Singer-songwriter-rocker Neil Young has been talking about problems with modern audio codecs for decades. He was angry at CDs back in the 1990s and most recently he lashed out against MP3s and digital audio compression at a popular tech conference, saying “My goal is to try to rescue the art form that I’ve been practicing for the past 50 years. We live in the digital age and, unfortunately, it’s degrading our music, not improving it … It’s not that digital is bad or inferior, it’s that the way it’s being used isn’t doing justice to the art. The MP3 only has 5 percent of the data present in the original recording. … The convenience of the digital age has forced people to choose between quality and convenience, but they shouldn’t have to make that choice.”
Luckily old Bernard Shakey knows a few people with some tech chops and is launching a service tentatively called Pono that will allow folks to convert, download, and play high quality music on a player designed specifically for the service. He showed off his little player – a prismatic device that looks like a cross between a Shanzhai PMP and a box of Toberlone – on Letterman last night and he’s aiming to sell 192kHz/24-bit audio files to purists who demand to hear every aural nook and cranny.
Young is working with labels to transfer the original master tapes from each artist including a number of albums from Bob Dylan and other greats. Young says the “audio doesn’t get dummied down” when played on the Pono.
While seemingly Quixotic, I think it’s charming that Young is maintaining this effort even in the face of an onslaught of low bit-rate monstrosities. High quality music has long been the provenance of the rich and/or aged and, although I suspect this will appeal more to the older listener, at least Young is tackling one of the roadblocks to dulcet, high quality tracks.