Neil Young says that he spent years designing his music archive, which he unveiled Friday — and it shows.
The massive collection, which represents the total output of his career dating back 54 years — and then some — is Young’s latest nod to one of his enduring passions: high quality audio. He last took up arms against crappy sound with his now-discontinued Pono portable digital audio player and download service. It promised super high quality audio, and largely delivered on that, but as Pono set out on its maiden voyage, there were a number of icebergs waiting out there to seal its fate.
There are now multiple generations who have grown up listening via low quality earbuds to music which has been compressed within an inch of its life; having never felt the warm embrace of a carefully mastered album with its dynamic range intact (much of Bruce Hornsby‘s early output comes to mind), they’re not particularly interested in shelling out almost $500 Canadian for a standalone player when they have a device in their pocket which can not only store and play music — albeit considerably less of it — but also handle phone calls, text messages, games and a plethora of other things. Toss in abysmal battery life, downloadable albums which leaned into comparatively expensive territory, lack of WiFi and Bluetooth, and a Toblerone-esque form factor which got plenty of dragging out of the gate, and you have a well-intentioned product waiting to not happen. Alas, poor overhyped Pono: we hardly knew ye.
If you really still want one, you can probably find one discounted to around $300. Which is good news for me, if the battery in my 120GB Microsoft Zune ever decides to pack it in and I decide that having my available storage cut in half isn’t a dealbreaker.
The archive, though, with its steampunkish “filing cabinet” user interface, all-encompassing selection, and high quality streaming technology which adapts to the user’s available bandwidth at any given moment, is a different ballgame. For one thing, assuming you already have a PC with an Internet connection, all it will cost you is your valuable time: Young says access to the archives will be free until Saturday June 30, after which he’ll charge a “reasonable fee”. It’s also a lot of fun to dig around in, and as you might expect from a seasoned vet like Young, there are some nice retro touches: when you’re waiting for the system to process a request, instead of the hourglass or hypnowheel, you get a spinning 45RPM adapter, for example.
You’ll also see some animations here and there which add to the experience, and uncover additional information on the tracks.
There are also extensive instructions on how to get the best audio quality, since your average PC may not have the necessary hardware and software to natively reproduce the 192kHz/24 bit files which are found on the site. Said instructions contain links to various manufacturers of ostensibly better-than-average audio equipment, such as Koss, NAD, Ayre and others. My Dell XPS8700 with 24GB of RAM on a 120MB/sec connection didn’t make it to the top end, but it didn’t do all that badly, either.
And, if you find yourself completely lost, have no fear: The Godfather Of Grunge himself has produced a handy video which will show you most of what you need to know in order to navigate the site.