Neil Young's Pono Music service aims to bring high-res audio to the masses, but reports suggest while Young is convinced by high-res, some Pono staff aren't – and see it purely as a business and marketing decision.

The PonoPlayer was on show at CES 2015, where Young also took the chance to reveal his plans for high-res audio in cars, but not everyone is convinced the high-resolution audio numbers add up - and it appears that includes people inside Pono.

The NY Post reports a source at Pono who says people at the company "don't necessarily believe it" and the push for high-res audio is purely "a business decision". 

The quotes, credited to a source close to the situation, said: "It has been clear throughout that Neil Young himself is all about the hi-res. There’s no doubt in his mind that it sounds better." In fact, Young has said that "Pono is the same as the iPod but it sounds like God". 

Others at Pono apparently aren't convinced: "Their take is that the serious audiophile has convinced himself he has to have it. They’re saying, 'We don’t necessarily believe it, but nobody’s going to buy it if we don’t do it.'"

Naturally, this isn't the best of news for Young and Pono, who are already facing a wider public - not to mention plenty of enthusiasts - who need convincing of the merits of better than CD-quality audio. You can read our thoughts on the matter in our 'High-res audio: the science behind the numbers' article.

More after the break

The Pono Music store for high-res downloads launched last week in the US, while the PonoPlayer sold out via Kickstarter and can now be pre-ordered for delivery in February.

There was plenty of noise about high-res audio at CES, with Tidal telling What Hi-Fi? that it has plans for a high-res streaming service, and Bob Stuart, founder of Meridian Audio, and Craig Kallman, CEO Atlantic Records, talking to What Hi-Fi? about its plans for MQA and high-res audio. Sony also launched its new flagship high-res Walkman.

Are you convinced by high-res audio and Neil Young's Pono project? Let us know in the comments below.

MORE: Neil Young on MP3, high-res audio, vinyl vs. CD and Steve Jobs

MORE: High-resolution audio - everything you need to know





colini's picture

Hi-Res music

What a surprising discussion! There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that CD quality ie 16/44.1k is significantly superior to mp3 and likewise significantly inferior to hi-res eg 24/96k and vinyl. To me there is no need for further debate on this matter. End of story!

hamiltonaccie's picture

colini, I couldn't agree more

colini, I couldn't agree more. Who are these cloth eared "executives" ?

They are probably the type of people who think better sound means booming bass and shrieking treble. They obviously have no idea about the true meaning high fidelity. Have any of them even heard of seemingly holographic 3d sound ?

Hatted's picture

I can understand

If you are listening to high res audio on a pair of Beats or a Blutooth speaker you aren't going to notice the difference. Add to that the fact that hearing range deteriorates with age and on ocasion I can see why someone wouldn't notice the difference. Unless you are planning on spending decent money on the amp/speakers/headphones you aren't going to notice much difference between high res and a very good mp3 rip.

Dead.Skin.Mask's picture

Typical elitist nonsense. I

Typical elitist nonsense. I've done many blind tests between 320k Mp3 vs Flac, and Flac vs Hi-Res Flac, and I've yet to hear any difference from either my Q Acoustics 2050i speakers or Bose Quiet Comfort 15 headphones, and neither has anyone else I've ever tried a blind test with. Hi-Res music is a big fat con.

Graham Luke's picture

Good comment.

This marketing excercise relies on nothing more that blind subjectivity; if you believe it sounds better then bully for you.

Monty at wrote a great essay entitled '24-192 Downloads are very silly indeed'. Given his expertise, the range of equipment at his disposal and his exhaustive testing, I will side with EMPIRICAL DATA rather that the blinkered subjectivity of the golden-eared brigade.


Dead.Skin.Mask's picture

Yeah, that's a great article,

Yeah, that's a great article, and one that "Audiophiles" conveniently ignore when trying to justify Hi-Res music.

AlbaBrown's picture

A Bose owner talking about cons!!?

Sorry DSK. But if you truly believe that you can evaluate different music formats/resolutions on budget floorstanding speakers, or headphones from a company with a documented history of MASSIVELY overpriced products considering their incredibly mediocre performance, and consider the results to be representative of other listeners experience with higher quality (and by no means dramtically more expensive) replay equipment, you are really kidding yourself.

It's nothing to do with being "in the elite", all industries have mainstream (very well marketed) brands, and more specialist firms.

Comparing music formats on your current equipment is like comparing JPEG images vs RAW on a sub £300 LG monitor. Run the same comparison through an EIZO factory calibrated monitor and the differences are clear!

Dead.Skin.Mask's picture

^^^ Even more elitist nonsense ^^^

What you're basically saying, is, that 90% of consumers won't have the necessary equipment to take advantage of Hi-Res music. Once people realise this, Hi-Res will fade into obscurity.

I'm also surprised that someone like you is 'slumming it' around What Hi-Fi, considering they speak very highly of the equipment I own.

Enjoy the view from your Ivory Tower.

AlbaBrown's picture

^^^ Even more elitist nonsense ^^^

Sorry but plucking percentage figures out of fresh air is not a valid argument. And it's nothing to do with price - you get very ordinary performance (as well as impressive performance) at ALL price levels.

For example, my PSB M4U 1 headphones (£220) are not the most expensive headphones in the world, but so much more revealing and natural/neutral compared to Bose/Sennheiser/B&W etc. Sticking them on my (aged) Galaxy S3 and going from mp3 to FLAC is VERY apparent! Even going from the S3 to my Nexus 7 (playing the same flac file) and you can hear the shift in presentation.

My main hifi system is above the general public average, but at that price level there is still junk out there!

Finally, I don't take any WHF reviews as seriously. Far too many 5 star awards for mediocre products. I won't comment as to why that is the case.....

Dead.Skin.Mask's picture

So you're able to hear

So you're able to hear frequencies that science says you can't?

Keep kidding yourself.

Hellraiser's picture

Who metioned frequencies?

DSM, not once did AB ever mention frequencies. You are missing the point of their debate if you think it is all about frequencies. It's about the quality of the sound, nuances, etc. If you have never been able to hear the difference high end (not necessarily high priced) audio makes then no debate is going to change your opinion.  Everybody's experience with sound differs from the next but to my ears, there is an enormous difference when it is done right.

Hi-Res only the other hand is a different beast entirely. I am very skeptical when it comes to Pono myself.  High End equipment aside, unless the original recording was recorded using high-res then I do not see the point of it? NY is flogging a dead horse if he thinks that we are going to get a "much improved sound" from his old recordings just by upsampling to a higher resolution.

Graham Luke's picture

WHF reviews?

"Far too many 5 star awards for mediocre products. I won't comment as to why that is the case..."

Oh, please! Tell us why that is the case!

On the contrary, I have found WHF reviews and ratings to be balanced and fair; something which stands in stark contrast to those 'audiophile' sites that place their editorial alongside adverts for ludicrously expensive cables and other assorted 'fluff'.

QuestForThe13thNote's picture

I would expect that most hi

I would expect that most hi-fi retailers and public at large (in doing tests) will probably agree that such tests of flac v hi res flac on £400-£500 Q Acoustics 2050i speakers will not discern a difference. Ive not heard them to know how good they are I should add, but they have had good reviews. It might depend on your amplification and source as well, but I suspect your speakers are at a price where these differences are hard to ascertain - ie between flac and hi res flac.  I would expect you should get a difference between mp3 v uncompressed CD quality flac. As I say it depends on your amplification and source and how is it connected? I can notice a difference in tests of mp3 v flac very obviously and between flac CD quality and flac hi-res. CD and hi-res are different in that hi frequencies and dynamic range is better. My speakers are quite a bit more expensive than yours though - £2300 PMC Twenty 23's, and Im getting to a level where the benefit of hi-res is worth it but not by a massive amount. Happy to help.

grooveminded's picture

Anyone who does not think

Anyone who does not think that higher resolution does not = more detail, thus, better "sound", is not listening to Hi Res.

fr0g's picture

CD is capable of holding high

CD is capable of holding high enough res so that nobody can tell it apart from anything higher. The 96 dB potential dynamic range is way higher than vinyl for example, and the frequency range, which can be perfectly reproduced from analogue is up to 22 KHz, which is more than any human can hear.

Downsample an HD file, invert the waveform and add it to the original...the resulting file is silence...there is some info below the noise floor (way below, ie silent), and above the range of human hearing.

HD is a ploy to sell better recordings. The better recordings bit I like, but I am quite happy not to waste my money and bandwidth on hundreds of megabytes of silence. 

People here saying HD is better are NOT comparing like for like masterings.

happy_hifi's picture

Telling the Difference.

What must be about 30 years ago now, I stood in a very well thought of Hi-Fi shop, due to have a bit of a listen, when the manager of the establishment made the following statement.

The main man behind the Rega company says that he cannot5 tell the difference between turntables and these new fangled CD players.

If true, and I believe it is, as I have heard it stated since, then it does show that not everyone can hear a difference.

I once compared a Neil Young record, played on a Nottingham Analogue front end, with a £700 cartridge and appropriate ancillaries with a £250 Arcam CD player in a correct set up and could not tell the difference.

I firmly believe a difference does exist, but it is not apparent to everyone. 

People's perception of difference is very different.



QuestForThe13thNote's picture

Price and telling the difference

I think the managers view between CD and turntables still holds true- it depends how much you spend. In the sound quality sense alone its clear to say CD took off because you need spend much less than you would do on a comparably sounding record deck. In relation to streaming and audiophile kit utilising hi-res, I think we are getting to a stage sound wise where digital streamers are eclipsing CD technology. At the very highest end the difference is obvious and most audiophile retailers will advocate this. Again as with the comparison of CD to Vinyl the difference in good CD and newer hi-res streaming technology comes down to price, but I think the difference is very much less marked when making such comparisons on budget kit such that hi-res doesnt make sense. I dont expect the mass market to move anytime soon because most people in the UK are happy with budget non audiophile hi-fi, which is fair enough, but it means hi-res will stay a niche market for those who are able to appreciate it on their systems. I think its a shame that some of the specialist hi-fi manufacturers dont try and exploit their technology for the mass market to move people into having proper hi-fi again from all these soundbases and docking stations. I dont have any interests other than really enjoying good hi-fi.

iMark's picture

Overkill for portable use

We have ripped all our CDs to Apple Lossless. But I have come to the conclusion that even Apple Lossless (CD quality) is overkill for portable use on the iPod Nano (also when used in the car). When I transfer music to the iPods I now use the iTunes setting to convert the ALAC files to 256 AAC on the fly. The ALAC files in iTunes are used for streaming around the house.

We do own about 40 hires discs which we enjoy (mainly hybrid SACDs and a couple of Blurays). Our upsampled CDs sound very good too.

I have come to the conclusion that hires is for a very limited market. There would be a bigger market for CD quality tracks in the iTunes store. I have only bought 1 (one!) track in the iTunes store over the years and that was because it was an iTunes only release. I will buy a CD or vinyl instead. 

But to answer the question: of hires files can sound better than CDs. But only if you get expensive gear and you can listen in a quiet environment. Hires in a car is outrageous.



magicrabbit's picture

Weird post

Come in my living room and I will make you hear the difference on my Naim / Spendor D7 speakers. High Res music is a major improvement (not all records, it depends on the mastering quality)

If the Pono executives really cannot hear the difference, they are deaf or deserve to be fired.

Graham Luke's picture

Mmmm; the clue is in your nom

Mmmm; the clue is in your nom-de-plume...

silver_fox's picture


If you think high res is better then it will be; if you don't then it probably won't.  I was falling into the high res trap but now spend more effort on trying to find well produced and mastered music.  A well mastered track on a 320 mp3 will sound better than a brick-walled high res version.  

Google "loudness wars"! 

magicrabbit's picture

This is true

This is completely true. A well mastered track is more important than resolution itself.

But High Res definitely makes the difference if the mastering is good.

I strongly recommend listening to Cassandra Wilson, new moon daughter in studio master quality 24bit /192 khz to realize what High Res means.  It is impressive, because the mastering is perfect and the recording provides you with all the details. Recent Supraphon records are great too.

alan harknett's picture

Exactly correct, the

Exactly correct, the mastering is the important thing !

barolo61's picture

comparison by using Linn web page

I have tried quite a few times the test provided by Linn on their web page, allowing to compare the same few notes recorded as mp3, as cd quality and as Studio-Master FLAC. I can hear some (small) difference when comparing mp3 to cd while I find no difference when comparing cd quality with Studio-Master. I am listening to it by using good quality headphones (AudioTechnica M50 and Bose QuitComfort15).  I am 53 yo so I know that I cannot hear above roughly 12 KHz. My conclusion is thefore that if there is any real difference between cd quality and studio quality it is either confined in the extreme high-frequency region or it can be appreciated only with headphones much more expensive than the ones I am using. Since ATH-M50 is considered a very good headphone for monitoring music I am quite skeptical about the possibility that something real exists and cannot be appreciated at all through it.

QuestForThe13thNote's picture

Quiet Comfort 15

I have the QC 15's and have bought Grado SR225 headphone which give good higher frequencies. For headphones I think the hi-resolution benefit you get against playing an un compressed file from an ipod into something like the QC15's is largely offset against the benefits of injecting the sound into your ear where you hear everything, that you might otherwise miss on audiophile hifi unless listening loudly. My preference is detail and realism/dynamic range above anything else and I think headphones give you that. I think for enjoyment its not about having hi-fi or headphones/players that give absolutely realistic music, its about exploiting the best virtues of the essential ingredients of good hi-fi that meet this end. I agree you do get more hi frequency through hi-res but you also get slightly better dynamic range and realism in my comparisons of similar music. I have PMC 23's and Cyrus gear.

Sy101's picture

95% won't have heard top CD sound yet!

I've just bought what I thought will be my last CD player (Cyrus CD XT Signature transport upgrading from a CD 8 SE2) into an existing all Cyrus system and Spendor speakers. And I could not believe how amazing it sounded out of the same speakers I had got used to, utterly stunning wide soundstage, detail, power and energy to the music.  Grinning ear to ear and totally fell in love with CD in the year 2015, more than my vinyl and streaming sources which were good but not like this.

The point being that everyone is making strong decisions and opinions having probably not heard what standard res on CD is capable of yet...if you're able to invest in a cutting edge CD system I'm convinced you'll be happy to give hi res the 5+ years or more it needs to come of age like CD technology has now done.  All be it too late perhaps!


QuestForThe13thNote's picture


I have a CDT and Stream X2, and the stream X2 is better against the CD T with my all Cyrus and PMC 23 Set up (pe qx dac, x power and 2 PSX-R's). It gives better clarity and soundtage. Have you had any experience of comparing the CD XT Signature with any of the cyrus streamers?

Graham Luke's picture

Mastering quality...?

I think  a lot of these arguments miss one significant point; the recording and mastering quality of the music in the first place though some commenters above have got it.

Well recorded and masterd music sounds great on most of the current formats including 256 kbps VBR AAC.

THIS is the nub of the question.

Your ear will NEVER hear what it is incapable of hearing.

alan harknett's picture

Spot on Luke

Spot on Luke it's all about the mastering 

speculatrix's picture

Totally agree. Once the sound

Totally agree. Once the sound "engineers" (I'm using quotes deliberately) have mangled the music to squash all the dynamics, boost the bass and treble to satisfy consumers using poor headphones, there's no point in bothering with high def audio.
If the studio used 24 bit mastering to allow for the effective loss of bit depth during equalization, normalisation etc, then properly encoded it to CD depth and rate at the very last stage, the quality should be prefect to the human ear.