Neil Young's PONO Audio

Are you sick of over-compressed MP3s, but not willing to climb FLAC Mountain? Well, Neil Young may have something even better planned for next year. Young’s PONO Audio is finally launching in early 2014, according to a post on the company’s Facebook page. According to Young, this is the best possible format because PONO restores the sound to the way it was in the studio. Obviously, words can be limiting in describing how something actually sounds so we’ll have to wait until Young releases it to really get an idea. In his words:

Hearing PONO for the first time is like that first blast of daylight when you leave a movie theater on a sun-filled day. It takes you a second to adjust. Then you enter a bright reality, of wonderfully rendered detail.

This music moves you. So you can feel. That’s why so many musicians are behind PonoMusic – this is important work that honors their art. This is the way they wanted you to hear their music.

Sounds exciting, and barring any delays we’ll get to hear how PONO sounds relatively soon. Now let’s just hope that Young’s million dollar electric car breaking down in the desert last week wasn’t some sort of omen for what’s to come.

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Comments (11)
  1. Isn’t this exactly what FLAC is? Completely uncompressed digital formatting? How could this be better than FLAC? Is Neil Young aware that FLAC exists? Good luck getting iTunes to support your new pointless format.

    According a press release, the purpose of PONO is :”to confront the compressed audio inferiority that MP3s offer.” Do these people realize that MP3 formatting can support the entire spectrum of audio quality? Any loss of quality is made to decrease the file size, but this isn’t circa 1998 Napster where everything has to be 128 kb/s because we have small hard drives. I’m assuming this is marketed to people who have listened to all of their music on Youtube for the past decade and probably spent 300 dollars for ‘Beats’ By Dre headphones.

    I’m confused as to why the article described FLAC as something that needs to be scaled (FLAC Mountain?) the only potentially annoying problem is that iTunes won’t support it (fascists, but then theres apple lossless….). Other than that, there isn’t anything special you have to do to use it…

    Also you can’t “restore” the sound whats its already been compressed, information has already been lost. Regardless: it doesn’t matter what the sound quality of the files are unless you have the gear to support it (i.e. a good pair of cans and amp or decent stereo setup.), and I think most people would agree anything over 320kb/s mp3 format is pretty much pointless.

    • amen. and I love Neil’s music however, I expect he will debut some of his own material to showcase the new format and to be honest, I have not looked forward to new Neil young material since the 90′s. I will inevitably end up downloading mp3s and whacking it onto my iPod and listening to it on my decent, but pretty cheap senheizer cans. reality.

      • Regarding Neil’s new music, I’m unfortunately going to have to agree. Maybe if you want to market a new cutting edge technology based business with the intent to out-compete iTunes, you should find someone who has made popular music in the past 20 years to be the face of your product.

        Here’s a link to a page with scientific analysis of Young’s claims on his new idea:

        Apparently any difference in sound quality is determined to be indiscernible, however the size of the new format will be 6 times larger than normal. So much for a difference as stark as “that first blast of daylight when you leave a movie theater on a sun-filled day.”

    • The fact that this comment has as many downvotes as upvotes really speaks to how divided we all are when it comes to a commenter who actually knows what s/he’s talking about…

    • What I heard Neil Young say about PONO is that it easily supports every format and that the tracks you buy from PONO will be lossless files of the masters. That sounds to me like a way different approach to digital music than iTunes. I never heard him say that PONO is somehow making mp3s better. I think the goal is the eventual death of the mp3. Neil Young gets that once data is lost, it’s gone for good. As I said on another thread, the only reason I ever wanted to rip/buy lossless files was because I noticed that mp3s never sounded as good as my CDs. I’m 33 by the way. I tested my hearing not long ago, and I can still hear the frequencies that are supposed to be out of your range once you hit your thirties.

  2. This seems just silly. FLAC, ALAC, WAV, and other codecs already allow perfect reconstructions of a sound file’s waveform. Furthermore, ABX testing of lossless audio codecs has repeatedly shown that at about 250kbps, using modern encoders, people cannot tell the difference between a song that is perfectly translated through FLAC and the same song in compressed MP3.

    The real issue (or at least the most relevant one today) is that studios brickwall their recordings so that songs sound louder, since consumers have been shown to prefer louder songs over quieter ones. However, doing this introduces large amounts of distortion whenever the volume “ceiling” of the digital format is crossed. Often, remasters of older albums take masters that never hit the ceiling and brickwall them to fit the supposed market preference for loud and undynamic music. (skip to some point in the middle of the video)

    These are gross alterations of musical fidelity that consumers cannot “fix” with lossless codecs or expensive headphones. Once someone has made a modest investment into a decent soundsystem, the biggest obstacle to hearing realistic and natural-sounding music will be the choices of studio engineers.

  3. In my opinion the biggest sound quality loss from studio to finished recording comes by way of 16bit downsampling. Most recording is done at 24 or 32bit and this makes a BIG difference in sound quality, especially for music with a lot of transients and dynamic range. The modern dithering algorithms are pretty good but there is a lot more life to a recording before it’s been down-sampled. I find that it’s actually closer to the “warmth” of vinyl but without the reduced clarity of high end and other artifacts.

    • That’s not really true. Most music sessions in the studio are made at 16 bit for this exact reason. 24 and 32 are usually saved for sound design stuff and big movie sessions.

      • Actually, he’s right and you’re wrong. I’ve recorded my rock music in several studios and the producers have always stuck to 24 bit depth. Whether they use 192, 96 or 48 sample rate is their preference, but recording in 16 bit is very limiting in the long run and most producers would scoff at that suggestion.

  4. FLAC etc. All I want is a simple plug in to enhance the sound. Why so many negatives? Who cares. Get it on the market and let the people decide. I ain’t got time to reformat my music.

  5. There is a difference between 24 bit and 16 bit lossless for sure. Bass is rounder and fuller, the sound spectrum is wider and highs ‘sparkle’ more, especially on cymbals.

    But the difference between a lossless 16 bit 44.1 file and a high-end mp3 (256kbps +) is negligible. Anybody who says they notice a difference between these two formats is likely hearing what they want to hear.

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