Neil Young Might Be Building a Better MP3

Neil Young is a well-known audio purest–that is, he understands that when compared to old-school analogue recordings, MP3s suck.

Because the MPEG-Layer 3 compression algorithm shrinks files by subtracting the audio that the human ear can’t perceive, the brain still notices.  That means–and I believe this heartily–that we don’t feel music as MP3s as we do when we hear the full .wav file or the original analogue version.

Neil has been threatening to do something when it comes to taken recorded audio to the next level.  Rolling Stone reports that Young applied for six trademarks last summer–including something called “SQS (Studio Quality Sound)”–with the description “Online and retail store services featuring music and artistic performances; high-resolution music downloadable from the Internet; high resolutions discs featuring music and video; audio and video recording storage and playback.”

What could this be?

Alan Cross

is an internationally known broadcaster, interviewer, writer, consultant, blogger and speaker. In his 40+ years in the music business, Alan has interviewed the biggest names in rock, from David Bowie and U2 to Pearl Jam and the Foo Fighters. He’s also known as a musicologist and documentarian through programs like The Ongoing History of New Music.

2 thoughts on “Neil Young Might Be Building a Better MP3

  • April 6, 2012 at 5:12 am

    Eeehhh… there are already technologies that are "a better MP3". FLAC if you don't want any loss but half the size of a WAV. Ogg Vorbis with low loss. High compression rates need to subtract information from "somewhere" and this is partially in frequencies we can't hear. Bad MP3 conversions have aliasing in those high frequencies, though, which is awful sounding if you can perceive it (with super-high compression, anyone can hear it) and fatiguing even if you aren't consciously aware of it.

    Any other format that approaches the level of compression of even a 192kbps MP3 is going to have to make a similar sacrifice.

    The vinyl thing is misplaced belief, though. You can fully and completely prefer vinyl, become more immersed in music played back from vinyl, and simply enjoy the experience (while having less fatigue from listening). But it's not because of the unheard frequencies. It's because of qualities that are ADDED to the recording, not qualities that are transparent in them. Even the most pristine listening environment with flawless vinyl and expensive needles will have a particular "colour" to them. Vinyl fans are also more likely to prefer tube-based amplification, but this will also impart a sonic characteristic to the playback.

    It's simple physics. The microphones that recorded the songs probably did not have even the range of a WAV file (the diaphragm will not produce an electric impulse above certain frequencies, and therefore the sound is literally not recorded). Analog recording mediums also have physical limitations that will often place the frequency range well below digital. Our speakers will not push out an infinitely high frequency, either. In short, "unheard frequencies" above a certain range literally aren't there.

    I'm not saying "you can't react to them because you can't hear them" because bodies and brains are weird and wonderful and for all I know there are ways that your arm hairs respond to unheard frequencies that cause communication with the brain.

    I'm saying that those frequencies aren't there for our arm hairs to react to.

    Anyhow, I just re-read the article before clicking "Create Post" and I have to acknowledge that you did allow full-resolution WAV files as suitable. So we actually agree. But I'm stupid and narcissistic enough to post anyhow, but humble enough to admit my rant was unecessary given your opinion on WAV files. 😉

  • April 6, 2012 at 6:06 am

    anything that pushes for higher fidelity on the internet is a good thing. The ignorance to the pitfalls of mp3's are rampant.


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