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Friday, January 27, 2012

Comment of the Moment: Occupy Audio: Neil Young is "Angered By Today's Sound Quality"

Neil Young
Slamdance Festival 2012, Park City, Utah
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Here's the Comment of the Moment from the recent post on Occupy Audio: Neil Young is "Angered By Today's Sound Quality" by Kimball:
Somehow, something about this issue is hitting me off center.

Sound quality is 2nd place for me, right behind Musical quality, or the spook factor, which is where the music magically connects with something inside me. I can still connect with music if the sound quality isn't there, but it can be more difficult, to impossible depending on what the music is playing on.

On the other hand I've connected with music on my laptop speakers only to find that its not the same when I put the CD or better on my full up stereo. Can't exactly explain all the factors at play, but I know I have a much fuller experience when the medium and stereo equipment and mastering all get out of the way resulting in a beautiful musical experience.

For that stuff to get out of the way, it needs to be of high quality, full bandwidth, non-coloring and the mix and recording need to be as unaffecting and transparent as possible. I've done my part by putting my main 2 channel stereo system together. When I find recordings that fulfil their part (including performance and recording quality) all is well. Luckily most of the music that I enjoy these days has been recorded quite well.

That being all but the first Jack Johnson records, Mark Knopfler's newer solo stuff, John Mayer's Continuum [minus John always singing too close to the mic]. Black Keys' Brothers and even James Blunt's Back to Bedlam are pretty decent recordings. But I still get goosebumps EVERY TIME I hear that soundstage open up toward the end of Music is Love on my vinyl copy of Crosby's "If I could only remember my name". B-52's Party Mix is a beautiful sounding LP.

Anyway, what I was saying when I started this post, is that I don't think that the current problem of music quality is the fault of the record companies.

There is PLENTY of fault in the public's side of the equation. High Resolution DVD Audio and SACD have been around for what, about a decade. Most people just don't care enough about sound quality to seek out a high fidelity experience. I can't say I understand it because that's the opposite of what drives me, but I know most people are either unaware of what is possible or they don't care to take their connection with their music farther.

An example of this apathy of ignorance is how many people buy their low resolution music from apple's itunes store at 99 cents, with oodles of digital rights managements limitations and huge amounts of lost data from lossy digital compression. In my mind, apple itunes is the absolute WORST place to buy music. The customer gets the least amount of product for the most amount of money and they don't even own the product enough to be able to move it around to all their players. Its basically the equivalent of going to radio shack to buy electronics. Or going to bose for your stereo speakers. Or getting your supper at McDonalds. Its all one big tornado of ignorance, convenience and an under-informed public.

As an engineering type, I'm not averse to seeking out lots of information before making decisions. I recognize that my mindset is different from most other people's, and I can accept that they're interests and values aren't going to match mine.

But it boggles my mind to understand what is different with this american population today from what it was in the 60's and 70's when people cared about the sound of their music and actually owned hi fi stereos.

The real question in this discussion is what is different about the public between then and now. For some reason people aren't pursuing sound quality as a component of their connection with music. There is alot of good music out there now, I've been feeling for the last couple three years that we're entering into or are in a high point in great music, kind of like the late 60's and 70's. You just have to look further than your local hot hits FM radio stations with those damned screaming car dealership commercials.

But when it comes to Neil's mission here, I hope that he is able to wake some of the masses up SO THAT THEY can demand more high resolution audio. If people demand it by buying it with their dollars the rec. co's will happily deliver to make the sales. DVD Audio and SACD have been available for a long time, they actually used to have a pretty good selection of them in most Best Buys, but because people didn't buy them, they dedicated the floor space to something else. Best Buy is foraying into vinyl but when they only have 10-15 different titles, how can they expect to make anything more than novelty sales.

Anyways, that's the way I see this issue and I hope that if I touched a nerve with anyone by slaying your sacred cow above (mcdonalds, bose etc) that you take a deep look at why you've settled for such meager crap. Life is too short to settle for low grade mass consumer trash. Seek knowledge and live a fuller life with the quality products and services that ARE available out there. Create the demand for the good stuff and we'll be rewarded with more good options.

Thanks Kimball! Lots to consider hear here...

Jonathan Demme and Neil Young
Slamdance Festival 2012, Park City, Utah
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At 1/27/2012 09:58:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cassette Tapes: That is the moment sound quality died, when people went for convenience over sound quality.

CDs are pretty good really, even if not perfect.

mp3s are shocking, and I agree, a waste of money.

I don't understand why people spend more 'buying an album' from iTunes than it costs to buy the physical CD in the shop!

However, as much as Neil has promoted Blu-Rays as superb quality, they lose their appeal for me because you cannot play them in the car, kitchen etc.


At 1/27/2012 10:02:00 AM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Wow - what a well written comment full of insights into our culture that reach well beyond many people seem to have embraced the convenience of technology without stopping to think in terms of what they are even doing.

Cameron Crowe's love letter to rock and roll - 'Almost Famous' - has a great scene where the main character's sister leaves him her stash of vinyl records as she prepares to leave home. As he thumbs through the titles we here 'Sparks' from The Who playing and the black circle spins.

Listening to music used to be an experience unto itself - right down to sitting with the album cover and enjoying the artwork (or not).

Fast forward to today and music has in a way become just another hi-tech accessory to people's fast paced lives. I know that's a broad generalization but oh well. American Idol anyone?

When cd's came out, the artwork was compromised as well as the sound. I-tunes? Please - printing out an image of the album art to print off and file somewhere? Give me a break.

Years ago, my wife bought me an I-pod for a birthday present. I had to tread carefully as I waited to approach her and explain that I didn't want it. Despite so many of my colleagues and family and friends who all revel in how "great" it is to have their entire collection in one device the size of a credit card, I continue to pass on the very notion of listening to mp3's.

When the 'Fork in the Road' video came out, I howled in laughter as Neil shook the apple & obviously gets what I've scoffed at as well.

To each his own in this crazy world...

The super audio disc I have of 'Harvest' is pretty amazing in terms of sound quality...not to mention the interview of Neil behind the barn.

Oh and McDonalds is 100% crap...

At 1/27/2012 11:05:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

We're all preaching to the choir here. Remember, not everyone had a good stereo system back in the days of vinyl & a lot of music sounded crappy on the radio which is why SOME people ended buying hifi stereo systems. Yet even on the best stereo systems, some of the vinyl sounded crappy because it was recorded that way.

There will be a blu ray system in 75% of the homes by 2015 so people are slowly pursuing sound quality. It might not hurt to show the Eldorado video in cinema houses because it's a perfect venue to demonstrate "sound quality."

It's an argument that is as old as time; intrinsic vs. extrinsic experiences. It's acquired and genetic this need/desire for quality sound. Think about it. Some people with higher visual acuity are possibly wired to desire visual experiences so looking at a reproduction won't cut it for them. Some people need outdoor adventures. Diane Ackerman's Nat. History of the Senses is a good read about this.

The question we should be asking is can we really educate people about "sound quality" when we're fighting an uphill battle over quality environmental sustainability, health care, education?

I cannot expect that what is high priority on my list for quality life-sensory driven experiences will be same priority for my neighbor.

At 1/27/2012 11:34:00 AM, Blogger Steve said...

Neil is 65 or 66 and I am coming up on 62 and as time goes by I know that years of abuse to my hearing (I used to play very loudly and I worked at a car wash for years) have made it impossible for me to hear anything the way I did back in 1971 when I first got turned on to NY. I wonder if Neil has had his hearing tested and how much of his high end hearing remains...
I dream that some day before too long they come up with headphones or hearing devices that somehow measure and compensate where our hearing drops out.
The hearing aid people would say that such devices already exist- but they are very crude and unsatisfying listening experiences from what I have experienced.
-rustedstevie on the Utube

At 1/27/2012 11:54:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Kimball, what is different from then & now is that the record company wasn't competing like it is now for our leisure time. Their only competition back then was other record companies and their labels.

Also I don't think sound quality is a defined variable in this time formula of then vs. now. Nope. Because the people who had crappy record players were just fine with their crappy record players. But we can't say it's because they didn't value sound quality.

Some ears aren't tuned to hear for those high and lows, frequencies, sound waves, air flow, etc. because it's an individual preference based on brain function which in many cases is determined by our genetics.

At 1/27/2012 01:17:00 PM, Blogger Greg Mantho said...

Can't say it better than Jonathan, thanks.

A Friend Of Yours

At 1/27/2012 05:10:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

LOL Jonathan! I love that scene, too. Notice he's not playing the sub-standard 7" single, either. I don't remember anyone complaining about sound quality when billions were made from selling sub-standard 7" singles.

At 1/27/2012 06:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bit ironic reading this as I've just burnt a load of CDs onto my external hard drive (lossless quality) while streaming Radio Paradise at 192kb aac in the background, not that I'm big on audio.
But at the moment I'm enjoying sound at a far better quality than I ever did 10 or 20 years ago when I listened on a not so great stereo with vynil.
To get the great sound I get now - very cheaply (or streamed) in those days would have meant an expensive hi-fi system, which I could never afford.
Today you can have high quality - when recorded at the best bit rate, and it's convienient and portable.
There are always going to be hi-fi buffs who have incredibly expensive systems (with beautiful sound) which we mere mortals can only dream of, but in the meantime lets embrace what's here, it's not too bad actually and to get back to Kimball's point Neil Youngs Live Rust affected me like no other record (on a cheap hi-fi) in 1979 not because of sound quality but because of passion, attitude and awesome music!

At 1/31/2012 04:38:00 AM, Blogger Mr Henry said...

Live music is best. Although my ears are worn down more than some and a lot more than most, the one advantage to growing older is my appreciation of each individual sound I hear which, in turn, gives me an ever more deep appreciation of the sounds that I have experienced before.

This weekend I had a long drive with my daughter as passenger. After a long catchup talk, I made a quick stop. When I got back to the car, she had put Harvest on the player. "That's cool" I told her and she replied "Yeah I really like so much of this music now that I'm older".

We talked a bit while the music played. She asked me "what was the album you used to play a lot when I was really young?". "That was Sleeps with Angels" was my reply. "You used to sing along with me to Change Your Mind". She smiled and we listend some more.

After Harvest played through a couple times, I said "Hey I have the new First Aid Kit album that just came out...wanna hear it?". "Sure" she replied. I put the CD in and we listened. By the middle of song two "Emmylou" she was hooked. "They are incredible" were here first words. "Yeah they really are...and you should hear how they sound live".

For as much as I love the CD, I heard most of these songs live for the first time from musicians I had absolutely no awareness of. And the real quest that Neil, Kimball me and you are all on is to always stay as close to that experience and immediacy as you possibly can. So if vinyl does it best for you (and there's nothing quite like it), there's still a great world that we're living in.

At 4/19/2012 10:57:00 PM, Anonymous audio brisbane said...

I am intrigued with this new music format by Neil young. I have not tried it yet. It is a subject for review.


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