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Neil Young claims he was working on an audiophile iPod with Steve Jobs

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Neil Young: Steve Jobs and I were working on new iPod

Singer tells technology conference he and the late Apple boss planned audiophile successor to iPod with high-resolution audio

Sean Michaels · guardian.co.uk

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Neil-Young-and-Steve-Jobs-005.jpgNew adventures in hi-fi … Neil Young and Steve Jobs were working on audiophile iPod. Photograph: Frazer Harrison/Getty Images/Sipa Press/Rex Features

Neil Young has claimed he was working with the late Apple boss Steve Jobs on a follow-up to the iPod. Young said he and Jobs were developing a new device for listening to "high-resolution audio", which would download content "while you're sleeping".

"Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, but when he went home he listened to vinyl," Young said during an interview at the D: Dive Into Media technology conference. He and Jobs were apparently both concerned with the dearth of high-quality listening formats for audiophiles, and the two men met to work on new hardware that could store the large music files Young prefers. Since Jobs's death in October, Young complained, there is "not much going on".

Young is a notorious opponent of MP3s and other compressed music formats. He even criticises CDs, which he claims offer only 15% of the audio information contained on master recordings. "What everybody gets [on an MP3] is 5% of what we originally make in the studio," he said. "We live in the digital age, and unfortunately it's degrading our music, not improving."

The 66-year-old singer called on his audience to improve standards for high-fidelity audio and new consumer-friendly playback devices. The main obstacle to better quality recordings is file size: audiophile-quality songs can take as long as 30 minutes to download, Young said, and current players can store no more than about 30 albums. "I have to believe if [Jobs] lived long enough he would have tried to do what I'm trying to do."

While Young attacked the internet's effect on audio standards, he acknowledged its utility as a promotional tool. "I look at [the] internet as the new radio," he explained. "Radio [is] gone. Piracy is the new radio; it's how music gets around."

Young is currently working on two new albums with his long-time on-off backing band Crazy Horse. He recently updated his website with an epic, 37-minute jam, thought to be taken from these sessions.

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Someone needs to take a step in this direction.

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Through Twitter, RSS and NPR I've seen this story told about five wildly different variations today. From almost there with the bad timing of Jobs illness, to they never got very far and Apple lost interest, to Jobs listened to both analog and digital depending on situation to he never touched the 0s and 1s.

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The thing is, 16/44 is way better than the quality of the shit being produced typically.

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Totally agree with you, Tyll. Well mastered 16/44 still sounds awfully good to me.

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The thing is, 16/44 is way better than the quality of the shit being produced typically.

Agreed. Better mastering would be an achievable win, as an opposed to pure specsmanship on the delivery container.

But to misquote the samsung ad. "But if it looks the same, how will people know I've upgraded we be able to charge more"

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The thread on this over at macrumors is a distaster. Actually, every thread over there is a disaster.

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I agree that it's hard to say what to make of this, except that Neil Young has been fighting for better sound quality for many years, so I don't doubt that he would have approached Apple at some point, and that Jobs would have at least agreed to meet with him. Just don't think that the numbers would support this kind of move on Apple's part.

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I was just reading this on macrumors. Yeah would prefer a well mastered mp3 to the cds & 24/192 crappy sound.

Edited by Spychedelic Whale

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I agree that it's hard to say what to make of this, except that Neil Young has been fighting for better sound quality for many years, so I don't doubt that he would have approached Apple at some point, and that Jobs would have at least agreed to meet with him. Just don't think that the numbers would support this kind of move on Apple's part.

Seems like a spot on analysis to me. Neil is a huge analog fan and has been pretty vocal about it.

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I was just reading this on macrumors. Yeah would prefer a well mastered mp3 to the cds & 24/192 crappy sound.

I don't see it as an either/or proposition. I think the availability of a relatively affordable portable device from a company like Apple that could handle larger files more effectively and pushed sound quality as it's core marketing message would be a good thing. It would at least encourage a reawakening among music industry professionals to the issues that are important to all of us in terms of how recordings are captured/mastered to begin with. As it is, the creative process is often terribly compromised (with much musical goodness left on the table) for sake of making recordings that will sound "good" on the radio and/or iPods (and like devices). To the extent that a company like Apple might be willing to stand up and make some noise about sound quality issues (pun intended), others would take notice and support those efforts on both ends (better captured source material, and devices that better support such recordings). Just don't think it will happen.

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Is it just me or does sickly Jobs look pretty healthy next to Young?

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Yeah put up a pic of Keith Richards and even Neil would look good.

I don't see this happening because the market is too small. Your average consumer doesn't know/care and thinks well mastered music sounds "muffled".

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Is it just me or does sickly Jobs look pretty healthy next to Young?

lol. Ric, I think you're on to a new Internet meme/game.

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I don't see it as an either/or proposition. I think the availability of a relatively affordable portable device from a company like Apple that could handle larger files more effectively and pushed sound quality as it's core marketing message would be a good thing. It would at least encourage a reawakening among music industry professionals to the issues that are important to all of us in terms of how recordings are captured/mastered to begin with. As it is, the creative process is often terribly compromised (with much musical goodness left on the table) for sake of making recordings that will sound "good" on the radio and/or iPods (and like devices). To the extent that a company like Apple might be willing to stand up and make some noise about sound quality issues (pun intended), others would take notice and support those efforts on both ends (better captured source material, and devices that better support such recordings). Just don't think it will happen.

You are right but unfortunately like you I don't see that happening.

Edited by Spychedelic Whale

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Wasn't Apple promising 24 bit resolution for the iTunes store? What ever happend with that?

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Yeah put up a pic of Keith Richards and even Neil would look good.

I don't see this happening because the market is too small. Your average consumer doesn't know/care and thinks well mastered music sounds "muffled".

All in the marketing, as Beats clearly showed.

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Wasn't Apple promising 24 bit resolution for the iTunes store? What ever happend with that?
I don't remember those murmurings ever originating from Apple.

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It irritates me when Mossberg opens that with "we talk about the intersection of technology and... media... A/art (or whatever)."

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And the masses with their white $2 freebie headphones are going to heat what, exactly?

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^ True, but seeing this video gives some context to the problem that the few people like Neil are facing. If even a Mossberg type can be so dismissive, imagine where that leaves the kids of today's generation that have never had an opportunity to hear the difference.

It's funny, because speaking of Neil Young, one of my brothers and his family visited me here in Cayman about a year ago. Doug (my brother) is a big Neil Young fan, so that was the first stuff he grabbed when he walked in the house and immediately wanted to do some listening. I've been telling him about my MBL system for years, and this was his chance. His son, who is now 16 (so he would have been 14 or 15 at the time) was completely transfixed. He couldn't move, and this went on for hours. Didn't matter if it was vinyl or SACD or high res CD. He was hearing things in familiar recordings he had never heard before, and that's even before moving on to headphones which didn't happen until the next day.

Ok, so no big surprise. That should be the case. But when I saw him this Christmas, he still couldn't stop talking about it. He kept murmuring, "Look out mamma, there's a white boat coming up the river... with a big red beacon and a gun and a man on the rails..." and you could just see in his eyes that he was still hearing it in his head the way he did that first night, and that he was moved by it!

That's what music is supposed to do, but sadly, until he had that opportunity to hear it in it's full glory, he had no idea what he had always been missing. None of them have a clue, simply because they haven't been exposed to it. That's the saddest part.

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Hope it helps and you're right Wayne about exposure. I think Youngs biggest point there is lack of options. MP3s, etc. are fine as long as albums are also released in higher resolution (much like AM, FM, cassettes, 8-tracks, MDs, etc. were). All the other stuff discussed (percentages - so 24/96 is only 50% of the real music?) or not (lossless/uncompressed 16/44.1 is supported on most DAPs, people seemed to enjoy music without high res for eons) miss other issues and potentially not savy enough for your average young geek (and what young audiophile isn't a geek at this point?).

EDIT: Actually, what am I talking about? I've heard two 20-somethings in the last couple weeks wax poetically about the superiority of vinyl and I'd wager a ton neither has heard even a decent digital rig. So the message is likely carried by role models and getting out, but how convoluted that message is I'm not sure. I guess exposure is key.

Edited by blessingx

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Wayne - great story. Personally, I'm always on the lookout for possible converts like that. Good on you!

I think one problem that will inevitably come up is the studios again and their fear that someone will copy it and give it away for free, etc. It happens. Apple will never be able to get past that, no matter how much money they throw at the problem. Not that I can see, anyway.

Trust me, I'd love to get my hands on some of the stuff Steve Hoffman plays at his talks. Stunning.

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