On the Pono Player vs Compact Discs, and why the music industry is still insane

In recent years, compact discs have gotten a lot of inexplicable hate. I've heard folks talk about how it is obsolete, just a waste of plastic, while simultaneously stating that vinyl (a much larger piece of plastic) is a far superior listening experience.

I actually agree that vinyls and cassettes are a better listening experience. There is a wonderful tactile and "reuse" economy around these formats, allowing music to be shared and discovered and rediscovered in thrift shops, record shops and friend's basements. The nature of these formats also can result in more active listening since it is harder to skip around, combating attention deficit style listening habits. I like that these formats degrade sonically - sometimes a scratchy, warped Maceo Parker record sounds better than the original.

But, what's with the CD hate? I don't get it. I guess it isn't as romantic as tape or vinyl and not as convenient as MP3s. It's a mutt, a digital medium stuck in an analog world. But I think that makes it pretty unique on its own. You can play it back directly, copy it, or import it into your computer. Its fidelity is proven to be higher than cassettes, and meets or exceeds the fidelity of new, premium grade vinyl. There is no sonic degradation over time. You can store 80 minutes of audio on one disc compared to 22 minutes per side on a 33 RPM LP. All of this is stored basically on an ultra cheap 5" round metal sticker. Compared to other digital mediums like hard drives and cloud storage, this is a pretty good deal.

Now listen asshats, stop yelling at me - I just said that tapes and vinyl are more fun to listen to. I'm on your side. But people tend to conflate the quality of their subjective listening experience with the quality of the medium. They are not related. Music is connected to our emotions, however, so there is a lot of opportunity to exploit people's emotions for fame and profit.

Which brings me to Neil Young's bumbling $6 million dollar eye roll: the Pono Player. Somewhere along the way, Neil Young got duped into being a spokesman for the Pono player, which recently raised $6 million dollars on kickstarter for a toblerone shaped player that aims to sell customers giant audio files with extended frequencies that only bats and dogs can hear. The funny thing is that most studio masters probably can't support the higher resolution offerings, nor can many of the existing audio playback devices accurately play them. This means that you not only need to buy the Pono Player, but in order to reap the sonic benefits you need to upgrade to higher resolution audio files (if they exist) as well as upgrade your headphones and speakers, and also hope your ears can hear these supersonic frequencies.

To me, a CD already does exactly what the Pono Player does in an elegant and cost efficient way. But why the hate? And why so much po-mo navel gazing and nostalgia over audio formats?

I think this obsession over formats is a distraction from a larger problem, one related to the perceived value and worth of art and music in our society, and how it fits into a hyper connected global economy. In a world where almost all music is instantly available for almost nothing, the market value of music has dropped and artists seek any way to bolster its value - by offering supposed audiophile level formats or only selling one physical copy.

If people are interested in pushing audio mediums, there are so many ways we can innovate and improve: surround sound releases, hybrid video/audio, multitrack stem releases, music that responds to the environment, decentralized music distribution and better revenue share models.