Bill Ford, the scion of the Ford Motor Company, the former CEO and currently the executive chairman, had an unexpected visitor. In a cape.
“Three months ago, Neil Young came to see me with a music proposal for cars,” Ford (right) told me at dinner during the Detroit Auto Show. “Today’s digital MP3 format is horrible,” he quotes Young as saying. “The only truly good format is the vinyl LP —you can hear my fingers bearing down on the frets.”
Young releases his archival material in Blu-ray, yes, the same format as high-def TV. He wanted Ford to put music-friendly Blu-ray players in cars, but it’s a decidedly uphill battle. “We looked into at Young's stuff but it wasn't that user-friendly,” said Ford. “We decided it was a music format that only real purists would know about.” The meeting impressed Ford's kids, though.
Here’s the thing: If you want the definitive version of Neil Young Archives, Vol. 1: 1963-1972 you have to cough up $349 for the 11-disc Blu-ray box. The CDs are just $100, and probably good enough for mere mortals. CNET says don’t waste your money:
The Blu-ray features ultrahigh resolution 24-bit /192 kHz stereo sound, which you can play over some newer AV receivers, but I'm not so sure that any high-end electronics can access the superduper-sounding PCM tracks. Surround sound? Only one disc has surround. Blu-ray sound quality is about the same as the previously released 24 bit/96 kHz sound on the DVDs that came out years ago. Don't buy the Blu-ray box for the sound; the DVDs are fine.
Young just attended News Corp’s D:Dive Into Media conference in California, and he’s still talking about this stuff, and bringing the late Steve Jobs in as a co-conspirator in devising better digital audio. According to Young, despite inventing the iPod, Jobs went home and listened to his beloved Beatles and Bob Dylan on vinyl albums. One imagines he probably bought them in every known format.
The bombshell is that Young says he and Jobs were collaborating on a successor to the MP3, which holds only about 5 percent of the original recording. “I talked to Steve about it,” he said. “We were working on it. You’ve got to believe if he lived long enough he would eventually try to do what I’m trying to do.”
Blu-ray for all! Unfortunately, music files in that format are huge, requiring a half-hour download per track. You’d get 100 percent of the music data, like listening on the studio monitors, but you’d also end up with only 30 albums on your iPod. Young says just leave the device to download overnight. “Sleep well. Wake up in the morning. Play some real music and listen to the joy of 100 percent of the sound of music,” Young said.
CNN reported a year ago that Apple has been talking with record executives about making high-def files compatible with iPods, and there’s probably a market for that among the same kind of people who pay a premium for “virgin vinyl” records.
I don’t get it myself. MP3s aren’t ideal, but I can get 40,000 CDs on my (modified) iPod, not 30. I don’t want my hair to turn white while I’m downloading a Beatles (or Neil Young) album I already own in six other formats.
One thing Young said is rather novel: “Piracy is the new radio,” he said. “I look at the Internet as [taking its place]. I look at the radio as gone.” Theft is "how music gets around." But, of course, listeners are enjoying the “new radio” mostly in the MP3 format, downloaded off locker sites like the now-shuttered Megaupload.
I'd love to see the audio set-up Young, a noted car collector, has in his retro LincVolt, which is a series hybrid using a generator fired by cellulosic ethanol (as seen above).
Here's a video ad for the Archives box. In Swedish: