What Neil Young’s Soul-Redescovering PonoMusic Tells Us About the Internet and Photography

Grand old Neil Young needs no introduction, but his latest project does: Kickstarter’s PonoMusic campaign that’s all about the mission to provide the best possible listening experience of your favorite digital music. Shortly after kickoff the project already got 1 million dollars pledged, then 2… There’s obviously no shortage of lovers of music who miss the “realer” thing and are turned off by the highly compressed music tracks downloaded from the various online stores. What does this tell us about the general state of photography on the Internet. Take Facebook or Twitter:

These social sharing channels compress the hell out of images. Color information is lost and, to make things worse, don’t think viewing devices are calibrated. You can spend hours and hours in front of the computer and do all the tweaking in the world. Once “socially” distributed, images are automatically compressed to save bandwidth, storage space and relief servers of avoidable load. Images look like crap with artifacts all over — and then the color!

PonoMusic's Toblerone-shaped player -- a new digital music format promising our souls to rediscover music.
PonoMusic’s Toblerone-shaped player — a new digital music format promising our souls to rediscover music.

Most people don’t seem to care. As with music. But says Neil Young’s project:

The good news is that you can keep a lot of MP3 files in a small amount of storage on a portable player or mobile device. The bad news is that they’ve lost a lot of the musical information that often reveals the most pleasant and satisfying aspects of the music. It is mostly that sense of realism, dynamic range and detail that higher resolution recordings typically capture in a way that restores the emotion in the song.

On the “low end” of higher resolution music (CD lossless, 44.1kHz/16 bit), PonoMusic files have about six times more musical information than a typical MP3. With ultra-high resolution recordings (192kHz/24 bit), the difference between a PonoMusic digital file and an MP3 is about 30 times more data from which your player reconstructs the “song.”

A similar, eye-opening wow factor may be enjoyed when looking at properly calibrated and displayed digital images. We’ve become used to junk — and I’m no exception. Straight out of camera JPEGs, auto button, that’s mostly it. So thank you Neil Young, vision, force, energy and voice of PonoMusic that’s not trying to change music. They’re letting music change you.

A sound bite’s not just a sound bite. As there are pixels and pixels. High time to treasure the difference. While Neil Young attempts to salvage music’s soul, it would be nice if the big players who attempt to throw everything into the cloud would get a bit more serious about the proper display of images.

Watch the video. If properly played music can make you feel that much better, what about properly displayed visual imagery.

Call me a hopeless romantic, but that’s why I mainly listen to vinyls to this day.

  • One More Thought

    The Pono Player seems interesting, and I will definitely want to listen to one once it is released…

    First, the shape is all wrong. There is a reason why other portable music players are all flat…to fit into your pocket easily. I know on their kickstarted page they explain the reason for the shape, but still…it needs to be pocketable.

    Second, it remains to be seen if the average listener will be able to hear any difference.

    Third, the promo video really means very little. You just have a bunch of musicians giving their blessing to the project. But musicians have very trained ears/brains and probably can pick up on nuances in the sound that most people could not. Also, one wonders how many of these musicians are simply going along, either to please their fellow musician and legend, Neil Young, or perhaps even with their music companies seeing another potential profit stream.

  • I trust Apple doesn’t like the idea of a quality renegade music system too much… but then again, they’ve been challenged before.

    Agree on the shape. But there is music and music. It’s unlikely just a marketing gig. And as with photography, without the proper display device — a.k.a. loudspeaker or headphones — the best quality will sound flat.

  • S.Yu

    Easy, this is not for most people. Audiophile equipment is never for most people. Beats and Skullcandy are for most people.
    BTW I already preordered a Calyx M so not considering this.

  • One More Thought

    I think Apple doesn’t feel threatened at all by this device…as S.Yu notes, this is a very niche product.

    And as you note, this will need to be paired with a quality pair of headphones, again making this a niche product for the well off audiophile.

  • Yeh Yeh Nah

    I think the other aspect which will make or break this is as a consumer alternative is the cost of downloading tracks…

  • One More Thought

    This will not be a mass market consumer alternative. That train has left the station. At this point people primarily use their smart phones as their portable music players.

    This will be noticed and purchased only by a small group of audiophiles. Nothing wrong with that. But it won’t go mass market.

  • And Apple’s not sleeping — my son just told me there’s not just the cheap compressed downloads out there:

    What is iTunes Plus?

    iTunes Plus is the new standard on iTunes. iTunes Plus downloads are songs and music videos available in our highest quality 256 kbps AAC audio encoding (twice the audio quality of protected music purchases), and without digital rights management (DRM)…