Is Pono no more?

Discussion in 'Music Corner' started by conjotter, Nov 4, 2016.

  1. Frankie TAN

    Frankie TAN Active Member

    In respect of high res audio streaming services, this is what the RIAA says as part of its high res audio initiative:

    "A number of data packing technologies are being developed that can support the streaming of hi-res music files to consumers in a more efficient manner, including MQA (Master Quality Authenticated) and MPEG 4 Audio SLS. These and other approved technologies will enable licensed services to display the Hi-Res MUSIC logo mark on their landing page or next to an individual album or track. If the resolution of a recording falls below the required minimum standards of the Hi-Res MUSIC definition at any time, the user will be made aware of this change." link here.

    At least to the major labels, both technologies are alternate approaches for high-res audio streaming services.
  2. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    Somebody tag me when Pono starts selling music again.
    pathosdrama, PTgraphics and Curveboy like this.
  3. Stereosound

    Stereosound Forum Resident

    Neil Young (PonoMusic)
    It’s time to talk about Pono and the initiative we all started. As you know, together we’ve been fighting a battle to bring high quality music back to the world that’s become used to mediocre, hollowed-out files. The cause seemed to be a win-win for everyone. The artists would allow their fans to hear what they hear in the studios, and the music lovers would hear the music the best it could be. This cause has been something I’ve written and talked about for over 20 years. I cared and I assumed that most of the world would care.

    It’s been almost five years since we kicked off the campaign at SXSW to offer a player and download content that could fulfill my dream of bringing to you a music experience unlike any other for the cost. Thanks to our supporters on Kickstarter, the follow-on customers and some very good friends that supported the effort, we delivered on that promise. Our player won best digital portable product of the year from Stereophile Magazine, and we offered some of the best high resolution content to be found anywhere. We sold tens of thousands of players, every unit that we made. Thanks for that!

    But, despite that success, I was not satisfied. I had to put up with lots of criticism for the high cost of music delivered in the way all music should be provided, at full resolution and not hollowed out. I had no control over the pricing, but I was the one that felt the criticism, because I was the face of it. And I pretty much agreed with the criticism. Music should not be priced this way.

    Last year when Omnifone, our download store partner, was bought and shut down with no notice by Apple, we began work with another company to build the same download store. But the more we worked on it, the more we realized how difficult it would be to recreate what we had and how costly it was to run it: to deliver the Pono promise, meaning you’d never have to buy the same album again if was released at a higher quality; the ability to access just high res music, and not the same performances at lower quality, and the ability to do special sales. Each of these features was expensive to implement.

    I also realized that just bringing back the store was not enough. While there was a dedicated audience, I could not in good conscience continue to justify the higher costs. When it comes to high res, the record industry is still broken. The industry was such that even when I wanted to remaster some of the great performances from my artist friends at high res, Pono had to pay thousands of dollars for each recording, with little expectation of getting the money back. Record companies believe they should charge a premium for high res recordings and conversely, I believe all music should cost the same, regardless of the technology used.

    As you might imagine, I found it difficult to raise more money for this model: delivering quality music at a premium price to a limited audience that felt they were being taken advantage of with the high costs.

    So now, sadly with Pono offline, for more than eight months I’ve been working with our small team to look for alternatives. Finding a way to deliver the quality music without the expense and to bring it to a larger audience has been our goal.

    That effort has led to a technology developed by Orastream, a small company in Singapore that we’ve been working with. Together we created Xstream, the next generation of streaming, an adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth. It is absolutely amazing because it is capable of complete high resolution playback. Unlike all other streaming services that are limited to playing at a single low or moderate resolution, Xstream plays at the highest quality your network condition allows at that moment and adapts as the network conditions change. It’s a single high resolution bit-perfect file that essentially compresses as needed to never stop playing. As a result, it always sounds better than the other streaming services and it never stops or buffers like other higher res services. When you play it at home with WiFi it can play all established low and high resolutions, including the highest, and thousands more levels of resolution in between. When you are in your car with poor cellular it might play better than an existing low res service, but at a location where robust wifi is available Xstream supports high resolution listening. Xstream is one file, streaming for all with 15,000 seamlessly changing levels of playback quality.

    So, this is what we’ve been working on. But one of my conditions is that it should not have a premium price. I’ve insisted that there be no premium price for this service. Pono tried that with downloads and it’s not a good model for customers. And I’ve told the labels it’s not a good model for them to charge a premium for music the way it was meant to be heard. I firmly believe that music is in trouble because you can’t hear it the way it is created unless you pay a premium. No one gets to hear the real deal, so the magic of music is compromised by limited technology.

    Good sounding music is not a premium. All songs should cost the same, regardless of digital resolution. Let the people decide what they want to listen to without charging them more for true quality. That way quality is not an elitist thing. If high resolution costs more, listeners will just choose the cheaper option and never hear the quality. Record companies will ultimately lose more money by not exposing the true beauty of their music to the masses. Remember, all music is created to sound great and the record labels are the one’s deciding to not offer that at the normal price. The magic of music should be presented by the stewards of that music at a normal price. Let listeners decide on the quality they want to purchase without pricing constraints.

    I’ve been meeting with and speaking with the labels, potential partners such as the carriers, and other potential investors. For many it’s a difficult sell. There are already streaming services, some doing well and others not. While there’s nothing as good as Xstream, or as flexible and adaptive, it’s still proven a difficult sell for companies to invest in.

    So, in my experience, today’s broken music industry continues to make major mistakes, but we are still trying. Bringing back the magic of great sound matters to the music of the world.

    Thank you all very much for supporting Pono and quality audio. Thanks to everyone who is or was associated with Pono, especially the customers who supported us. Thanks to Charlie Hansen and Ayre Acoustics for the great PonoPlayer. It has been a labor of love. I want you to know that I’m still trying to make the case for bringing you the best music possible, at a reasonable price, the same message we brought to you five years ago. I don’t know whether we will succeed, but it’s still as important to us as it ever was.

    Thankfully, for those of my audience who care and want to hear all the music, every recording I have ever released will soon be available in Xstream high resolution quality at my complete online archive. Check it out. We will be announcing it very soon.

    Neil Young
  4. noname74

    noname74 We The North.

    Curveboy likes this.
  5. Grant

    Grant A Musical Free-Spirit

    ****! I hate Apple! I will never buy from iTunes! And, screw the labels, too! They won't make lossless available, and they charge too damn much. They are killing their own industry and blaming it on the customers.
    Runicen, Tuco, Robert C and 1 other person like this.
  6. PTgraphics

    PTgraphics Forum Resident

    Well, that sucks.

  7. brimuchmuze

    brimuchmuze Forum Resident

    Well, at least Neil's titles are available for a reasonable price at his site, as opposed to the highly marked-up PONO pricing.
    PTgraphics likes this.
  8. rnranimal

    rnranimal Forum Resident

    Lossy hi-res? :doh:
    sunspot42 likes this.
  9. dtuck90

    dtuck90 Forum Resident

    I might as well copy here what I posted on Pono

    This is sad news @Neil Young (PonoMusic)

    For me the worst part is that this is the death of the hardware side of the business as well as when my player eventually dies (not a criticism of Pono but all electronic devices die eventually) I'll have to shop around for an alternative

    Now let's talk about XStream.

    As an idea it's great but practically I can't see any value in it. What good is high res streaming through a smartphone? If you run android all audio is down converted to 16/48 (I think) and on iPhone unless you are listening through the lightning port (with which you will need a decent DAC anyway) it maxes out at 24/48. Even some of the android based hi res players (I'm looking at you Onkyo and Pioneer) can only play hi res through their own native apps and not third party apps.

    For me living in the U.K. XStreams hi res capabilities will be unobtainable for me. It is well known that the UKs broadband infrastructure is severely lacking behind other countries. For example, I am unable to have fibre broadband at my house as too many people in my street already have it (how ridiculous is that!) so I'm stuck with a 17mbps connection. I tried streaming a preview of a 24/96 track from Orastreams digital store and the but rate maxed out at around 400kbps so if I'm right in thinking Orastream and XStream are both based off the AAC codec then the quality I was getting wasn't even twice the quality of the music iTunes sells.

    A sad day indeed.
    Stone Turntable, Tuco and jhm like this.
  10. pathosdrama

    pathosdrama Forum Resident

    Firenze, Italy
    Neil is a legend, but he's dabbling in a field he doesn't know well. It's kind of painful to watch.

    When it comes to technology, the mass market cares only about one thing: simplicity of use. The original iPod simplified the way an mp3 player should have worked, the original iPhone simplified the way a smartphone should have worked. Same can be said of the original iTunes (ok, it's a mess now...). And so on. Yes, Apple has been good at this game for a whole decade, and now that is less good it's still resting on those laurels.

    I know, some people here hates to read this, but Pono was a relic in 2015. It tanked because there isn't a market for that idea. And this XStream thing is something I would have welcomed in 2008, why should I care today? All I have to do is click on my Spotify icon and start listening. The sound quality is ALREADY more than adequate and I can bet on a lossless choice in a near future.
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
  11. ridernyc

    ridernyc Forum Resident

    Florida, USA
    He describes streaming bit rates adjusting themselves to available bandwidth like it's some cutting edge miracle meanwhile it's how basically EVERY streaming media service has worked for approaching two decades now. The only difference is we now have bigger pipes so we can have higher bit rates. At this point I can't tell if he actually falls for this snake oil or if he just finds whoever will sign on with him and starts singing the gospel.

    He needs to just focus on the importance of great sounding masters available at reasonable price in a lossless format. When he starts talking delivery methods, codecs and file formats he goes off the rails.

    I'm also disheartened by his total lack of self-reflection and at least acknowledging that maybe his over the top presentations and claims were part of the reason for this project's demise.
    dumangl, rnranimal, DTK and 2 others like this.
  12. Roberto899

    Roberto899 Forum Resident

    I'm sorry to see the store go myself. It had a really great selection of things.
  13. ridernyc

    ridernyc Forum Resident

    Florida, USA
    Last edited: Apr 21, 2017
    Robert C and funkydude like this.
  14. dtuck90

    dtuck90 Forum Resident

    As an aside people may laugh but I think this takes us another step closer to Archives 2. It's exactly the kind of delivery system Neil was talking about last year.
    Waymore Lonesome likes this.
  15. Love someone with a sense of humour.
    Free the Archives!
  16. dbucki

    dbucki Forum Resident

    Ottawa, Canada
    It's really not clear to me if the store is closed forever or not. Reading between the lines it would seem that it's done but Neil doesn't actually say it isn't opening again.
    patient_ot likes this.
  17. conjotter

    conjotter Forum Resident Thread Starter

    Hi Neil.

    A clear simple statement on whether the Pono store will reopen or not would be appreciated.

    I'll make it easy for you.

    Yes of No?
  18. KDubATX

    KDubATX Forum Resident

    Ive just been settling on the CD version of most releases I want since the Pono store closed. I'm not sure I have purchased any high res since other than albums on Bandcamp that I paid $8 for a FLAC copy that turned out to be 24.48 by happy surprise.
    patient_ot likes this.
  19. R. Totale

    R. Totale The Voice of Reason

  20. DTK

    DTK Forum Resident

    Neil used to be good at writing music, tho it was long ago. He should perhaps stick to that, like maybe spend more than 10 minutes on writing and recording a song.
  21. 500Homeruns

    500Homeruns Peaceful Punk

    Lehigh Valley, PA
    Not looking for an argument, but the time spent writing a song doesn't really equate to the quality of said song.
  22. rnranimal

    rnranimal Forum Resident

    He's basically saying not until the labels start acting reasonably with pricing and demands. So a hard no.
    Tuco likes this.
  23. dbucki

    dbucki Forum Resident

    Ottawa, Canada
    That's what I fear.
  24. James Bennett

    James Bennett Forum Resident

    He wrote three undebatable classic songs in one day. Sorry you don't enjoy his new music, but lots of people do.
    Heart of Gold likes this.
  25. DTK

    DTK Forum Resident

    In 1969.

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