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February 7, 2012 9:06 AM   Subscribe

Neil Young isn't happy about the current state of music consumption. A 30 minute panel discussion from D: Dive into Media. Whether you agree or disagree with him, it's hard to deny the man still cares.
posted by davebush (119 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I am not happy about Neil Young.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 9:13 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


You know, I really agree with Neil about this topic, but what is hard for me to digest is that this topic is being addressed by Neil Young, who has significantly impaired hearing from years of exposure to damagingly loud music.
posted by mcstayinskool at 9:13 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Is there a transcript somewhere? I've heard the Steve Jobs sound bites, but not the whole thing.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 9:14 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I am not happy about Neil Young.

Young man, take a look at my life, I was a lot like you are.
posted by No Robots at 9:17 AM on February 7, 2012 [19 favorites]


I personally like the comment below the article about analog music. I think mp3's sound like shit, but they're convenient. Sometimes though, I go back over to my good old hi-fi system and sit down with some vinyl. The music I love best I have on vinyl and have paid good money for it. I also don't listen to much music via MP3 that I don't own on a CD somewhere. I like MP3's for checking out new music, but if I like it well enough, I find a way to pay for it.

I'm saving up for a pair of Thiel SC4's. I'll have them about the time I turn 60, I think. If all goes well and the world doesn't implode in the next couple of decades.
posted by PuppyCat at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2012


Well, he seems to hear the other people in the video fine, and he's an active musician and has been for over 50 years now. And he's right. And he's Neil Young. Seems qualified.
posted by cmoj at 9:20 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Then again, this is from the man that's going to release Archives II (possibly only) on vinyl - at least he practices what he preaches? (Oh God, I really want Homegrown and the original Tonight's the Night)
posted by pipian at 9:21 AM on February 7, 2012


A Southern man don't need him around, anyhow.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:22 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]



I guess he's technically correct, but then again so what ? I primarily listen to music while doing something else - usually driving - and those situations aren't conducive to getting the best sound anyway.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 9:25 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


A Southern man don't need him around, anyhow.

I know the whole Neil Young vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd thing is fairly overblow in the popular consciousness, but that line still pisses me off, since it's a rebuttal to Neil Young's 'Southern Man,' a song about racial disparity in the American South ('I saw cotton and I saw black/ Tall white mansions and little shacks/ Southern man when will you pay them back?/ I heard screamin' and bullwhips cracking/ How long? How long?') and always pretty much sounds like 'Hey Canadian guy, fuck off, our terrible racial disparity is pretty awesome.'
posted by shakespeherian at 9:26 AM on February 7, 2012 [45 favorites]


Indeed, shakespeherian. Always sounds a lot like the apologist Southern arguments that slavery was never a determining issue with the Civil War (as a commenter on Fark recently claimed).

May not have been the only reason, but it sure as hell would have been a surprise to the Southern Secessionists that it wasn't an issue.
posted by IAmBroom at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2012


Fortunately I listen to music that sounds like crap even in the best conditions.
posted by mazola at 9:33 AM on February 7, 2012 [11 favorites]


shakespeherian: “I know the whole Neil Young vs. Lynyrd Skynyrd thing is fairly overblow in the popular consciousness, but that line still pisses me off, since it's a rebuttal to Neil Young's 'Southern Man,' a song about racial disparity in the American South ('I saw cotton and I saw black/ Tall white mansions and little shacks/ Southern man when will you pay them back?/ I heard screamin' and bullwhips cracking/ How long? How long?') and always pretty much sounds like 'Hey Canadian guy, fuck off, our terrible racial disparity is pretty awesome.'”

Whereas "Southern Man" always sounded to me like 'stupid Southern people are all racists, AMIRITE???'
posted by koeselitz at 9:34 AM on February 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Gah. How many blind abx comparisons must be done for people to realize that they probably can't tell the difference between a properly compressed mp3/aac/ogg and the pcm source? I have this conversation every time I see a certain older musician friend, who doesn't distinguish between psychoacoustic audio encoding and "compression" of the sort employed by radio and most popular music producers (that just makes everything louder).
posted by unmake at 9:35 AM on February 7, 2012 [21 favorites]


Sadly, "Sweet Home Alabama" is a much better song than "Southern Man". In fact, I'm going to make the claim that Lynyrd Skynyrd's body of work is more enjoyable than Neil Young's. Carry on.
posted by josher71 at 9:36 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Whereas "Southern Man" always sounded to me like 'stupid Southern people are all racists, AMIRITE???'

Some of that, too, koeselitz. To be fair.

OTOH, not a lot of news stories of "brotherly love between the races" coming out of the South from that era. Easy to get that impression from above the 49th Parallel (and further south, to boot).
posted by IAmBroom at 9:37 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whereas "Southern Man" always sounded to me like 'stupid Southern people are all racists, AMIRITE???'

Given the two I'm still siding with the Canadian.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:37 AM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Can we please stay on topic? Please?
posted by entropicamericana at 9:38 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Sadly, "Sweet Home Alabama" is a much better song than "Southern Man".

Also, to make this study completely scientific, I should point out that there haven't been any Patrick Dempsey romcoms named after Neil Young songs.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:39 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Also, to make this study completely scientific, I should point out that there haven't been any Patrick Dempsey romcoms named after Neil Young songs.

Check and mate!
posted by josher71 at 9:40 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Niel Young inadvertently invented Steampunk as he resisted the CD all through the 90's.
posted by telstar at 9:45 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Fun facts: there are a growing number of outlets for crazy high quality audio. HD Tracks is a major source, but not the only one. And there are portable media devices that support lossless audio. No need to wait for theoretical rich guys.

But there's a realistic limit to how much detail people can notice. Your audio set-up is only as good as the weakest link. And those are people who care about music - not audiophiles who spend thousands on equipment, but people who care about how they store and carry their music.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:50 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


entropicamericana: “Can we please stay on topic? Please?”

If you have something to say about the subject, say something about the subject.

This seems like a pretty wide-ranging interview so far (I'm twenty minutes in) so I guess I have a lot of thoughts that are all over the place. I agree at this point with people that say that a well-compressed MP3 is indistinguishable from an LP source; very few sound engineers now claim otherwise. So this seems like it's on some funny premises.

Neil says something at some point about what he likes about record companies – that they 'nurture' artists (his word.) I think that's... well, complicated. Record companies nurture musicians if you're Neil Young and can guarantee a certain number of millions of records sold per release. But the past forty years have in large part been about the failures of record companies, of the broad revolt against the record companies (and others) at the end of the 70s and then their finally losing of power today. This is such a common theme among punk bands of every era and stripe, and Neil Young is more savvy about punk than most older musicians, so it surprises me a little that he seems oblivious to this.
posted by koeselitz at 9:51 AM on February 7, 2012 [10 favorites]


Sadly, "Sweet Home Alabama" is a much better song than "Southern Man".

Both are beaten hollow by the Isley Brother's rendition of Ohio/Machinegun, which is just chilling.

Haven't seen the video as erm, I don't want to interrupt my heathen mp3 listening (currently enjoying a bit of Rufus + Chaka Khan) to watch a youtube video, but amirite in guessing it's all about elderly musical statesman saying that vinyl rules, mp3s drools?

Because if it is, I could care less, no matter how well argued. Music, especially pop music, has always been made to be listened to in less than ideal circumstances and still sound good: AM, FM, 78, 33, 45, crappy little laptop speakers; it's all good.

Good music doesn't need hi-end equipment to be enjoyed, though I'm not so foolish a good stereo installation and time spend just listening cannot enhance enjoyment greatly.
posted by MartinWisse at 9:51 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


I love music, and I have good turntables and a decent enough hi-fi, but for the life of me I cannot discern a meaningful difference in quality between vinyl and mp3. If it's not played live in the room, it's all the same to me.

So if Neil Young would like to come play in my living room some time, I guess I've got an air mattress he could use.
posted by GameDesignerBen at 9:57 AM on February 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


Ohoho ... I'm commenting as I listen, and Neil just mentioned that he wanted Spotify and other streaming sources should support high quality lossless audio. Then you're not talking about user-end storage, but bandwidth. Storage is cheap, but bandwidth isn't as cheap (yet).

Also: kids listen to music pumped out through cell phone speakers, or over-amped through headphones so their friends can hear something. Those sounds make me cringe with how terrible they sound. But there they are, hanging out with friends and commenting on the music, not the quality of it.

And before them, there were the youth who got their audio through Napster, where people grabbed whatever copy of songs they could, bitrate be damned. So some people still have these terrible collections of low-bitrate songs, compressed for ease of transfer, and ease of storage. And before that, people only heard music on FM, or even worse, AM. And that was good enough.

In short: there are currently outlets to get high quality audio, but primarily for download. There are portable players that support lossless audio, if not high quality lossless audio. But most people don't care as much about any part of the donkey, as long as it sort of resembles a donkey they know.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:59 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Can we please stay on topic? Please?
posted by entropicamericana

That may be the most eponysterical comment ever made on MetaFilter.
posted by OmieWise at 10:01 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Thanks for this link, I just wrote a post about this interview this week, but didn't have a link to the full interview.

He's technically correct of course, but for the vast majority of the population who listen to music on laptop speakers, iPods, or cheap car stereos it doesn't make a difference and now that iTunes' default is 256kbps AAC there's very few people who could tell the difference between that and CD quality even on a good sound system. (from my research on the audio forums the general consensus is that 192kbps MP3 is good enough)

I'm wondering does anybody know if iTunes Music store tracks are usually generated from 24 bit masters or from CD quality tracks?
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:01 AM on February 7, 2012


Sadly, "Sweet Home Alabama" is a much better song than "Southern Man". In fact, I'm going to make the claim that Lynyrd Skynyrd's body of work is more enjoyable than Neil Young's. Carry on.

Haha, no. As a musician who played in cover bands, and thus had the "privilege" of playing quite a few Lynyrd Skynyrd songs over the years, no, they're not. Enjoyable to you maybe, but better? If barely competent, except maybe for the keyboard player, is your idea of better, then fine.

I used to try to pretend that Sweet Home Alabama was an ironic critique of backwoods, ignorant rednecks, but alas, they were apparently totally honest in that song. Ugh.

On topic, I'm really pretty damn sick of trying to listen to any mp3 file that's ripped under 256 kbs, and I do most of my listening in the car. The crinkly high end thing and the overall compression effect just drive me nuts any more. I've been going with 256 kbs AAC files lately, and they seem okay to me for general listening, though I'm not mr. golden ears -- I know people who proclaim to be able to tell the difference between 16-bit .aif & 24-bit .aif, but it's lost on me.
posted by Devils Rancher at 10:02 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


he wanted Spotify and other streaming sources should support high quality lossless audio. Then you're not talking about user-end storage, but bandwidth.

That's a good point, what quality is the music on spotify streamed at?
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:03 AM on February 7, 2012


Gah. How many blind abx comparisons must be done for people to realize that they probably can't tell the difference between a properly compressed mp3/aac/ogg and the pcm source? I have this conversation every time I see a certain older musician friend, who doesn't distinguish between psychoacoustic audio encoding and "compression" of the sort employed by radio and most popular music producers (that just makes everything louder).

Yeah, I came in to hear someone smarter than me about the subject explain why that 5% figure is ridiculous and probably counterproductive to the discussion.

No need to wait for theoretical rich guys.

Yeah, this is what I didn't understand either (I only listened about 10 minutes in).

We already have lots of lossless digital audio formats. What is he asking for?

I am fairly content with the current state of Neil Young, but I don't get the argument.

Lynyrd Skynyrd is fucking horrible.
posted by mrgrimm at 10:06 AM on February 7, 2012


I'm glad you love your record company Neil Young. You're in the .000001% of musicians who got powerful enough to compel your record company to treat you like something more than a replaceable commodity.
posted by Nahum Tate at 10:08 AM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


Lynyrd Skynyrd is fucking horrible.

I very much enjoyed "Tuesday's Gone" on the radio on my commute this morning so have to disagree with this.
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:10 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


MartinWisse: but amirite in guessing it's all about elderly musical statesman saying that vinyl rules, mp3s drools?

More than that, it's an elderly musical statesman complaining about detailed audio quality. He's talking about 192/24 audio, which even baffles supposed audiophiles.

Unless you're re-working the audio, lower quality formats are fine. But if you want to modify the audio, the end product will sound better if you start with some lossless format. Think of it as re-saving a JPG, but you get audio compression artifacts instead of visual.

TwoWordReview: what quality is the music on spotify streamed at?

Spotify uses 3 different Ogg Vorbis quality ratings:
  • q3 (~96 kbps)
  • q5 (~160 kbps)
  • q9 (~320 kbps)
q5 is standard, but premium users can opt for q9, though not all tracks are available in high quality. And note that bitrates aren't equivalent across formats (MP3, AAC, OGG). Some codecs do a better job at certain bitrates.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:10 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Young acts as if, the analog era, we were all listening to master tapes through studio monitors. My analog listening was mostly through scratched records on a mid-market stereo, with hand-me-down speakers. Or an 8-track tape player with "ka-thunks" and hiss, over tinny little noisemakers. He addresses this a little bit, but since the quality and fidelity of what actually hits my ear is much better than than in the analog days, it's hard for me to share his concern over "low-res" music.
posted by tyllwin at 10:12 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


This seems like a pretty wide-ranging interview so far (I'm twenty minutes in) so I guess I have a lot of thoughts that are all over the place. I agree at this point with people that say that a well-compressed MP3 is indistinguishable from an LP source; very few sound engineers now claim otherwise. So this seems like it's on some funny premises.

Not to mention that almost every post-early-90s record I've got was mastered on and pressed from CD. Sure, maybe not if you're Neil Young, but most bands releasing vinyl today cannot afford the extra money and hassle it takes to go analog throughout the process.

LPs do sound different -- often markedly so -- due to mixing for vinyl, but the idea that your average record pressed by GZ or United is more hi-fi than a CD is laughable. It was a CDR right up until they cut a lacquer out of it.
posted by vorfeed at 10:12 AM on February 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I can absolutely hear the difference between a 128 mp3 and a flac file, but I do think there's a limit to what the human ear can process. I know people who will argue that $20,000 speaker stands are worth the investment. I find the world of audiophiles both fascinating and hilarious.
posted by davebush at 10:13 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I personally like the comment below the article about analog music.

That's funny, I was just coming in here to say how fucking nutbar timecube that comment is. The warmth of an LP player doesn't magically invalidate the sampling theorem. Now, myself, I love that warmth, and I find it to be an incredibly pleasant sensation, but I don't confuse it with fidelity. Anyway, a good amp and good speakers will make a high bit-rate MP3 sound just as good in most cases. Even there, our powers of distinction correlate to fidelity to a significantly smaller degree than anyone would like to admit. I keep all my music in lossless codecs for posterity, but I don't like my chances of distinguishing between a 192kbps and 320kbps CBR MP3 in a double-blind test, and I'm a musician who can generally pick out frequencies to within 200 or 300 cents when I'm mastering things.
posted by invitapriore at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Guys, seriously, no one cares about your band preferences except people who already share them.
posted by adamdschneider at 10:16 AM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


I can absolutely get behind 24 bit, but 192kHz does seem pretty ludicrous. Does anybody even record at that sample rate?
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:18 AM on February 7, 2012


So if Neil Young would like to come play in my living room some time, I guess I've got an air mattress he could use.

You seem to have extremely high expectations for Mr. Young. I can't imagine how even a virtuoso would get good music out of an air mattress.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2012 [13 favorites]


"Is there a transcript somewhere?"

I think a transcript is a bit too lossy a format for this one.
posted by Manjusri at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Can I just pop in to say that when I am in my 70s, I would prefer to be like Neil Young than like Walt Mossberg.
posted by chavenet at 10:21 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


It's funny how many people so quickly and earnestly toss out the "humans can only hear 20-20Khz" and therefore any other frequencies are useless argument.

When you hear something recorded and played back through a system that allows capture/playback of those ultrasonic frequencies, there is punch. There is glow. There is warmth. Is that because you're entering microwave-level wavelengths? No.

But there's definitely something else there that is affecting you on a real, physical level.

Why does a symphony always sound better live than any recording you could ever make?
posted by Khazk at 10:22 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm glad you love your record company Neil Young. You're in the .000001% of musicians who got powerful enough to compel your record company to treat you like something more than a replaceable commodity.

You should read "Shakey" and then, of course, shut the hell up... you misinformed yet highly opinionated human.
posted by gcbv at 10:22 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Why does a symphony always sound better live than any recording you could ever make?

Because attending a live performance is not just an aural experience.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 10:25 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


gcbv: “You should read ‘Shakey’ and then, of course, shut the hell up... you misinformed yet highly opinionated human.”

Hey, now. This is a little dumb. We all like his music, right? So let's leave defend-Neil-Young-at-all-costs vibe out of this.

Yes, Neil Young has had problems with record companies. So why the hell is he sitting there telling us that record companies are wonderful? It makes no sense.
posted by koeselitz at 10:27 AM on February 7, 2012


If major providers started offering higher quality files, there's a reasonable large group of people who would choose them over mp3. Neil Young's problem is that since most of the existing providers don't have any option for higher quality files, a lot of record companies don't offer higher quality formats for end users at all. 24bit/96khz files are available for purchase from places like HDtracks, it's just not as readlily available as pretty good quality mp3 or aac file. Neil Young would like higher quality files to be all over the place.

Now, I can't tell the difference between 24/96 FLAC and LAME VBR v0 quality MP3. Some would say that no one can. Who knows. That doesn't mean that people wouldn't buy the stuff if it were easily available. It would make lots of people happy to buy those files, I'm sure. Especially Neil Young.
posted by helicomatic at 10:28 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think the last word on the whole Southern Man vs. Sweet Home Alabama thing is that after Skynyrd's plane went down, at his next concert Neil Young sang Sweet Home Alabama, including the line about himself.
posted by localroger at 10:33 AM on February 7, 2012 [6 favorites]


Now, myself, I love that warmth, and I find it to be an incredibly pleasant sensation, but I don't confuse it with fidelity.

I got a fair few mp3s obviously ripped from vinyl and you got the best of both worlds: a little bit of that pop, hiss and crackle that elpees gave you, without all the annoying skip-skip-ski-skipping.

But if you want to modify the audio, the end product will sound better if you start with some lossless format.

Yeah, which is why I tend to go for flac or ape ripped to good quality mp3s. Keeping stuff in flac is too disk space expensive, while the high rate mp3s are a good compromise between storage and sound.
posted by MartinWisse at 10:33 AM on February 7, 2012




Now, I can't tell the difference between 24/96 FLAC and LAME VBR v0 quality MP3. Some would say that no one can. Who knows. That doesn't mean that people wouldn't buy the stuff if it were easily available. It would make lots of people happy to buy those files, I'm sure. Especially Neil Young.

Bandcamp lets you sell ogg and FLAC, and they're a pretty major outlet these days.
posted by vorfeed at 10:35 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


I can absolutely get behind 24 bit, but 192kHz does seem pretty ludicrous. Does anybody even record at that sample rate?


Note that it's actually 192kbps, signifying a data stream rate rather than a sample rate.
posted by echo target at 10:36 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


One of the insidious things about MP-3 compression is that when measured via traditional criteria, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response and bandwidth the results look great. This is why it does so well in ABX testing. What I find, however, is that any MP-3 compression robs the ability to emotionally connect with the music. Here’s one way to demonstrate that: spend an evening listening to CD’s and vinyl and there’s the “just one more track before I got to bed even though it’s fricken 3:00 AM” factor. Spend an evening listening to MP-3 files and after an hour or two I’m kind of done – just don’t want to keep listening.

The odd thing is that in-between MP3 files and vinyl is a whole world available right now. Just store your music as unprocessed AIFF files. Hell, I’ve got about 2 Terabyte worth on this machine, which is what, all of $200 worth of disk space? My iPhone has 64 gigs of storage in each, which means I can carry around 100 CDs worth of music at a time – doesn’t suck.

Two last comments: one of the reasons vinyl sounds better than digital today is that there are different mixes for each in the mastering. The vinyl usually has a lot more dynamic range than the digital mixes, which contributes to why they sound “better.” Here is a great demonstration of how the so-called “Loudness War” fucks up digital music. As for recording digitally, I prefer to record at 96Khz / 24 bit. Even though I could record at 192 KHz sampling there is a bunch of trade offs with that that I don’t like (disk space NOT being one of them).
posted by Dean358 at 10:38 AM on February 7, 2012


You already have people who have addressed this, offering 24/192 downloads.

You have players making the most of the new mediums. And hopefully better digital devices on the horizon.

That isn't the problem.

More and more music isn't being made in multi-million dollar studios, but in basements and bedrooms (fuck him on this part), and although there have been tremendous gains in home studios, you don't get a sound engineer and mastering engineer included with your Mackie (although given the loudness wars, it's hard to say if this matters as much anymore).

That means that while we are sorting out this format change, much of the knowledge from the engineering side is going to be lost as major labels flounder. This matters more than the format.

And thanks to the insane copyright laws, large swaths of the musical spectrum aren't going to make it into the new formats. Huge chunks of music won't be available for people to rediscover.

Also, since folks aren't the best at archiving- restoration of audio only happens with analogue. When a digital file goes bad, it is gone for good.
posted by quintessencesluglord at 10:38 AM on February 7, 2012 [7 favorites]


…there are portable media devices that support lossless audio.

A bit odd linking to anythingbutipod.com for that. iPods have supported Apple Lossless for almost 8 years now, and WAV or AIFF from the very beginning.
posted by designbot at 10:39 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I usta listen to "Louie Louie" (one of the crappiest recordings ever made) through an AM car radio ... playing back through a 2" x 4" oval-shaped speaker and *I liked it*.

Yes, I know there are people who can "hear the difference" with monster cables. Yah know what? I can hear the difference between great music on a lousy medium and lousy music playing on a Thorens classic playing through 6-foot-high electrostatic speakers.

Gimmee the great music, a 128K MP3 beats the hell out of AM radio anyway.
posted by Twang at 10:42 AM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


My musical life began by hearing all kinds of music in deepest lo-fi:

My Mum's hissy kitchen radio tuned to easy listening, then to top 40 when my older siblings got tall enough to reach the top of the fridge. The thick, dusty Beatles singles, passed down from my older brothers, whose orange and gold labels were more vibrant than their sound when played on the living room cabinet hi-fi. The clunking 8-track player in my Dad's Oldsmobile. The harvest gold plastic transistor radio, muffled and tinny, that I carried to and from school while it played George McRae's Rock Your Baby (still one of the world's most transcendent pieces of pop music).

My first stereo, complete by my 17th birthday, let me play what I wanted over and over through the world's cheapest and most beloved components. And when I got a decent entry-level system a few years later (thank you, Ontario Stereo Assistance Plan!), the cassette deck let me record off CFNY and CKLN so I could check out what I wanted to buy from the Record Peddler that week. I still have those warbly cassettes (they were really abused in the various Walk-beings I had over the years), and I still think that taped version of These Things Take Time, even with the bit clipped off the opening, beats all other versions completely hollow.

I've heard great music on very good systems over the years. I heard Willie Nelson's Stardust LP on a proper system just a few years ago. The sheer beauty and intricacy of the sound just blew me away.

But I still listen to almost all my music through cheap computer speakers or my iPod -- I'm usually working or on the move when I have a chance to listen to music -- and it can still hit me hard, even though I'm probably missing a lot of the extra brilliance I'd hear from a proper audio format on a decent system. I even use my little 21st century iPhone as an extra-tinny transistor radio now if I don't have my ear buds handy: I stream WFMU or play some tracks and just pump the volume as high as it goes. Amazingly, the music can still connect with me.
posted by maudlin at 10:43 AM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


That's such a bad rebuttal Inspector.Gadget... come on.

I'm trying to say that 320,000 bits per second, captured every 44,100Hz, is insulting to the recording of a 100-piece orchestra, each player having thousands of hours of practice and experience. Compressing all 100's entire performance down to two microphones in stereo at 320kbps MP3 is reprehensible.

Neil Young is saying that no one is even TRYING to record more bits or higher sample rates because "people don't notice the difference."

"orchestra is not just an aural experience"

Horseshit. It IS an aural experience. It is entirely an aural experience. Houses go to great and scientific lengths to design their amphitheaters to enhance and deliver great audio.

Other stuff happens at the same time. But you can't record the feeling of holding the hand of your SO, or the feel of the air conditioning, or the smell of your breath from the wine you had earlier.

So you're saying, because we can't record that stuff, we can't have the aural experience from the orchestra in fantastic recorded form to enjoy in our own home, car, or pocket? Why does the recording have to suffer?

Do you understand what I'm talking about? Maybe I want to cook, or clean, or have wine at home with my lady, at my convenience, after we've seen the show. Today, I can't have my local orchestra's Dvorak concert on my stereo because it's a shitty MP3 recording that sounds nothing like the real thing. It's a facsimile; it's shallow; there's no air, no warmth. And that's because people don't even want to try for "HD" audio because apparently MP3 is good enough.
posted by Khazk at 10:45 AM on February 7, 2012


Opps: my post above should have read, "..when measured via traditional criteria, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response and distortion.." sorry!
posted by Dean358 at 10:45 AM on February 7, 2012


Also, to make this study completely scientific, I should point out that there haven't been any Patrick Dempsey romcoms named after Neil Young songs.

Never let it be said I'm not up for a challenge.

* * *

OUTSIDE, DAY: A montage of an average 40-something college professor (YOUNGMAN - Patrick Dempsey) walking across campus, lecturing in front of his class, and in a laboratory looking at sprouting green plants.

ANNOUNCER:
Professor Neil Youngman has dedicated his whole career to science, from educating his students to developing something that could revolutionize agriculture.

LABORATORY, DAY: Youngman stands next to his beautiful and obviously adoring research assistant, FARNSWORTH (Kirsten Dunst), as he examines a patch of hay growing under a UV lamp.

YOUNGMAN:
This isn't just hay, Farnsworth! It's got an adapted nutritional matrix! This could revolutionize agriculture and save the environment!

FARNSWORTH:
You've done it, professor!

CLASSROOM, DAY: Sweep across a bored-looking group of students, slowly panning to a collapsing pile of books, a frayed knapsack with a crude Che Guevara patch sewed onto it, and the bottom of some acid-wash jeans with unlaced red Converses.

ANNOUNCER:
He thought he was making hay while the sun shined, but one unruly student...

NEEDLES:
Oh, Per-FESSSS-orrr....

SF/X:
(Needle scratching across a record)

CLASSROOM, DAY: Accelerated jump-pan up the acid wash jeans, across a torn t-shirt for the band 311, and up to the face of NEEDLES (Jack Black).

ANNOUNCER:
...is about to put a NEEDLE in his HAYSTACK.

NEEDLES:
I'm ba-aaaack!

JUMP CUT to YOUNGMAN, looking horrified.

YOUNGMAN:
Needles.

SMASH CUT to YOUNGMAN, frantic, waving his arms and shouting at FARNSWORTH.

YOUNGMAN:
He was in the class where I was a STUDENT TEACHER! He's a NATURAL DISASTER!

MONTAGE of Needles in a variety of predicaments: his foot stuck in a trashcan, which is on fire; riding a runaway horse through the campus quad; mixing fluid from a variety of beakers and swigging it; dancing to dubstep at the faculty social.

FARNSWORTH:
He's just one undergrad!

YOUNGMAN:
He's going to ruin EVERYTHING!

BOARD ROOM, NIGHT: Professor BRIAN DUBIOUS (Gary Oldman) peers over steepled fingers at the various executives of BIG CORN (Michael Ironside, Brian Dennehy, Greg Proops, Michael Chiklis).

ANNOUNCER:
But in a world where powerful forces are arrayed against him...

DUBIOUS:
Gentlemen... we must DESTROY THAT HAY.

CAMPUS QUAD, DAY: Needles leaps from a gazebo moments before it collapses on a high school marching band.

NEEDLES:
Fire in the hole!

SF/X:
(farting noise, gazebo collapses)

SCHOOL LABORATORY, DAY: Youngman looks up from the bent and destroyed stalks of his hay.

ANNOUNCER:
Sometimes the friends you NEED...

SMASH CUT to NEEDLES, strapping a tank clearly labeled 20 GALLONS RANCID BULL SPERM onto his back, spray nozzle in his hand.

NEEDLES:
Per-FESSS-or...

ANNOUNCER:
...are the ones you don't REALLY WANT.

SMASH CUT to a close-up of NEEDLES' face, brows furrowed in anger.

NEEDLES:
Let's make hay while the sun shines.

OUTDOOR FIELD, DAY: YOUNGMAN and NEEDLES are riding on a flaming hayrick being pursued by a herd of rampaging bulls.

YOUNGMAN & NEEDLES:
Whooooaaaaa!!!

MUSIC CUE:
Smash Mouth's "All Star", from now to quick fade-out at 00:29

INDOOR CORRIDOR, DAY: PROFESSOR DUBIOUS points and shouts at the camera.

DUBIOUS:
HEY!

WHIP PAN to YOUNGMAN, who spins, holding the rancid bull sperm nozzle.

YOUNGMAN:
Hay is for HORSES.

OUTDOOR QUAD, DAY: YOUNGMAN dips FARNSWORTH into a deep kiss as the gazebo bursts into flames. NEEDLES runs past in the background, pursued by an obsese teen with a flugelhorn.

CUT TO BLACK, LOGO APPEARS

ANNOUNCER:
Paramount Pictures proudly presents the comedy event of 2012:

ANNOUNCER + LOGO:
Needles... and the Damage Done.

POP-UP TEXT:
Growing your way 7/7/12
posted by Shepherd at 10:48 AM on February 7, 2012 [8 favorites]


I hate you.
posted by shakespeherian at 10:56 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Also I think he's trying to get the idea out there that maybe two channel mixdown is defunct. A five piece band has at least twice that many microphones capturing the instruments/ambience/room tone/vocals/drums. So you're taking all these inputs, squashing them down to two channels (which used to be 1 channel), crushing them into a compressor and spitting out a CD or Vinyl that's supposed to be the best representation of your art to the world?

A black-and-white reproduction of Starry Night is still a recognizable and iconic painting; in color it's even better; in real life it is the best, but not everyone can afford timeless and priceless paintings.
posted by Khazk at 10:56 AM on February 7, 2012


Note that it's actually 192kbps, signifying a data stream rate rather than a sample rate.

I don't think it is - no way Neil Young is endorsing 192kbps. When written as 24/96 or 24/192 the 24 refers to the bit depth and the 96 or 192 refers to the sample rate. DVD-A which Neil Young tried to promote back in the day can support 24/192 in Stereo (24/96 in 5.1) so I certainly wouldn't be surprised to see him supporting 192Khz recordings.

The third poster in Filthy Light Thief's link makes the correction to the original poster.
posted by TwoWordReview at 10:59 AM on February 7, 2012


Haha, no. As a musician who played in cover bands, and thus had the "privilege" of playing quite a few Lynyrd Skynyrd songs over the years, no, they're not. Enjoyable to you maybe, but better? If barely competent, except maybe for the keyboard player, is your idea of better, then fine.

No love for Artimus Pyle? Mr. Saturday Night Special is a highlight for me.
posted by josher71 at 11:00 AM on February 7, 2012


Live music sounds different because of impulse dynamic range. Real instruments often have a very short, very high volume segment when they begin making sound. Think of drum beats, cymbal crashes, triangles, even stringed instruments have high impulses when plucked or vigorously bowed, to say nothing of vocal fricatives, sibilants and labials. All of these impulse events can be recorded in very high fidelity but are are either clipped or compressed away by the mixing engineer for reproduction. C.f the loudness wars.

(There are some high quality CD recordings that are basically uncompressed but naturally you have to crank the volume way up on playback, and then they sound quite "live", although stereo limitations have their effects too.)
posted by seanmpuckett at 11:01 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I think the last word on the whole Southern Man vs. Sweet Home Alabama thing is that after Skynyrd's plane went down, at his next concert Neil Young sang Sweet Home Alabama, including the line about himself.

Not quite. He segued into it while playing [his song] Alabama, but only repeated the title over & over rather than sing the verses.
posted by anagrama at 11:02 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


designbot: A bit odd linking to anythingbutipod.com for that. iPods have supported Apple Lossless for almost 8 years now, and WAV or AIFF from the very beginning.

But does anyone actually sell Apple Lossless? Other players support FLAC, which is sold in a variety of online shops.


MartinWisse: I got a fair few mp3s obviously ripped from vinyl and you got the best of both worlds: a little bit of that pop, hiss and crackle that elpees gave you, without all the annoying skip-skip-ski-skipping.

Hah, I have a few of these, too. To be honest, each time I hear significant pops, I want to go over to the non-existent turntable and clean the imaginary vinyl. After a while, the pops become part of my memory of the song, so hearing another source sounds odd. (And then there are those tracks that actually include the "dusty vinyl" sound, to make it seem like there's a DJ actually playing a sample.)
posted by filthy light thief at 11:02 AM on February 7, 2012


That's such a bad rebuttal Inspector.Gadget... come on.

Why? Why do you think people pay to go to concerts at, say, Continental Airlines Arena? It isn't because loud, distorted bass and crowd noise are more pleasing to the ear than studio conditions.

I'm trying to say that 320,000 bits per second, captured every 44,100Hz, is insulting to the recording of a 100-piece orchestra, each player having thousands of hours of practice and experience. Compressing all 100's entire performance down to two microphones in stereo at 320kbps MP3 is reprehensible.

This is what happens when you combine a lack of understanding of psychoacoustics with an appeal to emotion; it's ugly and unbelievably silly at the same time.

One of the insidious things about MP-3 compression is that when measured via traditional criteria, e.g., signal-to-noise ratio, frequency response and bandwidth the results look great. This is why it does so well in ABX testing. What I find, however, is that any MP-3 compression robs the ability to emotionally connect with the music.

Dude, if you honestly believe this, I have a $40,000 wooden knob to sell you that will make the volume control on your home stereo absolutely transcendant; you will weep openly and rend your garments. MP3 performs well in ABX testing largely because it plays to the strengths and weakness of human hearing in distinguishing one range of sounds from the same range of sounds with some sections knocked out. Don't confuse the entirely legitimate pleasure you take in reading liner notes and pushing buttons on a hi-fi system with audio quality.

Just store your music as unprocessed AIFF files.

You do realize that lossless is lossless, right? That you lose nothing by compressing to say, FLAC, and gain disk space and better tagging / interoperability options?
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:04 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


seanmpuckett: Live music sounds different because of impulse dynamic range.

And there are individual musicians in front of you, not playing from a set number of locations. If you really get obsessive, you can make a great surround sound experience, but each live performance is recorded differently, and you might have to tweak your home setup per recording if you really wanted to replicate the experience.

Or you could get some binaural recordings and good headphones, but that's a solitary experience.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:05 AM on February 7, 2012


I like both Neil Young and Skynyrd quite a lot, and by all accounts they were friendly with each other. And songs like "Ballad of Curtis Lowe," and the anti handgun "Saturday Night Special" would seem to contradict the unreconstructed redneck claims.
posted by jonmc at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


When you hear something recorded and played back through a system that allows capture/playback of those ultrasonic frequencies, there is punch. There is glow. There is warmth. Is that because you're entering microwave-level wavelengths? No.

But there's definitely something else there that is affecting you on a real, physical level.


If these differences are as pronounced as you suggest it should be trivial to demonstrate that in blind ABX tests. That is not, however, what such tests find. Your hypothesis is untenable in the face of the evidence.

Why does a symphony always sound better live than any recording you could ever make?

The most important difference is that you listen to a symphony in a symphony hall, and you listen to a recording in your living room and there's really nothing that can be done to bridge that difference. The acoustic properties of the room you're in are phenomenally important in terms of determining the sound you're hearing--and the differences can be stark depending on minute changes in your location in that space. Of course, that tends to be an aspect of sound quality that most people simply ignore.

There are secondary problems, of course, with the fact that speakers do a very good job of mimicking instruments, but cannot do a perfect job. The only way to do a fair test of recording technology's capacity to mimic a symphony orchestra would be to record each instrument separately in an anechoic chamber and then assemble individual speakers for each instrument in their corresponding location on the stage and them play them all together. It would be an interesting experiment--I wonder if one would easily be able to tell which was live and which wasn't?
posted by yoink at 11:06 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


But does anyone actually sell Apple Lossless? Other players support FLAC, which is sold in a variety of online shops.

Well, if they don't want to sell a format that plays on the most successful MP3 player or phone in history, that's on them. My guess is that most people who would buy FLAC are big enough geeks that they either a) wouldn't buy a "CRAPPLE" product or b) are capable to transcoding to ALAC
posted by entropicamericana at 11:08 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Live music sounds different because of impulse dynamic range.

This.

The only way to do a fair test of recording technology's capacity to mimic a symphony orchestra would be to record each instrument separately in an anechoic chamber and then assemble individual speakers for each instrument in their corresponding location on the stage and them play them all together.

One of the long list of Burning Man projects I'd love to tackle some day would be a choral piece done in that style: one mike per singer, one channel per voice, isolated recordings. You'd go way out in the desert, where it's quiet and dark, and you'd stand in the middle of a ring of speakers: each speaker plays back one of the recorded tracks. No stereo, no mixing, no FX, nothing: just individual voices, coming from specific points in space, and all the mixing happens inside your head. I wonder what it would sound like.
posted by Mars Saxman at 11:10 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


"Turn up the barn!"
posted by noaccident at 11:14 AM on February 7, 2012


Compressing all 100's entire performance down to two microphones in stereo at 320kbps MP3 is reprehensible.

What exactly do you think happens in your head ?
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2012 [5 favorites]


Just store your music as unprocessed AIFF files.

You do realize that lossless is lossless, right? That you lose nothing by compressing to say, FLAC, and gain disk space and better tagging / interoperability options?


Yes, lossless is lossless but for a 2 to 1 reduction in file size (in the case of Apple losses vs. AIFF) you're actually losing a bunch of interoperability, e.g., the files can't be burned directly to a CD, they can not be played back via most of the new very high quality computer music payers like Amarra or Pure Music, they will always need something to unpack them, etc. All this to save a few pennies worth of disk space? Doesn't seem worth it to me.
posted by Dean358 at 11:31 AM on February 7, 2012


the files can't be burned directly to a CD

They can't be used as is to create a redbook audio CD (which is true also of many uncompressed PCM+header formats, incidentally) but decompression is trivial and can be done automatically by an application as commonplace as Imgburn.

they can not be played back via most of the new very high quality computer music payers like Amarra or Pure Music

Pure Music and Amarra both feature native FLAC support, but anywayboth pieces of software are completely enrobed in "audiophile" nonsense and are basically fancy GUIs with custom EQs.

they will always need something to unpack them, etc.

As noted above, decompression to PCM is trivial.

All this to save a few pennies worth of disk space?

Depends on the size of your audio library and your intended uses. If, for example, you own virtually any non-Apple living room device, or want to archive gapless mixes with cuesheets, FLAC can be very useful.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 11:44 AM on February 7, 2012


Do you honestly think a 320kbps two channel stereo file does a symphony orchestra justice? Are you willing to accept that as the highest-quality file available to you as a customer? You can't be serious!

FLAC's specs allow for up to 8 channels. A 5-piece band has AT LEAST double that many microphones recording. So right now you could have an 8-channel mixdown in lossless digital format. And you'd rather buy the 320kbps MP3 or AAC from iTunes?

Does your touted ABX test between 2.1 stereo and 7.2 surround sound show that 7.2 sounds better?

So do you argue we shouldn't distribute in 7.2 because most people listen on tinny iPod headphones?

Those are very, very poor attitudes and expectations from people so far removed from an audio world that they argue for the sake of convenience and status quo.

What happens in my head is I am choosing to focus or not focus on the group overall, a section within an ensemble, or a solo performer, a luxury I am afforded in a live setting and deprived of in a 2-channel stereo mixdown. I get to chose, not the producer. So I should also have the choice of hooking up 50 discrete speakers and getting 50 discrete recordings to playback through them. That choice is not allowed because "who would honestly buy 50 speakers". The same people who have 50 microphones, 12 guitars, a drum set, two 32 channel mixers, and who actually care about what art should sound like.
posted by Khazk at 11:47 AM on February 7, 2012


Just for the record:

Alabama (insanely great> > Southern Man (great) > Sweet Home Alabama (good)
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:50 AM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Do you honestly think a 320kbps two channel stereo file does a symphony orchestra justice? Are you willing to accept that as the highest-quality file available to you as a customer? You can't be serious!

Dude, you have two ears.

Not 80.

Not 7.

Two.
posted by Sebmojo at 11:54 AM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


And songs like "Ballad of Curtis Lowe," and the anti handgun "Saturday Night Special" would seem to contradict the unreconstructed redneck claims.

"Things Goin' On" is a downright hippie cut as well.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 11:54 AM on February 7, 2012


Because I have two eyes I shouldn't be able to see color? Just black and white?

Because I have two ears I should hear "right" and "left"? Not front-centre trombone, rear timpani, front-left violin, right-rear audience?
posted by Khazk at 11:57 AM on February 7, 2012


What happens in my head is I am choosing to focus or not focus on the group overall, a section within an ensemble, or a solo performer, a luxury I am afforded in a live setting and deprived of in a 2-channel stereo mixdown.

That's really not how listening works--unless you're the conductor and can tell all the other sections to shut up. If you're sitting in the best seats in a symphony hall you have no meaningful way of isolating, say, the sound of the oboist from that of the clarinet--no more, that is, than for the person listening to a stereo mix at home.

Does your touted ABX test between 2.1 stereo and 7.2 surround sound show that 7.2 sounds better?

Uh, no. When you talk about 7.2 surround sound for music you're talking about a pretty esoteric end of the market. As to whether it's "better" than stereo...well, that's just a matter of taste at that point; there is simply no objective measure available for whether it is a more faithful replication of the experience of listening "live." The problem with 7.2 is that it makes the ideal listening position even more limited than it is for a stereo system. And while it is true--at least in theory--that it allows you to isolate particular sections of an orchestra (you can go snuggle up to one particular speaker and it would be possible for the sound engineer to have the strings, say, be entirely dedicated to that channel) that would A) be a crappy way to actually mix music and B) be demonstrable unlike the way we hear music at a live event. I've never once been to a symphony where the orchestra was arranged in a circle around the audience so that different sections came at me from radically different directions.

I have sat in the very front row at the symphony and it is true that there you do get strong directional effects (and a noticeable sound imbalance, with the instruments nearest you louder than those at a distance). That is, of course, one reason why those seats are often cheaper than the seats further back.

But hey, if 7.2 sound is the hill you want to die on, you can't be wrong about it per se. There's no essential connection, though, between the number of channels the sound is divided into and the sampling rate of the sound coming to you over those channels.
posted by yoink at 12:02 PM on February 7, 2012


Do you honestly think a 320kbps two channel stereo file does a symphony orchestra justice?

Neither you nor any ringer you produce for the purpose can tell the difference, more reliably than random guessing, between a well-selected battery of 320kbps MP3 files and the PCM files from which they were made within the parameters of a correctly administered ABX test. Of course there are extremely rare edge cases. The MPEG audio standards do not contain any spec for an all-purpose audio codec, nor should they.

Are you willing to accept that as the highest-quality file available to you as a customer? You can't be serious!

Fortunately, I didn't make this argument anywhere. Nor, for that matter, anything that follows thereafter in your post. Who are you arguing with?

The same people [...] who actually care about what art should sound like.

Your deep personal investment in being an "audiophile" is showing. Condescending to people you've never met is an ugly thing to do, especially when said people are arguing evidence and you're arguing from emotion.

[...] there is punch. There is glow. There is warmth.

IN A WORLD...WHERE ONE MAN MUST JUSTIFY HIS SPENDING ON AUDIO HARDWARE...THERE IS...FEEL-GOOD BULLSHIT...COMING FEBRUARY 2012 TO A LUXURIOUSLY APPOINTED HOME THEATER NEAR YOU.

But you can't record the feeling of holding the hand of your SO, or the feel of the air conditioning, or the smell of your breath from the wine you had earlier.

Which is exactly what I pointed out about why people spend money on concerts. You're arguing against things nobody as argued.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 12:06 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some people should read up on what an ABX test actually is.
posted by smackfu at 12:06 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Multi-channel audio is not inherently superior to mono or stereo audio, in the same way that color or 3D doesn't improve an Ansel Adams photograph. Whether you want it or not, the amount of information in the final product is a decision by the artist, not the consumer.

Also, 99.99% of listeners use 2-channel playback devices, the production expense of fancy pants audio, $1/track commodity pricing, yadda yadda.
posted by unmake at 12:07 PM on February 7, 2012


Those two interviewers were utter twats.
posted by Cheezitsofcool at 12:09 PM on February 7, 2012


Do you honestly think a 320kbps two channel stereo file does a symphony orchestra justice? Are you willing to accept that as the highest-quality file available to you as a customer? You can't be serious!

*Snort*

Real music lovers don't let anything as declasse as a symphony come between them and the music, which is best experienced by reading the componist's sheet music.
posted by MartinWisse at 12:11 PM on February 7, 2012 [4 favorites]


Khazk: “Does your touted ABX test between 2.1 stereo and 7.2 surround sound show that 7.2 sounds better?”

No, because so-called 'Surround Sound' – 7.2, 9.5, 10,000.750, whatever – is nonsense perpetuated by an industry highly schooled in perpetuating nonsense. Multiplying speakers does not improve sound. Sound waves combine and mix in the air. They cannot be separated by instrument and then pumped through separate speakers.
posted by koeselitz at 12:12 PM on February 7, 2012


So I should also have the choice of hooking up 50 discrete speakers and getting 50 discrete recordings to playback through them. That choice is not allowed because "who would honestly buy 50 speakers". The same people who have 50 microphones, 12 guitars, a drum set, two 32 channel mixers, and who actually care about what art should sound like.

...just one drum set?

*scoff*
posted by vorfeed at 12:32 PM on February 7, 2012 [3 favorites]


Mars Saxman: You might want to check out Forty-Part Motet
posted by Old Man Wilson at 12:49 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The weak point of the chain is always the limiting factor, but I don't think it's ever been well-ripped 192K+ mp3. What's made the biggest difference in my music listening in the last six months are:

- getting better headphones (Grado sr60i);
- getting an off-board USB DAC/headphone amp (fiio e7).

Everyone knows cheap headphones are crap, but not that many people are aware of how much difference it makes getting the DAC off the computer. Audio equipment in most computers is designed to match a price point, not sound quality. Added to that, the inside of a computer is electrically a very hostile environment, and it's not conducive to great sound quality either.

The combo of the headphones and USB-DAC is absolute gold. And it's cheap. This is less than $150, and the difference is night and day. I get the warmth, and the fidelity, and I've never heard music sound this good. I was listening to some Pixies tunes a few nights ago, and almost crying tears of joy at how good they sounded.

The DAC has always been the key in reproducing digital music. Not enough people realise this.
posted by daveje at 1:14 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


The DAC has always been the key in reproducing digital music. Not enough people realise this.

Yes. The only people I've known that own them are sound engineers and recording musicians, but they're just plain great for listening. It's one of those things whose value is difficult to communicate to non-gearheads, unfortunately.
posted by invitapriore at 1:22 PM on February 7, 2012


The multichannel stuff is nonsense for a big reason (I say this as someone quite experienced in mixing multichannel audio):

Unless you know what you're doing, you will have really bad phase issues with all of those speakers blaring away in a small room. Not to mention the nightmare of dealing with the bass frequencies of the dual subs in 7.2. Which is not to say that no-one does have the know-how, money, room, or equipment to make multichannel audio a really cool experience. However, the people who do have the know-how to do this tend not to use words like "warmth" or "glow" when referring to audio signals.

As a result of this, the commercial availability of super-high bitrate multichannel audio will likely remain limited, because unless you really know what you're doing, it will sound way fucking worse than a 320kbps stereo mp3.
posted by nonreflectiveobject at 1:42 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


I am not happy about Neil Young.

But how do you really feel, quonsar?
posted by Danf at 2:01 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


No stereo, no mixing, no FX, nothing: just individual voices, coming from specific points in space, and all the mixing happens inside your head. I wonder what it would sound like.

Along the same lines, this this is spectacular.
posted by dttocs at 2:03 PM on February 7, 2012


Sure enough, they'll be selling uncompressed stuff
when the moon begins to rise,
Pretty bad when you're stealing from the man
and the torrents shine in your eyes

posted by porn in the woods at 2:31 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Would anyone have a specific recommendation for +16gb mp3 player that will play OGG and FLAC files? My old, cheap iRiver would play anything I threw at it, and as a bonus the thing was a tank.

When it finally died after 5 years, a friend bought me an iPod. In two years it's needed three repairs, the battery is terrible, and it won't play about a quarter of my music collection. I refuse to restrict myself to Apple Lossless. Helphelphelp me, metafilter.
posted by mannequito at 2:36 PM on February 7, 2012


I like both Neil Young and Skynyrd quite a lot, and by all accounts they were friendly with each other. And songs like "Ballad of Curtis Lowe," and the anti handgun "Saturday Night Special" would seem to contradict the unreconstructed redneck claims.

And Lynyrd Skynyrd headlined a benefit concert in Florida for Jimmy Carter's 1976 presidential campaign. I think at the time it was highest grossing campaign fundraising event ever.

The current Skynyrd that was put together ten years after the plane crash is super rightwing though. Their latest album is called God & Guns and its single "That Ain't My America" gets a lot of play on Sean Hannity's radio show.
posted by riruro at 2:55 PM on February 7, 2012


"Neil Young has a long and storied career..."

Am I the only one who read this initially as "a long and stoned career"?
posted by markkraft at 3:12 PM on February 7, 2012


If we're listening to copies where 95% of the data is missing, then perhaps the problem for Neil Young is that most of us are perfectly content listening to 5% (or considerably less...) of Neil Young's music.

Also, if we're only getting 5% of the dataset with an mp3, shouldn't we be allowed to make personal copies freely, given that free, personal cassette taping has been legal for ages.

(Apparently, WinAmp whips the back end of the donkey's ass... and Neil's too.)
posted by markkraft at 3:23 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Mars Saxman, one channel per instrument (or in this case, voice) tracked 1:1 to individual speakers has been done. And it sounds fantastic.
posted by thecjm at 3:27 PM on February 7, 2012


For the life of me I can't understand why anyone would be so insistent that science has finalized these specifications for us and be so adamantly against keeping everything intact for the purpose of maintaining and furthering the art. And I'm not just talking about the physical incapacity of the human body to tell the difference between a 192 and 320 kbps encode. There's more artistic meaning being raped out of the recordings than any scientist would bear to endure. What right do you have to tell someone that "what they can't even perceive" isn't valuable when it's not even a hinderance to keep it anymore? Is it not possible to Live and Let Live? Or must you Crusade upon anyone with faith, belief, or anything that belies your physical/scientific compass? I'm sorry that you can't accept the fundamental truth that "deleting frequencies of a recording" is irresponsible to the art. Sure, there might not be a God, but humans are actively removing parts of a whole, with no good reasons. In fact, they champion the fact that "we couldn't do it back in the day, and people just loved music, so it doesn't matter now."

We are recording video at resolutions (4k) that exceed what's noticeable/playable to a layperson on current devices. But when you add compression, fake-soda-pop sharpening, inaccurate color profiles, you're being fed "high-definition" content that barely competes with processed 35mm slabs of plastic with a light shining through them onto a screen. And this is considered "unacceptable."

Are you satisfied that video files should never contain above 60fps because our eyes can only perceive that much information? Does that mean we should never play back video at 100Hz or 200Hz? Ok, sure.

But do 2000fps Phantom cameras come in handy? Sure they do. And with the raw, high-quality 2000fps footage you can see amazing things.

But, nope. We've reached the limits of audio. No point in keeping audio past 20Hz; can't hear it; toss it. No point in sampling more to smooth out the curve; will never want to stretch it. No point in keeping separated, isolated tracks; no one's going to set up a unique system for it.

I shouldn't have said 7.2. That was a mistake. You think 7 speakers in a circle around you home-theatre style playing Dolby encoded streams. You think two identical subwoofers in the corners of the room. Because that's how it's configured for you. Because you've never moved them around to try out a "live band" speaker configuration, with a 1:1 track/speaker that you recorded yourself. Because you just want to listen to the music; not experiment and play with it.

Maybe you don't care about the feel of "sitting in" on a live studio session, talent and practice trumping DSP plugins and mastering, and want the producer's version of the song. Maybe artists are not brave enough to say "we won't stand for effects; just put out exactly what we put in."

No -other- bands play in a circle around you, why would anyone record it that way? It's an art form that allows for stranger arrangements than a four-piece on a stage facing the audience. The art form that is not brave enough to require participation from its audience and rely on them as much as a band member. Unfortunately that participation needs to be more than a pair of earbuds from Wal-Mart.

Do you want to be fed the music straight, or perhaps be surrounded and involved in it? Do you want a compressed, crunchy, high-intensity package; or an introspective, intimate, and unadulterated experience? It's unfortunate that few artists have truly invited their audience to join them in the studio in that fashion; they haven't recorded it that way. The expectations for what people are willing to do are so insultingly low that producers are starting to recommend that you "listen to your mixdown on a laptop so as to simulate the listener's environment."

nonreflectiveobject has good insight; Unless you know what you're doing, you will have really bad phase issues with all of those speakers blaring away in a small room. Well, yes, and half of that responsibility is borne onto the listener to make sure that they set it right. The other half is in the studio, and it's insulting to think that the recordist wouldn't be able to eliminate phase issues.

Separate from technique, "audiophile" producers will still dub to analog tape, to capture imperfections in the metal filings on the plastic strip. There's an element of randomness, while not good nor bad, is present in the recording. Though we can't perceive it, it exists. It's reverse Schroedinger's cat and that's why science-types are so offended by the mere mention that it's worth keeping. "Toss all the stuff that we physically can't hear, for storage reasons" is the current rationale.

And I'm saying that there is not enough ire in the world for people who argue "you can't tell the difference with confidence in an ABX test". So what? Can you please give me any legitimate reason why all the data can't be kept with the technology we have today? We don't hear it, and therefore it's useless?

Maybe you're happy with listening to what many people claim "changes their life" on 1cm earbuds, with content that has been completely erased and removed in the name of "compression" when it's not even necessary anymore.

Maybe I'm not happy until I can close my eyes and listen, as if I were there with that person—nothing removed, nothing added, integrity intact—no reasoning and no ABX tests stealing away the full, incomprehensible, beautiful music.
posted by Khazk at 3:31 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


And thanks to the insane copyright laws, large swaths of the musical spectrum aren't going to make it into the new formats. Huge chunks of music won't be available for people to rediscover.

Yet on the other hand, thanks mostly to illegal ripping and sharing, there are untold thousands of nearly-lost songs that would have disappeared forever, except as rare wax relics available only to people who have hundreds of dollars to spend on a single record. Assuming that those songs/albums acquired a reputation in the right circles. There are plenty of perfectly wonderful records that just weren't released in the right region or at the right time to attract the attention necessary even to become famous as a long-lost cult record, and if you had to buy every piece of music that doesn't get played on the radio before you could hear it, you'd have to spend a fortune before you got to what might turn out to be your favorite song.

Then if you're lucky, this lost piece of art will acquire a latter-day reputation and somebody will give you the opportunity to drop $19.99 on a boutique vinyl reissue so you can listen to it properly. Assuming you can afford decent speakers.
posted by Adventurer at 3:37 PM on February 7, 2012


Khazk: "But do 2000fps Phantom cameras come in handy? Sure they do. And with the raw, high-quality 2000fps footage you can see amazing things."

As someone who has worked with these cameras, yes, you can see amazing things, once you slow the 2000 fps footage down to 60, 30, or 24. These cameras are used solely to record very high-speed stuff that can be played back more slowly, so you get extreme slow motion.

This use case is completely different from the Hi-Fi wankery you seem to be promoting. Don't get them mixed up.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:39 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


We don't hear it, and therefore it's useless?

If it's so utterly life-transforming, why can't you hear it?

Look, there's no time limit on an ABX test. You can listen to each "sample" over an entire evening, or over a week of evenings if you like. If listening with "all the frequencies" really does make some astounding difference to our appreciation for the music then that difference must be detectable. If it's not detectable it really is useless.

As for 7.2, as I say, that's a matter of taste which is essentially unavailable to rigorous investigation. If you like having the ability to move your speakers around the room into different configurations, then there's really no other way for you to get that than by multi-channel recordings. This will, however, always be something that only a tiny, tiny fraction of the audience wants. Most of us want to set up our listening room and then leave it be. It is also guaranteed to generate some bizarre distortions (waves cancelling each other/reinforcing each other etc.) that are no part of the artist's vision--but hey, that's your prerogative.

Again, though, there is absolutely no essential connection between multichannel recording and ultra-high-sample rate / uncompressed recording. So these are separable arguments.
posted by yoink at 3:51 PM on February 7, 2012


> What happens in my head is I am choosing to focus or not focus on the group overall, a section
> within an ensemble, or a solo performer, a luxury I am afforded in a live setting and deprived
> of in a 2-channel stereo mixdown.

Luxury? Roving focus like that is pretty standard for critical listening to classical music and commonly can be done with a good, not necessarily great, recording played on good, not necessarily great, equipment. Unless I've been kidding myself for many years.

At one point during the vinyl era I lived in Cambridge (Mass., not UK.) My down the hall neighbors were two students in the music department at the local university (name starts with H, you'd probably recognize it.) One was a gradate student in conducting, and also the conductor and music director of a pretty well known Boston-area music group, the Cantata Singers (which still exists.) The other was an undergraduate who was then working on a Summa, which he got. After he graduated he, having a European fiance, moved to the Antwerp and got a gig as director of a group comparable the the Cantata Singers linked above. If you can imagine a bunch of older European classical musicians finding themselves willing to be led by a kid straight out of school, and an American on top of that, you'll have some feel for this fellow's absolutely terrifying level of competence.

I mention these guys in the present discussion because they owned, between them, a single really crummy stereo with speakers small enough and light enough to hang on the wall like framed pictures. In their apartment kitchen. That's what they used for their critical study listening--that plus, of course, the grand-staff scores they laid out on the kitchen table and stared at and pointed to and argued over while the music was playing. I once asked why they didn't get a better stereo, and they were genuinely mystified. Why? This one's fine. Rather spend the money on beer. I eventually came to understand that they were getting almost nothing from the recordings but tempi and whether Big Name Conductor X's beat was steady (good) or rubbery and variable (very very bad.) The actual placement of section or solo entrances did come in for some comment. Everything else they were getting from the scores and from their aural memory of past performances and rehearsals they had attended or participated in.

Moral of tale: more you have in head, less you need equipment.
posted by jfuller at 3:52 PM on February 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, playback at 30fps is ultimately the purpose for capturing the 2000fps Phantom stuff but surely the producer would never DREAM of deleting any of the original footage; especially considering the costs of production. So why would a recordist delete any of the original recording, on purpose?

Maybe a bit of a stretch. Oh well.
posted by Khazk at 3:52 PM on February 7, 2012


@Khazk -- I don't understand. The producer would never delete any footage, but that doesn't mean they sell it to you that way. Likewise, it certainly makes sense to record at 24/192 (which most high end digital setups do, actually) but there's no point in releasing the finished product that way.
posted by modernserf at 4:11 PM on February 7, 2012


So why would a recordist delete any of the original recording, on purpose?

I don't think anyone is arguing this. Recording, processing, mixing and mastering is typically done at 24 bits. The masters are also usually archived at 24 bits. They are only processed into lossy formats for delivery to the end user, just the same as the final edited footage being delivered on Blu-Ray, DVD or youtube.
posted by TwoWordReview at 4:12 PM on February 7, 2012


fidelity has punctured me and now i'm running dry
posted by pyramid termite at 5:03 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Yeah, playback at 30fps is ultimately the purpose for capturing the 2000fps Phantom stuff but surely the producer would never DREAM of deleting any of the original footage; especially considering the costs of production.

Nonsense. He's not recording any of the Ultraviolet or Infrared bands. Think of all that information that is lost by not encoding those frequencies.

lets not get into the parts of the "visible" spectrum that you can't discern
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 7:06 PM on February 7, 2012 [1 favorite]


Khazk: "So why would a recordist delete any of the original recording, on purpose?"

As an amateur who makes his own recordings, and who associates with a number of more and less professional musicians who also make their own recordings, let me just say: I have never heard of this. I doubt there's a serious musician out there who is ripping everything they do to lossy MP3 and then deleting their raw files. I don't think it happens at all, really, first and foremost because storage is so cheap nowadays.
posted by koeselitz at 9:31 PM on February 7, 2012


Is this the thread where I can say that even though I have nothing but love for Mr Young, I recently listened to his latest (I think) album, and man, it was not good.

Still, this being Neil, the next one will probably be stellar. He's not the most consistent fella.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 10:03 PM on February 7, 2012


There's more artistic meaning being raped out of the recordings than any scientist would bear to endure.

I

um
posted by Sebmojo at 2:41 AM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


if you listen very carefully to my latest memu post, with an educated ear and the most expensive earbuds walmart sells, you can hear (at measure 28, second eighth note of 3rd beat) that 6127k is down almost a full dB due to the damping effect of the fur on a panda's ass.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 5:39 AM on February 8, 2012 [2 favorites]


Pogo_Fuzzybutt: "Nonsense. He's not recording any of the Ultraviolet or Infrared bands. Think of all that information that is lost by not encoding those frequencies."

Not to mention all that hard X-ray that gives the audience that special glowy feeling.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 3:07 PM on February 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


Christopher Montgomery (Vorbis developer "Monty") on 24/192 music downloads (via).
posted by Bangaioh at 3:47 AM on March 7, 2012


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