Neil Young has for a long time been pernickety with the sound of recorded music. This is a man who can, it is said in the 2002 biography “Shaky”, tell the exact amount of voltage going into his guitar. A man who for years resisted putting out his vast collection of archives until a media capable of the storage and sound quality he was after was available – Blu-ray. And a man that despised the sound quality of CDs, and – particularly so – MP3s.
For some time now Neil Young has been working on his own music system. That’s both a player, and a system for providing music in a high definition format. The system, and the player, is called Pono. The name comes from a Hawaiian word, meaning ‘righteous’. It is for Young, a system that will have us listening to the music as created in the studio. Pure music, converted from the highest possible definition digital music files, into something approaching the warmth and clarity of analog music.
Young first took out patents in 2011, and in May that year, he wrote this:
“2012 will be the year that record companies release High Definition Audio. This is huge for our industry. Since the advent of the CD, listeners have been deprived of the full experience of listening. With the introduction of MP3s via online music services, listeners were further deprived.
“The spirituality and soul of music is truly found when the sound engulfs you and that is just what 2012 will bring. It is a physical thing, a relief that you feel when you finally hear music the way artists and producers did when they created it in the studio. The sound engulfs you and your senses open up allowing you to truly feel the deep emotion in the music of some of our finest artists. From Frank Sinatra to the Black Keys, the feeling is there. This is what recording companies were born to give you and in 2012 they will deliver.”
2012 won’t be the year, rather it will be 2013. There will be a range of Pono music players, a digital audio to analog-like sound file conversion tool, and an online music store. Last night Neil Young appeared on the David Letterman Show, and showed off a prototype of a Pono music player. Ignore the ad at the start, and catch a glimpse of Pono, of Young’s motivation for building it, and a mention of the deals he has done with record labels. Here’s the video (be sure to wait for the pre-roll ad to finish):