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Neil Young Builds a Boom Box for 21st Century

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- In a press announcement Monday, ahead his interview appearance at Austin's SXSW, Neil Young, the legendary singer, songwriter and innovator unveiled his Pono music system in a press announcement, promising an end-to-end high-quality audio experience for the casual listener. The goal of the system is to ensure that the music that plays back for the consumer is the same high quality that the musicians hear in the studio.

Young has formed a company to support his product, PonoMusic, with himself as president and chairman and John Hamm as CEO. Hamm is the author of the book, Unusually Excellent: The Necessary Nine Skills Required for the Practice of Great Leadership, a professor at Leavey School of Business at Santa Clara University and former CEO of Whistle Communications, which was acquired by IBM (IBM) in 1999. 

Before we get into Pono, a note about existing music media: Old vinyl albums and tapes were capable of capturing continuous lifelike sound. The vibrations of the music are literally etched into the vinyl or into magnetic patterns on tape, like paint laid in brush strokes across a canvas. Digital music, by comparison, has to quantify that sound into bits that can be stored into patterns of ones and zeros, the same way that a digital image of a brush stroke is actually a collection of pixels.

Because of processing, download and memory limitations, mp3s and most other types of music files involve some compression of the sound, reducing the size of the file and resulting in a perceptible loss of audio quality. But even CDs, which have what is termed a "lossless" reproduction, actually lose a certain amount of the original music, clipping off very high frequencies and stripping out subtle ambient elements that, when included, can give the audio an added sense of depth.

No medium today approaches the universality and the quality that vinyl had at its peak -- markets and machinery for the mass distribution of a physical product and music players capable, at the high end, of rendering a truly lifelike musical experience.

Young's PonoMusic system wants to be that medium. It uses a sound resolution and sampling rate that are both much higher than that used for CDs. While the sound is still quantified, nothing of the real sound experience is lost. 

Young has said he was moved to investigate high-quality digital audio as a recorded musician, disappointed with the quality of sound available through digital media. 

"It's about the music, real music," Young says in the press release. "We want to move digital music into the 21st century and PonoMusic does that. We couldn't be more excited -- not for ourselves, but for those that are moved by what music means in their lives."

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