Neil Young has issued an update on his Pono Music project, promising the "high-resolution" audio service will be ready to launch in early 2014. Although details remain scarce, Young hopes his service will replace the MP3 through a combination of a new portable music player, new compression technology and "special access" to musicians' original recordings.
Writing on Pono's official Facebook page, Young said "all of us … have been focused on getting everything right for our early 2014 launch." The company will soon be ready to unveil its iPod alternative – an "updated version" of a device shown on The Late Show with David Letterman in September 2012. It also plans to sell music through an online library, similar to the iTunes Music Store.
The key difference between Pono and industry leaders such as iTunes or Spotify is Young's focus on audio fidelity. An avowed enemy of the CD, Young now wants to "save listeners" from the MP3. "The simplest way to describe what we've accomplished is that we've liberated the music of the artist from the digital file and restored it to its original artistic quality – as it was in the studio," Young wrote. "Hearing Pono for the first time is like that first blast of daylight when you leave a movie theatre on a sun-filled day."
Young has a lot of big promises: Pono has "primal power", he said. "[It] moves you … so you can feel." But he has yet to offer many practical details. Pono audio will apparently be sourced from "artist-approved studio masters" and then have its "richness unlocked" by "our brilliant partners" at Cambridgeshire outfit Meridian Audio.
According to Rolling Stone, Pono has already inked deals with Warner Music Group, Universal Music Group and Sony Music. Artists such as Flea and Marcus Mumford have also offered tentative support. "It's a drastic difference," Flea said in a promo video. "MP3s suck."
If Pono is indeed released next year, it will have competition from at least one other new music outfit. Beats Music – formerly known as Project Daisy – is a proposed "Spotify-killer" being developed by Dr Dre's headphones company, Beats Electronics. Nine Inch Nails' Trent Reznor has helped design the service, emphasising the importance of "intelligent curation" by "connoisseurs". Beats Music has yet to announce a launch date.