Pono? Just What Did They Hear in Neal Young’s Car?

Neal Young, is promoting a new portable sound system, called Pono, that plays uncompressed digital music files, promising sound quality equal to the 24-bit master recording files.  Young claims music consumers are only hearing a fraction of sonic fidelity that goes into producing a song when playing MP3 files on the mobile devices, or even CDs on their home stereos.  Visit the Pono Music site for the full press marketing campaign.


Watch this video.  Just what are those people hearing when they are in Neal Young’s car?  Their glowing comments sounds like it’s 1967 and they weren’t talking about music.  These guys are used to working in studies, recording songs with master 24-bit files, playing them back on the absolute best studio equipment.  They are also used to playing music live.  Why would they claim this is the best sound they’ve ever heard?  Sure, some clarify, the best in a car, but others are saying anywhere.

I can understand the complaints against MP3, but against CD too?  What the hell am I missing?

I’m not going to pledge to buy a Pono at Kickstarter, but when they come out I’m willing to drive over to Best Buy and try one out.  But even if I bring my V-Moda headphones, will it sound as good as Neal Young’s car?  I doubt it.  I can’t help but believe that buying a Pono also means buying a deluxe sound system to support it.

And what about the music?  Once again, I’ll have to go buy my favorite albums all over again.  I’ve bought some albums already on LP, CD, MP3 and SACD, and now I’ll need to go buy them again as 24-bit FLAC files?  See, this is where I wonder about the success of Pono.  I’ve switched to streaming subscription music.  I’ve given up on owning music.  Buying a Pono means going back to owning music again, and I’m not sure I want to do that.  If I hear what those people getting our of Neal’s car claim to hear, maybe I will.  But it’s going to have to be a Hubble telescope leap in high fidelity!

Let’s say I have to buy my favorite 100 albums again.  That’s $2500-3,000, assuming the prices are like current 24-bit files.  Pono could make things cheaper, but only if millions buy it.  Pono appears to be like any other high-end DAC player, but scaled for portability.  If you look at the other products at the Ayre.com site, the company that will be making the Pono player, you’ll see what I mean.

There is nothing technically stopping Rdio or Spotify from streaming 24-bit 192kHz FLAC.  We’d need 24-bit DACs to play such music, but that’s not far-fetched either.  People are streaming HD video, so why not HD sound?

I wish Neal Young all the success in the world for his Pono device because I hope it brings about a new high fidelity revolution.  Two years from now I might not own a Pono, but I might be listening to 24-bit 192 kHz music.

JWH – 3/14/14

2 thoughts on “Pono? Just What Did They Hear in Neal Young’s Car?”

  1. I saw the same SXSW Pono promo several days ago when it was featured on NPR. As someone who came into music during the late 1960s first via a handheld 9 volt AM radio then later through FM radio and the many hundreds of vinyl albums I still continue to collect and listen to, Neil’s vision raised one question – how can I understand what I may have been missing during the years I willingly collected music on CD and then ripped them to play as mp3 files? “High end” stereo equipment stores – back when such a thing existed – used to have listening rooms. They used to be scattered around malls and such but I haven’t come across one in decades. I wonder for those of us who have never experienced an analog recording studio does it really matter? Although I am curious I don’t have the urge to go out and reinvest in another format for the music I most often play. Besides, as I’m fond of saying, when you have abused your eardrums like I have over the years by massive amounts of Black Sabbath, Blue Oyster Cult or Uriah Heep (among others) played through headphones at high volume approaching the pain threshold, I might not be able to ever know there is a difference.

    1. Yeah, I’ve heard that audiophile sound can only be detected by people under 15. Most people my age have some kind of hearing problems. Yet, all those rock geezers getting out of Neal’s car and proclaiming they heard the best sound of their life makes me wonder. When I experimented with SACD the sound was indeed richer – as long as you sat and concentrated hard. Once you relaxed you attention, it felt the same. At best I could describe it as texture. That’s a strange way to describe it though, that the sound had more details to feel.

      I’m still maintaining hope that Neal Young is right, and there is more to heard from my favorite albums. But now that I’m retired, I’m not sure I have the money to waste to buy all my favorite albums for a 3rd and 4th time, especially at $25 a pop.

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