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Neil Young, Hard-Working Audiophile, Invents New Kind of MP3

Neil Young / Photo by Kevin Mazur/WireImage

Neil Young was not joking when a few months after Steve Jobs’ death, he told the world that he and the consumer electronics luminary had been developing high-quality audio products. The legendary songwriter has indeed been working on a “high-resolution audio alternative to the MP3 format,” and he’s been making arrangements with the government to get it made official.

As Rolling Stone reports, Young filed a series of six trademarks via his Vapor Records label in June 2011, months before Jobs’ October death, for the words “Ivanhoe,” “21st Century Record Player,” “Earth Storage,” “Storage Shed,” “Thanks for Listening,” and “SQS” (the latter an acronym for Studio Quality Sound). According to the legal documents, the trademarks will be used for “online and retail store services featuring music and artistic performances; high resolution music downloadable from the Internet; high resolutions discs featuring music and video; [and] audio and video recording storage and playback.” Sounds exactly like that fancy iPod Young claims to have been developing with Jobs, doesn’t it?

Rolling Stone also points out that in a press release for Young’s forthcoming memoir (tentatively titled Waging Heavy Peace), his publisher casually (intentionally or not) let slip the name and function of the new audiophile project: “Young is also personally spearheading the development of Pono, a revolutionary new audio music system presenting the highest digital resolution possible, the studio quality sound that artists and producers heard when they created their original recordings. Young wants consumers to be able to take full advantage of Pono’s cloud-based libraries of recordings by their favorite artists and, with Pono, enjoy a convenient music listening experience that is superior in sound quality to anything ever presented.”

Young has always been a pioneer for audiophilia, having had a strong hand in the remastering of his albums over the years (in specific, expensive formats) and repeatedly bitching about the crappy quality of digital music. “When I started making records, we had a hundred percent of the sound,” he said at a California conference earlier this year. “And then you listen to it as an MP3 at the same volume — people leave the room. It hurts… It’s not that digital is bad or inferior. It’s that the way it’s being used is not sufficient to transfer the depth of the art.”

It’ll be awhile before we see Pono — or Ivanhoe, or whatever it’ll eventually be called — manifest on the market, as Young has about a year’s worth of paperwork to do before even registering his trademarks (there’ll be a period during which other trademark holders will be able to contest his applications’ harmfulness to their own business). But we’re going to sit back and have fun with those trademark names for the time being — especially the passive-aggressive “Earth Storage” snub to the cloud.