“I remember being in a car on Neil’s ranch with him when CDs first came out, and he was lamenting how the sound was so damaged. He was pretty horrified by it, and I was kind of amazed. He really made me aware of the damage the fidelity had taken.
“I don’t have Neil’s ears to really get as bothered as he is by it,” Lofgren says, “but it is an extraordinary difference when you know what you’re doing and you get the sound right.”
This week’s obsession is the fantastic article The Pagan Mechanic Rides Again: Neil Young’s Adventures on the Hi-Res Frontier in Wired.
Stuff I learned, down various internet wormholes, which you all probably know already:
A CD holds about 600-700 MB of data. At the time the format was invented, that was 50X as much as a hard drive, so it seemed incredible. But music takes a lot of memory. The goal was to compress an album (say, 60 minutes of audio) onto that CD. That can be done if you sample at 44.1kHz (roughly twice the max frequency of adult human hearing) and limit the bit depth to 16 bits per sample. That gives a maximum dynamic range of 96dB between the quietest and loudest sounds – thought to be decent enough for the human ear.
A good way to start a fight among audiophiles is to suggest that we don’t need anything better than 44.1kHz/16bit. Many people insist that they can hear a difference; double blind studies do not necessarily bear this out. This blogging nerd set up a great test including the Goldberg Variations, to see if audiophiles could tell the difference between 24 bit and 16 bit. They pretty much couldn’t.
When mp3’s came along, they allowed us to compress musical data by a factor of ten. A 30 megabyte, three minute CD song becomes a 3 megabyte mp3 abomination. It sucks the life out of the music!
Neil Young says so!
His attempt at a hi-res audio player – Pono – is now wreckage in the compression and loudness wars won by lo-res streaming like Spotify. He wrote a book about it: To Feel The Music: A Songwriter’s Mission to Save High-Quality Audio.
But lo! Nowadays since we’ve all got bandwidth coming out our ears, with cloud storage and whatnot, audiophiles are excited about bigger, uncompressed audio files.
– wav: 10 MB per minute
– aiff: 10 MB per minute
– FLAC: 5 MB per minute
– DSD: 40 MB per minute
“DSD [Direct Stream Digital] has become the audiophile standard, higher than the 96-kHZ/24-bit FLAC-based audio of Tidal Hi-Fi, and even higher than the 192-kHZ/24-bit FLAC favored by Neil Young Archives.”
Listen to the inventor of DSD! You won’t understand a single word! Noise shaping and pulse-code modulation! That looks like a damn oscilloscope behind him so you know he doesn’t fuck around:
You can now obtain DSD files of a few of your favorite artists. And Amazon and Apple are getting into the hi – res game. To play hi-res files back, you’ll probably need at least a high quality DAC (digital audio recorder).
The company Qobuz has hi-res Replacements!
Itrax has other power pop like Mozart, Stravinsky, and Glenn Gould.
Mr. Young, in the meantime, has set up the cool steampunk, idiosyncratic, wonderful $1.99-per-month Neil Young Archives where you get what the artist intended. I’ve been enjoying my time there.