Okay, Neil Young, you got me.
Those of you who have known me for a long time remember the massive CD collection I built during college and graduate school. Those CDs are long gone after the huge "ripping" project that I undertook about 5-6 years ago. Thankfully, I did rip everything as (Apple) lossless files (ALAC) so that I wouldn't lose fidelity by converting to MP3s but could still play the files in iTunes and on Apple devices. So now I have a couple of terabytes of lossless music sitting on hard drives (and backed up multiple places).
When I listen to that music on the go, those lossless files get converted to MP3s (or, more accurately, AAC files) to save space on my iPhone/iPod nano. I'm pretty sure that I can't tell the difference between lossless files and MP3s when listening on those devices with cheap earbuds in noisy places. But I've recently started using a nice set of Klipsch over-the-ear headphones when I'm working and want to get the most out of my music (i.e., start listening to the lossless files). And just as I'm starting to think about this, Neil comes along with the Kickstarter-funded Pono player.
Neil spoke extensively at SXSW about his issues with current digital music files (and the music industry as a whole). The thing that resonated most with me were his comments about the fatigue that accompanies listening to today's digital music. It could simply be my ears getting old, but recently I haven't been able to listen to music (in headphones) all day like I used to. My ears just seem to get tired. Is it aging, or is it because of the 128kbps files? The notion of bringing warmth back into the listening experience is appealing.
Pono is both a music distribution platform for super-high resolution audio files and also a music player that is optimized to play lossless files. Frankly, I'm not that interested in the Pono music store because I don't buy a lot of new music and have no intention of replacing all my lossless files with newly purchased super-high res files (although I'll probably buy a couple of my favorite albums to compare with my CD rips). I suppose that when I do buy new stuff, I'd be inclined to get it from the Pono store rather than buy CDs and rip them to lossless.
The more interesting piece to me is the hardware. Pono claims that its player doesn't have the same limitations that components stuffed into smartphones have; that a dedicated player can be designed with the sole goal of maximizing audio quality. Essentially, their say my lossless files will sound better on the Pono player than they do on various Apple devices. Will I become less fatigued listening on the Pono player? That's the million dollar (or at least $300) question.
Now, given my line of work, I'm very familiar with placebo effects, but I'm also an empiricist and am curious if Neil's claims about the improved audio quality are founded. So I backed the project on Kickstarter and will find out in October...