Neil Young talks Pono

“Pono is the same as the iPod but it sounds like God”.

On Vinyl and CD

We had vinyl and that was good, then we went to CD. Wow, that was an amazing drop – it was like ‘what happened to the air, where did it go? What happened to the magic? What happened to the warm fuzzy feeling?’ We’ll, I’ll tell you what, some people thought CDs were better because you could play them louder. People thought it was great that you could hear the kick drum really loud and producers got into it and it had a reason for being there but really why do that when you could do better than that?

On High-Res music

I love Pono, it means a lot to me. When people ask me ‘do we need high-res music?’ I really don’t know. I can’t tell you but I know for me, I can listen to music again. I didn’t listen to music for the last fifteen years because I hated the way it sounded and it made me pissed off that I could not enjoy it anymore. It drove me crazy, not that I compare myself with a great painter but if Picasso could only paint in black and white, that’s kind of what I felt like.

On Pono creation and aspirations

I wanted to change things. We brainstormed, I got introduced to a few people and started putting together a team and we tried different people and some people came, some people went, people promised things they couldn’t deliver and eventually we built the player that simulated what we wanted to do.

I played it to my artist friends and they liked it because it made them feel the music better. It’s about the feeling, wherever you get it – we’re altogether here. There’s lots of HD music companies around here, everyone wants the same thing – we all want music to sound better. We’re all in the same boat, there’s nobody putting anyone else down. If we win, everybody wins. If somebody else wins, everybody wins. If I am able with my team to make a difference with this product, so that music rises to the level it once was, it’s not me who wins, it’s everybody that wins.

On critics and MP3

If you don’t care and you don’t want want to hear this music and ask ‘why’s he doing that, we got MP3s and iPhones?’ then I feel good for you people, you have nothing to worry about. Congratulations, all those MP3s are yours. Truly if you can’t hear the difference or don’t want to, I don’t force this on anybody. I just think what we’re doing is playing real music for as many people as possible. When they hear it, they’re going to say ‘how come it sounds like this?’ and then we’re going to let that take its course. Pono has been made by one of the geniuses of the music industry – Charles Hansen of Ayre Acoustics.

We don’t have to have success in three hours and make billions and retire in six months. We need to slowly absorb the process of letting people hear real music through a real music player. I think people are going to love it. I love it and that’s the most important thing. I don’t really care. I can’t help it – it makes me feel good. I plug Pono into my car, I plug it into my stereo system and my balanced earphones, I play it through two pairs of earphones and it fits in my pocket regardless of what some people say. Pono is designed by Mike Nuttall, who designed the notebook and the mouse so he likes dedicated devices.

On the future

We have a different approach. We’re not the iPod, and because Steve Jobs and Apple pioneered this kind of thing, we owe them a debt of gratitude for opening the door for what we’re trying to do. I’m convinced Steve would be doing this now if he was still here because he listened to vinyl in his own house, he had a nice set up in his living room. I just think this device and what it does is important for civilisation. I think it’s important that we preserve our art and America is the centre of recorded music and we have a responsibility to preserve this. Not just people like you and me but other people too. What happens when we’re dead, when we’re gone? They have to be able to hear all the music somewhere so If we stop at the age of the MP3 and said ‘OK we’re going to listen to MP3 for the rest of time’, that’s not going to work, so that’s why we did this, to preserve the history of recorded sound and rescue an art form.

So you can imagine what happened to me when I walked into venture capitalists and said ‘we want to rescue an art form, would you like to invest?’. It didn’t work – we went to the people through Kickstarter. We needed $800,000 and we raised $6.5M and we blew the doors off of it because of the people, not because of any venture capitalists, just regular people who understood we’re going downhill with sound quality and a lot of people my age, and hopefully younger too, remember the sound quality.

Sharing music is an important thing and being in a room listening to music blasting out of speakers is great. MP3 is doing OK considering it was designed for dial-up modems but we just couldn’t stay there. Pono is the same as the iPod but it sounds like God.

credit:  words, image: Richard Melville, starscreamcommunications.co.uk

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I love Pono, it means a lot to me. When people ask me ‘do we need high-res music?’ I really don’t know. I can’t tell you but I know for me, I can listen to music again. I didn’t listen to music for the last fifteen years because I hated the way it sounded and it made me pissed off that I could not enjoy it anymore. It drove me crazy, not that I compare myself with a great painter but if Picasso could only paint in black and white, that’s kind of what I felt like
Neil Young