Neil Young’s Pono Player



Neil Young’s Pono Player


Neil Young just can’t seem to catch a break.  Although, I must admit, at this point, the man must have some serious powder burns from gunshots directed at his feet.  Despite the  sometimes awkward or socially dysfunctional  promotion, he really has had his heart and ears in the right place.  The Pono Player is now out and about, along with a bunch of reviews…Well, the picture ain’t pretty and the majority of critics have been, well, pretty brutal.  Not having heard the player, I cannot make an accurate assessment.  However after reading a number of reviews, I notice some recurring themes.  It’s too large and too fussy to use.  Many reviewers state that they just can’t deal with the lack of convenience, even though they admit it does have terrific audio quality.  Many state that they can’t distinguish compressed MP3 files from high resolution FLAC files.  Come on…..these very arguments are what sparked the development of the player in the first place!


Unfortunately, it may be too little to late.  Some of these critics are a generation removed from when audio quality was an important part of the listening experience.  There is a very good chance that most of the reviewers have never listened to their favorite music on a true, high fidelity, playback system! I agree that most people might not hear the difference between MP3 and high quality FLAC file when they are being listened and compared to on a laptop, I Pad, smart phone, Bose cube speakers, flat screen television sound bars or five dollar ear buds.  Case in point:  the little blue beauties below must really do a great job of reproducing well recorded music.


Neil’s fatal flaw in all this is that he helped build a device that can house high quality files but the playback is still going to be used with devices unable to do justice to the source.  People who still get an emotional thrill from great music played back on good audio systems are becoming a real minority, and they most likely will not want to fuss with a file storage device in the first place.


Well, as you can probably tell, I share his pain.  In a world that is more concerned with convenience than quality, and not just in audio, it really is a losing battle.    Movie theaters that play audio way too loud and live concerts of popular music where the majority of sound reinforcement is hurled at you with low frequencies hyped to thump your chest cavity haven’t helped to educate listeners to what good audio reproduction can really sound like.





5 thoughts on “Neil Young’s Pono Player”

  1. Music playback is really at an odd crossroads at the moment. At the same time as the young generations cannot get enough of compressed awful sounding music, they are also buying up vinyl. Talk about two extremes! As much as I prefer analog sources for my music enjoyment I do sometimes like to kick back with a digital source as well. My CD player is collecting dust since the advent of Spotify premium and its 320kbps playback. The ability for music discovery in services like Spotify make it very enjoyable to me. I listen to albums I normally would not purchase and very often come across something that I want to buy the vinyl copy of.

    The Pono player…great idea but I sort of feel like too little too late. I also feel bad to Neil, he saw the horror of compressed audio and tried to make a difference. Is his product terrible? Not at all. Is it perfect? Nope. You have identified a few of it’s short comings which I totally agree with you. In addition, the reason I say too little too late is not only is the CD industry flopping but music downloading is also on a steep decline. If your wondering why read the last few sentences of my last paragraph. Streaming is the immediate future of music playback. 60 million songs at your fingertips in near CD quality.

    Then there is Tidal. Flawless steaming audio. The ability to stream well above CD quality. The service is just a toddler at this point but I think great things are coming from them.

  2. Its all about marketing if this thing had an Apple logo people would be lined up around the block to buy it and would pay twice as much talking about how its worth it because the quality is so good

  3. The type of file and delivery is one aspect but what I really find interesting is the lack of good analog playback systems in homes these days. Remember a high fidelity playback system? All these wonderful high res files and they are being playback and listened to on what is on par to a transistor radio! Why bother?

  4. Yes, if this was offered by the Apple or Bose marketing magicians it would be an instant success but it would have to be offered in pink.

  5. I have always loved Neil Young, and I go way back to his Laurel Canyon Blvd. days in the Valley. But, Mr. Young is known more for his music than music reproduction. I understand and agree with what he’s trying to do, but the two things don’t go together. I’m just thankful that JBL hasn’t heard (apparently) of the “Pono” or they’d add this nice piece to its other junk music reproduction stuff “for the ear-bud set.” Neil, can we please have a third incarnation of the Harvest music, and this time, add James Taylor and Joni Mitchell to a few cuts?

    Your respectful, faithful fan, always.

Leave a Reply