I love this idea.
Neil Young finally got his wish to attempt to restore audio fidelity to our lives. They are calling the thing Pono and most of the press reports on it present it as a battle with Apple’s iTunes world (which is currently living on the 256k mp4 format).
But most modern ears miss the real battle Young is waging – Neil and many of us hold the belief that the CD format (16bit/44khz no compression, developed in the late 1970’s) is still inferior to pre-existing analog technologies of the time. It’s an argument started in the 1980’s and never settled.
The mp3 transition in the 1990’s built on the CD format as the standard and clouded this argument, since almost every mpeg compression style since is a derivative of a CD format lossless version.
The marketplace chose CD, then MP3, over full analog recording or hi-res digital. But people’s ears and emotions are not controlled by the marketplace.
So is Young going to put a 1970’s hi-end turntable in your purse? Of course not.
Pono is digital, but it’s a digital format that completely ignores the CD debacle. See — the final masters of the music you love is more than likely analog if it was created before 2000. If it’s 21st century modern music it was probably mixed and mastered digitally, but at 24 bit and higher than 44khz, with no hint of file compression.
Remember digitally remastered in the early 90’s? That was to the 1978 CD standard. Our mp3’s are degraded descendants of that.
This Pono product could digitally remaster again, but to a much higher standard, 24 bit, 192khz to be exact. This, to even the most pristine and trained ears, is enough bandwidth to reproduce any previously recorded music without degradation.
BTW We can and probably will go higher in future generations, for instance, future formats and speaker tech might be able to approach mimicking symphonic performances.
So the record labels have agreed to go back and remaster some of the classics direct to 24/192, and Neil Young’s company has built this triangle-block iPody thing with supposedly strong playback specs and the ability to hook into the Pono store. Mainstream media is killing him, saying he thinks he can topple Apple.
I actually love the idea, and think a Pono player looks like a nice long term investment for the music you love. Lossless masters played at their highest quality, with no subscription or planned obsoleteness from Apple or other smartphone makers.