You gotta love Neil’s honesty. We owe it all to artists to stand up to what they believe in and drive us forward. Without them, we would have nothing.
“Still the searcher
must ride the dark horse
Racing alone in his fright.”
“I’m finding that I have a little bit of trouble with the quality of the sound of music today,” says Neil Young. “I don’t like it. It just makes me angry. Not the quality of the music, but we’re in the 21st century and we have the worst sound that we’ve ever had. It’s worse than in 1978. Where are our geniuses? What happened?”
I can’t agree more. We need a new format that breathes life into the music industry by improving the quality of the sound that we listen to. If you are under the age of 22, I will bet that most of you have never really heard a great audio recording. You don’t even know what I am talking about.
This issue is vital to the future of the music business. What we have today with the proliferation of ear buds as the primary listening medium and compressed MP3 files is a low res music experience that is the bottom of the barrel, lowest common denominator form of a listening experience there can be. Really listening to music is simply lost on most people these days, and as a result the art form has lost the majority of its value.
It commonly accepted that crappy sounding music is the norm and people, by and large, have no idea what they are missing. The MP3 has stripped the emotional value from music today and has reduced it to a commodity. The audio business has truly been compressed and marginalized and is nearing extinction. We cannot let that happen to the music business.
As artists, “We can’t control the back end of the donkey, laments Young. The donkey has two ends, products like Beats and Bose and every little product that comes out for your car, the whole thing – is all about the back end of the donkey. There is nothing talking about the front end of the donkey, that’s what I’m talking about. You don’t have to that rich to do this, you just have to be smart… We are in the low res world, make no mistake that is right where we are…
“I look at the internet as the new radio. I look at the radio as gone… People change and do their music, people trade it they do whatever and Apple makes it very possible for you to store stolen or traded songs in the cloud, they opened up the door so that that can happen… its acceptable. Thats the way it is… Piracy is the new radio, that’s how music gets around, thats the real world for kids, thats the (new) radio… Lets let them really hear it.
“I’m hoping that some people who want the hi-res would have the choice in buying it. It has to be convenient, people should not associate hi-res with inconvenience. That’s a myth, we’re living in the 21st century and all of these things are possible. The technology exists, the internet is fast enough to support it… If Steve Jobs had lived long enough, he would be eventually have done what I am trying to do.”
Quality. We need a new format that will deliver better quality sound to drive the business forward. Period. Here is a true clarion call for innovation, and something that we all need to pay attention to. Neil Young cares about music. He is successful enough that he could sit back and ignore the realities of the marketplace today, but instead chooses to push the agenda forward. Awesome. I would not be surprised to hear a new song from Neil about a donkey. Maybe I can sing backup on it.
Here is a brief description of some of the technical issues from Thinkdigit. “The renewed focus on audio quality in some circles has a sense of déjà vu about it. Some of it recalls the 1970s, back when the term “high fidelity” was thrown around to indicate quality stereo recordings. We also saw this go around again at the turn of the millennium with the introduction of SACD and DVD Audio formats, which brought 24-bit fidelity and surround sound to audio mixes, although neither took off at the time.
So what’s going on here? In a word, it’s about data. More data translates to better-sounding audio files—but those files are largely unavailable to most consumers. Granted, to the casual listener, Amazon MP3 and Apple iTunes Store sound pretty good, as they’re encoded as 256Kbps MP3 and AAC files for the most part. Amazon has some MP3 files encoded at variable bit rates, but most of them center around the 224Kbps to 256Kbps range. AAC generally sounds slightly better than MP3 when encoded at the same bit rate, although recent improvements in MP3 encoding algorithms have largely rendered this academic.
Aside from music purchases, 256Kbps is also iTunes’ default encoding rate for when you rip audio CDs in iTunes (although you can change it), and it’s the size iCloud uses to deliver tracks to other PCs or mobile devices on your network if you’re a subscriber. I’m just using Apple products here as an example; Windows Media Player, Winamp, and countless other apps do similar things. Any way you cut it, 256Kbps files sound a lot better than ones encoded at 128Kbps, which is what Apple used years ago before it removed DRM from its iTunes Store tracks. Granted, 256Kbps files take up twice the space as 128Kbps files, but on today’s devices, that usually isn’t a problem, and the improved sound quality is worth it.
The thing is, 256Kbps still isn’t enough. Higher-resolution, uncompressed, 16-bit audio files match the sound you get on an actual CD. 24-bit sound files even sound better; the increased headroom matches the format most artists and mix engineers have been working in over the past decade or so.
Cheap consumer electronics manufacturers abused the phrase “CD-quality” for many years, but in this case it still has meaning. True CD-quality files take up anywhere from three to 10 times as much as space as an MP3 or AAC file, depending on the latter’s bit rate; 24-bit files take up even more space. They come in several formats: FLAC, WAV, AIFF, and Apple Lossless. (FLAC and Apple Lossless contain some data compression but only in a method that doesn’t affect sound quality. FLAC is much more widely supported than Apple Lossless, though.)”
Here is a more in-depth description of MP3, Vinyl, AAC, FLAC, Apple Lossless, WAV, DSD and other formats here from Wired.