Neil Young finally reveals Pono, and it’s sounding quite different than was originally hyped

Neil Young finally reveals Pono, and it's sounding quite different than was originally hyped

Neil Young has been talking up Pono, a high-fidelity alternative to the MP3 format, for years now, even using space in his 2012 autobiography Waging Heavy Peace to discuss its possibilities (called “PureTone” then). Now, finally, the details of PonoMusic have been revealed and you can pre-order your very own PonoPlayer at a discounted rate ($300; retail is $400) via this Kickstarter campaign. You also have the option to pay the full $400 and have your PonoPlayer “signed” (via laser engraving) by your choice of Beck, Jack White, Patti Smith, Arcade Fire, Foo Fighters, Dave Matthews Band, Willie Nelson, and many others.

But hang on. Maybe it’s all the SXSW “innovation” chatter this week, or the fact that PonoMusic’s CEO is named John Hamm, but I’m seeing something very different described on this Kickstarter page than what has been previously hyped. It was my understanding that Pono was going to be a file format combining the convenience of small-size MP3s and the full-spectrum audio quality of FLACs. This was far more exciting to me than the details of the Player, and I know that I was not alone in this basic assumption. In fact, here’s part of Pitchfork’s announcement today:

The Kickstarter page clarifies that Pono is not just a new audio file format. “It is a grassroots movement to keep the heart of music beating,” the Kickstarter reads. “PonoMusic aims to preserve the feeling, spirit, and emotion that the artists put in their original studio recordings.”

Cool quotes, but what the Kickstarter actually clarifies is that Pono is not a new audio file format at all. Instead, the PonoPlayer is equipped to play FLACs. “CD lossless” FLACs, “high-resolution” FLACs, “higher-resolution” FLACs, and “ultra-high resolution” FLACs, but still the same FLACs that have been available as a format since 2001. Also, how could a 128 GB PonoPlayer hold the long-promised “1,000 to 2,000 albums” if they’re all in massive FLAC files? Well, it couldn’t! Not even close! As an updated post on Consequence of Sound reveals, “the device will hold up to 5,000 tracks, which would be about 417 12-song albums.” And that’s at “CD lossless” quality, the lowest of four available on the PonoMusic store.

Does that not matter to you? Seems pretty important to me.

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