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Musical Space

Musical Space: Neil Young’s Pono


Neil Young has always been terrifically outspoken how the music business can hurt music quality; he’s also been doing something about it.

Coming off a successful Kickstarter campaign, he’s developing a new music delivery service called Pono. Pono promises to bring higher quality digital recordings by avoiding over-compression and by using a much higher sampling rate and bit depth.

It won’t be cheap; the special Pono player will set you back about $400, and albums in the new format will cost between $15 and $25.

Neil Young’s idea is controversial. Many say you won’t be able to hear a difference between Pono and the best MP3s; other high-definition systems have failed before.

But I like that he’s doing this. Many people argue that MP3 sound quality is weak and that although CD quality is better, it sounds flat and sterile. Vinyl is the preferred method of delivery for audiophiles, though size and cost can make it inconvenient.

It’s a fact that MP3 format really doesn’t sound good at all.

CDs are noticeably better than MP3, but typically flat and sterile; vinyl can sound better yet, but only in ideal conditions and with the obvious inconvenient downsides.

Maybe it’s the circumstances around Pono that I like. Someone paying $25 for an album is more likely to make an event out of hearing it, to carve out some quiet time, turn off the phone and listen carefully. And what more could a musician like Neil Young ask from a listener?