Neil Young: Jobs’s Death Slowed Apple’s High-Def Music Efforts

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The death of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs has slowed Apple’s efforts to move online music to high-def, according to rock legend Neil Young. During News Corp.’s D: Dive Into Media event on Tuesday, the Rock-and-Roll Hall of Famer said he had been in discussion with Apple, including Steve Jobs personally, about improving the quality of digital music

Neil Young photo

Neil Young

High-definition music is a cause that Mr. Young has been involved with for some time. CNN.com reported that apparently Mr. Young, and some others, had been discussing with Apple not only improved digital files, but also improved downloading and devices to handle them. He described a system that would download files as the user slept. Talk of iPods being revamped to handle high-def files was first reported a year ago.

Apple supports its own lossless music format, called Apple Lossless Audio Codec (or ALAC), in iTunes for playback, but the company only offers much lower resolution downloads to customers. Currently, Apple’s iTunes sells music as 256K AAC files. Other lossless formats include FLAC, ALS, ATRAC, and more. There are other uncompressed high definition formats, as well, which is where the most extreme audiophiles tend to play.

Currently, most digital music is in either MP3 or AAC format, both of which compress the music down to only about 5% of what was available in the master. A high-def music file would therefore be much larger than the currently common formats and downloading and storing would take significantly more resources. There are high-def versions of some songs and albums available online, but only on smaller sites which generate less interest than Apple’s popular iTunes. Moving high-def music into channels such as iTunes could give them much more exposure to the mainstream market.

It’s well known that Mr. Jobs was an avid music fan and a driving force behind the digital music industry, but Mr. Young said, “When he went home, he listened to vinyl.” According to the artist, without Steve Jobs’s passion, Apple has lost its ambition to push for high-def music.

High-def music files could offer the music industry a way to sell a premium product at a premium price, an idea that many musicians have shown an interest in.

In addition, Mr. Young, long known for being a rebel, also had an interesting take on music piracy, saying “Piracy is the new radio. I look at the Internet as the new radio. I look at radio as gone.”

Comments

Bill

I have recently been evaluating the electrical and acoustical capabilities of the iPad 2 and an older version of the iPod Touch for use in an application to test hearing.  I was pleasantly surprised to find how linear the response of the iPad 2 was in both measurements.  The response was linear from the maximum output to the minimum output and then there was a large gap between the minimum level it could produce and the electrical noise floor (~10 to 20 dB).  In other words, at full volume, the iPad delivered accurate signal levels from 125 Hz to 8000 Hz over a range of 95 dB.  Very impressive! 

If Apple used 24-bit DACs, then this system would be even better.  Lowering the volume to the minimum setting allowed me to measure the electrical linearity down to the noise floor.  Although the data are preliminary, it equated to delivering a -20 dB HL (Hearing Threshold Level) for tones at 250 to 8000 Hz.  The system has a bit of noise down at 125 Hz, but the hearing threshold is elevated at the lower frequencies.

Bregalad

I’ve been told the difference between 24-bit/96KHz and CD quality 16-bit/44.1KHz is more noticeable than the difference between CD and the AAC and MP3 files sold online. I’ve been told the difference is so great that you don’t even need audiophile equipment to hear it.

If there’s much truth to those claims then I hope someone at Apple will champion the sale of premium recordings.

I don’t think any personal computer or portable music player supports 96KHz playback and bandwidth demands for uncompressed audio would be huge so if we’re to see mainstream high definition audio in the next couple of years it will likely be 24-bit/48KHz with lossless compression like ALAC. On average such files would be just 15% bigger than the current 16-bit/44.1KHz uncompressed audio found on CDs.

ebernet

I don?t think any personal computer or portable music player supports 96KHz playback and bandwidth demands for uncompressed audio…

Incorrect. Macs have supported 96/24 since at least later PowerBook days (2004 or so) and so have most PCs.
ALAC format supports higher bit depths and sample sizes.
I am unsure if iOS hardware an handle the higher bit depths and sample sizes, but now that we have so much storage it would be nice to see Apple add support for higher quality losslessly compressed ALAC.

Jonny

Get a grip folks

There are very few if any DVD’s that are available at 96/24.
I think that one of Graham Nash’s albums was available at one point on a DVD, recorded at that higher resolution.

I think Neil is talking about 96 and maybe higher, 192.
George Massenburg has experimented with even higher,about 336.
Not sure of that number…do the math..please don’t quote me on this but the information is on the net.

MP3’s, don’t even go there, it sounds terrible.
The problem now being that the current generations find all of these highly compressed digital formats acceptable.

Jobs had it right by listening to vinyl LP’s

The point being that once you get up around 300 it does not sound digital or so contrived…if that makes any sense.

Also I was informed by Steinberg that it was not ProTools but with Nuendo as it is capable of much higher resolution.
Where did the get the A/D hardware to do this…I have no idea but you can assume it was not cheap.

ebernet

Get a grip folks
?.
The point being that once you get up around 300 it does not sound digital or so contrived?if that makes any sense.

Get a grip? Does someone not have a grip?

24x48 and 24x96 would be good enough for people to not notice a quality difference between digital and vinyl

Jonny

Get a grip? Does someone not have a grip?

24x48 and 24x96 would be good enough for people to not notice a quality difference between digital and vinyl

What….did you read all of this article

that is the point

Listen on a good set of monitors or good headphones.
If you cannot hear the difference between 24x96 and a vinyl LP on a good turntable with a good cartridge then why even read this.
It is like day and night.
With a comment like that we would have to guess that you never tried this A/B have you…?

Frank It

Yeah…Really Jonny…!
You could not be more right…!

I know Massenburg, and I totally understand what Neil Young is saying.

If “1328161587” and others say they cannot hear the difference then don’t bother even trying to get through to them.

I hope Neil Young keeps on pushing for this.

Frank It

You are right on Jonny.

I these guys cannot hear the difference then don’t bother trying to get through to them

I hope Neil Young keeps on pushing for this change or at least and option to purchase this media in high res, at least 24/192..Yeah

ebernet

Listen on a good set of monitors or good headphones.
If you cannot hear the difference between 24x96 and a vinyl LP on a good turntable with a good cartridge then why even read this.
It is like day and night.
With a comment like that we would have to guess that you never tried this A/B have you??

Actually, I am an audiofile and a live concert taper. I have been taping music since the early 80s, and while I have never had a $10,000 turntable, I have been recording with DATs and then laptops for many years and record most of my live stuff in 96x24.

The truth is these days pretty much EVERYTHING is mastered digitally, usually at 96x24, sometimes (rarely) at 192x24. True, hardware is coming out for higher res now, but little is recorded at it.

But if you MASTERED at 96x24, and then you believe somehow the vinyl will sound better than the 96x24 master? You must be kidding?

For me, I can clearly hear the difference between 96x24 and 44.1x16. But how readily can I hear the difference between 96x24 digital master and vinyl? Well, unless I spend in the 10s of thousands for a 10k+ turntable, and a similar amount on a pre-amp and amp. If anything, just knowing the imperfections of vinyl and knowing that the master was digital will alert me to the noise inherent in the analog rendition of a prior digital sound.

Yeah, I like good quality audio, and I have quality gear, but I also find the warmth of 96x24 audio files to be totally outstanding and would be hard pressed to choose it over vinyl at my price point.

I hope Neil Young keeps on pushing for this change or at least and option to purchase this media in high res, at least 24/192..Yeah

Really Frank? You want these files in at least 192? Look, I don’t know why you guys are railing on me saying 96x24 (or 48x24) as some kind of evil non-music listener. I think either of those formats would be a VAST improvement over 320 kbps compressed MP3 or 256 kbps compressed m4a, and I think Neil would feel so as well. For the 99.99% case, 96x24 lossless audio would be like mana from heaven (even though 97% wouldn’t even notice the difference nor care). And until the music is mastered at 192x24 it makes no sense at all.

Frank It

320 kbps compressed MP3 or 256 kbps compressed m4a,

192 kHz/24 bit and 320 kHz/24 bit as in “uncompressed”.
No m4a, no mp4, no compression at all.
We are talking about 192 kHz/24 bit and 320 kHz/24, uncompressed AIFF’s or WAV’s.
That is what Jonny and I are talking about for a true digital audiophile.

Read about it as suggested by Jonny.
George Massenburg is pretty clear about 320 kHz/24 being closer to analog media.

So “it makes no sense at all” to you…..?


No need for that kind of money for a turntable.
What kind of turntable and cartridge are you using..?

Not really the point in the end but yes I can hear the difference, and of course that is based on the music and it depends on what you are listening to, I hope that makes sense to you.

We are talking about very high resolution recordings where there may in fact only be 12 to 16 songs on a high density DVD.

That may not be what Mr Young is suggesting, in the end, but it is what we are talking about and suggesting, along with the majority of experienced professional recording engineers and producers.

Taping live concerts..?
What kind of mikes, so you are miking all the instruments, What size of tape and brand of tape, 1” or 2” Ampex, 3M.

If you are recording it digitally then that has to be the end of this discussion…right..?

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