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Friday, February 03, 2012

Steve Jobs and Neil Young: Comment of the Moment

Neil Young & Steve Jobs

Quite a bit of discussion regarding the news that "Steve Jobs Preferred Vinyl" Says Neil Young.

The widely picked up quote was preceded earlier by Neil Young's announcement that he supported the Occupy Audio movement due to his "anger over today's sound quality".

Which brings us to the Comment of the Moment:
This story grabbed my interest, because I know of Young's long term dedication to sound quality. And also just because it was an interesting idea that these two could be discussing a major move forward.

But realistically, I wonder how far he could ever have got with Jobs (or could get now, with just Apple). I suspect Jobs and Young would have struggled to find common ground. Jobs may have liked vinyl, but he liked Apple a whole lot more.

True, the iPod itself is quite an innovative product, but from the very beginning, it was about quantity over quality, "1000 songs in your pocket" and all that crap.

And mainly what it is is a shamefully locked piece of equipment, a vehicle for Apple's proprietary obsessions.


We've had "hi-def" digital sound for at least 15 years now, even DVD Video has 24-bit sound written into its standard (Google the Bob Stuart interview in Stereophile). Yep, you can run off a lovely hi-def audio disc on a cheap DVD-V blank.

We've had hi-def digital disc formats that didn't too well commercially - DVD-Audio and SACD, and now we have hi-def audio on Bluray. And we have what may be the true home of hi-def, computers. And where has Apple really been in all this? Nowhere. Jobs and Apple have been completely silent on the subject, and where their equipment can even handle this stuff, they're usually very late to the game.

Instead, they've had a separate but extraordinarily lucrative existence where they developed the iPod and iTunes, got people buying a song at a time for a dollar a time, and did nothing to disabuse people of the idea that MP3 was all they needed.

If Jobs knows vinyl sounds great on his billionaire-class turntable, why didn't he do more to promote higher quality digital audio for the plebs? He's had ten years with the iPod, more than enough time considering that during the same period, audiophiles have adopted high quality computer audio in a very big way.

Instead, the iPod is more about what you _can't_ do. No SPDIF or other way to get the digital signal out to a DAC. If you want to do that, you have to buy a Wadia box (licensed by Apple) for $300. And that's not the external DAC, it's just a digital middleman. Unlike an external DAC, which can be an extremely versatile audio device that deals with multiple sources, it presumably has no function other than getting digital off an iPod and passing it along. You can't plug it into anything else or do anything else with it. For $300! It's basically a license in box form.

Now it would be perfectly possible for Apple to just build digital-out capability into its iPods - in the same way a $30 PC soundcard can do it, a DAT player can do it, a CD player can do it (I do all three right now). Instead, the iPod is permanently prevented from reaching its full hifi potential - as a digital transport - unless you take Apple's approved, Apple-takes-a-cut-of-the-money route. Isn't it interesting how the iPod, in 2012, can't do things that a CD player or a DAT could easily handle in 1990?

Compare that to how you freely move music files around on a computer, swap between computers, send out to a DAC, basically do whatever the hell you want with them, and you see that the iPod is classic crippleware.

Now how many of us really believe that the Jobs-Young summit would have produced results that weren't weighted in Steve's favour? I've got the greatest respect for Neil Young and what he's achieved for audio over the years - he's a frigging _hero for the way he's pushed this issue - but I'm convinced Jobs would have obstructed or circumvented him one way or another.

So what have we got?

Neil Young: brought out the Archives - his BABY - on Bluray.

Steve Jobs: Blu-ray? What's that?

And there you have the difference between the two in a nutshell.

A lot to consider in this comment.

So we'll just say that we're always searchin' for quality -- rather than quantity. But -- generally -- we can't always get what we want, but we're happy we get what we need. :)

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At 2/03/2012 05:19:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

LOL Thrasher, when I first came across that comment 2 things came to mind; 1. What kind of smoke they had when the conversation was taking place; 2) A CEO patronizing a favorite client rock star about sound quality on the green?

Regardless, Neil has a valid point and I respect him for speaking up on an issue that impacts how his music is heard.

Hundred dolphins are washed up on Cape Cod. Women's reproductive rights are still a major concern for men.

It's an angry world.

At 2/03/2012 10:49:00 PM, Anonymous Mike Beauchamp said...

For those that are interested in listening to lossless audio (CD Quality) on their existing ipods, check out Rockbox (

It is an open-source alternate firmware for some ipods and other music players, that allows the playback of FLAC files.

I've been using it for several years now on a second hand 80gb ipod video (5th generation), and love it. The best part of all is that you no longer need to use iTunes to "sync", you can simply drag and drop files and folders onto the iPod as you wish.

With a nice set of headphones, it's probably the closest you're going to get to Neil's dream of uncompressed portable audio for the time being.


At 2/04/2012 01:03:00 AM, Blogger Kimball said...

I'd also like to point out the Cowon J3 as a great personal media player that supports flac (as well as a plethora of other audio and video formats) and it has good clean sound quality.

You can usually find what you want, you just have to scratch beyond the surface.

Now, on the subject of Horse Back Neil, wow, that is an assault of rich guitar tone. I can tell that even through the lossy compression of the video on Neil's website. Its going to be great to hear the record(s) when they come out.

Remember that little note on Neil's own news page on his website, that 2012 is going to be the year that the record companies bring high quality or high resolution audio to the masses. Seems like that was there back in August or so, and now Neil's speaking about the subject in public. I can't wait to see what the format is, and what it will require for equipment.

While I've been watching these videos of Neil speaking about digital sound quality, I've noted his lack of mention of the previously available forays into high rez that have been available in SACD and DVD-Audio (he even re-released several of his albums on DVD audio). He also has been spanking the 128 kbps MP3. He does not mention the availability of equipment that plays CD quality flac files, like the Cowon J3. I know he's got his sights on players that will support 24/192 files. I would love that support too. But perhaps he'll get more critical public mass momentum if he gets people to understand flac equipment that at least does CD quality, which is a great deal better than 128 MP3s.

(AIFF and WAV are lossless formats that maintain full CD quality, but are also uncompressed meaning they take up maximum space. FLAC is the same in that it is lossless, but it takes up less disk space. The same quality, but compressed. That is the difference between lossy and lossless compression. Its the compression that relates to how much space the material takes up. The lossy vs lossless relates to whether there is a loss of information. Think of a .ZIP file of a document. It takes up less space, but you can still expand it to get back to the original. That's lossless compression. Imagine if you wrote your life story and then saved it with LOSSY compression to be able to save it to fit on your thumb drive. You might lose every other letter or maybe you'd lose years of passages. With lossy compression the information is gone and it doesn't come back when you read out the material. Think of it in terms of your autobiography and you're approaching how Neil and other artists feel about their personal musical compositions going through the lossy shredder.)

At 2/04/2012 10:46:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"While I've been watching these videos of Neil speaking about digital sound quality, I've noted his lack of mention of the previously available forays into high rez that have been available in SACD and DVD-Audio (he even re-released several of his albums on DVD audio)."

I count 7: Road Rock, Harvest, On the Beach, American Stars n Bars, Reactor, Greendale, Hawks and Doves.

Following that, I am guessing because Warner ceased backing DVD-Audio, he started putting out CDs with companion DVD "videos" which were in fact primarily a way to get the audio to us in 24/96. I don't know what the full list of those is, but would love if someone could post it here.

It seems to me he's been trying to release material in hi-rez digital since about 2001, by and large successfully. First in DVD Audio, then DVD-Video, and finally Bluray with the Archives Vol. 1.

At 2/04/2012 11:54:00 AM, Blogger philnovo said...

Can we talk about a bigger problem? It would be nice to hear Neil's work in the best sound possible, but at this point I would be happy if he would release archives II on 78's, there is an old Victrola in the basement of our family home that I could use. I had long ago resigned myself that I might not live long enough to see the release of all the Archives series, but now I'll be satisfied if I just survive until the second. Please Neil your're killing me!

At 2/04/2012 12:35:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Neil, just announce the tour dates already! The vacation book at work is filling up! I need to know some dates! I work nights!

At 2/04/2012 03:26:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Comment of the moment:

The only thing missing from the photos of Mitt Romney, Neil, and Steve is a monocle & top hat like Mr. Monopoly wears.

At 2/04/2012 07:28:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would like to know just WHY in hells people think of Steve Jobs as a "visionary pioneer"... I have good friends that were genuinely bummed when he passed, and please do not respond to tell me "DO NOT SPEAK ILL OF THE DEAD" but dammit that dude DESERVED an early death! Destroying music as he knew it with his billionaire hi-fi (outdated term I know I am revealing my 44-year old-ass for all to lampoon)but from what I have read, Steve Jobs treated his "employees" as a plantation-owner treated their share-croppers and as myself being a veteran of the so-called "service industry" waiting tables, I can tell all concerned first - or second-hand acoounts of what a rotten shitty-ass tipper he was. Oh OK you may be a billionaire, howzabout leaving a $50 on the table instead of two or MAYBE three bucks? Indicator of character. Steve Jobs = TOTAL DICKHEAD I for one amongst all of my liberal and progressive friends just do NOT get why this fucker is till revered and not tossed into the dustbin like the robber barons of Tammany Hall or the German SS. I hope that he is slowly agonizingly roasting on his own platinum-plated spit in the elite circle of Hell reserved just for him. Please y'all excuse my profanity. FUCK STEVE JOBS.


-- Eric

At 2/04/2012 11:59:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

You can't always believe what you hear or read about a person. It doesn't matter what kind of person Steve Jobs was while he lived. If he made life shitty for people who worked or waited on him, the best thing for them is to move on and try not to be like that to other people. All that matters in life is what kind of person we become even when life sucks rotten eggs.

Personally, I like Apple's customer service. My daughter's laptop crashed while she was out of town. She walked into an Apple store with no receipt or identification and they had it ready to go in a few days. My other daughter's dropped her iPhone and they gave her a new one.

My customer service experiences with HHG, CC, Best Buy in regard to phones & computers (et al) are the reason why I am an Apple customer for life.

At 2/05/2012 07:53:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the person who originally posted the comment, I'd like to just say that my intention was to look at what Apple/Jobs did for music, and for pushing technology forward. I think they did very little, or perhaps more accurately, nothing, except where it served to enrich Apple. An example is the complete lack of support from Apple for Bluray, despite this:

I also see the iPod as a perfect example of a piece of equipment that has been deliberately hobbled, when digital out ports have been built into playback hardware for about 25 years now. With one simple additional feature, the ipod could be a respectable piece of audio equipment, playing through a high end system. Why not allow that?

I guess if we all get into an Apple-is-evil vs. no-they're-not discussion, we could carry this thread on for hundreds of comments, it is after all one of the most popular online discussions. But specifically I wanted to stay relevant, and consider Jobs and Apple in light of the fact that Neil Young was working to do something different with them, and whether it is likely to happen. I believe not, because it isn't the way Apple has worked in the past.

I don't hate the company, or Jobs, and I own both an iPod and an Apple computer (which I like, but am thankful is not my only computer). I just feel I know enough - and I admit it's only just enough - about music, audio, and computers, to see through some of what Apple does to its customers. It makes no sense to me that a company puts the brakes on technology that can improve the sound. But Apple does. If Young can bring them round, then great, but I suspect he'd find them more obdurate than some of the worst record companies.

At 2/05/2012 10:55:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher said...

@MNOTR - an angry world indeed. let's make it better.

@Mike B. & Kimball - thanks for suggestions. actually, we're not to much into having all the latest gadgets but your point is well taken. Most consumers are pretty clueless about better options.

@philnovo - we hear this an awful lot. better now than never.

@ANON @2/04/2012 04:26:00 PM - we think we know what you're getting at. but really, you're going to have to put a lot more effort in to make your case. maybe some facts would help?

@Eric - angry much? similar to above, you need to make a better case to be credible.

@Anon 22/05/2012 08:53:00 AM - thanks for followup. handle maybe? The Lossless One maybe?

At 2/05/2012 10:31:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

I agree with Eric on this... It's 2012, there isn't a reason why we should forgive humans who are exploiting others. The man's policy on charity for his billion-dollar company was to give NOTHING.

It's a shame he got tributes all over the place. One less greedy fuck.

He changed music? Really? For the worse! It seems like people forget iPods were not the first mp3 player.

Oh man...

At 2/06/2012 01:53:00 AM, Blogger Dan1 said...

I disagree ... I think Steve Jobs did a lot of good for our country , for a lot of people who worked at apple, customers who benefitted from their products, he probably forked over $2B of taxes to the government ... its people like him who build industries in America and it sustains us ... he was a tormented person, abandoned at birth, kicked out of the company that he started at a young age ... he provided us an elegant alternative to windows, he built good products for the masses ... don't forget he's a real person with a real family, with real kids, for all you know they might be reading this blog ... do you really think he deserves his own place in hell to burn forever? i'm not sure who exactly was exploited or why the incredible animosity ... indeed Neil hit the nail on the head its an angry world

At 2/06/2012 10:37:00 AM, Blogger Thrasher said...

Thanks Dan1 for being a voice of reason.

One wonders when folks hurl these types of accusations, how exactly a pristine life they've led themselves.

Look in the mirror before speaking...

At 2/06/2012 10:58:00 AM, Anonymous Alex said...

I guess some people are just okay with bowing down to the 1% pricks. I'm surprised that you would agree with that statement Thrasher.

He helped the economy? He paid taxes? First thing : He helped other rich people with assets in the company get richer. Let's just say Apple is far from being generous with its employee. What do you think that company is? A co-op?!

And let's get started on providing jobs? Providing jobs? More like being in the bandwagon of people who produce everything in countries where human rights are nonexistant. This week I have been reading Forbes and CNN articles defending Apple from using cheap labor. One of them said : "Well... chinese workers are not so badly paid... if they work 6 days a week for a year they might make up to 5000$." Really that's how low we are.

About taxes, as far as I know, Apple or Jobs were just fine with paying little taxes. Thank god we have people like Warren Buffett speaking out again taxation injustices.

I mean, I think we really shouldn't make a big deal out of what he did to music, I mean, it's a format question and almost everyone can enjoy a good quality cd or vinyl. On the other hand, it is a fucking shame that we allow major corporations to be exploiting the Global South. Enough is enough. Had Steve Jobs had ANY human decency, every fucking Apple product would have produced in the USA even if it had meant a slightly higher price tag.

So... Thrasher, I hope you can stick to your 99% guns and see clearly...

Homegrown's all right with me, Homegrown is the way it should be.

At 2/06/2012 12:18:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher said...

OK Alex. Here's the deal.

When someone is hurling around accusations, they need to back it up with facts.

You're making some serious accusations. Living or dead, facts are one thing, opinions another.

Not saying Jobs is or isn't evil.

But if you want to start making a list of greedy, evil people, he's not in the Top100 by far.


At 2/06/2012 01:58:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Ira Glass did a story back in January on This American Life called the "Agony & the Estacy of Steve Jobs" following factory workers in China. These are 12-14 year old kids working 15 hour shifts.

At 2/06/2012 02:02:00 PM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

The story makes the same point as Alex did about sending over jobs in countries that are struggling with their own industrialization like we did hundred years ago. It's one thing when the Chinese do it to their own people, but Jobs was responsible for sending the work over to China and not the protections that we allow our own citizens.

At 2/06/2012 03:45:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

I agree with Thrasher that Steve Jobs is no Gaddafi or Bush, but I think we seriously need to re-evaluate who we present as pioneers and genius of our era.

"Moreover, Jobs had closed Apple’s philanthropic programs when he returned to the company in 1997 and never reinstated them despite $14 billion in profit last year, the Times reported."

This is really what made me question Steve Jobs' human qualities. And then, as MNOTR pointed out, there were countless reports of the use of underaged labor, of overly long days of work and of 6-7 days-a-week jobs. Now, before some neo-con comes around and say he's a lawyer working 16 hours a day, I'll specify that the wages were incredibly low and that the chinese workers were not working 16 hours a day to support a taste for luxury cars.

The funniest thing for me however has been the excuses people have used to defend Jobs' lack of philanthropy work. I've read that it is because : "There are only so many hours one can work during a day", "he was charitable through creating great products for us that advanced our lives" (1st: He created great products so he could sell them to you 2nd : I don't think any of the products proved to be revolutionary, not even the iPod if we consider it was widely available as an mp3 player) or that "perhaps he made anonymous donations" (fishy).

I think it's time that we start to look up to real leaders, radicals, who are trying hard to change things and to question the structure that'S currently governing us.

It's stuff like Neil's fight for audio or Neil's fight for LincVolt that we need, it is environmental leaders who are not afraid to protect earth over profits or union leaders who resist the bulldozers of corporations that we need to idolize.

Anyways, here are the sources regarding this whole philanthropic debate :

At 2/06/2012 05:23:00 PM, Blogger Thrasher said...

Alex - thanks for followup with links.

This is the way we like to see folks make their cases.

As for Apple?

Frankly, so much of what we consume is based on slave labor.

All of our computers & clothing are made with essentially with slave labor.

Even the food we eat is mostly harvested by migrant workers who's conditions right here in the USA are just as bad as anything we see overseas in "3rd World countries".

which is why we admire NY so much. NY's is in the enviable position where many, many things he consumes he has full knowledge of the supply chain. I.e., eating food from family farms, clothing from local crafts folks, etc.

Hey. it's all just a piece of crap as far as we're concerned.

so light a candle...

At 2/06/2012 07:37:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

Thanks Thrasher, yea I agree much tougher to look in the mirror.

Don't feel like satan
But I am to them
So I try to forget it
Anyway I can

Keep on Rockin in the Free World
Keep on Rockin in the Free World
Keep on Rockin in the Free World

At 2/06/2012 09:47:00 PM, Anonymous Alex said...

I dream of a giant shift where we can end this strange and terrible dynamic with the Global South. We could definitely survive doing this. Think of the American Apparel model, everything is made in L.A!!! And it's not expensive.

It seems like a huge challenge, but all we need is a real leader, somebody who doesn't care about the big corps or getting re-elected! And we need to stop seeing ourselves as the center of the world. I'd rather live in a world where North-Americans and Europeans take a step forward and stop seeing others as cheap labor.

At 2/06/2012 11:17:00 PM, Blogger Dan1 said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

At 2/07/2012 09:51:00 AM, Blogger Mother Nature on the Run said...

Me too, Alex.

We need to reform the campaign & tax traditions in our country beginning with the concept of "public service" and the idea of fundraising.

Too many businesses & people are given too many incentives to NOT pay their fair share in taxes. Too many communities are simply not self-sustainable which is why federal and state government existed from the very beginning.

The savings from federal & state tax cuts for businesses & wealthy simply did not trickle down into the communities like we hoped. Instead it was laundered into campaigns & lobbying.

At 2/08/2012 08:33:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok Thrasher, how about LostDog? The Lossless One "is a name no one would self-apply where I come from".

Responding to Alex, "I mean, I think we really shouldn't make a big deal out of what he did to music, I mean, it's a format question and almost everyone can enjoy a good quality cd or vinyl."

You really missed the point, I think. If we want to kick Jobs in the balls just for being Jobs, there are probably thousands of sites out there where we can do it.

And I didn't make a big deal about what he did to music, I raised that point in the context of the story about Neil Young - on this Neil Young site - discussing with Jobs a way forward for digital sound. (I think) my points were all tied to that, and intentionally so.

I don't think Jobs's somewhat corrosive influence on the consumption of music is by any means the worst thing he did, but I think it's relevant to the Young/Jobs story. That's where Jobs's name came up on Thrasher's Wheat in the first place.

So what I want to do is add something I left out originally, to cut my post off before it got way too long.

I think Jobs's and Young's outlook are fundamentally opposed. Examples that come to mind are Young mourning the loss of American technology and skills, I even somewhat get the impression that he's no great fan of Japanese technology, let alone outsourcing jobs and manufacturing to China. He seems to prefer (old) American stuff: cars, guitars, studio equipment, you name it. As a Brit, I can share the sentiment if not the national allegiance. I like clapped out old British things...Young may be unrealistic in terms of the world we have now been given, but that's what he believes, and he doesn't own any factories in China.

He also seems to be canny enough in a business sense without being greedy for money, and will often invest heavily in things he believes in rather than just following the most lucrative or the easiest route. Burning money on films, sinking it into Lionel, buying back records he didn't want out on the market, Lincvolt, getting the Bridge School going (more his wife's project perhaps?).

Rebuilding cars, buses, a boat, putting people to work to bring old crap back to life...

Anyway, there's an attitude to money that it's to be used, not philanthropy as such, but that it can be a positive influence. I don't see that in Jobs at all.

Jobs's approach is much more like "Get out of my way", that seems to me exactly what the iTunes store is really about, and that's one place where I will not spend a fucking cent.

I don't think these two would have been able to work through their differences, because Jobs would not have lifted a finger to help Young realize his side of the vision unless there was some way of locking it to Apple, financially above all. I think Young's a pragmatist, and too clever to be just walked over, but I don't think he could have reconciled doing what he wanted with Jobs getting what Jobs wanted: and the pattern there has always been that Jobs got things done his way or not at all.

Need an example? It bears repeating:

The Archives were released on Bluray. Young believes in the format, so he supports it and also takes a risk putting out his 20-year project on it.

Everyone, even Toshiba (who now make players), has accepted Bluray.

Apple is on the Bluray Disc Association board of directors.

But Apple does not support Bluray on its computers: no drives, no OS support, no nothing.


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(Between the lines of age)

And in the end, the love you take
Is equal to the love you make

~~ John & Paul