"Bose and Beats...are all about the back end of the donkey." Neil Young

Thanks to reader Mr. T for pointing us to this more recent and more extensive interview with Neil Young on AllThingsD.com where he expands on his distaste for the MP3.

Here are few choice quotes:

"Bose and Beats...are all about the back end of the donkey."

"Piracy is the new radio."

"When Steve Jobs went home, he listened to vinyl."

deckeda's picture

I don't think Mossberg (politely clueless) and Peter Kafka (smugly confrontational?) got it. At all.

- Kafka not understanding why better formats should exist, since all anyone has is the "donkey's ass".

- Kafka wanting to steer Young into a pat "Piracy Is Bad" agreement instead of listening to Young assertion it's not bad or good, it just "is."

Truth is, at first I thought the guy on the left was Michael Dell. Another All Things D link revealed it wasn't.

Not as sure about the claim of Jobs and vinyl unless Young had Diane Walker's 1982 photograph in mind (every audiophile's favorite image of Steve Jobs.) On the other hand, if he and Jobs really were having discussions about hi rez audio that's pretty cool. At any rate I'm OK with Young's usage of Jobs' reputation to say that it would have happened.

Sumflow's picture


Submitted by deckeda :> Not as sure about the claim of Jobs and vinyl .. On the other hand, if he and Jobs really were having discussions about hi rez audio that's pretty cool. 

Neil owns most of the vacant land up near Job's house.  Being neighbors it is very likely they eat at the same restaurants, went to the same feed store, and talked about music.

mward's picture

Michael Fremer had a piece in Stereophile a while back detailing a tiff between he an Walt Mossberg that made it pretty apparent Mossberg doesn't respect or understand high-end audio. Sadly, MF's columns don't seem to be archived on Stereophile's site (at least, not that I could find), but the piece is referenced in this Gizmodo profile of MF: 


So—I'm not surprised to hear you characterize Mossberg as "politely clueless". 

deckeda's picture

emphasize, it would have been to ask, "If I told you you're only getting 5-30% of the data the artist recorded---through no fault of your own equipment---would you want the rest?"

That would have been more interesting, because it opens the door for several (most?) to say, "Actually, I don't think so, because what I'm getting now sounds fine."

It also starts a conversation about why another 70-95% doesn't necessarily equal "70-95% better sound quality" (whatever that might mean) and yet it's still worth making available.

The talk about piracy and the crappy sound of most delivery mechansims, historical and current, were unecessary distractions to the main point.

No one seems to question why super-fast street cars are offered; the appeal seems apparent because those are largely visual fantasies, like pornography. Yet quality audio seems buried in self-esteem expectations, quick/absolute criteria for good-enough and the temptation to project personal values onto others.

OMG high end audio is like talking politics: the use of many words and opinions in the attempt to wrap one's head around amorphous, intangibles.

Music Monkey's picture

The hosts are obviously hopelessly lost, but Neil Young is fascinating to listen to. It gives me encouragement to hear someone of his stature talking about this, because people are likely to listen to what he says (even if the show hosts are too dim to get it). 

Sumflow's picture


Music Monkey:>  The hosts are obviously hopelessly lost

They have to appear that way so that the audience will identify with them and be persuaded.  If they were really clueless they would not have him on there show. 

halitun's picture

Great to hear Neil Young speak on the topic of music quality.  I loved his view of mp3 as the modern day radio.  It makes sense.  When we were younger we'd make tapes from the radio on a crappy mono tape recorder so we could listen to our favorite songs.  We'd often do it in the middle of the night because there were fewer commercials.  We'd listen to the tapes a lot; but when we had some money we'd go and buy the albums so we could hear it in better quality.  

Today, we finally have the vinyl equivelant in the digital world to the crappy MP3 downloads; high res 24/192.  It requires a good DAC but they are getting cheaper and better every few months.  And like Neil says, it's comparable to vinyl and reel to reel.  Just get a good DAC (front end of the Donkey), download some albums from HDTracks.com or other high res purveyor and you'll be getting the other 95% and loving it!  It would be great if he's right about Apple and they can pull off a hi res/hi fi ipod, but that will be difficult.

When people hear the difference they quickly realize that what they've been hearing through MP3s and Ipods is definitely lower quality (I don't disagree that an Ipod is conveniently portable and enjoyable; like the old tapes we made).  I see it when my kids bring their friends over and play Bruno Mars or some other favorite of theirs through the DAC - there's always a comment like "wow - amazing sound".

Let's hear more from Neil - a refreshing view from an old rocker.

Sumflow's picture


Halitun :>  Just get a good DAC (front end of the Donkey)

You miss the point, the Dac is not the front end of the Donkey.  The Dac is the extreme back end of the digital donkey, where the numbers spew out as a signal about variances in frequency and amplitude. The front end of the Donkey is the artist singing into the Donkey's face.