Neil Young's Pono player puts quality first

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Rock musician Neil Young introduces his high-quality digital audio player Pono at the Austin Convention Center SXSW keynote on Tuesday afternoon. Young has been working on Pono for more than 2 years and is currently using Kickstarter to fund the project. 
Rock musician Neil Young introduces his high-quality digital audio player Pono at the Austin Convention Center SXSW keynote on Tuesday afternoon. Young has been working on Pono for more than 2 years and is currently using Kickstarter to fund the project. 

To a packed house at the Austin Convention Center’s Ballroom D, iconic singer-songwriter and rock legend Neil Young fleshed out the details of his quality-focused music player called Pono. 

Young started his presentation with an explanation as to why he is doing what he is doing. He commented on the collapse of different areas in the music business because of MP3 files.

“This old culture started to go away, and it was because of the MP3, and the cheapening of the quality to a point where it was practically unrecognizable,” Young said. He intends to reverse the depreciation in music quality with Pono. 

Meaning “righteous” in Hawaiian, the Pono player is capable of playing high-quality music files that far surpass the potential quality of MP3 files. Young, an artist who grew up in the age of vinyl records — when quality reigned king, he said — impressed upon the audience the importance of music files’ quality. 

“The human body is unbelievable,” Young said. “It’s so sensitive. When you give it something, it loves it. When it sees great art, it feels good.”

In an era ruled by the ubiquity of lower-quality MP3 files, Young implored the audience to consider quality. He said the world is content with listening to music that is 5% of the quality it could potentially be, and that it shouldn’t be.

“People [are] buying wallpaper — they [are] buying background sounds. They [are] buying Xeroxes of the Mona Lisa,” Young said, commenting on the instant, track-by-track download culture that exists today. 

Young played a video for the audience made up of testimonials from famous musicians, all of whom spoke towards the quality of Pono’s sound. Elton John, Dave Grohl, Bruce Springsteen, Marcus Mumford and Tom Petty all spoke out in favor of Young’s project with glowing reviews about the sound quality. 

Pono has a Kickstarter page and has quickly raised over 50 percent of its monetary goal as of  March 11. The Kickstarter is open until April 15. When asked about the triangular prism design of the player, Young said it helps people operate it while it’s on a flat surface. 

“It can sit on your desk and sound like God,” he said.