Pono: Where Music Lives Part I

I met Neil Young about ten years ago at a Northern California post production facility. He had stopped by to check on some video that was being edited and I happened to be there. I know there are very divided camps with regard to Neil but I must say I’m a fan and have been for a very long time. I don’t love everything that he’s done but on the whole I think he’s a great songwriter and performer. So you can imagine what a treat it was to work on the DVD version of “Rust Never Sleeps” and to have the chance to chat with him a bit. Our conversation wasn’t about high-resolution audio or anything related to the topic but I did say that I appreciated his efforts on behalf of better sound.

All these years later Neil is moving forward with PONO: Where Music Lives, which he describes as a “revolutionary” new way to “hear and feel your favorite music”. He claims that he’s rescuing an art form. Unfortunately, there’s not been a lot of information released about his plans but he did post a letter on the FB page a little over a month ago. It’s vague on details and heavy on “feel good” statements about music but it got me wondering what he could possibly do that hasn’t been done before or isn’t being currently done.

Neil Young prefers to record and mix on analog tape. He’s not alone in his preference for the “sonic” qualities of analog recording and I certainly defer to him and his engineers to keep making music the way they’ve been doing for 40 years. It’s obviously worked for him. One of the first encounters I had with a member of Neil’s camp was a phone call from Elliot Mazer, one of Neil’s audio engineers who has a strong affinity for “old school” methods of producing a record. He’s a decidedly analog guy and the first conversation I had with him didn’t go so well because I launched into my usual rant about the wonders of real high-resolution digital audio. I swear if there was a way to master compact discs using only analog tape, Elliot would be the one to use it (but even Elliot acknowledged that you have to turn the music into little pits on a spinning optical disc somewhere in the production chain).

So what could PONO possibly being doing? There are photographs of Neil and his PONO team at the headquarters of Meridian Audio in the UK. I know the people there including the head of the company and can attest that they know a thing or two about high-end digital audio (Would it be appropriate to point out that they want nothing to do with DSD? In fact, they were one of the first companies to come out and explain why 1-bit audio was not suitable for recording high-end audio). My guess is that they are going to create a high-resolution portable music player that will operate use 96 kHz/24-bit PCM. It will have the latest filters, great DACs and probably have some sort of protection system to keep the high-end audio files that Neil is getting from Warner Brothers Records from being stolen. My guess is that it will be a closed system. Too bad but I see the logic.

To be continued.


Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

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