Neil Young: This is a low-res world (and the never ending analog vs. digital debate)

mjp

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Oh lord, more hysterical misinformation.

Rips from CDs to lossless file formats have only 10% more "data" than MP3 files (whatever bitrate those are, he never says)? When he says stupid shit like that (and that "in the old days" you got "100%" of the music - wrong!) he strays from his message, which is generally good. I'm all for him as an evangelist for quality. Good for him. Just needs to tone down the hyperbole.

Those fucking guys interviewing him seem to be very stupid.
 

mjp

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I listened to this again, and while he's still in error about a CD to lossless rip (how can he say that there's nothing wrong with digital, but a digital to digital rip is no good?), I think his overall point is that MP3 has numbed the average (young) listener to sound quality, and on that point, I would have to agree.
 

esart

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How dare you question Lord Young! ...just kidding. He means well, but he doesn't know a lot about everything he's talking of. I can't protect him!
 

Erik

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I haven't bothered listening to this again, but isn't the quality on the CD an issue here, not just the rip from the CD?

And what he said about MP3s being the radio of our time has stuck with me...

Oh, and I also remember N.Y. way back when saying that to test the quality of new take he would listen to it thru the wall of a room next to therecording studio.... yeah. ;-)
 

mjp

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isn't the quality on the CD an issue here...?
Oh jesus christ, I don't know anymore. I don't understand half of what he's saying. Never have. I was just trying to be generous because he's really old and he's accomplished a lot of stuff and I think at its core, his message, that QUALITY MATTERS, and we're voluntarily sacrificing quality at the altar of convenience and portability - is an important one.
 

esart

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Well, what I must have missed is what percentages he puts on .wav files and CDs in comparison to vinyl. I don't feel like watching the whole thing over either. I remember him saying that the 1K was 50% but I don't care much about that.
I haven't bothered listening to this again, but isn't the quality on the CD an issue here, not just the rip from the CD?
Didn't he say in the beginning that there was nothing really wrong with digital? I guess I sort of took that to mean that CDs were comparable to vinyl.
 

cirerita

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CDs are 48/16, so they're compressed and a lot of audio information is lost. If you rip a CD to lossless FLAC files, for instance, the max quality is that of the source, that is, the 48/16 CD.

DVA-Audio (which I think is no longer used) and Blu-Ray deliver up to 192/24, which is as close to vinyl as you can get. DVD-Audio and Blu-Ray audio files are huge, but quality is -digitally- preserved. Whether most human ears can tell 48/16 from 192/24 files is an altogether different debate.

I think he is saying that there is nothing wrong with digital in terms of convenience. Digital does not mean mp3, though. Digital might mean high definition audio, too. He's suggesting that high-def lovers should be able to download high-def audio files -a process which can take several hours as opposed to downloading an mp3 recording in a few minutes- and enjoy them in compatible portable players instead of listening to crappy mp3 files. That's why he does not seem to care if mp3 files are freely distributed. They're indeed the new radio and you can't stop them, can you?
 

esart

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I understand what he's saying. I just didn't know the CD loss exactly. I didn't realize it was that much.

I always knew the mp3 was shite. I could hear it. The compression is just way too much. I can hear the difference in a .wav file and an mp3, but even a .wav file sounds super compressed to me too.

Thanks for clearing that up for me. You just made me feel even worse about getting rid of all my vinyl back in my late 20s when I needed rent. An event I seem to have never, ever forgiven myself for.
 

cirerita

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Vinyl used to be the ultimate panacea, but that's no longer the case. Blu-Ray audio files can deliver up to 192/24 and the sound quality -although digital- is almost as good as analog vinyl. Some people complain that even Blu-Ray can't reproduce the warmth and depth of vinyl, but I'm not that picky.

New audio digital formats will hopefully be in the market soon, allowing us to enjoy 192/24 files in our portable players. We won't need hi-fi equipments to enjoy fully, glorious uncompressed sound, and that's the really cool part because we will be able to buy either crappy mp3 or losless 192/24 PCM files, for instance. I know for sure where I'll be spending my $$$.
 

mjp

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the warmth and depth of vinyl...
Ears are ears and everyone's are different. But I'm pretty sure that the "warmth and depth of vinyl" is in your head. A lot of what people perceive as "warmth" in vinyl records are sonic artifacts of the medium - sound created by the vinyl itself.

Numbers regarding sampling or digital conversion are meaningless after they reach a certain point (and CD audio is way beyond that point), because sound is sampled from the minute you put a microphone in front of something to record it. It's sampled by every piece of equipment in the chain - the microphone, the cable connected to the microphone, the mixing board, the components connected to the mixing board, the magnetic tape - if you still roll old school like that - the thousands of wires and solder points inside the board and all those components, everything.

Everything in the recording process converts the sound/signal. Everything breaks what your ears hear down into little electrical or magnetic bits. If you looked at a piece of recording tape under a microscope what you would see is millions of little flakes of rust. And that's what stores the sound. In little bits. Sampled.

In any event, I've been comparing some of that "warm, deep" vinyl to CDs lately (due to the purchase in the sonic boom thread - along with some other new equipment), and the vinyl LPs and 45s are almost comically inferior to the well-mastered CDs. My dogs can hear the difference, and they say I should put the vinyl in the recycling bins. I won't, because, you know, dogs are kind of stupid, but I see their point.

Some of that difference has to do with the mastering stage, since you cannot master for vinyl from a flat master - it has to be EQed for vinyl. By "flat" master I mean a tape of the final mix that has not had any adjustments made to the bass, midrange, treble, etc. A flat master is an exact reproduction of what the people in the studio heard when they mixed the record. But you can master for digital/CD from a flat master, which potentially creates a superior end product. If you want to hear what they heard when they mixed in the studio. Of course all of that also depends on the skill of the person doing the mastering.

Now I'm putting even myself to sleep, so I'll stop.

In the scheme of things, as long as people are listening to music, and think the quality of the sound is important, that's great. If they think their LPs, 8 track tapes or Edison cylinders are sonic nirvana, cool. The purpose of all of this is to put the music into the air around you (not into little plastic things jammed into your earholes), and that's all that matters.

So crank it up, bitches.
New audio digital formats will hopefully be in the market soon, allowing us to enjoy 192/24 files in our portable players. We won't need hi-fi equipments to enjoy fully, glorious uncompressed sound, and that's the really cool part...
Without high quality digital to analog conversion, you will not ever enjoy high quality sound. Regardless of the source. Good stereo equipment uses expensive electronic components and giant, cumbersome power supplies to do really high quality digital to analog conversion. It isn't possible to get the same sound from a computer sound card or some little pocket device, even if you hook them up to a pair of thousand dollar speakers.

Will it be better than what people hear now? Hell yeah. But most people won't buy it anyway. If they have a choice between a large, expensive file and an MP3 (which they will, at least initially when higher quality formats are introduced), they'll still buy the 99 cent MP3.
 

esart

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It's so hard to believe... a digital sound that needs absolutely no analog conversion and/or good audio equipment. I would just have to sit and listen to the difference to let you know if that would actually be sufficient and/or superior to the set-up we currently have right now for both our vinyl and CD listening pleasures. It would be truly hard to beat it, and with crappy earplugs or whatever - yes, very hard to believe!
 

cirerita

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I don't listen to vinyl, so I don't know if there's any warmth and depth to them. But I've been comparing digital files for a long while, and while it's true that some properly mastered CDs sound great, I can hear a significant difference between those CDs and their equivalent Blu-Rays (using the same audio equipment, of course). I suspect that new high def formats will sound way better than CDs in most audio equipments, even in portable players.

It's obvious most people will keep buying mp3 files -basically because they're cheaper- but it will be nice to be able to buy high def portable audio files. It's all about quality and convenience.
Ears are ears ... So crank it up, bitches.
That's the perfect test, I think. Play a nicely mastered CD in your home equipment and then play the raw, uncompressed linear PCM files (in a Blu-Ray, for instance) using the same equipment, but play both discs as loud as you can. You'll hear and feel the differences immediately.
 

mjp

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Well, we can talk about Blu-Ray like it's a competing format for red book (standard) CD, but it's not. It's an optical disc progression. It's meant to replace CD, which it eventually will. Unless they come up with something "better" in the next few years, which is feasible the way things go in technology.

Blu-Ray is not a common format for music right now, it doesn't have traction so it could easily be superseded by The Next Great Thing. On the other hand, there are billions of music CDs out there, and they will continue to make them for the foreseeable future. If you are betting on a format for the long haul, Blu-Ray is a sucker's bet. Make room in your betamax tape closet for those Blu-Ray music discs. That's where they're going to end up.

Another thing that bugs the information should be free part of me (free as in freedom, not free as in no cost) is that Blu-Ray is just another tool the big companies can use to fuck you. You cannot region encode a CD, but you can region encode Blu-Ray discs. So just like DVDs, you'll eventually find that your Canadian Bon Hiver disc will not play in your friend's Mexican Blu-Ray player. Another wall Sony and BMG can throw up in your way. And throw it up they will.

As for sound, I couldn't tell you, because I don't (and likely won't ever) have a Blu-Ray player. The anti-digital-anti-CD comparison is always made between vinyl and CD, with people gushing about how alive and organic their LPs sound compared to the cold and sterile evil CDs.

But as someone who has spent way too much time (hundreds of hours) in recording studios all over the world, and sat through many long mastering sessions at Bernie Grundman in Hollywood, I can say that the sound you hear in the studio, the sound that musicians sit in there for weeks and months making, never, ever comes across on vinyl. But when I listen to (again, well-mastered) CDs on this fancy new rig here, I'm hearing the closest thing I've ever heard to that sound in the studio. And that's the sound I've been chasing ever since I started putting music down on tape, back in the 1890s.

Is a Blu-Ray disc going to sound better? I don't know. I don't know if it can. Like any high-end thing, there is a law of diminishing return after a certain point. Something that is "better than excellent" is rarely worth the extra cost that comes with it, because the improvement in the end experience is extremely negligible. You're usually talking about things that can be measured but not heard.

But like I said, I doubt I'll ever know because I doubt that the back catalogs of the big record companies are ever going to exist on Blu-Ray, and I'm not interested in hearing the shit that will end up on them. Now if Tuff Gong wants to release Bob Marley's catalog on Blu-Ray, I'll buy them all and I'll buy the world's best Blu-Ray player and hook it up over here and then I'll let you know.

Until then, there is not a better way to listen to those records than the raggedy old CDs that Tuff Gong released in the early 90s (the ones mastered by Barry Diament). Powah!

 

mjp

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This is a low-res world indeed, but it's turned into quite a high-res thread.
 

mjp

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Only if you don't think Bon Hiver is completely awesome. I'm pretty sure we can all agree that they/he are/is the finest achievement in popular music known in the history of mankind.
 

cirerita

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I couldn't care less about Blu-Ray. It's just a platform. I do care about music and right now Blu-Ray and the already forgotten DVD-A are the only platforms able to deliver uncompressed 192/24 audio files (stereo and/or surround). I'm sure Blu-Ray will be long forgotten in a few years time. Same with CDs. I don't think people use CDs that much nowadays anyway.

Most likely, the New Format -whatever that is- will be disc-less, and it will be delivered in memory sticks, compact hard-drives or, quite possibly, SSD.
 

mjp

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uncompressed 192/24 audio files...
Where do you get these, by the way? Which labels have 192/24 catalog releases? Where can I get the Stooges Funhouse or maybe The Beatles Revolver in that format?
 

mjp

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I've been doing a lot of research on this, because I'm crazy like that, and charmingly obsessive.

As you might suspect, there is very little consensus on something as subjective as "good sound." But a lot of people who care about quality sound seem to agree on a few things.
  1. Your stereo system is not of sufficient quality to reproduce the measurable difference between "high res" (192 kHz) and CD (44.1 kHz) sound. That applies to everyone reading this (unless you happen to own a $100,000 mastering studio monitoring system).
  2. In every double blind test conducted so far, no one has been able to tell the difference between 16 and 24 bit audio. Not one human being. Ever. Anywhere.
  3. The mastering step of the process is much more important than format or resolution.
  4. The market has always dictated format and the market has absolutely no interest in high res audio.
You could argue that there might be a very small niche audience that could make #4 debatable, and audio freaks will debate #1 with you until the end of time, but double blind tests are not debatable.

Regarding #3, I have always suspected as much, but now I have seen the light, and I know this to be the good lord's truth. Some of the aforementioned audio freaks turned me on to a man named Barry Diament. He does mastering. He did the entire Marley catalog for Tuff Gong/Island in 1990, and those discs sound incredible. Compared to vinyl, the 1980s Island CDs, the two disc Island "Deluxe editions," and the current Tuff Gong CDs (which were all remastered again and include "bonus tracks" now).

If you have a favorite artist, find out if Diament ever mastered or remastered any of their work and hunt those discs down. You will not be disappointed. The Wailers discs he worked on have been out of print for some time, but they are pretty easy to identify and find on the used market as they all have Barry's name displayed prominently on the back cover. I don't know if that's the case with everything he works on though.

---

It's important to remember that this is all hair splitting regarding a subjective issue. People who are obsessed with measuring sound waves and calculating numbers debate these things. People who are obsessed with music - not so much. They just want to be moved and feel something. And the truth is you don't need a stereo system that cost more than your car to find that.

But anyway, hooray for Neil Young. I still think advocates for quality (in everything) are important. And Neil Young is punk rock, so I have to admire and respect him. But he may as well be standing on top of a mountain shouting at the sky.
 

cirerita

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Format does not matter, that's just the business end of the whole thing. What matters here is trying to preserve quality and make it available for those who want it.

I don't know about blind tests, but I can tell you I can hear and feel difference between the old The Dark Side of the Moon CDs I have and the brand new Blu-Ray, which "only" delivers 96/24. And I don't think you can argue that the mastering of the CDs was poor as it was done by sound freaks. That record was engineered by Alan Parsons, who was (is) yet another sound freak. The original quadraphonic master as recorded by Parsons is simply glorious, and now it's available on the Blu-Ray on 96/24 as well.

I think the differences become more obvious when you really crank up your system. At a high volume, CDs seem to struggle while the 96/24 PCM linear files in the Blu-Ray simply pound away effortlessly.
 

mjp

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Sorry, I edited this becasue I misread part of your original post.
And I don't think you can argue that the mastering of the CDs was poor as it was done by sound freaks. That record was engineered by Alan Parsons...
But who did the mastering? On older CDs (early/mid 1980s) it was likely an assembly-line job done by whichever engineer was in the record company's mastering studio when they got to "P" in the alphabet.

Sometimes they didn't even make a new master for CD, they used the masters that were EQed for vinyl! That's why so many early CDs sound bad, because you don't EQ the master the same way for vinyl and CD. You need two very different masters.

They undoubtedly took more time with later remasters, but who did it makes a significant difference. The engineer of the multi-track studio master tapes makes no difference in mastering, they are not involved (or I should say they are very, very rarely involved). Two different skills.

Audio-only Blu-Ray is still a rarity, and they spend inordinate amounts of time on each one because they are supposed to be showcases. I would expect them to be very well done.

The main point that I've taken away from every discussion and article I've read on the subject is that mastering is the most important aspect of the sound regardless of sampling rates, bitrate or format.

So if the mastering was done meticulously on the Blu-Ray and was just an assembly line job on the CD, the Blu-Ray is going to sound better. And vice versa.

But that's an interesting subject too, and one that is often brought up in these discussions; the fact that mastering for CD and for Blu-Ray are different (as is mastering for vinyl), so comparing the discs is ultimately going to be difficult.
I don't know about blind tests...
That's what everyone who claims to be able to hear the difference between 16 and 24 bit says. Because the blind tests prove that they are not hearing what they think they are hearing.

Some of these people even claimed to hear differences when the same recording was played for them twice.

Placebo.
 

cirerita

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I don't see any benefit in blindly believing that Blu-Rays sound better than CDs. They are way more expensive than CDs. If they sounded the same, I would buy CDs and save a few bucks. But they don't, at least not the ones I have compared.
 

mjp

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if the mastering was done meticulously on the Blu-Ray and was just an assembly line job on the CD, the Blu-Ray is going to sound better. And vice versa.
 

cirerita

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Yes, but last time I looked I couldn't find that info on my CDs or Blu-Rays. You get name of the sound engineer, but there are usually no specifications as to how careful/careless the mastering process was.
 

hank solo

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If you're talking about the Pink Floyd 'Immersion Editions', they're a completely different animal compared to the earlier CD editions, regardless of the format.

When someone takes the time to really work on a (re)master, it does make a difference. Older CDs were often just sloppily done. Not always - but often.
 

cirerita

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they're a completely different animal compared to the earlier CD editions...
Yes and no. They do include demos, alternate takes, 5.1 surround and quadraphonic mixes done in 2011, the original quadraphonic mix by Parsons in the case of The Dark Side, a couple of never-heard-before songs, etc. But the core music is esentially the same. I have not compared the 2011 CD edition against the 2011 Blu-Ray edition, but I have compared the old CDs against the 2011 Blu-Ray edition, and I can hear and feel the difference. I can't remember who mastered the old CDs, but I would be surprised if they were poorly mastered.

Too bad there's no Immersion edition for Meddle, though. That's the one I really wanted to listen to in HD.
 

hank solo

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... I can hear a significant difference between those CDs and their equivalent Blu-Rays (using the same audio equipment, of course)...
... I have not compared the 2011 CD edition against the 2011 Blu-Ray edition, but I have compared the old CDs against the 2011 Blu-Ray edition...

I've heard the 2011 CD version (they called it the 'Experience Version' but I'm sure its the same CD they put in the boxset) and it does sound better than the 1990s CD copy so it makes sense that the Blu-ray will sound better than the older CD too. The Blu-ray must be technically better due to the improved sample rate but the debate about human hearing abilities seems endless.

I think the best bet is to build a studio/concert room in my home, a time machine, a shrink ray and a cryogenic freezing unit - then travel through time and kidnap the various bands I like to listen to, shrink them and their gear etc, bring them to the present and keep them frozen until I want them to knock out some tunes for me. Easy.
 
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