• Neil Young Changes His Tune

    Supreme New York posters I saw at a construction site in Hollywood, CA

    Last month, the PonoPlayer became available to the public. The Pono brand was created by musician Neil Young. The music players, along with songs from the PonoMusic store, are marketed as very high-quality music that’s remarkably better than what we hear on iPods, iPhones, and CD players. A number of articles came out last month strongly criticizing Pono and recommending consumers not to waste money on this. Mario Aguilar at Gizmodo explained that the difference in song file quality cannot actually be heard by human ears. David Pogue at Yahoo Tech conducted blind listening tests, which did not result in Pono’s favor. He also pointed out that most of the songs on the PonoMusic store aren’t even available yet in this supposedly better format. He compared the player to The Emperor’s New Clothes. Sam Machkovech of Ars Technica called it snake oil.

    What I find interesting about this whole thing is that Pono is coming from Neil Young. The first song I remember ever hearing from him was “This Note’s For You,” a 1988 song that mocked commercialism and musical artists endorsing products. Among other scenes, the music video mocked Michael Jackson’s hair catching on fire while filming a Pepsi commercial, as if it’s somehow humorous for another artist to sustain medical injuries if done while “selling out”.

    When I heard this song again as a teenager, I got what he was saying. I’m not against artists teaming up with companies, but I understood his point. He was about his music and he wasn’t going to change it or create something new that wasn’t really him for a big paycheck from some corporation.

    The first impression I had of Neil Young makes this whole Pono hogwash confusing to me. Is he being a hypocrite or is this different? He’s peddling a product, which is something he criticized in other artists, but at least this is his product, not soda from a corporation. And this is still about music. He’s passionate about music and has talked about his frustrations with what he feels is poor audio quality in interviews for years. But this is what makes it all the more disappointing to me. He’s taking something that he knows is deeply important to countless people – music – and ripping consumers off.

    It’s possible that Neil Young just didn’t properly research this before creating his product, and that no one came to him with the information. Or he might know but just wants to make money. Maybe he did read about the science on song quality files, but somehow convinced himself that he could still hear the files differently. Whatever the scenario, it’s rather disappointing. “I don’t sing for nobody. Makes me look like a joke.” Neil Young isn’t singing for someone else, but he looks like a joke, at least in this one aspect of his life. This doesn’t erase the decades of influential music he created. But it does make me hear “This Note’s For You” much differently than I did before. His message of integrity seems a little weird to me now.

    Category: musicskepticismtechnology


    Article by: Cherry Teresa

    Cherry Teresa is a blogger and musician from Los Angeles, CA who includes skepticism and humanism in her work. Her music can be heard at cherryteresa.com.
    • T. Desertyard

      I wouldn’t call him a hypocrite per se, because as you said, this is HIS product. He isn’t selling out to someone else, which I think is ultimately his message in “This Note’s For You”.

      I think Young honestly feels, thinks and believes he can hear a clear difference between a Pono Player song and an Apple Lossless Audio file on an iPhone.

      And I saw his Kickstarter video where he got a lot of his musicians friends praising how awesome the sound quality is. Which honestly just made me laugh because these guys have been playing music live for years, most of them really loud at arenas and stadium. Odds are most of them, if not all of them, have suffered a substantial loss of hearing over the decades.

      But the question is, what is Young comparing his Pono player to? Apple Lossless Audio files? FLAC files? OGG files?! 192 kbps mp3s? 256? 364? Or is he comparing it to the mp3s from the Napster era, where 128 kbps was considered top notch high quality mp3s?

    • kraut2

      Kind of late to the game. I kicked off that discussion on Hydrogenaudio already 3 years ago – and the audio science guys shredded him. He had time to reconsider but still went ahead.


    • jg29a

      Well, I can definitely hear the difference between Neil Young’s lyrics and professionally written lyrics, even on my laptop speaker, while the washing machine is running.

    • Interesting!