Feb 182013

loureedthewayI’ve been making my way through Neil Young‘s memoir, Waging Heavy Peace. It’s rambling and slow going but not without its charms. Every 10 pages Young turns from the story of his life and music making to what I gather are his main concerns: toy trains, energy-efficient old cars, and some new audio technology that will enable drivers of these green behemoth vehicles to listen to Lou Reed’s latest music as it was meant to sound. Shoot, not even Lou will know how his music is actually meant to sound until he rides around in Neil’s 140-acre ranch in his souped-up 1952 convertible Cadillac with his high-tech audio delivery device cranked to the high heavens.

I love how Young and Reed go on at great lengths about their high-minded audiophile dreams when their legacy has been established with some of the most primitive-sounding records to appear on a major label. T-Bone Burnett is also working on some mind-blowing audio technology that will allow his purposely pristine-yet-primitive, “pure” productions to sound as if they are being broadcast directly from Plato’s Cave. At least Burnett’s recordings actually sound about as accomplished as he would like them to sound, even on our inferior delivery devices.

Someday I expect to run across an old Chuck Berry interview, in which he bemoans the state of late-1950s recording and playback technology.



  7 Responses to “Lou Reed…As His Music Was Meant to Sound!”

  1. 2000 Man

    I watched that newer Neil Young movie by Jonathan Demme the other night. When Neil spit on the camera under the microphone I understood that sometimes Rock N’ Roll is a little dirty and gross, but they needed to quit using that camera because I couldn’t tell you what song Neil was singing while that goober sat right in the middle of the lens.

    Anywya, Neil lost a lof of audiophile cred to me when he’s was driving to Massey Hall and said that almost all of his litening was done in cars, and he didn’t care if it was just “one speaker this big” (he made a three inch circle with his fingers). He could tell how good a song was right there. Maybe that’s why I think his old Reprise records sound as good as his new Archival releases. And they’re WAY cheaper. But it’s funny that he’d say in print what an audiophile he is and then on camera admit he only listens on crappy car radios.

  2. saturnismine

    Hmmmm….I haven’t read Neil’s latest audiophile rants, but up to the point where I followed him, his musings on the subject made sense.

    Certainly, it’s a complex morass of thoughts that have changed over time as recording and audio technology has changed. Of course, he has a right to evolve, like anyone. So we certainly can’t use the sound of a 1975 release against something he said in 1995 or 2005. At least, if we do so, it is at our own peril.

    He was eager to try digital recording methods in the 80s and then renounced them. Is he back on board now?

    Maybe he has slowly changed his tune since David Briggs died. Briggs’ mantra was that in the recording process, there needed to be as few machines as possible between the the instrument (or vocal signal) and the point where it hit the tape. Thus, the vocals on Tonights’ the Night aren’t even compressed. And it seems that lots of Neil’s proclamations on recording come from that purity.

    But 2k, his proclamation that you can tell a good song from a dog on any size speaker has as much to with a recording philosophy as it does songwriting; a well written song, recorded the right way, will sound good on anything.

    And he’s not alone in expressing his faith in the car stereo / transistor radio as a gauge of a recording’s success. In fact, he’s in the majority. Engineers, producers, and musicians do this all the time. Anything sounds great on expensive hi-tech studio speakers. But if it sounds good in a tin-can-and-string setup, then it was done the right way.

  3. The technology is called PureTone, or Pono. Here’s a little piece I found on it. I’m sure the links will lead to more information.


    I find it funny that Young is this advocate of deeper, richer recording technology when he excelled at making the kind of records that sound great coming out of a 3-inch car speaker on an actual gas-guzzling 1952 convertible Cadillac. How different can the mp3s coming out of the iPod plugged into the auxiliary jack of my Toyota sound? I’m still hearing great songs. I’m still getting the kick. Yeah, I will go to my grave preferring the sound of my scratchy, old vinyl played through my tube amp, but I’m cool with the fact that part of my enjoyment is owing to my fetishistic experience with the gear I grew up learning was the best way to experience recorded music. I don’t feel the need to validate my mp3s by awaiting the development of a new technology that will somehow make the music sound like it’s actually the sound of a slab of vinyl being broadcast from a radio tower in Kansas, coming out of a 3-inch car speaker…but better than even that ever sounded! When I want to hear a great song, I’ll hear it in the nearest available format and dig it for all it’s worth.

    Along with my “big boy” tube stereo I’ve also got some mini-tube stereo, by the way, that is the best-sounding music playing device in my house. It’s got a pair of small speakers. I plug my iPod into it, and everything sounds the way it was meant to sound. Should I fear my head would explode if I ever get the chance to hook a Pono player up to this stereo?

  4. alexmagic

    Chuck is probably more of a videophile than an audiophile.

  5. saturnismine

    Yeah…I’ve long argued that anyone who claims they can hear the difference between a cd and vinyl has his head in his poop chute.

    I love my vinyl the same way you do, mod; I still listen through panasonic thrusters.

    Recently, on a lark, a former roomie of mine, a vinyl apologist of the highest order, submitted himself to a blindfold comparison of Pet Sounds the cd, Pet Sounds the vinyl, and Pet Sounds the mp3. He couldn’t tell the difference. Just couldn’t tell.

    So it’s interesting that this article on Pono has flea proclaiming that we don’t need “dog’s ears” to hear how much greater it is, right alongside Neils proclamation that mp3’s don’t communicate the depth of the art.

    I love Neil, but he’s full of shit on that point.

    I also love the romantic notion that these “lossy” little files are inferior to the vinyl I got “manufactured by Columbia house under license,” or the 180 gram release of the latest Spiritualized album. But it came with a digital download, and played side by side, they both sound great.

    There’s a new Photon Band album coming out, vinyl and digital. I’m on the inside of this process now. I’ll have more to say about it when I’m out the other end. But at the moment, it’s looking more and more like the sound of the vinyl release will be a departure from the files I submitted, a compromise of sorts, subject to the clarity (or lack thereof) and quality of communication between me and the guy at the pressing plant, while the digital release, though “lossy,” will, of course, have a nearly 1 to 1 fidelity to the original files I submitted, even to the trained ear.

  6. 2000 Man

    I’m pretty far from an audiophile. I like records because I just do. Probably as much because I usually listen to one side, then listen to something else entirely, and those 20 minute bursts seem to keep things interesting to me. An 80 minute Drive By Truckers cd is probably something I love to death, but that’s a long time to commit! Sound wise, cd’s and vinyl are both just fine if you ask me. If we could all really tell, we’d demand SACD.

    My complaint with Neil is that if a song is great on a three inch speaker, then to me, that’s probably got as much to do with the production as it does the songwriting. So it would seem with Neil. So why would he delay the digital release of American Stars N’ Bars based on the fact that it wouldn’t sound good digitally? Sure it does, and it’s not like when he finally let them do it they went to the master tapes and really did it up right. They just ended up releasing it with little to no fanfare and it was like a 12.99 cd. So I think it had to do with maybe Neil isn’t all that impressed with that album, and if that’s the case, he shoulda said so. Because the songs themselves “sound” just fine.

    I can tell some mp3’s. I rip all mine at 192 variable bitrate and they sound just fine to me. But I’ve heard a lot of 128’s (like Saturday Night Shut In) and I think the cymbals sound kind of swooshy, but for finding out if you like a song, it seems as good as radio to me. Just a little higher bitrate and I bet I can’t tell anymore. I don’t even have any tube equipment like Mr. Mod. I’m good with solid state, and I’ve aways felt that the “entry level” audiophile stuff sounded exactly the same as the more expensive stuff up to the point where it starts costing as much as a car. I’ll admit, an all McIntosh system is pretty stunning! But I’ll never have one because I can’t see myself ever having that much money to blow on listening to music, which I already feel like I hardly get to do.

  7. I’d probably be able to discern the variance in qualities were I not on a four-decade streak of listening to all formats so friggin’ loudly


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