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Neil Young’s Pono Music System Almost Ready to Rock in the Free World

Dan Tynan
Neil Young
Neil Young

(Getty Images)

Hey hey, my my. Rock and rollers never die — they just turn into tech entrepreneurs.

Last night at the 14th annual Dreamforce conference, Black-Eyed-Pea turned tech visionary Will.i.am unveiled his Puls (“pulse”) smartwatch/phone/fashion cuff.

On Thursday it was Neil Young’s turn. The 68-year-old rock icon officially unveiled his long-awaited Pono Music System to an audience of approximately 14,000 Salesforce.com aficionados.

Pono music system
Pono music system

(Pono Music)

Pono (rhymes with “oh no”) combines a $400 triangle-based standalone music player with an online music store. The Pono player comes with 64 GB of storage, plus room for another 64 GB via a microSD card, a 2.5-inch touchscreen, and two external speaker jacks.

How is the author of After the Gold Rush going to persuade consumers to buy a dedicated music player that costs $100 more than Apple’s iPod Touch?

Sound quality, in the form of high-resolution audio.

“We’re trying to bring the feeling back to music, the goose bumps,” Young told the audience. “We want you to feel the love in the music. It’s not about bits; it’s about recreating the artist’s vision.”

Pono engineers worked with the original analog master recordings to convert tracks into the Free Lossless Audio Codec (FLAC) digital format, using a sampling rate of 24 bits at 192 kHz. At that sampling rate, a three-minute tune will consume a whopping 150 megabytes of storage, or about 25 times more than traditional MP3s, said Pedram Abrari, executive vice president of technology for PonoMusic.

The Pono store will sell only FLAC files, but the player will also support the Apple Lossless Audio Codec, as well as WAV, AAC, and MP3 formats. 

Pono website home page
Pono website home page

(Pono Music)

More than 600,000 songs from major music publishers are in the Pono Music catalog, though you can’t download any yet. (A recent report found that there are 35 million songs available in Apple’s iTunes Store.) 

Abrari said tunes will eventually cost between $1.30 and $1.50 apiece and will start to become available to Pono’s Kickstarter supporters over the coming months. The store should be open to the general public in early December.

Young added that older fans who aren’t in tune with ordering their music online will be able to dial a toll-free number and order by phone, presumably a landline.

The Pono site is built on top of Salesforce.com cloud apps, but Young is no stranger to Salesforce.com events. In 2008 he delivered a Dreamforce keynote to announce his LincVolt zero-emissions car. The connection? Young used Salesforce.com’s Chatter app to collaborate with its designers. He visited again with the Salesforce faithful to give an update on LincVolt in 2011. (At press time, the LincVolt project appears to be stalled.)

The first 15,000 Pono players will ship to Kickstarter supporters over the next month, Abrari said. The site is taking preorders for the player now, with delivery planned for first quarter 2015.

Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.