Digital cameras make a good analogy here. Only recently has the typical point and shoot digital camera matched up to the quality of a half-decent 35mm camera. Most phones are still quite a bit lower in quality. But phone cameras an digital point and shoot are insanely popular and have been for a number of years.
The majority of folks just don't care. What they need is simply to capture an image, not reproduce an image as faithfully to real life as is possible. The same holds with music. Yes, some people want to come as close to concert hall as possible, but most people don't want or need that. They're happy just be be able to carry around a bunch of songs.
It's not a technology issue. It's one of what the consumer needs and is willing to pay for. Clearly consumers are willing to pay for the audio quality available in today's Mp3s.
I don't buy the golden ear crap either. Those folks just somehow fancy themselves more worthy of wasting their own money. But hey, they keep the economy ticking along by making Monster Cable folks very rich. ;-P
The loss of sound quality associated with CD's has less to do with the medium and its associated signal processing, but what the recording companies do to the audio when they "re-master" for CD's. The loudness issue is one that is (relatively) well-known.
The headline is a bit misleading. Consumers said no to MP3s years ago, and what Neil Young was actually complaining about (I followed the link and read the article) was the loss of quality of even today's most popular iTunes format -- 256kbps AAC -- and the CD format itself.
As others have alluded to, fidelity requirements vary with listening environment. I have no problem with 256kbps VBR AAC when listening in the car, or even with good earbuds on my iPhone or iPod Touch. But when playing digital audio through my home system, I would prefer something better. I agree with jfa2525, there should be an option to buy hi-res formats, which indeed would bring in extra revenue and be a win-win for everyone.
SACD never took off, despite it's effective 20-bit resolution and wide frequency response, but that may have more to do with it being yet another plastic disc than with a perceived lack of demand by consumers for higher quality. Wouldn't it be nice if iTunes offered SACD or even higher quality downloads at a premium price?
It figures a bunch of electrical engineers would pooh pooh the sound of vinyl, but a whole lot of audio engineers, musicians and audiofiles definitively know it sounds better. This is not something the average listener cares about. The ultimate listening devices are those things hanging off the side of your head, coupled with some lumpy matter inside of it. Trained ears can tell the difference between vinyl, digital, mp3, 24bit, 192kHz, tape, lossless, etc, etc - but not all trained listeners will agree either. There is a market for high resolution music, just not a mass market.
eClassical.com offers FLAC for the same price as 320 kb/s mp3s (you get both for the same price), and also has many 24-bit recordings for download. And they have a 1/2 price daily special for about $5. So try it and compare.
To my ears, what mp3s give up is spatial resolution, especially on loud orchestral passages. Things get muddied.
There should be an option to purchase high resolution audio formats at a premium price, and the new players should automatically recognize and play whatever file format it is given. This will create a new premium market for audiophiles while generating additional revenue for artists and recording companies. I like it, we all win! :-)
Let's face it. While tooling down the road in an automobile, MP3 is just fine and a very efficient way to listen to a lot of music without disc changers and the like. At home, I still have my 1980's direct drive turn-table I bought when I was in college and of course the CD player that I have hooked up to the Hi-Fi. ;o)
A lot of the argument coming from those who favor vinyl is based on a sense of nostalgia. The needle contacting the record, the static pops, the background noise, etc.; all bring us back to the 60's and 70's. You'll hear the term "warmth" bandied about, essentially replacing the term "noise." For similar reasons guitarists still prefer vacuum-tube amplifiers over solid state. I contend that a lot of the benefits of the digital format have been compressed out in an effort to make the music suitable for things like i-Pods. I would bet that in double-blind tests, many of these myths would be busted. Maybe this is something to send to Jamie and Adam.