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Sunday, September 30, 2012

New Music Gear Monday: Neil Young's Pono Music Service

The Pono Player image from Bobby Owsinski's Big Picture production blog
Many of you might not have heard that music icon Neil Young gave a sneak peak of something that might turn out to be really cool last week on David Letterman's show (see the video below). Neil has railed for years against the poor quality of MP3s, the iTunes Store and streaming music, and has now put his money where his mouth was with the new Pono music service.

We don't know all that much about Pono, but here's what we do know:
  • All the files in the service are at 192kHz/24 bit.
  • There's a new player that goes with it, similar to an iPod, but with much higher quality digital to audio convertors (see the graphic on the left).
  • The Pono player has two headphone jacks, presumably for sharing.
  • Dolby and Meridian are involved, presumably to license the Meridian Lossless Packing (MLP) codec to Pono to decrease those big 192k files to about half their size.
The major labels are already on board (with Warner Music licensing their 8,000 album catalog to Pono) and the release is scheduled for sometime in 2013.

It appears that this is a download service, but a major question is how consumers will deal with the long download times of such a huge hi-res audio file. Even if MLP encoding is used, we're still talking about a file much more than twice as large as a regular CD file at 44.1kHz/16bit. According to one account, when asked the question Young replied, "That's what overnight is for." That may be so, but in this new Music 3.0 world of instant gratification, I don't think that will cut it for most of the potential audience.

That said, you have to love that we may be getting a new hi-res audio format that may actually have a shot at catching on. For more on the industry implications of Pono, check out today's post on my Music 3.0 blog.


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JLiRD808 said...

How long to transfer one song file you think? An iPod is like 2-3 seconds. While not always necessary, it's convenient sometimes when u're on the go and want that sh*t NOW lol!

P. Graham said...

*sigh* Neil is brilliant, but this way overshoots what's necessary to correct the ills of mp3. 44.1/16 or MAYBE 44.1/24 are absolutely all that is necessary to completely represent all audible sound. And why not compress with the free & standard FLAC format instead of a new proprietary one? Audio professionals don't even record at 192 - rarely higher than 48 - because they know there's no need. If you don't immediately discard the supersonic higher frequency data, you actually make it sound worse on most equipment.

Bobby Owsinski said...

I don't know any pro music guys that record at less than 96k any more. Most of them would go to 192 if the system resources weren't cut in half.

By the way, the iTunes store is also asking for 96/24 these days.

Keep in mind that analog represents infinite samples, therefore, the higher sample rate you use the closer you are to analog.


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