, it’s for the masses”. Lolwut?! The “masses” ditched stadalone DAPs years ago. It’s all-in-one smartphones these days thet the “masses” want/need.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I don’t buy into the “it’s not for us” nonsense. Isn’t that inverted snobbery? I appreciate NY igniting the conversation about good sound but if I considered trying to convince all my non-audiophile mates to dig better sound I wouldn’t begin with the (comparatively) small improvements of the jump from CD quality to HRA. Discussions about better speakers, amps and (especially) headphones would be top of my agenda.

  30. Patrick J.

    I have a long train commute so my ipod and Klipsch X-10 in ear monitors are most of my listening. Pono player intrigues me. We should start a petition to get examples for review to the right people: Darko, Ebaen, Mercer, Dudley, and all those nice folks. We like and trust their ears, Pono. Think about it.

  31. Junker

    I like how everyone like to confuse “mastering” with “playback format” – they are different issues folks. Wake up and quit equivocating and playing the shell game. All things being equal better formats are better.

    Let me turn the tables on you…the best mastering put down on 256AAC is going to be shit quality as well. You need both to realize the full potential of a recording. The problem is that if the record companies are seeing 90%+ of their sales going to MP3 and streaming to be played back on crap headphones or in cars why would they NOT uses tons of compression and compress the hell out of it.

    Yes this could be the next Zune… so what?! It definitely taps in to the zeitgeist that the market is seeking better quality whether it be: 320kps streaming, DSD, vinyl, or upgraded headphones. It’s a bit of “what came first, the chicken or the egg”? With more players and more retail outlets and more sales going away from a monolithic iVertical model the studios will have the incentive to give a $#!#. It’s an evolving landscape and thus far Pono is about the only thing I’ve seen that is mainstreaming. There is artist demand and there is a latent, untapped consumer demand. This is only one piece of this evolving digital music industry but I’ll say it’s a far away from where we were not too long ago with Napster, LimeWire, and crypto 128AAC.

    • Graham M

      “Let me turn the tables on you…the best mastering put down on 256AAC is going to be shit quality as well”
      Stupid, sweeping generalisations like that kill the argument in it’s tracks.

  32. Scott

    Hey John, I wonder what you think about a problem with the online music stores that relates somewhat to this issue, and that nobody seemed or seems to ever talk about; That is (in my theory- and I think it’s fair) that Apple and iTunes created a precedent of charging basically the same amount of money for an inferior, low information, data compressed file, as a single track of a CD would cost if you divided it up- PLUS you got no booklet, sleeve, pictures, or lyrics. People bought and didn’t complain, and so they got away with murder, made a fortune, and helped create the low standards for high cost model that everyone else copied. AAC, MP3, AIFF, etc. should have been worth and should have cost for example, maybe a third of what CD quality would cost. They got away with letting the general public think and believe that basically they’re both the same thing. They’re NOT.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Everything you say rings true. iTunes took away from sound quality in order to give the customer convenience – smaller files that could transfer in minutes over the internet and straight onto their portable listening device. People are seem happy (?) paying the same money, yes, but they’ve traded SQ for convenience.

      • Scott

        And so I guess part of my point is, the overpricing of the compressed files helped make CD’s even less able to compete with the attractiveness of the ease of use. It wasn’t a fair fight. And we as consumers of iTunes, and then the others, were gouged. The other part is, that now that the technology is there (far bigger and cheaper memory storage and far bigger internet bandwidth) these companies should have been increasing substantially the quality of the files, but they have only increased them in small amounts. I think that’s one of the great things about this campaign- it will put more pressure on the others to increase their quality.

        • John H. Darko
          John H. Darko

          Never underestimate the power of convenience.

          • Scott

            Unfortunately, obviously you’re right. Thanks for discussing, John.

  33. entier

    Wanted to offer up a different perspective of this new product/service. So let me start off by saying that I feel Pono, the service, has the potential to shift what has been a continually under-performing industry since 1982 when CDs were released. Pono’s intention is to work directly with the record companies and artists to release (re-release) their music at the same level of quality as the original masters. If the master is analog, then Pono is working with the record company / artist to have that master digitized at 192/24 (for now since thats the highest resolution available), if the master is recorded digitally, then it is whatever the master resolution is. Moving forward with new recordings, it will likely change how artists/producers choose their quality levels in recording knowing that if they choose higher quality recording levels their music can be delivered to the listener without any interpretation and reduction in quality. I don’t believe that Pono is intending to rip us off as many HiRez solutions today have. It is actually less work / money to deliver a replica copy of the master than it is to process the music down to CD, MP3 or the like. Today we are taken advantage of because we are a niche market. Of course, time will tell if this belief is true or not.

    The questions about mastering quality will still remain. A poorly mastered song will sound bad regardless of its sample rate and bit depth. Pono is not there to ensure higher quality mastering, only that we the consumer get to hear the music as the artist/producer intended in the studio. Does Pono replace MP3’s and such? No, there is still a huge market where convenience rules out quality. But it creates a choice for everyone.

    I feel that the Pono Player is a necessary component at this time in the launch of the service. It enables Pono to create a stable platform from which to launch a brand new service. So it takes out some important variables. I can see at some point in the near future the Pono Player will not be necessary, but a choice for people to have if they do not want to invest in standalone DAC’s and higher end equipment. The Pono website will probably be where we see the most change, allowing us to download directly to our music servers and play the music without the need for the Pono Player. Again, the vision of Pono is to simplify and remove unnecessary elements between the record company/artist and the music buyer.

    Only time will tell how this all plays out, but it feels like a move in the right direction for us, the music buyer, for the record companies, and for the artists.

  34. Richard Starkey

    Pono* is (potentially), a really good thing:
    You don’t see, and you NEVER will see your (overly-expensive)AK”blah”, or your iBasso’s, or FiiO’s,…, rubbung elbows with the like of Springsteen, Sting, Elton John, Dave Grohl,…, on the grand scale that Young is marketing right now.

    You also will NEVER see your (overly-expensive) AK”blah”, or your iBasso’s, or FiiO’s sitting on numerous Talk Show heavy-weights such as David Letterman, …, where literally millions, of millions of people view, worldwide, ….

    I mean, it is, afterall, “their” Music
    And younger ppl today DO pay attention to that, well maybe not David Letterman, as much, but ‘ya know…
    Neil Young, (& the entire company of world-wide Musicians, AND our future Musicains) aren’t pissing in the wind -they are “pissing” directly onto the Music Industry (as a whole), which has obviously ripped-off, and let-down all the Comsumers, Musicians, Audiophiles,… for the last 35 years .
    The long-awaited death of the (35-year-old-technologically-outdated) redbook Audio-CD is finally here -hurray ! and good riddens.
    The entire Music Industry desperately needs to be replaced, at the very least.
    They don’t want to change, so now the Musicians will “force” change upon them.
    Any future success of Pono*, will also bring the (greedy) prices of these overly expensive DAC’s/DAP’s, portable, external, and/or otherwise, FINALLY down to breathable human levels. -is that not a good thing ?
    ALL these Music Industry fools now have but one choice, and that is to
    start “stamping” out brand new Blu-ray Pure Audio disc’s, (24/192, …), AND start Mastering/Producing Music exactly the way the “MUSICIAN/Producer” wants us (the Listener) to hear it. -this being a good thing even for you Audiophiles, and Audiophiles-wannabe’s.
    And pleeez, don’t give me the BS of co$t, stamping a (lossless-uncompressed)BD-Audio disc, today, is just as simple/cheap as stamping that crappy Audio-CD’uh, actually it should be cheaper ’cause now they can throw out the horribly usless compression/gimmickry,

    It’s high time they(Music Industry) start throwing all this compression/gimickry into the “garbage” anyway, along with their stupidly-suicidal “loudness wars”.
    and, As Neil Young was quoted, and “righteously” so:… I want to try to save the Music Industry, from itself !…”
    Just look at LinnRecords, for example, they offer good-quality HQ downloads, unfortunately “HDTracks” is crap because some? of their downloadable Music is NOT even the quality that they “illegaly” advertise. -which BTW, PONO* may just make them(HDTracks) a bit more honest soon. , or maybe not? ;)

    And if they (the present Music Industries) don’t change ?
    Then it’s exactly the Musicins, like Neil Young & Company, …, and Pono*,…, that is going to bury their sorry, greedy ass’s.

    So, PONO* is most definitely a good thing. in the long-run, and that is exactly why I’m buying into “The PONO* Express”.
    Let’s just hope, for the Music’s sake, that PONO* will become exactly what they have been promising us.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Some good points but I doubt the majority of people who drop $15 a month on Spotify/Rdio/Qobuz etc will see the benefit of hi-res playback as financially worthwhile. NY is saying to them that they need to buy a new piece of hardware that will play hi-res content and then buy the content itself. $300 for the player + $20 (average) for each album. How can that possibly compete with streaming direct to one’s PC or smartphone for $15 a month. Yeah, the hi-res will no doubt sound better but the outlay on hi-res is comparatively enormous.

      Now if NY were promoting something that makes *existing* music collections – including streaming services – sound better, THAT’D be really awesome.

  35. Marc Warden

    I am in a kind of avalanche of information on USB DACs these days. I bought AirEnablers for my car and my living room for Christmas. The creator advertised compatibility with a few other USB DACs in his YouTube content. Got me to thinking. Then I saw Neil Young’s Pono Promo and recalled the snotty response I got from HDTracks when I wrote and asked them where they are getting all their “hi-res” content from.

    I have been a recordist since 1962 or so. It started before kindergarten. I had the pleasure of being able to watch a true marvel: 3″ reel-to-reel portable 1/4 inch tape machine. Whined forever – finally got a Sony portable cassette of my own. Recording ‘life’ Is Fun!

    LPs were king in those years and I bought many. Pre-recorded cassettes sounded horrible to me.

    In college I managed to move back to open reel format with 10″ reels so I could have an extended listening experience (1.0 to 1.5 hours depending on tape thickness@7.5 ips). It just made so much sense to me. Vinyl was more plentiful, but the warps, off-center holes, cartridge tracking errors, skips due to footfalls near the turntable, surface noise, unipressive channel separation, limited LF capabilities, minor pitch changes etc etc were and still are supremely annoying to me. I once suspended my turntable to the central steel I-beam holding up the house to isolate it from footfall. That solved one problem but not the others. Currently I have a Mitsubishi vertical turntable that tracks tangentially, which solves the footfall and tracking error problems, but it exaggerates the wow problem caused by unbalanced LPs. I can’t win!!

    On the other hand, good tape machines are far less plagued by such mechanical idiosyncrasies. They are not immune: they insist on lots of TLC aka frequent head alignments, bias adjustments, the blank tape is expensive and fragile so religious storage and handling rituals are required, and worst of all, there is a TON of hiss!!! Anybody that makes their own recordings hits that wall right away. Dolby and in my case DBX II saved the day. Background noise problem solved!! Were there a few drawbacks? Sure!! Alignment became far more critical since differences between alignment during record and playback affected the result. But it SOLVED the only problem I felt existed with tape. So, I got my music from Direct-to-Tape in Haddon Heights, NJ. They advertised minimal tape transfer losses, encoded with DBX on request and produced some very lifelike and musical content. Life was good.

    Then came CD. Convenience of LP with none of LPs problems. No tape hiss either. Content became more and more recorded digitally. It kind of made sense to me that digital distribution would maximize faithfulness to the masters. But – a fledgling technology! My reel-to-reel recordings of my neighborhood in central Missouri still sound more real (faithful re-presentation of what happened in front of the mics) than most of my CDs.

    Now – I do location recording of (chiefly) Church music. I record at 96kHz 24-bit because right now that is all I can afford. Life is good. But! As soon as I introduce a plugin to alter eq, or compress a bit, I am dismayed at how what comes out of the monitors doesn’t “sound” the same. The playback is “more different” than it seems like it should be. I don’t know why this is so, but I suspect it has to do with sample rates, bit depths and digital algorithms that might not make sense in the real world. We have a ways to go. Life is good!

    Is a Pono player gonna sound better (=more like the live event) than another device? I dunno. Is its store gonna have more honest high resolution content? It would be really hard to tell. Perhaps THE CONSUMERS should lobby Congress to MANDATE that ALL DIGITAL CONTENT be decorated with the sample bit depth and sample density and call it MASTER PROTECTION (similar to copy protection but this time working FOR us!) This is a problem we can solve with legislation. The algorithmic stuff will catch up later.
    Best regards, Marc Warden

  36. unheard78

    Let me begin by stating that I am not an audiophile expert. I use a cheap pair of headphones most of the time while listening to music (SONY MDR-G45 wraparounds), although I’ve compared them to my iPhone earbuds and I think they produce a far more realistic listening experience. My playback device is a 2009 160GB iPod Classic. I also don’t have anything I would consider high-end that I use for playback in my home.

    I’m a fan of lossless and wish more people used it, but I live in an MP3 world, not a FLAC one, so I’m the minority. Furthermore, when it comes to compressed audio, I prefer iTunes Plus AAC settings, especially since the spectral data shows a minimum of signal loss, far less than that of a 320kbps MP3 and far smaller as well, but even there, it seems I’m also in the minority as most of my contemporaries prefer the ubiquitous 320 or V0 LAME MP3 settings.

    The idea of Pono or any other lossless device is interesting, though I’ve always been skeptical, even more so of the Pono family of products. The moment I saw it, I thought it was ugly, far bulkier than an iPod or any other consumer audio playback device I’d seen in recent history. I also thought it’s performance abilities sounded questionable at the very least, what with Neil Young’s long-standing disdain for digital technologies and the many bizarre statements he’s made throughout the years. This is a man who hordes his catalog, not allowing reissues unless they follow very specific self-regulated standards (see HDCD), and taunting his fanbase with the promise of a wealth of music, albeit only when he is good and ready to deliver upon his (long overdue) promises.

    So, the premise of an inexpensive device that will play lossless audio in a resolution higher than 16/44 is promising, if not outright desirable. It could actually be the thing which brings much-needed attention to the availability and use of such a product, especially if it’s good. I don’t think it will work though. The roll-out of the product has been lengthy, mostly kept private, with tentative start dates having been moved multiple times. Young’s sale presentation, allowing his vehicle with a custom sound system to be driven across the US without much in the way of technical specifications being shared, screams of bait and switch, only showing the product under the absolute best of circumstances. Even his Kickstarter video, featuring a vast array of celebrity artists commenting positively on what they’ve heard, doesn’t seem very authentic. Their statements seem vague, with text appearing at the bottom of the screen to lend context to their words, despite that context not being fairly obvious on it’s own or even with the aforementioned texts. When the celebs do discuss the audio in further detail, they mention 192 repeatedly, without explaining ahead of time what it means, and some even make it sound as though something has been changed about the audio. Bruce Springsteen goes so far as to state that even digitally sourced recordings sound more vibrant, which brings more unanswered questions to the forefront. All of this makes me very uneasy. Even more important, why does Neil Young need a Kickstarter campaign to sell this product? Were potential financial supporters that convinced of Pono’s impending failure?

    Despite all of this, Pono’s Kickstarter has done amazingly well, earning over three times it’s goal within days of the launch. It’s also sold less than 10,000 units. I guess that means there is an audience, but it still pales in comparison to the sales of iPods, iPhones or Android devices. Furthermore, this isn’t like the usual Kickstarter project where you can see a video that shows you everything, this is a device that no one outside of the inner circle will hear until October, and even then, every experience is unique unto the listener, so not everyone will be thrilled.

    In the end, time will tell if Pono is a success. I don’t think it could be, but who am I to judge it? At worst, it could become a popular niche product that would sell well enough to maintain it’s place in the marketplace, potentially allowing for more such start-ups. But there is one thing I am sure of. No matter what Neil Young says, as bad as a 128kbps MP3 can sound, I don’t think anyone can sensibly compare it to listening to music underwater. It’s a baldface lie, and it’s enough to sour me to his proposal and make me look twice. I looked twice, and I saw a lot more I didn’t like.

    • Graham M

      Great comment and I couldn’t agree more.
      Wouldn’t Snake Oil salesmen just love the internet and the ‘experts’ that throng to it…

  37. Studio guy

    For those mentioning the impossibility of getting the masses to stop listening to music from their phones, I do not think that is the plan.
    The plan has to be to get SOME people to use the Pono player and site.
    That will then get their friends to want high resolution files.
    So, “Success” will mean 24/192 DAC chips becoming the norm in smartphones, just as GPS chips are the norm.
    Currently, I see an amazing number of technophobic guys who can’t spell their name, buying things like Teac UD-501 DACs, because their friend has one (despite the fact that many cheaper DACs reviewed on this site sound a lot better!).
    So, the same thing could occur with Pono.

  38. Danny

    I think Studio Guy has a good point. Today the audiophiles who listen to hi-res and buy from HDT and Qobuz are less than 1% of the market. Till now your average – even above average – listener/consumer didn’t even know it existed.
    If PonoMusic gets only a small fraction of the public to partially go over to uncompressed audio it will totally change the market, and better quality downloads will become a second norm, alongside mp3.

  39. Ned Kelly

    John, I have a couple of rhetorical questions for the assemblage in the wake of that promo vid:

    1. If the artists –realised– what they were supposedly ‘losing’ when the industry moved to CD, why the hell didnt the heavy hitters *demand* that their record companies continue to offer vinyl releases of their entire catalog ? I’m looking at you, Bruce, and ruing the day I sold my completely unscratched copy of Darkness on the Edge of Town for pennies. I have no issue with 16/44.1, but the CD master just isnt as good as the vinyl was.

    2. I dont give a hoot about Pono, or DSD or even 24/192 – what I do give a hoot about is the very real threat that the only medium we will have left is digital download and the industry showed us long ago that they were happy to go with whatever was cheapest and easiest for them (max profit for min outlay). If these fools cant at least offer 24/96 FLAC for download, why bother ? Great for RHCP and Foo Fighters to rave about Pono – how about ensuring that the suits at your record companies dont abandon everyone over the age of 15 ( or with an IQ below 15 ..) ?

    I know this

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Qobuz now offers uncompressed 16/44 streaming – now *that* is having your cake (large catalogue) and eating it (not MP3/AAC). As soon as the rest of the world catches up with Redbook streaming as standard ONLY THEN will the mainstream crowd become genuinely interested in HRA in sufficiently large numbers….and even then they’ll probably want to stream it for $100 a year.

      Until then, 24/96, 24/192 and DSD downloads that sell for $15-20 a pop will remain comparatively marginal concerns. NY has always shown contempt for the middle of the road – isn’t that why he drove his career into the ditch trilogy of Time Fades Away, Tonight’s The Night and On The Beach (arguably his finest work)?

  40. Chris

    I hate GrAmmER NAZI’s but this ain’t THAT.

    Pono does not mean righteousness. It means balance with self and others. It doesn’t even translate into a single western word. Opening sentence and ya lost me. Ya know any Hawaiians?

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Thanks Chris – and apologies. I have placed your comment in the body of the article. :)

  41. Sarah

    I’m hoping the store will be DRM free and that it will have great lossless content and many many titles. So often, I’ve searched for music, but was unable to find it, eventually resorting to illegal FLAC EAC downloads. I want to buy music, but not in crappy formats or with DRM bullshit.
    Currently, I’m using a pretty ancient iAudio player that supports FLAC, so I’m interested in upgrading to their player as well.

  42. Frank

    I would like to counter with, “Why I Would Consider Buying a Pono”
    We need to put in context what the passionate, maybe misguided Neil Young is trying to do here. One could be cynical and say this is a ploy, a conspiracy to re-sell more music that we already own or rent, in the case of Apple or better yet, stole, however I think his intentions, and based on the responses on the Kickstarter site acknowledge, the people are speaking with their wallets and want the proposition of better sound. People are interested in hearing music better than what we have been given over the past decades and probably more.
    The prospect of what Apple has provided, 1,000 songs in your pocket, is a very powerful marketing statement and guess what? It fuckin worked!
    So called real audiophiles and their ‘analogue’ sound still buy LP’s and still claim those are the best sounding formats even after all these years. Funny thing is, most audiophiles say the 180 gram stuff is far superior to the old pressings of yore, so if we put that into context, what Neil is doing is really not much different than that.
    Back in the day we used to buy the LP and then we could record it or buy the cassette and play thing thing in our car. Digital has replaced the cassette, not the LP.
    If what he is saying is true and if what he is trying to do is get the major labels to release fully uncompressed digital formatted music, then more fuckin’ power to him, I say.
    Given that the $800,000 goal has been far far exceeded and that we still have nearly 7/8’s of full month to go, I bet this little Kickstarter gig could reach the $8+ million mark – that is a pretty decent payday for a project that appears in the eyes of the critics (Darko and others) to be doomed and ill conceived.
    I say, you should consider this as a way for the common man to actually get music that should sound a lot better than what we get today and if it takes selling a funny looking DAC/Player to do that, then bring it on.
    More to the point, it gathers a pretty decent amount of believers in better sound, and that is, what I believe is the point of PONO rather than just a way to re-sell music.
    Mr. Darko, grassroots means, let’s actually do something rather than talk about it; put the thing out there and see what people will put their hard earned money on the line. At the moment, it appears the people are buying, voting with their wallets. We can sit and talk about what people may or may not buy, but actually putting something out there and giving people a choice is what this is all about. I do not actually understand you, in that we audiophiles act like we are the only ones who know good sound and therefore think it is some kind of right of ours to know good sound over those who seem to not care like us. Back in the day, the LP was not limiting in what it provided rather we could spend more on equipment to access the potential of the format rather than today, one cannot even get there with a million dollar system plugged into an iPod. The fact that Apple has effectively killed its own iPod product line and that PONO is getting a flicker of attention is a testament unto itself that people do want to get better sound. I would buy a PONO if even just for my car and bet there will be nothing at it’s price point that will compete sound-wise. Certainly I could buy a Mac Air, run Audirvana, with an M2 USB DAC and external HD and get really good sound for my car, but not for $400 bucks. And for that reason alone I would consider PONO and I am going to bet the sound quality will be pretty damn close – pretty cheap for a mobile record player I say.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I didn’t say Pono was “doomed” or “ill conceived”. Putting better sound quality in the hands of the man in the street is indeed a great thing. This very subject will be the thrust of my next (and likely final) article on the matter.

  43. Frank

    John I do stand corrected, however doomed and ill conceived were certainly implied. I would venture to say none of the playback units you mention in your article come even close to selling near $5 mil all combined! I will admit the concept and how Neil began to market this device appeared to be wacky and confusing for sure, but one must concede nobody in the past 10 years has addressed the high res issue quite the way Neil has for the common listener, of which we audionerds are certainly not on his radar. For the moment I would say Neil and co. are pissing gold!

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Hi-res is only part of the puzzle to get people listening to better sound. I believe masters have a more pronounced effect on the end result. Young could better use his star power to influence the way engineers deal with dynamic range compression. Or he could better use his star power to tell people that the hardware they use to listen to music *matters*. He could really put the boot into laptop speakers and white earbuds.

  44. Frank

    As an add on based on most of the general negative feedback from the higher end audio bloggers, it seems a bit unfair to Neil in comparison to the utter lack of cover when Beats Iovine/Dre collaboration garnered hardly a ripple of feedback upon initial release. Ironically that venture went on to multi millions a sum any of our elustuous high end manufactures could only dream. Now would I have rather Grado or some company like them been in the mix over Monster, certainly. So for me (us) the Ayre connection is a good collaboration.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Beats/Dre didn’t get coverage in the audiophile press because Monster weren’t making noises in the audiophiles’ direction. They were seen as a fashion headphone as much as anything else. Neil Young is talking hi-res – that’s prime audiophile territory – but he’s trying to take his message to the man in the street.

      • Junker

        Iovine has Ian Rodgers gets running Beats Streaming. First thing they did was privately acquire Mog and a high quality 320kbps streaming service. Ian believes in a curated trusted source model to sift through all the noise. And Iovine can bring his library to this service. It can be vertically integrated with Beats hardware or at the very least they can cross market. Compared to Pono this received no press.

  45. AGB

    Hi rez audio is capable of transcending the best analog by miles. It’s not a matter of if, or when. It’s a fait accompli. PONO has a major factor in its favor. The price. An iconic image is another. It’ll probably be able to process DS by the time it’s released.

    One thing to bear in mind when listening to protable devices. Their output impedances and drive were not designed for home systems – and that’s where they can, often will fall short of a home DAC. It’s not the fault of the portable device, rather the user who might compare it with a home DAC.

    Moreover, I would not be surprised if its low price will go lower yet by the time it’s released…or soon afterward. That’s just how the industry operates and PONO is strategically positioned to make a big mark. It’s got a lot going for it, good people behind it, and improving technologies that will improve its performance soon enough.

    It is likely an audiophile product and cost has nothing to do with it. Today we have lots of products at embarrassingly low prices that we could not have dreamed of five years ago.

    Let’s give it a chance and reviews to see how it’ll shake out.

    Personally I wish it had balanced out…and a built-in parametric EQ capability.

  46. Frank

    The audio industry is taking a long time in comparison to how the digital image market has evolved over film. The best film format is still better than the best digital, however the differences between the two are very narrow and the convenience and speed working in digital is far easier.

    That is really not the case for digital audio. It is hard to say the audio industry has done as good a job in conversion. Compressed audio. LP sales continue to gain traction year by year where film sales and the demise of Kodak have steadily gone south for the last decade to nearly a fraction of its former self.

    So nothing is really new. I would not say that digital audio will blow analogue away today, but I would say that analogues days (or years) are likely numbered, it’s just gonna take time from someone to crack the proverbial code. PONO could well be seen as a small catalyst in that regard. History will certainly tell…

    I predict the PONO/ Kickstarter deal to hit $7MM by end of its run – once in place, it will likely add another $5MM in song sales straight away – $12MM pay day could be a decent Hey Hey, My My and would seriously put them Into the Black!

  47. Dean Singh

    JD hit the two points that really mean something…..
    1. A bad master will always sound like a bad master 192/24 can’t fix that
    2. The majority of music buyers aren’t going to shell out $24.95 for a little better sound.
    I’ve purchased a dozen or so 192/24 titles because I’m looking for something better.
    It’s digital, it’s not there. I used to upgrade cartridges and turntable’s for twenty five years too. What’s wrong with us ? We will never be satisfied…one more thing, if Neil Young and his “Farm Aid” application to digital music really cared they would offer their 192/24 Flacs for the same price as an iTunes download, that is the standard for the majority of those who will buy into the future.

  48. Graham

    I don’t understand the need to bring high quality music to the masses. Most of us have arrived in the audiophile world because we have the hearing and the perception to realize there is something better than what is being offered by the commercial mainstream. It was our choice. If 90 percent of the world is happy listening to low-rez mp3’s let them remain in their dark world. They don’t know, nor probably will ever desire anything better.

  49. AGB

    To Frank and Graham above. Firstly, both digital imaging and digital audio have surpassed any analog based alternative in general use – the last two words are operative, IMAX excepted, which is 18k v. 6K for the RED camera. However the RED camera’s 6K is not the same thing as an SLR’s 6K. At $50,000 and up, RED is a different beast altogether, more comparable to IMAX’s capability.

    Analog LP has a resolution about 12 bits, as analog tape’s best is 13. About the same as CD’s practical resolution. 96/24 is significantly above CD’s Redbook. Clearly, analog at its best is very good indeed, and that means Darko is correct in the practical world when he says the recording is the key, not the format.

    Having access to the actual master, as PONO claims to provide, is the key to the best sound one can obtain in the real world provided PONO will technically deliver the goods.

    There is no reason at this time, because the technology is already available, and because of the technical brains behind PONO, to think otherwise.

    The comment “let them remain in their dark world” can only come from an elitist mind who might feel superior for no evidence we can see here. I’d rather that human beings in all sorts of fields are brought into the light world, rather than condemning them to a fate worse than death: listening to iPods and boom boxes.

    HDTV and now 4K is the light world we all aspire to, the same way that any musically sensitive listener will aspire to better sound once he has been exposed to it.

    The same way a man may get interested in a better car, a better timepiece and a better house once he’s been exposed to the benefits.

    Millions of people own Rolexes for that reason.

    Audiophiles are made, not born. Many people in the “masses” can learn to hear, discern details and complexities, appreciate new music as well as the classical, and walk and chew gum at the same time.

    If 90 percent of the world is happy listening to MP3 being so-so, I say so what? It does not mean that ten percent of the market is not large enough to be profitable and worthwhile thing to pursue, does it? What do you think 10% is worth?

    If ten percent of the auto buyers purchased Ferrarris and Rollses, would these two companies not be the wealthiest and most successful on the planet?
    Ten percent of the music market buying hi rez will be a happy world indeed.

    Nevertheless, good DACs can decode Redbook CD so much better today than they could a few years ago, that those who still live in the mindset of the eighties that Digital Sucks don’t know what they’re talking about. Just as the LP provably contained more information that took decades of analog playback development to uncover; the same principles apply to digital technology with one exception: digital has made giant leaps, while analog could only make small steps, one at a time.
    We might dispense with the negativism for the time being and give the PONO the support it needs to eventually benefit us all.
    Let the best man win.

    • Junker

      Source?

      I think you are narrowly referring to the dynamic range rather than the effective resolution or in terms on quantization error were both vinyl and tape are essentially infinite since the “bits” with tape are the iron oxide particles and vinyl is composed a continuous sinusoid wave.

      • AGB

        Both actually. Analog has lower resolution than what digital is capable of, and iron oxide particles have no more resolution figuratively than Tri-X film’s “pixels.”

        Both analog and digital however can be satisfying on their own terms, in their own context, once one removed as much noise as possible. Dynamic range of course is part of the problem, as there’s an exponential improvement lately with digital systems over analog…meaning one need not listen into the noise produced by analog – at best -70-80dB, vs. that provided by the best digital of -120-140dB. Nothing narrow about it. Digital trounces analog in both noise and dynamic range and that is the key to resolution.

        On a really good system using the best of digital against the best of analog, digital trounces analog once again.

        Moreover a “continuous sinusoidal wave” at best consist of 20,000 samples or cycles if you wish, provided one’s analog system is capable of producing it. Most cannot, not even those costing $100KUS and up. The smoothing of a sinusoidal wave, whether from analog or digital conversion is not the issue, as both can be smoothed.

        The real problem however with analog is not resolution (well, to some degree it is), but rather what it ADDS to the signal – and that, happens to be a great deal we don’t want on top of the signal – noise being just one, many noises the other.
        As some engineers at the top of the food chain, Bob Katz for example stated: Digital can provide the master to the end user. Analog cannot.

        • Junker

          Seems like you have all the answers. You must be right. Glad we solved that. Not even any pro/cons or trade-offs in that one. I’m relieved. No need to ABX anymore.

          • John H. Darko
            John H. Darko

            Gents – I really appreciate your contributions to this discussion so far but please, let’s keep it about Pono and not have it descend into yet another analogue vs digital debate.

  50. KC Halas

    No Matter how may articles you write, lets say 2 trillion, you have created subjective, 1 person out of 8+ billion humans FIGHTING AS THE TRUTH TELLER OF REALITY…over actual humans who create great music, not just spew a monkeys “never will be a creator of great music” mind into typing. If I have my choice between you and any musician ever, you loose 100000000000000 times. The talentless in the music field can never create music, and since their myopic talent of micron narrow self affirmation is the entirety of the expression of their talent….You are a flea on the fungus of creation of music. Making “TYPING” the foremost brag in your credentials is so hilariously un- self-aware that every musician who made 1000 bucks is mocking your very existence!
    PONO, to those who spent thousands of hours creating music have 100000000 times more credibility than a puke with 2 days and a deadline to contribute who never in his life had a paying audience for his personal “musical career.” 1% talents like you have n0% credibility on “expert opioining” the greatest musicians ever, as wee call them The 100% talents

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Well, I will consider myself ‘told’*.

      *When I stop laughing.

  51. Dean Singh

    Now someone please tell me how hilarious it is to see Neil Young plopped down in front of a $9950.00 amp and $42,000.00 speakers with his $339.00 Toberlone claiming to be saving the music industry from itself ? I mean really I’ve been buying Neil’s music since 1967 (Buffalo Springfield) and have, like most others, had as much or more of an emotional connection to his music via little radios, suitcase style record players, and all kinds of electronic junk for well over 40 years. Neil has been sucked in by the “High End” hucksters.
    I listen with so called “mid priced well made electronics and MMG’s, my son and his crew are not immune nor opposed to good sound, however they don’t have the “old man money” that the “Absolute Sound, Stereophile” crowd has and are not likely to spend it so stupidly in these times. The Pono player is reasonably priced and I firmly believe if you want the future buyers of everything ( my kids etc.) sell the 192/24’s at the iTunes mp3 download price which is the standard and get those aging gas bags away from this product quickly…

  52. Toshi

    I have been looking for a good cheap DAP for a while (my Cowon D2 is on it’s way out), when I read this post of yours John, and it pricked my interest to look further.
    (Yes, good mastering/recording matters far more than high res files etc, but the ability to play high-res-lossless on the move is something I like having.)
    However, no matter how much I looked, I couldn’t find anything on the expected battery life of the product… so I asked on their kickstarter page. Their response was immediate, but much to my disappointment, only 8 hours. This kind of kills it for me, so I told them that I travel a lot and I can not make use of a device that runs out of battery before I get halfway to my frequent destination… they told me to stick a USB charging battery pack on it. which is fair and good, but it has rather left me cold about the product. This response rather sounded to me, as it said “Yes, our product has a shit battery life, but you can put a band-aid on it”.
    If they knew anything about customer service or retail psychology, they would have said “thank you for your input, we may consider trying to extend the battery life in future products, however, our current model has limitations at this time. In the meantime, you could use a battery pack”, and I may have still looked at the product a a potential purchase.

  53. elwyn

    Who else is cynical about the abilities of musicians, who have subjected themselves to decades of high volumes of music, to judge sound,quality?

    • Marc Warden

      There is more to “how something sounds” than “how loud something sounds”. An individual’s perception of loudness, or inability to resolve loudness differences as well as others does not destroy their ability to discern recorded audio accuracy according to their own experiences. We all have a set of auditory tools (our ears, shape of head, nervous system, brain, life experiences, memory etc). Each person’s toolbox is similar to the others but certainly not identical. In fact the individual toolboxes themselves change over time. But each one can still discern audio events. SPL is only one of the tools. Which is a good thing! Otherwise how could I identify the voice of a telephone caller when they say hello?

  54. Steven Lester

    I already have a Pono. Only mine is an Iphone 5S running Ampliflac into my Hugo. More expensive, sure, but also far more useful.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Ha! :)

  55. alex

    Your cynicism is sortof depressing. You claim to want Neil Young’s project to succeed but that’s not what I see at all. Some of your initial concerns made sense but your persistence to drive this thing to the graveyard before you’ve even heard it is pretty amazing. Is it not elite enough for you or something? Are you worried more people will get HiFi sound for much less money than you paid for your audio gear? Do you just not like Neil Young? What drives you to have such a strong opinion about this initiative, and this device (which doesn’t even exist yet)? I am glad I made it to the bottom of this dark pit of judgement and can go on with happier things.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Q. Is it not elite enough for you or something?

      Ha! I think if you read further into this website you’ll know that my take is the opposite of elite. I’m all about value for money. I’d rather see 1000 people buy a $1000 hifi system than 50 people buy a $20k system. The PonoPlayer is a DAP that sells for $400. The marketing spin makes it sound like waaaaay more than that. I reckon it’ll sound pretty good but the second coming it is not.

      Q. Are you worried more people will get HiFi sound for much less money than you paid for your audio gear?

      If people buy a PonoPlayer and listen to hi-res they’ll likely get a similar experience to me listening to the same hi-res with an Astell&Kern or Calyx player. They’ll save $600 on my spend. However, the FiiO X5 is $400. It may or may not offer similar performance to the PonoPlayer but I doubt the difference will be huge.

      Q. Do you just not like Neil Young?

      Are you kidding? He’s one of my fav artists of all time. On The Beach and Weld are masterpieces in my book.

      Q. What drives you to have such a strong opinion about this initiative, and this device (which doesn’t even exist yet)?

      You answered your own question: because it doesn’t exist yet. I’m not trying to drive this into its grave though, I’m trying to cast some daylight on what Pono is and what it isn’t. And my take isn’t cynical – it’s looking at the PonoPlayer for what it is: a hi-res capable DAP for $400. I’m sure it sounds really good but the marketing noise behind this thing has been ENOURMOUS (mainly thanks to Neil Young). The bigger the noise, the closer the scrutiny.

      Did you read my follow up piece?

      http://www.digitalaudioreview.net/2014/03/mainstreamers-get-better-audio-gear-before-going-pono/

      There I suggest how $2k spent on a new hifi rig and a (lossless) streaming subscription *might* just bring mainstreamers greater joy than $2k spent on a PonoPlayer and hi-res content. I’d LOVE to see this.

      Heck – buy an Audioquest Dragonfly and some Audioengine active speakers and you’ll be golden for less than $500!

      For hi-res content to gain more mainstream traction I think we will need better smartphone integration.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I tell you what *is* depressing though: PonoPlayer aiming for the mainstream but only selling 150-200 units per day once the initial hoopla faded.

      • Elwyn

        Is that so bad? I’ve been frustrated by the BASIS watch – a product that had such poor availability initially then frustrated by their unwillingness to ship to Australia.

        • John H. Darko
          John H. Darko

          150-200 units per day is a great result in the context of an audiophile niche. But remember, Neil Young is touting this as being aimed squarely at the mainstream; he wants to win over the man in the street. In that context, I wouldn’t be so generous as to call it a good result.

  56. Mikko Laitinen

    Watched this video, reminds me alot of all the Pono-talk. Funktion One is doing the good work in the club scene.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MxhtIbK-Dqc#t=458

  57. alex

    Thanks for responding. Your arguments are mostly valid although I still don’t understand the negative base attitude. Yes there is nothing truely unique about it and yes album mastering/speakers/amp/headphones make more difference than hi-res will, and yes the marketing talk coming out of Neil is tacky, but what stays is a real commitment to sound quality and to help elevate the standard for quality in both releases aswell as hardware. Despite the imperfections in the presentation, I am quite thrilled to see this initiative, and see it backed by so many A-grade musicians. If it can even partially reverse the degrading sound quality standards, and stimulate availability of high quality masters, I will be very happy! And the PonoPlayer is indeed nothing more than an affordable, hi-res player with promising specs and backed by a reputable hifi company.
    Skepticism isn’t a bad thing, but it misses its goal if it is used for dragging a good initiative down by its imperfections, especially when its about marketing speak. Because let’s be honest, most (all?) hi-fi manufacturers use the same bullshit rhetoric to push their equipment.

    oh and FYI, I do own an ‘audiophile’-grade system. And I agree that it is wrong when Pono reps say ‘this will sound awesome on any pair of headphones’, because I doubt you will hear the difference between an iphone and a Pono when using the stock iphone earbuds for example. In that case, a 300$ pair of headphones used with the iphone would give much more improvement than spending the 300$ on a PonoPlayer and using the iphone earbuds with it. Combine the PonoPlayer with the 300$ headphones though, and things should start to sound quite nice!

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      So essentially you agree with nearly all of my points but don’t dig my skeptical vibe? Even though such skepticism is healthy? ;) I’m tougher on Pono because of the deafening noise coming down the line from its marketing team. Yes, a lot manufacturers will use marketing spin to favourably position themselves but listening to MP3s is like listening to music underwater? COME ON.

      At its launch, Young heavily suggested that Pono was gonna be different…only to slowly backtrack (in follow up interviews) that it isn’t.

      “…a 300$ pair of headphones used with the iphone would give much more improvement than spending the 300$ on a PonoPlayer”. <— EXACTLY MY POINT.

      I agree though: the broader commitment to better sound quality is to be applauded. I just wonder if Young’s energies might have been better spent on getting his music pals to think more about the evils of dynamic compression and the overall quality of their masters. That’s where change is needed the most?!

      • Steven Lester

        Totally agreed. I’m called cynical and elitist all the time. I would love to be proven wrong and see this thing really become real mainstream. Hifi nuts claimed that CD killed vinyl. Oops. Vinyl killed vinyl. When CD launched, the overwhelming majority of music purchases were cassette tape. (never intended as a music format, but a dictating tool) When hi rez was offered well over decade ago, even the hifi apostles of sound were split by ad funding from Sony with DSD (BFD) and 24bit wide bandwidth PCM as offered here, rebranded as something new. Each time, a group of “expert” celebrity “signed on”, taking time out of their worlds to actually understand this stuff………. “not.” They have nothing to lose, so why not?

        You’re spot on. Cynical? Sure, but only if you want to spin it that way.

        “I do believe in spooks, I do believe in spooks, I do I do I do……..) * Wizard of Oz reference.

        • John H. Darko
          John H. Darko

          I think my take is more analytical (than it is cynical). That analysis has seen me react to the LOUD noises being made by Pono. Claims that don’t come with much substantiation and – in many quarters – their validity isn’t questioned. Well I’m questioning. Will the PonoMusic store offer fresh remasters? Or will they be the same as already served up by HDTracks? How much did the quality of the master influence the star-studded, in-car listening sessions? How much can be attributed to that same master being delivered in 24/96 (or whatever resolution was used in the studio)? Was their a control player used? Doubtful. How does the PonoPlayer compare to existing DAPs?

          So many questions still unanswered. I just can’t accept the Pono hype based upon the emotional reactions of Springsteen and Beck et al. We need more info.

          Some have pointed to Neil Young starting a conversation about hi-res. I agree, that IS good. But are the public listening? Do they care? Will the conversation last?

  58. Junker

    The Revolution (hi-res) will not be televised at DAR…

    First it was the ides of march for DSD, then the inability to smuggle Loki out from behind enemy lines with a fair and forthright review, then it was the exaggerated death of 24-bit Pono hi-res for the proletariat.

    Well, if Pono was enough to push iTunes into offering 24-bit files then it is incredibly significant. Let’s not forget the other half of Pono is high-res studio-master music downloads.

    Hi-res is the new standard. RIP MP3… You and your 1980s technology have been officially relegated to sit at the back of the bus with: wax cylinders; 8-track tapes; cassette tapes; compact disks; and last but not least, biggie whips.

    24-Bit iTunes
    http://www.audiostream.com/content/itunes-offer-24-bit-downloads

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      Au contraire mon ami.

      It’s a VERY long bow to draw to suggest Pono is behind Apple’s move to hi-res. I reckon it’s more to do with dwindling sales in the iTunes store. And What about all the ground work done by the likes of Audioquest and HDTracks? I’d suggest they’ve done far more for furthering hi-res penetration than Neil Young. Let us not forget that the PonoMusic store doesn’t even exist yet.

      DSD? It’s fine as a format. As was stated in its ‘review’, the Loki didn’t get unwrapped because of the dearth of contemporary music choices available in DSD. When Steely Dan’s Gaucho popped up as DSD at Acoustic Sounds, I was right on it with a comparison to the HDTracks 24/96 version using the Resonessence Labs Herus. I’d call that televised!

      As always, my position is music first, technology second. If the source material doesn’t exist in a given format then what’s the point beyond technology for its own sake.

      And *if* iTunes opens up a large catalogue of 24bit masters then I’ll be all over it. Apple have the power to propel hi-res forward like no-one else and I fully applaud it.

  59. Junker

    Certainly I would not say that Pono forced the hand of Apple here, but this is definitely where the momentum is headed and with the combined influence of all the players in this emerging market I think it did come up on the radar and wake the sleeping giant.

    And you are completely right about dwindling download sales – it’s all about on-demand streaming so I’ll be looking for the other shoe to fall if this hi-res content is redeployed to Apple Radio. A few new profit pools there for Apple to tap in to no doubt.

    I will be still watching your coverage on Channel Darko! Love ya baby!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RoBw0Fz8mu4

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      You *know* that you inspired this post don’t you Junker? ;)

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I went to a Pandora Radio ‘town hall’ this week and Tim Westergren confirmed that lossless streaming is on their roadmap. I imagine most players in the streaming game will be offering lossless services within the next 24 months.

  60. Richard Starkey

    wow, most of you guys were still “crying” over all this.
    The things like “loudness wars”,…, have ruined the Audio CD Industry,…, you think “streaming” is gonna make all this better, or go away, 16/44 is good enough ?
    Would you like me to post examples of “loudness wars”, …, and how they DEGRADE the music, from Bruce Sprinsteen, …, to Rush, …, to whoever, it’s all dynamically/compressed and “clipped” to crap.
    Oh nevermind right? -’cause we’ve ALL obviously been victims to that.
    The present Music Industry has made PCM a bad word, and it needs to be literally thrown out, in the Recycle bin.
    Old >Vinyl was the best, and still is for its own analog merits, but it’s NOT gonna stay here anymore. -It’s called evolution A2D -> D2A for a quality reason. (Do you see the “D” for Digital now). ok good. Permanent storage solutions as well, …
    PONOMUSIC is now gonna try to change that old/antiquated CD-Music Industry, by giving us this warmth, and “HQ” back, and yet you think Streaming will solve all these ills? -really ?. -but it’s also just another means to an end, and unfortunately streaming “crap”, is still streaming “crap”, if it’s NO GOOD ?! -than you can’t fix it. -comon.
    At least Ponomusic is gonna try to get it right from the source, and it will be technically “verifiable”, in either case.
    Thses days, whenever you buy this 35-year-old technology called redbooh Audio CD, owned by this present (greedy)Music Industry, you never know what u’re gonna get.
    If you’re AGAINST Ponomusic,…, then you’re in DEFENSE of the present Music Industry, mmm, hey, just stick to what u know, “streaming”, and that’s it.
    LoL, – DAR I say this. ?
    You do NOT need Ponoplayer to enjoy PonoMUSIC, so sry, but this entire Subject here “Why I’m not buying into Neil Young’s PonoPlayer” is really moot, as you likely now fully understand.
    The so-called “experts” here are nothing but listeners, just like the rest of us, the Musciian/Creator makes it, the audio expert delivers it “faithfully” to the listener, and that’s it, be it streamed, or be it dozens of Albums on one BD-Audio disc, for example, and no matter how you slice it after that, 24/192 is still a LOT better than this 16/44-crap.
    The ponoiplayer itself, as a DAP, is actually very well priced. -can’t argue that either.
    Give Ponomusic a chance, and if it’s full of holes, and mistruths, (just like HDtracks turned out to be), then fine, I’ll even light the bonfire under NY, but you’re still gonna stream the same crap that “they” (the BIG Corps) control over us all, just like before.
    … lets all get over the reverse polish-logic here, TY.
    aka “Eagles -Get Over It” !!!!

    Cheers.

    • John H. Darko
      John H. Darko

      I don’t think anyone here is claiming that streaming is set to cure studio mastering ills, its popularity comes from convenience being more appealing than (the hit to) quality.

      ‘Loud’ mastering affects ALL delivery formats, from streamers to hi-res listeners. In my follow up piece to this article I did suggest NY might have better spent his energy on talking to musicians and mastering engineers about how they can keep up their end of the sound quality bargain.

      You say “At least Ponomusic is gonna try to get it right from the source, and it will be technically “verifiable”, in either case.” How do you know it will be verifiable? Do you have some inside info that we don’t? And how will this put an end to the Loudness Wars? I believe iTunes radio and Pandora will have greater impact in that particular area.

      • Richard Starkey

        well I tried to reply before to you, but I guess it didn’t take.
        I’ll tried to to post a url here as well, but it also didn’t take.
        Finally, no editor here to change things if need be, eh?

        Regarding my “verifiable”, it is possible to determine if it is just a 44 upsampled to a 96,… , there is software that will help you verify this. How do you think “hdtracks” got embarassingly caught offering this crap. ?
        I intend to get it, although you’re right, the average Joe ain’t gonna bother with this.
        Also, as mentioned elswhere here before, and I totally agree with them, there should be an Industry/Standards setup to make this newer/better (Digital) Audio HQ formats actually “verifiable”, and without extra cost to the Music Consumer.

        Regarding iTunes, mp3’s, …, is just garbage.
        Talkin ’bout iTunes, and just to be fair, Ponomusic is NOT immune to greed either.
        http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/5930433/whats-your-cut-neil-youngs-pono-talk-at-sxsw-gets-awkward

        This does concern me, but we’ll see how the co$t/delivery system all plays out.
        Anyway, be it hard-copy, or Ponoplayer, or streaming, …, these are ALL just preferential delivery methods of Music, nothing more, nothing less.

        • John H. Darko
          John H. Darko

          “I intend to get it, although you’re right, the average Joe ain’t gonna bother with this.” < — We agree! ;)

  61. Richard Starkey

    John,
    “…Verifiable…” meaning you can verify it technically, with specialized software,…, that I myself intend to get, just to check if it’s in fact just upsampled crap,… ?, like hdtracks got caught with a few times, -I’m still researching this more, but you are right, there is NO set-in-place indsutry methosd/STANDARD to ensure HQ-Audio, and besides, the average Joe ain’t gonna bother to go this far.

    Talkin about “iTunes”, and to be fair, I did find this disturbing for Ponomusic, awhile back, in the sense that if Ponomusic’s (CEO – Hamm) is gonna pull the same thing as “ITunes” now does, with it’s greedy “30% cut, then this may be not so great. afterall, if they(Ponomusic) had nuthin’ to hide then why hide?
    http://www.noise11.com/news/neil-young-blows-pono-launch-after-embarrassing-ceo-gaff-20140312
    Or,
    http://www.billboard.com/biz/articles/news/5930433/whats-your-cut-neil-youngs-pono-talk-at-sxsw-gets-awkward
    In other words, I believe the potential consumers of Ponomusic have a right to know exactly how the monies are divided up,…

    We’ll see, but either way, i just hope, at the very least, that this helps spark a re-surgence of back to HQ Audio Mastering, – be it a hard-copy, or Ponoplayer, or streaming, …, which are all simply a matter of preference, regarding the Music delivery, and nothing more.

  62. mr.goats

    Obviously some bias love coming in from all these ‘stars’ of the industry.

    But to set it straight – they are lying – well a few anyways – as some did make it clear – Best sound they have heard -come out of a car- but not all are sitting in the car . Funny they forgot the mention the best sound first that is captured IN STUDIO where they ALL ARE PRIVY TO. This glaring fact was left out. Oh yeah the consumer public doesn’t understand anything, right?

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