November 29, 2012 at 4:22 pm

Neil Young: Pono, Inspired by a Girl, ‘Fixes’ Digital Music

neil young pono

Neil Young discusses Pono with Jon Stewart on Wednesday night's The Daily Show.

After seeing an uptick in traffic to our stories about “Pono,” Neil Young’s putative solution for all that ails digital music (in the form of a hardware player and high-resolution music that would go with it), we wondered: What’s up with that?

As it turns out, Neil was on The Daily Show last night, talking about his new book, his new album, and, yes, digital music enthusiasts, Pono. That explains why so many people are seeking out our Pono articles not only here — but also on syndication partners, Huffington Post, and Hypebot, which are sending people through to here too.

First, check out our coverage on Neil Young and Pono, the hardware/audio format solution with which Young hopes to make digital music sound better:

Then, here’s the latest — what Neil Young said about Pono to Jon Stewart last night:

“I’m not trying to change the world — I’m just trying to make it so that when I look at it, it’s great, you know what I mean? Not so I can make a million dollars, or even a gazillion…

“For instance, I’m walking down the street, and I see some beautiful girl walking along, and… she’s got these white things [which we take to be first-generation iPod headphones] coming out of her ears. And I’m going, ‘That poor girl. She’s listening to real crap.’ And I go, ‘It’s so easy to fix that,’ and I put together a team of people and we fixed it…

“People don’t have MP3 listening parties. They have vinyl listening parties — a vinyl evening at my house, or something. People — like, my own daughter is having her wedding, and she’s so excited, she called me up, ‘Daddy, I got a DJ — they’re only going to play soul 45s — got real 45s in a turntable.’ And they’re doing this because you can feel it, and you can hear it.

“So, I don’t want to go on a big rap here, but 21st-century digital, what we have with Pono, it’s not your mother’s digital. It’s a whole other thing.

(Jon Stewart: What do you lose, when you compress music?)

“You lose the soul. You lose the feeling. You lose what makes you feel good, what makes music live, and it’s like, oh my god, if you were Picasso, and you made a Picasso and then it came out, and everybody saw it, and it was a Xerox of a Picasso, that’s what it feels like. People aren’t used to hearing the real thing anymore, so we just want to give a choice.

“MP3s and everything — that’s great. It’s all fine. But we think, with the same convenience, that you could hear everything, sound great. You
know, how do you live it, feel it?

“It’s very easily done, and it’s not a secret. As soon as people hear it, they’ll realize that it’s not a secret.

(Jon Stewart: What do you, add cowbell?”)

“Yeah, that’s good. I like that.”

First, there is an app that adds cowbell. Stewart is a little late to that party.

Second, it sounds like the Pono audio format (to be sold by the Pono music service and played on the Pono music player) will in fact be higher-resolution music, which is mathematically closer to vinyl, even though some doubt whether humans really can tell the difference.

Third of all, people definitely do have MP3 listening parties.

That said, we heart Neil as much as anyone does, and we can’t wait to check out Pono with our own actual ears, and to see where the hardware stands. Just as music players are turning into apps, Neil Young, ever the contrarian, is seeking to turn one back into hardware (today’s smartphones can’t decode super-high-resolution music files, so Pono will require special hardware).

Finally, here’s the video in question:

  • Mark R.M. Holmstrand

    I’m just so happy he is doing this. I currently only use Apple Lossless, FLAC and Wav files on my digital devices. But they are only as good as the CDs they come from. There are high resolution FLAC files available that are made from analog sources, but these are very rare. SACD was a great near analog digital choice. Low adoption doomed it. I really hope Pono takes off. We deserve it.

  • Mike Mudge

    I was discussing Pono with my low profie, audio industry giant, friend, Nelson Pass yesterday. We had both seen Young on the Stewart Show the day before. Nelson’s credenials are available on Google. Pono cannot work….period. Nelson is a very open minded, non-critical, person. Thus, he was not slamming Young….simply stating a fact. If you want the best you’ll only find it on a well pressed LP, on a good Stereo Hi-Fi system. CD’s and DVD’s have consderable sound loss too. People can hear music any where, any time. We used to “LISTEN” to music bcause it wasn’t portable. Now we only hear.

  • peterm

    As Nelson Pass heard Pono ? Why make a comment until you’ve heard the real deal. Nobody else is putting themselves on the line for sound look how long it’s taken for people to consider eating healthy ,you have to start somewhere. Keep moving forward Neil!!!

  • George Bowles

    lol, dvd audio > vinyl

  • Todd

    Neil Young is really showing his age, and I’m a huge fan of his. He blames the lack of people interacting with music on the sound quality. I grew up listening to my favourite songs on a mono AM radio and graduated to a crappy cassette boombox. It was the songs I remember, not the quality. Neil doesn’t like music as much as he used to, it’s obvious, and he is blaming it on something other than the music.