In the previous blog “The Future of Digital Audio Quality,” I mentioned in passing that Neil Young is one prominent member of the music industry speaking out in favor of increasing audio quality in digital music. In the months since we posted that blog, we’ve been hearing more and more about what Young is actually doing to improve audio quality. Namely, he is developing a new digital music service called Pono that provides digital audio at higher quality than CDs. Naturally, those of us in the online mastering industry are eager to learn more about this service.
What is Pono?
First of all, we want to say that we’re glad it’s Neil Young that’s behind Pono, because he is well-known enough to be able to talk about the service on late night talk shows and in other venues. If Young wasn’t involved, it’s quite likely that we would know nothing about this service as of yet – and even what we do know is somewhat incomplete at this point.
In its most simple terms, Pono intends to present digital audio in an uncompressed high definition audio format with the same quality it is typically recorded in: a sampled rate of 192 kHz and a depth of 24-bit. As a comparison, CD quality is 44.1 kHz/16-bit.
In his appearance on “The Daily Show,” host Jon Stewart asked Young what audio loses due to compression.
“You lose the soul,” Young answered. “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.”
Here’s the thing – not only is it going to be expensive to produce these files, most of today’s smart phones, MP3 players and even computers aren’t going to be able to play these files at full quality. So ostensibly the files can only (for now) be played on Pono hardware, which has yet to be released.
The latest news of the service is that Pono employees have approached dance clubs about using the music service. The problem with this is that Billboard is already reporting at least one expert has said even with the correct Pono player, if a club (or anyone else) uses the same speakers they use on today’s audio, they will find no difference in quality.
Will Anyone Want the Pono Service?
The overall answer is an assured yes, because a brief survey of ourselves finds that we would definitely like to hear the difference in quality of the Pono files – and we’re sure many others in the audio mastering and record industry in general feel the same. However, we fear that the general public might not feel the same way.
But with the focus on dance clubs, it would appear the general public may not be the target market – at least not for the personal listening habits of the general public. But we’ll see – among the many factors that remain to be seen are if the service will be affordable and if phones and audio players will be adapted to play the files.
However, the most important question is this: will anyone care? We’re at least curious to follow the progression of the idea – and we’ll keep you updated on new developments.