Neil Young Raised $2 Million A Day After This Speech

13 March 2014 | 11:53 am | Simone Ubaldi

In PONO we trust

Neil Young officially launched his iPod and iTunes-rival Pono Music at SXSW this week, launching a KickStarter crowdfunding campaign that has reached its $US800,000 goal within a day.

In fact, it's just surpassed $2,000,000 – and there's still 33 days of the campaign to go. We were there in Austin at the speech that started it all.

Neil Young took to the stage in the cavernous Ballroom D of the Austin Convention Centre to sell us on the next wave of audio technology. Being Neil Young, he was met by a standing ovation, which is not the average response to naked advertorial. But Neil Young is Neil Young, and we were all ears.

He began by setting the scene. Things were great in the seventies, when people had soul and rock was treated with religious reverence. Then it all went wrong. The deep, air-filled sound of analogue recording was replaced with digital and over time digital music files were compressed and degraded beyond all recognisable quality. Neil could no longer listen to music with the dial turned up to eleven because the sound of MP3 files hurt his poor veteran ears. Young children, reared on the tinny sound of MP3s, recognised music but didn't really feel it in the way it was meant to be felt.

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“We're selling shit… Xeroxes of the Mona Lisa… less than five percent of the data of the highest resolution in digital that we can produce,” Neil explained. He illustrated his point with a helpful infographic showing a diver at 1000ft, crushed underwater (the mp3 listener). Neil wants to help us swim to the surface, crest through the waves and suck the real sound of music, as artists intended it to be heard, deep into our souls.

“Why should we be suffering through inferior quality at the hands of some mega tech company?” he asked. Instead, Neil Young decided to take back technology. He found a group of like-minded music lovers and set about creating a new digital music delivery system that would retain the facility of digital but give us almost flawless playback.

The gadget that will return the air to music is rather unfortunately called a PONO. A parallel software/hardware system to iTunes/iDevices that reproduces audio files at a sampling rate of up to 192k/s, the PONO will deliver an audio experience that sounds like being in the studio, if Neil Young and his friends can be believed.

At the SXSW PONO launch, Neil followed his introductory speech with a 15-minute testimonial video featuring pretty much every rock luminary from the last forty years, all enraptured by the PONO sound. Initially, the passionate PONO thumbs up from the likes of Duane Eddy, Sting, Rick Rubin, Eddie Vedder, Jack White, Arcade Fire, Flea, Dave Grohl and Elvis Costello was pretty convincing, although the reams of enthusiasm started wearing thin by the time Elton John declared that listening to music on a PONO “was like being in a recording studio”.

When the video ended, Young threw in his final two cents on the PONO sound: “My body is getting washed, I'm not getting a bunch of ice cubes thrown at me. It's water, my soul is getting it.”

There was a lot of love in the SXSW ballroom, but that didn't stop people from asking questions, which were fielded by both Neil and PONO CEO John Hamm (a man who brazenly wore loafers with no socks and spoke in Forbes-friendly business slang). The capacity of the PONO is 64G inbuilt storage and a further 64G SD card memory, and the device can play all digital sound formats at whatever sampling rate they were recorded, up to and including the apparently crystalline 192k/s rate that Young declares to be sufficiently soul-washing. It is supported by an online PONO store, just like iTunes, however you will need to purchase your beloved albums anew in order to experience the full potential of PONO.

“Like iTunes, PONO will act as an intermediary distributor between you and the artist, although John Hamm was disinclined to reveal how big a cut they were taking. PONO is not, however, a proprietary file type. It will play pretty much anything – wav, mp3, flacc – the idea is just that it can play the best quality digitised music if you want it to, and it will sound spectacular.

“Music wins,” Neil declared, “This is America, this is freedom of choice, I'm running for President… no, that'll never happen. I'm Canadian.”