Neil Young's hi-res audio service will lead to "ridicule and failure"

18 Oct 2012

Neil Young PonoAn industry expert has slammed Neil Young’s attempt to create a high-resolution music service. Linn Products managing director Gilad Tiefenbrun has dismissed the Pono project as "misguided" in a blog on Linn’s website.

"There are already music players that play high resolution digital files. In FLAC we have a perfectly good file format that is free, open and lossless.

"Pono risks fragmenting the market, confusing many of those music lovers who would choose high quality, and delaying the standardisation and adoption of high resolution by the wider music industry."

Linn has been at the forefront of streaming audio in the hi-fi world, ditching production of CD players back in 2010 and enthusiastically pushing its range of streaming products. So of course the company has interests to protect.

Young hasn’t said much about the Pono hi-res audio project since unveiling a prototype device on The Letterman Show.

But in his new book, Waging Heavy Peace, he reaffirms his belief that his project will "save the sound of music". He also reveals that Pono, meaning "righteous" in Hawaiian, was originally called Puretone. 

The download service is expected next year, along with a range of players. No fixed date or price just yet, but we’ll be keeping an eye on Neil Young and Pono next year.

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"In FLAC we have a perfectly good file format that is free, open and lossless. Pono risks fragmenting the market..."

I guess the implication is that the Pono download service will be offering some new weird non-FLAC format?

I personally love hi-res audio, especially DSD, AS LONG AS IT IS WELL MASTERED. There is unfortunately  a ton of rubbish-sounding so-called "audiophile" material on the market, that is anything but audiophile even though it is 24/192. See 90% of HDTracks releases, which are simply licensed old digital remasters from the 90s, often transferred from second or third generation tapes. Early SACDs were often pretty poor also, again because all the attention was on the high resolution, and none on the quality of the actual remastering.

If you want genuine audiophile sound you need to look for those high class labels like Analogue Productions, MFSL, BIS, and yes, Linn (among others) - the labels that pay real attention to the mastering.

But for me "audiophile" can include some of those really well-mastered redbook CDs from labels such as DCC, MFSL, FIM and XRCD - sure, they would be even better in hi-res, but they still sound fantastic because they were so well mastered, with minimal or no dynamic compression, by people who care about audio.

As for portable players - I just don't believe the benefit of 24-bit is worth it. The quality of electronics that have to be squeezed into these little players is self-limiting due to the size. I can't believe that when I'm walking the busy streets and riding public transport that I'll hear any significant benefit. Not to mention the extra drain on battery life. Home listening is an entirely different matter.

24/192 downloads are THE FUTURE! No physical medium, stunning audiophile sound on the move via 4G Smartphones fitted with ultra performance DAC's, the phone plugged into a dock using Micro USB's (a de facto standard apart from Apple) to connect to HiFi systems etc...the revolution we all need!

Neil Young Rocks !!! - but he does have tinitus, not sure he is capbale of hearing the difference ;-(

The problem I can see with Neil Young doing this high res audio service is that everyone will be able to hear just how bad he is at singing and guitar playing!!

I think the problem is that the Pono is going to use a new file format.  So if I buy a Pono music file it won't play on any other music streamer? The best way to promote high resolution music is to adopt a standard file format - and FLAC is the obvious choice - so that consumers can buy music with confidence that they'll be able to play it on whatever equipment they might want to use, both now and in the future.

I'm a big Neil Young fan and it's great that he cares about the audio quality of music as well as the music itself.  Whilst the Pono may introduce some to a better audio experience, I think I have to agree with Gilad on this one. 

As others have said, FLAC is free, open and supports metadata (album artwork, track name, artist, etc.) and it is losslessly compressed, making it bit for bit identical with the uncompressed original.

However, there is one thing that is optional in FLAC files and that is Replay Gain and EBU128 track and album levels. These levels allow albums or tracks to be played at equal loudness, which not only make playlists work better, but also expose the records that have been sacrificing dynamics for increased loudness (and this mastering method is what is really destroying music).

Pono will be niche and will therefore be as irrelevant as DVD-Audio and SACD have become.

What was wrong with vinyl? all this jiggery pokery just to listen to one direction, bah!

Bought some high res files. Then one day decided to downsample to 16/44.1 and ABX them. Could I tell a difference, could I heck. Could I tell a difference between "some" 24/96 files and a similar CD, yes, because the high res version is a different mastering.

16/44.1 is enough to reproduce everything perfectly up to 22 Khz. Beyond that humans can't hear. 


It's a waste of time and money IMO. Not only that but this kind of thing gets in the way of the real debate about poor mastering and over-loud, compressed music that seems to be the norm.


As for FLAC sounding different than WAV. Not a chance without faulty equipment. The file that gets played is "the same" both files get converted to PCM first. 

Everyone should be encouraged to bring forward Hig Resolution. A lot of people spend a lot of money on their Hi-Fi. Streaming is becoming the future with proven technology such as "uncompressed" Flac, WAV and 24 bit high res downloads becoming a real choice for Audiophiles.

Some of those making disparaging comments on these formats should take advantage of one of the many listening evenings put on by Linn and Naim dealers around the country. 



Fight the power! Or something...

Don't hold back, Alec!

Just a silly irrelevant rich old man with lots of misguided, awe stricken, posterior pecking mates like that Flea, or whoever it was, harping on about how lossless makes such a huge difference.

scotto wrote:
Flac to me sounds compressed and flat the sound loses shape and vocals do not break free of the mix.

Then whatever system you have it playing from (I'm guessing you're using a PC which is probably resampling) you have it configured wrongly. Properly setup you won't hear any difference compared to a CD player.

FLAC is a wonderful format.  Open source, free and it works.  

The only limitation is from the hardware.  Whether it be Linn, Naim, Bryston or any other manufacturer of source equipment, it is here that sound quality differences originate.  Not from the format.  

The only real problem at the moment, is the lack of high resolution material. And that hurts the audiophile community.  Without the attraction of quality, it will, quite simply, struggle to attract those who would otherwise pass it by. 


Flac to me sounds compressed and flat the sound loses shape and vocals do not break free of the mix.

Personally speaking there is no way I would class an iphone or pod as even being close to what can be described as a bonafide hifi component or source provider.

Whilst I would not at this time pay £50 for an album I definitely see and more importantly hear the need for a better quality format if I am ever to step over to a streaming format.

I think such initiatives should therefore be welcomed and not shunned, I guess it all comes down to how well you can hear music as to your opinion.



There's hardly any modern music on today's digital high-res. stores (Linn, HDTracks,...). It's always the same 20 classic rock albums they keep re-releasing every 3 years + boring audiophile demo-downloads/discs. I truly love classic rock music, but I don't need The Doors backcatalogue to be released every 3 years in just another "collector's box". 16y.o. kids won't buy "audiophile sound effects" downloads for £50. Why there's hardly any modern alternative or popular music available? I think there would be a market for artists like Arcade Fire, Adele, Black Keys, Alabama Shakes,... if they use "audiophile mastering" (not the load brickwalled masters from the cd's).

It's not about the product per sa, it's about the clientele.

Linn may figure high end customers might migrate to this service instead of using a Linn portal or product.

Whether it is ipod like or not is largely irrelevent.

It reminds me of a similar scenario which the legendary Parker Pens overcame. The marketing men thought  that Parker pens main rival was Papermate Pens and Steadtler Pens, they found out after research that it was predominantly competing with other non stationary GIFTS, as Parker pens were mainly bought as boxed gifts and not as they had presumed as a impliment to write with.

Whether or not this venture will succeed will depend on clever marketing as much as a solid library.

Why does the bloke from Linn care? Isnt the Pono an ipod-type machine? Linn don't make those..

If you buy in to whatever system the Pono uses its just like using iTunes for Apple machines. Apple does fine without supporting Flac files!!

Sounds like sour grapes to me........