I’m not a Neil Young fan. I don’t really like most of his music, though I have enjoyed some of it. I appreciate him more as a songwriter than as a performer. But what I really don’t like about Neil Young is his recent refactoring into becoming a useful idiot for people who want to get rich quick by selling audiophiles on lossless, high-resolution music devices and services that charge premiums for music that doesn’t really sound any different to what you’d find on a CD or even on Apple Music.
There was the Pono Player, which Ars Technica likened to a shot of snake oil. He went on stage at tech conferences and explained that even if you couldn’t hear the differences between analog and digital audio, you could feel them, maaaan.
Young’s latest Old Man Yells At Digital Cloud moment came on the Vergecast, where he went on a rant about MacBooks and audio that was… something.
The Loop’s Jim Dalrymple took it apart:
So what exactly is Young arguing here? Does he not know the quality of the DAC gear is high-quality enough to make an album, even on a MacBook Pro? Is there a specific album he thinks is poorly recorded? I sure would like to know the answer to that one…. To me, Young seems to be arguing something that is halfway between “analog is better,” and for some reason, “the MacBook Pro sucks.” He’s just confusing all kinds of thoughts that don’t fit together at all.
As Jim points out, not only does the MacBook Pro have a pretty good audio system, but laptops have enabled musicians (and people who dream of being musicians) to create sketches, demos, and even full-fledged releases when they might otherwise have let the inspiration slip through their fingers. And there’s a long line of musicians, Grammy-winning and otherwise, who use Apple’s hardware and tools to create their work.
In the end, Jim’s post is left with more questions than answers, because it’s unclear what Young is really arguing here. Let me boil Young’s argument down to a single paragraph:
It’s not about money. It’s not about hits. It’s about quality. It’s about sound. It’s about museum quality. It’s about the real thing. The facts. The real sound. What happened when you opened your mouth and sang? What went into the air? That’s what we’re not getting with the new technology.
It’s just more of the analog woo woo that Young has been ranting about for years now. What went into the air, Neil? More of your nonsensical hot air.
(Update: Thanks to Marco Arment for reminding me about this classic piece from 2013 about Young’s folly.)