Young: Pono audio format due early ’14

Promising “primal power” in audio reproduction, Neil Young says his Pono music format will be ready for an early 2014 launch.

Neil Young in concert by Per Ole Hagen“We’ve liberated the music of the artist from the digital file and restored it to its original artistic quality — as it was in the studio,” Young said in announcing Pono’s ballpark start date on his Facebook page.

Pono is a high-resolution file format that’s the basis of a cloud-based music download service. The project also will offer portable music players, conceived as “iPods for the 21st century.”

The name comes from “pono,” a Hawaiian word for “righteousness,” which of course rings a bell with its similarity to “mono.”

Young’s service would be a rival to iTunes with an appeal to those with listener fatigue at the hands of MP3s. “(Pono) will force iTunes to be better and to improve quality at a faster pace,” he has said.

The singer-songwriter says he was working with Steve Jobs on audio technologies, but Apple no longer is interested in his input.

“I have consistently reached out to try to assist Apple with true audio quality, and I have even shared my high-resolution masters with them,” Young wrote in his book “Waging Heavy Peace: A Hippie Dream.”

The (lossless) Pono files apparently will be 24-bit, 192 kHz. “Lossy” MP3 files are compressed to save space, a compromise widely disdained by audiophiles for resulting brittle sound, artifacting and the deceptive slosh of auditory “masking.” (The iTunes Store has been marketing lossless files for almost a decade.)

The sparse Pono web site says, “Miraculously, there’s a wealth of music & soul (or if you must, “data”) trapped on millions of recordings made over the last half century, that we’re hoping to unleash for the very first time.”

Pono would come to market in the midst of a mini-high fidelity boom, with pricey SACDs and audiophile vinyl both making comebacks as the CD format fades. About 100 albums were just made available for DSD (direct stream digital) downloads via the audiophile company Acoustic Sounds. And Sony has announced a line of high-res audio gear to play DSDs.

The Pono player would be backwards compatible with previously purchased digital music files.

Warner Music Group, which is allied with Young’s project, already has converted its library to 192kHz/24-bit sound. Young is a longtime Warner Brothers Records artist. Other WMG artists with psychedelic music cred include the Doors, Flaming Lips, the Grateful Dead, Jethro Tull, Led Zeppelin, the Velvet Underground and Tangerine Dream. The Doors’ studio albums are recent beneficiaries of a major SACD/vinyl rerelease campaign.

Young’s Facebook post of Sept. 3 noted the format’s direct connection to artists:

PONO starts at the source: artist-approved studio masters we’ve been given special access to. Then we work with our brilliant partners at Meridian to unlock the richness of the artist’s music to you. There is nothing like hearing this music — and we are working hard to make that experience available to all music lovers, soon.

Media reports had said Pono would be available in 2013, following a swarm of publicity in 2012. Young has been demo-ing the format for several years, including a live TV session with David Letterman:

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