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

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. 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.”