Neil Young Calls Vinyl Comeback a 'Fashion Statement' Amidst High-Quality Audio Quest

Neil Young
AP Photo/John Locher

Neil Young speaks during a session at the International CES Wednesday, Jan. 7, 2015, in Las Vegas. 

As we've pointed out, there's a lack of scientific consensus that even the most trained ears are capable of appreciating the kind of hi-res digital audio found on pricey players like Neil Young's Pono. Young begs to differ, obviously, and has spent a considerable amount of time knocking lower-res formats. But what's this… now he's even taking some digs at vinyl?

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In an interview with the Frame radio show, Young calls the uptick in vinyl sales the product of a clever switcheroo by labels cashing in on the latest "fashion statement."

"A lot of people that buy vinyl today don't realize that they're listening to CD masters on vinyl and that's because the record companies have figured out that people want vinyl," Young said. "And they're only making CD masters in digital, so all the new products that come out on vinyl are actually CDs on vinyl, which is really nothing but a fashion statement."

Vinyl is definitely in fashion. Sales of the format were actually one of the biggest bright spots in an otherwise bleak sales year in 2014. Sales of vinyl albums grew by 52 percent in 2014 to 9.2 million copies, up from 6.1 million in 2013. One can go back and forth on the merits and myths of vinyl until the sun sets, but there's a point to be made that -- fashion statement or no -- getting consumers puchasing music, and enjoying it, is a net positive for everyone.

Young has made much of his crusade against low-quality recordings, telling a packed room at SXSW last year: "When all the artists and engineers, all the arrangers and musicians that played on giant tracks by people like Phil Spector, with 12 tambourines and two pianos... all of [that] started to die -- it was the most amazing thing, this vibrant creative culture started to go away. And it was because of the MP3 and the cheapening of the quality to the point where it was practically unrecognizable."

Yahoo columnist David Pogue recently conducted a blind experiment pitting the Pono against an iPhone, with both playing the same songs, and found his test subjects actually preferred the phone. Young responded to Pogue's test by citing his own.

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"Of approximately 100 top-seed artists who compared Pono to low resolution MP3s, all of them heard and felt the Pono difference, rewarding to the human senses, and is what Pono thinks you deserve to hear," he said.

"The issue isn't about Pono versus any particular columnist, this is about high-resolution audio generally. Some will appreciate it, and if they can't tell the difference, they shouldn't buy it," Phil Baker, vp of product development and operations at Pono, tells Billboard.

What Young fails to mention is that most people don't listen to "low resolution MP3s" anymore -- Apple's iTunes files come in 16-bit/256Kbps AAC format. Pono songs go as high as 24 bit/192kHz.