Realistically, What Kind of Chance Does Neil Young’s Pono Plan Have?

In case you haven’t heard, Pono (PO-no, apparently Hawaiian for “righteous”) is Neil Young’s digital music format. Those who have heard it say it sounds as good as an original analogue recording.  A line of Pono players is planned for release next year.

But here’s the question:  what chance does it have against iTunes’ ACC format and the MP3s we’ve all grown used to?

Let’s look on the positive side first.  


  • Pono sounds great.  So great, in fact, that all three major labels–Universal, Warner and Sony–are interested in taking a look.  Maybe they’re hoping that Pono will do for their bottom line what the CD did back in the 80s.
  • Audiophiles are interested.  Vinyl sounds fantastic but is inconvenient.  .WAV files are okay in a pinch but have their issues.  FLAC is okay, too, but not nearly as good as pure analogue.
  • Pono players can apparently handled MP3s, AAC and other formats.
  • And, er, that’s it.


On the negative side, we have this:


  • Whatever we may think of MP3s and other compression music algorithms, they’ve become the standard for music.  Getting people to switch formats just because it sounds better is a tall order.  In case you haven’t noticed, fewer people care about true high fidelity sound these days.
  • iTunes doesn’t support Pono.  Hell, try getting iTunes to play FLAC.
  • You can’t convert MP3s or ACC files to Pono.  You’d have to re-purchase all your music in a new format, just like when the industry got us to buy CD copies of the vinyl we already owned.


Still, I applaud Neil on his effects.  I, for one, treasure high-quality audio.  But until I’m assured that I won’t have to completely redo my music library, I’m not interested.




Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 30+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

3 thoughts on “Realistically, What Kind of Chance Does Neil Young’s Pono Plan Have?

  • October 11, 2012 at 12:47 am

    Got to admire him for being idealistic and passionate about his product. The reality check is whether people will embrace it or not. Ultimately it's up to the people to decide. Personally I think it's a niche thing. There's a large segment of music listeners who won't care IMO, specifically 20-somethings and under who weren't weaned on the idea of perfect sounding music.

  • October 11, 2012 at 1:16 am

    It doesn't matter how good the encoding is if it's not played through a decent set of speakers, which leaves me wondering: what kind of headphones are included with the device? And how do I get the music to play through my stereo? Too many unanswered questions here.

    Furthermore, this product doesn't exist until it ships (or at least doesn't lead to a XXX website), despite Letterman interviews and Rolling Stone articles.

  • October 11, 2012 at 5:17 am

    Should it be telling that the musicians who declaimed the Pono's greatness were listening to it in a car?


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