Neil Young Is Confused

Okay, I swore to a friend that I wouldn’t keep harping on about Neil Young. I have nothing against the guy; he made some great music back in the day, even though I’m not especially a fan of his music.

But this 68-year old musician, who suffers from tinnitus, and most likely some hearing loss, thinks he can tell everyone that only he knows how music should sound. I’ve written about Pono – his new high-res music service and player – and pointed out how some of the numbers cited are bogus. I’ve also explained why high-resolution music is a marketing ploy.

But today I read an interview with Neil Young which suggests that the guy really is confused. Speaking with Spin magazine, Young discussed his forthcoming album, A Letter Home:

Well, A Letter Home is going to be very confusing to people because it is retro-tech. Retro-tech means recorded in a 1940s recording booth. A phone booth. It’s all acoustic with a harmonica inside a closed space, with one mic to vinyl. Directly to vinyl.

An interesting approach, and one that a few other musicians have used in recent years. But here’s where Young seems to lose his grip on reality:

You can make a lo-fi, analog record, direct to vinyl, transfer it to 192 [kHz], and you have a high res copy of a lo-fi vinyl record.

There’s a word for this, Mr. Young: bullshit. Neil Young is suggesting that by up sampling a poor-quality recording, you can somehow magically transform it into high-resolution audio. Nope; that’s not how it works. In fact, that’s what audiophiles – the ones who believe there is a difference between CD-quality audio and high-resolution audio – are worried about. There have been many cases when retailers claimed they were selling recordings in high resolutions, yet these were simply upsampled from CD quality, or even worse.

To understand what this means, let me give you an easy-to-understand analogy. Unless you’re sitting far from your TV, you can see the difference between DVDs and HD videos. Imagine upsampling the DVD video from the DVD quality – 480 or 576 lines, depending on whether the DVD is in NTSC or PAL format – to 1080p, or HD. The video won’t look like it’s in HD; it will still look like a DVD (albeit a bit better). But with audio, it won’t sound any better at all; it’s simply using more bits for the same music.

If Neil Young thinks that’s how high resolution music works, he truly is confused.

18 thoughts on “Neil Young Is Confused

  1. Many people confuse high resolution with hi-fidelity. I haven’t read the Spin interview, so I don’t know what Young was trying to say.
    You can make a high resolution digital copy of a lo-fidelity analog recording. Unfortunately, the result is still a lo-fidelity recording. The extra sampling doesn’t create additional information, it just creates redundant bits of data, lots of high resolution noise (arguably an asset in retro recordings), and a huge file size.
    Fidelity, in Young’s example, is going to be determined by the weakest link in his recording studio, which is probably a steel stylus cutting a vinyl groove.

    • In this case, it’s both the stylus and the quality of the microphone used. Unless they’re using a modern microphone, the quality of the recording will be very poor.

  2. Many people confuse high resolution with hi-fidelity. I haven’t read the Spin interview, so I don’t know what Young was trying to say.
    You can make a high resolution digital copy of a lo-fidelity analog recording. Unfortunately, the result is still a lo-fidelity recording. The extra sampling doesn’t create additional information, it just creates redundant bits of data, lots of high resolution noise (arguably an asset in retro recordings), and a huge file size.
    Fidelity, in Young’s example, is going to be determined by the weakest link in his recording studio, which is probably a steel stylus cutting a vinyl groove.

    • In this case, it’s both the stylus and the quality of the microphone used. Unless they’re using a modern microphone, the quality of the recording will be very poor.

  3. In fairness to Neil Young, even though he’s bad with the numbers I take the comment to mean “You can make the best possible copy of the intentionally old-fashioned album I’m making,” not that you can improve what’s there to start. Of course, as another poster points out, “high resolution” copying (I’m beginning to think part of the problem here is the language involved) will hurt the reproduction, not help it.

  4. In fairness to Neil Young, even though he’s bad with the numbers I take the comment to mean “You can make the best possible copy of the intentionally old-fashioned album I’m making,” not that you can improve what’s there to start. Of course, as another poster points out, “high resolution” copying (I’m beginning to think part of the problem here is the language involved) will hurt the reproduction, not help it.

    • Agreed. I think this whole Pono thing is a crock but I honestly don’t think this article is accurate in its presumption of Neil Young’s meaning. It sounded to me like he just meant a high-quality copy of a low-fidelity recording.

      • But he’s saying that and suggesting that, somehow, that high-quality copy has some mojo that either the original or a CD-quality copy doesn’t have.

    • Agreed. I think this whole Pono thing is a crock but I honestly don’t think this article is accurate in its presumption of Neil Young’s meaning. It sounded to me like he just meant a high-quality copy of a low-fidelity recording.

      • But he’s saying that and suggesting that, somehow, that high-quality copy has some mojo that either the original or a CD-quality copy doesn’t have.

  5. One would also think that NY’s ears should suffer from some frequency loss at 67. Playing Old Black and having amps blaring around him in the 60’s and 70’s would certainly help induce hearing loss.
    I’m one of the biggest NY fans I know of….and I believe this idea os PONO is absurd.

  6. One would also think that NY’s ears should suffer from some frequency loss at 67. Playing Old Black and having amps blaring around him in the 60’s and 70’s would certainly help induce hearing loss.
    I’m one of the biggest NY fans I know of….and I believe this idea os PONO is absurd.

  7. Seems to me this article is very confused about analog vs. digital. 192 kHz sampling of an analog signal is more accurate/faithful than 44 kHz sampling. There is no denying that. Whether people can actually HEAR the difference is another matter altogether.

  8. Seems to me this article is very confused about analog vs. digital. 192 kHz sampling of an analog signal is more accurate/faithful than 44 kHz sampling. There is no denying that. Whether people can actually HEAR the difference is another matter altogether.

  9. I never could figure out how Young made it in big-time rock & roll with that highly irritating whiney voice.

  10. I never could figure out how Young made it in big-time rock & roll with that highly irritating whiney voice.

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