Those iPad earpods may look cool but they sound awful. So says no less an authority than Neil Young. It's not entirely the pods' fault, though, it's the abysmal audio quality of the MP3 protocol that today encodes most digital music.
Young launched into a diatribe at a recent media conference, dissing and dismissing the MP3 format as having just "5 percent of the data present in the original recording."
"When I started making records, we had a hundred percent of the sound," said Young at the D: Dive Into Media conference in January, Rolling Stone magazine reported. "And then you listen to it as an MP3 at the same volume – people leave the room. It hurts...It's not that digital is bad or inferior. It's that the way it's being used is not sufficient to transfer the depth of the art."
If you think this isn't true, hook your iPod up to a really decent stereo system -- not a "home entertainment" system with lots of itty bitty speakers hidden around the room. First, play a complex piece of music -- you know, something like Beethoven or the Grateful Dead. Then listen to the same piece of music from a CD.
Go ahead, crank it up. The neighbors won't care. They're in foreclosure anyway.
Hear the difference? If everything's working properly, it should be as obvious as the difference between high-def TV and the old NTSC (a technical term that might as well mean "never the same color").
Not just saying ...
But unlike lots of us, Neil Young isn't just sitting back and complaining, he's doing something about it. Or so it appears anyway. Rolling Stone says Young has filed a number of trademark applications with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office recently, applications with names like "21st Century Record Player," "Earth Storage" and "Thanks for Listening."
Young apparently envisions a service that would allow music fans to download audio files that sound like the studio recordings of the past, as opposed to the über-compressed song files that are currently available at MP3 stores like iTunes and Amazon.
This would fit with Young's previous assertions that we're in desperate need of a "high resolution" audio format that would deliver the 95 percent of the sound that's completely missing from the MP3 format.
There are other formats out there now but none really approaches original studio quality -- which is odd considering how much fawning attention is given to high-def video and, for that matter, to the upgrading of sound systems in major theaters around the country. Why are most consumers willing to put up with 1950s sound in 2012?
It's likely to take about a year for the applications to work their way through the trademark office, which is both notoriously slow and also notoriously picky. But keep your ear to the ground and we'll see -- and hear -- what develops.