Neil Young has come out swinging in his latest Pono-promoting interview, blaming Apple for a lack of investment in his Pono project, while also calling the vinyl revival "nothing but a fashion statement".

With the PonoPlayer now on sale, Neil Young's publicity campaign is stepping up a few notches. His latest interview saw Young in typically outspoken form, as he pushed once more the merits of his new high-resolution music player and high-res audio in general.

In amongst now familiar claims that the PonoPlayer "creates the best digital sound... it's the mother of all formats", he also revealed that the Pono project, which also includes a high-res download store and plans for in-car audio, has struggled to raise investment. 

Asked what would be next for Pono in an interview with Vulture, a slightly presumptuous question for a product barely on the market, Young replied: "It’s anybody’s guess. We’re in uncharted territory, really... No one knows. Investors won’t invest."

And whose fault is that? Well, Apple's to an extent, according to Young.  

"We don’t see big investors swarming towards Pono to invest in it because why? Well, because we have Apple. Everyone’s scared of Apple. Everyone thinks Apple must be it. They’re the biggest. They’re the best. Well, they’re the biggest and they’re a consumer company and they do a great job of making consumer products."

More after the break

Young also cited Apple when it came to identifying why MP3 had become the digital standard, though he was quick to praise what the company had achieved (Apple is doing rather well, lest we forget): "We got there [having MP3 as a standard] because people became really impressed with convenience and a number of features available on smartphones and on devices made by Apple. And they were pioneering devices and they were great.

"It’s fantastic what Apple’s been able to accomplish. However, it was not envisioned by Steve Jobs that MP3 was going to be a standard for music."

Of course Apple adopted the AAC format for its own digital music store, not MP3, but we get Young's general point (which we made a couple of years ago).

MORE: Young: Pono is the same as the iPod but sounds like God

Young on vinyl

Young was also unconvinced by the vinyl revival. Young said: "It’s a niche and it’s a great niche and it’s a wonderful thing and I hope people continue to enjoy vinyl and it continues to grow because it’s a good thing.

"However, a lot of people that buy vinyl today don’t realise that they’re listening to CD masters on vinyl and that’s because the record companies have figured out that people want vinyl. And they’re only making CD masters in digital, so all the new products that come out on vinyl are actually CDs on vinyl, which is really nothing but a fashion statement."

Certainly we know a hefty chunk of turntables being sold now are complete systems for around £100, such as the Crosely systems sold by Urban Outfitters. So it's easy to argue there may be an element of the "fashion statement" in some of those purchases. But we're not sure there's anything much wrong with that - and people are clearly making similar considerations when they buy headphones, smartphones and plenty of other products.

Regardless, we're sure Young is happier that people are talking about these comments than the rumours some Pono execs think high-res audio is no more than a marketing gimmick...

You can read our PonoPlayer hands-on review now - look out for our full review soon.


Jota180's picture

If you test it on people who

If you test it on people who own iPhones then they're perhaps going to be accustomed to the sound of iPhones or MP3.  There's another test that a music/audio lecturer at a US university has conducted every year for a good number of years and it's between lossless and lossy files and he's found that as the years pass, more and more youngsters said they preferred the sound of the lossy tracks.  That's basically because it's what most of them grew up listening to and in the tests they chose familiarity over resolution.

It's similar to bands. We all have an idea what our favourite band sounds like.  If you grew up listening to AC/DC from the start then Brian Johnson just doesn't cut it. But I had a friend who started listening to the Brian Johnson era AC/DC and when I played TNT sung by Bon Scott he turned his nose up saying - 'wtf is that?' and preferred Brians version.

Ideally this test should be conducted on a group of people who have never used either the Pono or the iPhone.

fr0g's picture

Er, that's to put it bluntly,

Er, that's to put it bluntly, nonsense. Not least the highly irrelevant analogy to bands such as AC/DC.

The reason is, a good quality MP3 version of any HD track will sound the same, on any player.

I wouldn't be surprised if the DAC/analogue output of an iPhone (or many other smartphones) was at least as good as that in the pocket-unfriendly (imo the biggest turn-off) Pono.

HD music is pointless. You, I or any human for that matter cannot tell the difference. 16/44.1 is MORE than enough to go beyond the capacity of the human auditory system. Any differences on HD versions are down to mastering only. And I have yet to meet anyone who can tell a 320 Kbps MP3 apart from a CD ripped to lossless. 

I would respect Neil Young a LOT more if he had started a campaign to produce "audiophile" CD quality.

(I still like his music though Smile )

Laraine's picture

I'm used to the sound of my iPod now

but going back to my hi-fi STILL sounds like going to heaven. The fact is,  no matter how "hi-res" the sound of a CD (or music file) it's not going to sound like hi-fi if it isn't played on hi-fi equipment (on which you'd need to spend tens of thousands these days). When CDs first came out they did tend to sound a bit clinical, but this isn't the case any more. The CDs I own all run circles around my LPs (of which I have about 800).

My hi-fi might be ancient, BTW, but it still holds its own (Quad ESLs—the original ones—with 33 pre-amp and 303 amp).

Mike Wilson's picture

Appleinsider commisioning

Appleinsider commisioning Yahoo to do a blind testing.  How about a deaf testing of players while we're at it.

iMark's picture


AAC was adopted by Apple but has never been an Apple proprietary format. Maybe you should do some research before writing nonsense like "Of course Apple actually pioneered digital music with its own AAC format, (...)".

The Pono is a project for idiots. Why would you want to listen to hires audio in noisy environments? I can sort of understand that hires audio makes sense in a listening room. I have a few SACDs and Bluray Audio Discs. But I'm not interested in listening to an SACD through earphones on public transport or in a car.


Graham Luke's picture

Blah, blah, blah...

The more Young opens his mouth, the more I lose respect for him.

It's one thing to repeatedly contradict yourself, '16/44.1 is cr_p-16/44.1 is good', but to talk plain tosh in support of your absurdly designed music player gets you nowhere.

Cry me a river, Neil.


AlbaBrown's picture

Pono killing off lossless audio

Mr Young, and Pono, are as guilty as Apple for hammering a nail in the coffin of lossless audio. 

As pointed out, Hi-Res files played on a (sub standard) portable device is NOT conducive to evaluating performance differences.

All it does is fuel the (mis-informed) argument that "we humans" can't hear the difference. An argument "validated" by so called experts that seem to believe that bit depth and sample rate are the only variables in digital music (and that sample rate only has a bearing on the brick wall filter cut off). But then "digital is digital" isn't there is no need for any form of error correction then.....

Specialist hifi engineering has been founded (and proven) on ensuring quality discreet components, with careful isolation of those components from sources of interference (vibration, electrical, rf etc) and all of that gets thrown out of the window with using iPhones/portables (and some of the 5 Star junk promoted).

The real idiots are those who quite happily except products that hold the industry(s) back:

Apple are crippling pc development - you're all quite happy to spend THOUSANDS on 5k iMacs running thermally throttled mobile cpus when specialist PCs are offer significantly more performance for under half the price.

Samsung/Sony/Panasonic etc flood the TV market with entirely unsuitable panel technology (not matter how much you bullshit about the specs, LCD-LED lit technology was NEVER intended for fast motion content viewed from anywhere other than head-on).

Just two examples of inappropriate technology that negates the quality of the material fed to them.

And as for there being "no harm" in fashion oulets selling turntables!!!?? Take  pristinely mastered high quality pressings and play it on that tat and you might as well kiss goodbye to vinyl at the same time.

Highway's picture

"Apple are crippling pc

"Apple are crippling pc development - you're all quite happy to spend THOUSANDS on 5k iMacs running thermally throttled mobile cpus when specialist PCs are offer significantly more performance for under half the price."

Why can't people spend their money on Apple iMacs if they feel that suits them, not everyone (the vast majority) is interested in what the performance under the hood is. If the product works for them, then fine. So what if it costs a bit more. The beauty of Mac's and I've been used them along side PC's for years is they are great for the non techie. PC's however generate multitudes of tech questions.

PC's also are not immune for grossly expensive components. Just look at the lastest motherboards, processor and RAM options, you can quite easily go int 2,3 or 4 thousand pounds.

JohnNB's picture

Vinyl from CD masters

I'm not that interested in music players - hi res or nor, exactly because for the reasons already made about listening to music in noisy environments. I was interested in Neil Young's comments about new vinyl being made from cd masters though. I'd never considered this, (durrhh!) and it may explain why some recently bought vinyl sounds dull and lifeless compared to the original, (scratched) copies. I've looked at the new albums and there's no indication that they are mastered from cds. Is it possible to find this out before I waste any more money?

Tim2010's picture


The majority of vinyl these days is sourced from digital files. For current popular/alternative music often from 44.1kHz-16bit, if you're lucky 44.1/24bit at best (I even heard from a mastering engineer, that the artist came up with mp3-files, he refused, so he lost the job and a part of his income). For re-issues of classic rock, jazz and classic mainly digital masters at 96kHz-24bit or 192kHz-24bit the labels supply. And then we haven't talked about the poor pressing quality of records these days. I own both vinyl, cd, sacd, blu-ray audio and hi-res audio in my collection, and all I want to say is that vinyl is the biggest snake oil of them all. Off course we have the vinyl trend now, supported by those "alternative hipster musicblogs" that keep talking about the "warm analog feeling". There's nothing warm or analog on current vinyl sound reproduction, and certainly not when they got played on plastic Crosleys. The 2nd hand records I got from family members (often more than 40 years old) sound better than anything I bought over the last two years. It's ridiculous but you can't fight the masses, they already brainwashed by the media dominated by Apple, Crosley, Spotify and Beats Audio.

LogainTB's picture

I'm not sure but some labels

If we're talking reissues some labels state which master has been used.

Dave Haynie's picture

Vinyl from CD masters... not quite

I don't think that's necessarily true. Ok, sure, for new material, both originate in a common master at some point, even if that's all the way back to the final mix from the artist before it's turned over to the record company. 

And yet, vinyl enthusiasts are hearing better sound on some LPs. It's not just self-hypnosis. In truth, there's no reason in the world an LP should sound better than a CD... it doesn't have anywhere near the dynamic range. It can technically have some higher frequencies (which all Pono haters are going to tell us you can't hear anyway), but unless they do a 1/2 or 1/3 speed master, the LP won't have those higher frequencies, as it would destroy the cuttting lathe. And your typical turntable -- as opposed to the multi-thousand-dollar type the audiophiles buy -- isn't capable of delivering those high frequenices anyway. Too much mass and capacitance in the pickups. An LP should sound worse than a CD. 

But an LP is also immune to the worst part of the CD mastering process -- this whole loudness wars thing. You can't put that on vinyl. If you could, they probably would have invented it in the 60's or 70's, not the 90's. But if you tried, the LP would only hold 10 minutes per side, and most players wouldn't be able to track it. Same reason the low freqencies on an LP are cut by 20dB in the mastering-for-LP process. So they may start with the same master as the CD, but they're not getting what goes onto the CD. That crazy compression also leads to digital clipping... there are plenty of mass market CDs with that kind of distortion. And that's just it... mass market. The other thing about LPs is that the record companies know they're only sold to hipsters and audiophiles. So they do get better treatment. Same reason the CD layer on an SACD, or a SHM-CD sounds better -- it's made with an audiophile-tuned master, not a mass market, loud-for-the-radio master. 

Neil's got the right idea here, and it's not even really all that much about player. He want to be able to get that master copy -- the one that the artist released to the record company, directly to listeners ears. No record company meddling, no format-mastering needed, just the pure as-intended release to our players. Whatever you believe about higher spec audio, this will be dramatically higher quality audio. That would be the revolution of Pono... and of course, that's just starting. 

Tim2010's picture


The mastering of LP's is due to technical restrictions of vinyl-format sometimes different. But I can tell you the majority of current releases comes straight from digital sourced files. The non-loudness war mastering is the only reason why current music might sound better on vinyl (if you have the luck to get a good non-warped pressing).

Reissue-labels like Music on Vinyl,... all use digital hi-res sourcefiles for their albums. Deutsche Grammophon has been completely archived as 96kHz-24bit files and that's what they use as source for cd's, hi-res downloads, Japanese sacd's and vinyl.

Only a few labels do (sometimes) direct analog to vinyl transfers, and they come at a premium price. But they are very few: some records Speakers Corner and Analogue Productions. With some luck some Audio Fidelity and Mobile Fidelity discs, but not all of them!

The 2 latest Norah Jones LP's from AP are sourced from 44.1/24bit files as well,...

They have to take what the labels give them. Labels don't care about the art or the sound, they just want money.

The meaning of Pono was also to raise the bar again for audio / recording /production quality, because "good enough" has been the norm. Labels see this as a threat, because they don't want their bands to spend millions of their money in professional recording studios. If they can sell a product that was made in a guy's bedroom, why should they spend millions of money on prestigious studios ... Most people will never hear the difference.

guyatwhathifi's picture

Loudness war

The loudness war destroyed most of the CD quality that is far superior to vinyl and which is also without the typical drawbacks of vinyl.

Go to dr.louness-war and be totally horrified at how badly they have destroyed the dynamic range of today's pop and rock music. Nowadays 'remastered' mostly stands for FUBAR. While we're at it, load the plug-in into Foobar2000 and find out how bad the DR is of your own cd's. If you have any cd's from before the iPod got on the market, notice how much better they are mastered. Notice also that hardly any classical music on CD has been submitted to the compression that has ruined most pop music.

For those who think analog music is better than digital music this: the presence, as has been proven numerous times, of a digital processor cannot be reliably detected (so much for Young's "analog" warm shower water comparison to "digital" ice pellets).

As stated before, Mr Young (who I believe to be one of the most talented musicians we are blessed with) is someone not to be trusted at all when he speaks about the technical quality of music.