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Neil Young Launches Pono High-Res Music Player & Download Service

Neil Young is set to introduce his Pono digital music players and companion download service, which are capable of providing consumers 24-bit/192kHz files for download and playback.


Neil Young explains to David Letterman his new Pono digital music player and companion music download service.

Recently the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Japan is facing a shortage of obscure vinyl recordings. Here on U.S. soil, Americans consume music much differently than Japanese consumers by choosing downloaded music files over physical media. The preferred retailer for most of these digital music purchases is Apple’s iTunes store, but if classic rocker Neil Young has his way consumers will bypass iTunes in favor of his quality-driven Pono products.

Several websites, including are reporting that Young is preparing to release his Pono line of high-resolution portable music players, as well as a music download service and a digital-to-analog conversion technology that is designed to present material as it sounded during the recording sessions.

According to, Pono has the backing of Warner Music Group (WMG), Universal Music Group (UMG) and Sony Music, and WMG has converted its 8,000 album titles to 24-bit/192kHz digital files. Reportedly the conversion of these titles was done before the company partnered with Young, and Craig Kallman, chairman and chief executive of Atlantic Records, tells the publication, that he and Young met with representatives from Meridian Audio and Dolby Laboratories in mid 2011 to help launch Pono. Once WMG agreed to partner with the startup digital music project, Pono approached UMG and Sony about converting their catalogs into high-resolution digital files. “This has to be an industry-wide solution. This is not about competing … this is about us being proactive,” Kallman tells “This is all about purely the opportunity to bring the technology to the table.”

Meridian Audio chairman and chief technical officer Bob Stuart told CE Pro that the company was happy to help Young develop the Pono solution through Meridian’s years of digital audio experience. “For three decades Meridian has focused on developing technologies to deliver the best possible sound reproduction, in the service of music and in the pursuit of perfection,” says Stuart. “We are proud to be working with Neil, the Pono team and partners in the music industry. Something different … something great is coming.”

In his newly released book “Waging Heavy Peace” Young says that he has been working on a digital music distribution solution for a long time and before his death he spoke to Apple co-founder Steve Jobs about Pono.

Rolling Stone adds that Young has also been working on a marketing campaign that includes testimonials from musicians such as Mumford & Sons and My Morning Jacket. The lead singer and guitar player for My Morning Jacket, Jim James, points out that there is only one potential problem he sees with Pono. “Neil’s premise is cool, and I think it’s exciting as a traveling musician. [There is a caveat, however, and] I think he has to be careful; I’ve already bought Aretha Franklin’s ‘Respect’ [Young played the song to James in a high-resolution version] a lot of times. Do I have to buy it again?” he says rhetorically to the magazine. (Coincidentally, today marks the 30th anniversary of the introduction of the CD, the physical media format whose sales have sunk thanks to the advent of digital downloads.)

Young says his hardware products will work with existing digital music files, and he says it will force iTunes to improve its quality. Red Hot Chili Peppers bass player Flea defends Young’s work on the project by telling Rolling Stone, he is doing it to improve the listening experience for consumers. “His reasons are so not based in commerce; they are based on the desire for people to really feel the uplifting spirit of music,” says Flea. “MP3s suck. It’s just a shadow of the music.”

Here's the appearance by Young on "Late Night with David Letterman" to talk about Pono:

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Article Topics

News · Video · Digital Media · Audio · Meridian · Steve Jobs · Dolby · Music · Pono · Digital Music · Downloadable Music · · All topics

About the Author

Robert Archer, Senior Editor, CE Pro
Bob is an audio enthusiast who has written about consumer electronics for various publications within Massachusetts before joining the staff of CE Pro in 2000. Bob is THX Level I certified, and he's also taken classes from the Imaging Science Foundation (ISF) and Home Acoustics Alliance (HAA). In addition, he's studied guitar and music theory at Sarrin Music Studios in Wakefield, Mass.

4 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by Tom L  on  10/01  at  04:12 PM

Go Neil!
Mp3s are the worst thing to happen to music since the invention of recording technology. For example, listen to a cymbal as the drumstick hits it…the initial attack, the overtones, the decay…it’s easy to tell what it is. Then listen to a low bit-rate Mp3 of the same instrument. Yuck! It just goes “ting”, no character or overtones at all. It could be anything.
This must change or recorded music will cease to mean anything to the human experience.

Posted by mk  on  10/02  at  12:33 PM

Content sells technology.  This is just a me-too, even if a higher quality me-to.  “Do I have to buy it again?” says it all.

Posted by TrustMeScience  on  10/02  at  02:43 PM

We have done extensive tests on this. So have dozens of audio developers.

There’s one thing all the science has made clear: If Pono offers any sonic advantage, it won’t be due to file resolutions.

Blind AB listening tests confirm that even trained audio engineers and self-professed audiophiles can not hear the difference between 256kbs and 320bps files and the original high-resolution masters.

If there is any sound advantage to be had with Pono, it might come from improved headphones, speakers, *possibly* amplifier sections, and *maybe* DA converters.

You can listen for yourself if you want and decide on your own! Here’s a link for that:

Posted by Robert Archer  on  10/02  at  03:03 PM

Positioning your readers as experts/audiophiles hardly qualifies as trained professional audio engineers with the required set of skill sets to tell the difference between file formats in a blind A/B test.

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