Rocker Young: Steve Jobs and I discussed higher-quality digital downloads

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Neil Young says that he talked to former Apple CEO Steve Jobs about offering higher-quality digital music downloads, but that since Jobs’s death, discussion with Apple on the matter has ceased.

Speaking at the D: Dive Into Media conference, Young claimed that modern digital music formats are so highly compressed that 95 percent of the audio content is thrown away. (This is a highly debatable claim, but suffice it to say that Young isn’t happy that most music today is sold in a lossy, relatively low-bit-rate format.)

Young doesn’t have a company to plug or a solution to the problem. In fact, he turned to the largely well-heeled audience at the conference as said he needed “a rich guy, someone out there” to lead the charge for better music quality. But he did say he had been talking to one particular rich guy: Steve Jobs.

“I was talking to Steve about it,” Young said. “We were working on it.” When asked by conference co-host Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal what was happening with that now, Young suggested that no discussions were ongoing.

“Steve Jobs was a pioneer of digital music, and his legacy is tremendous,” Young said. “But when he went home, he listened to vinyl. And you’ve gotta believe that if he’d lived long enough, he would have eventually done what I’m trying to do.”

Neil Young (right) talks to Peter Kafka and Walt Mossberg at the D: Dive Into Media conference. (Photo courtesy of AllThingsD)

Young likened speakers and headphones to “the back end of the donkey,” suggesting that the problem with music quality is not in the output methods, but in the lower-quality input formats. 

“The ears are the window to the soul,” Young said. “You feel what you hear. When you take away 95 percent of the nutritional value, you feel it…. Music is great. Let the people have 100 percent, or 99 percent. Occupy audio!”

Young said that other high-resolution formats, such as Super Audio CD and DVD Audio, failed because of poor marketing and business decisions. He cited Sony’s control over the SACD format and the focus on multichannel audio for DVD-Audio.

“The woman of the house doesn’t want five boxes out there,” Young said. “They’ve should’ve made DVD Audio a stereo thing, but they [didn’t, and they] failed.” 

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