Essays on Technology and Culture

Pono: The Latest in Audio Woo

Pono is 24-bit, 192,000-sample-per-second digital audio, as often used in recording studios. The only really new thing about it is that there’ll be a portable Pono player, which can play back that high-data-rate audio as well as more common formats…

The big deal about Pono is, of course, that 24/192 audio is meant to sound better even than CD, let alone lossily-compressed MP3s or AACs. According to Neil Young, digital-music listeners today, who are almost all listening to music data-reduced via MP3 or some other lossy codec, are as a result enduring sound worse than that from a 78-RPM shellac record…

Problem one, which is a bit of a biggie, is that 24/192 doesn’t actually sound better than CD audio…

Dan Rutter – “Righteous bits”

Daniel Rutter makes some great points about the Pono format, but the most damning one happens after the last pull-quote. Time after time, tests have shown that beyond a certain level, even if you have perfect hearing, you’re not going to make things sound better. My hearing is damaged from years of loud earphones and louder concerts without earplugs, and for the life of me, I can’t tell the difference between a well-encoded v0 MP3, an iTunes M4A file, or a FLAC. I probably couldn’t tell the difference between any of those and Pono, either.

Pono strikes me as just the latest form of audio woo. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s priced accordingly, too. You have to cover the cost of digitally recording and remastering all those master tapes at high resolution, after all. Speaking as a Neil Young fan, I hope he’s not being taken for a ride because he has money in the bank.