Neil Young's Pono music store has more than 600K songs 'ingested', downloads are another matter

The hi-fi music upstart was promoted heavily this week at the Salesforce Dreamforce show

Attendees of the 2014 Salesforce Dreamforce conference in San Francisco checked out Neil Young's Pono music player.

Attendees of the 2014 Salesforce Dreamforce conference in San Francisco checked out Neil Young's Pono music player.

Neil Young says he is making progress toward filling his online Pono store with millions of high-fidelity music files. He's mum, though, on exactly when people can actually start downloading and listening.

There's now more than 600,000 songs in the catalogue for the Pono music store, the 68-year-old rocker said. The store is an online component of the music service Young is trying to get off the ground, with the physical Pono player comprising the hardware.

Young, however, stopped short of providing details about when the tracks would be made available to the public. "We're currently ingesting these tracks," he said, speaking at the Salesforce Dreamforce conference in San Francisco.

Young said his company, PonoMusic, has been working with the three major music labels -- Universal, Sony and Warner Bros. -- along with some number of smaller labels to secure licensing deals. Currently there's around 2 million tracks in the queue for "ingestion," Young said.

Pono is focused on a digital music format called FLAC, which stands for free lossless audio codec -- a large file type designed to use compression like MP3s, but with minimal or no loss in quality. The files are derived from the original studio master recordings of songs. But devices other than the Pono play FLAC files. And Apple has its own lossless format called Apple Lossless Audio Codec or ALAC, which can be played on iPods and iPhones.

Still, "we're trying to bring feeling back in music. We're trying to bring the goose bumps back," Young said. With Pono, a Hawaiian word for "righteous", Young hopes to attract audiophiles nonetheless, with a format his company says mimics the warmth of vinyl, if not surpasses it.

PonoMusic has said that the ability to purchase songs would not come until beta testing of the store is done. A spokesman for the company, following Young's keynote at the conference, did not respond to questions to clarify when that might happen.

The company has said it would begin shipping the Pono players to early Kickstarter backers at the end of this month, giving them access to music purchases well in advance of the general public. That means it could be some time before the Pono store opens to the public.

For non-backers, the device can be pre-ordered on the Pono site for US$399, for delivery by next March.

Pricing for albums, whenever they're released, is expected to be between $15 and $25 per album.

Young and PonoMusic were promoting Pono heavily at the Dreamforce conference. A booth was erected on the show floor with players on demo for attendees to listen to. There even was a special room for group listening sessions without headphones, with a Pono player hooked up to a stereo system.

The session I sat in on kicked off with, not surprisingly, Neil Young's "Heart of Gold." The music sounded great, but it might have been due as much to the high-grade speakers, if not more so, than to the Pono player itself.

Some skeptics have questioned whether the human ear can really tell the difference in Pono's FLAC files.

The Salesforce Community Cloud, a platform for letting businesses interact with customers on the Web, powers the Pono site for interactions between users and the PonoMusic company.

Involving more of the music community is a big focus of Young's efforts with Pono going forward. "It's a step-by-step process," he said.

Zach Miners covers social networking, search and general technology news for IDG News Service. Follow Zach on Twitter at @zachminers. Zach's e-mail address is zach_miners@idg.com

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