Three years ago, Neil Young started the long journey to launch Pono Music, his proprietary audio player and online storefront for high fidelity recordings. It soon became clear that the endeavor was mostly bullshit, and it seems like anyone that bought into it has been slowly coming to that realization themselves. The Pono store has been offline since last July, and a cursory look at the company’s Facebook page reveals a lot of disgruntled customers.
But it looks like Young is attempting to start over by branching out into his own hi-fi streaming service called Xstream. (As Exclaim points out, that’s the same name of the streaming service that’s featured in the FOX show Empire.) In a new post on the Pono community website (via CBC), Young announced the company’s pivot to streaming audio. He partnered with Singapore firm Orastream to create “an adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth” for “complete high-resolution playback.”
“For more than eight months, I’ve been working with our small team to look for alternatives. Finding a way to deliver the quality music without the expense and to bring it to a larger audience has been our goal,” he wrote. “Xstream plays at the highest quality your network condition allows at that moment and adapts as the network conditions change. It’s a single high-resolution bit-perfect file that essentially compresses as needed to never stop playing.” Every Young recording will be available on Xstream in the near future.
Young acknowledged Pono’s rocky start, and admitted that the exorbitantly high prices for Pono-exclusive files (albums cost anywhere from $20-30; individual tracks were $1.99 to $2.99) were part of the reason it didn’t work out as anticipated. “All songs should cost the same, regardless of digital resolution. Let the people decide what they want to listen to without charging them more for true quality,” he wrote. “That way quality is not an elitist thing. If high-resolution costs more, listeners will just choose the cheaper option and never hear the quality.”
Young says in the post that the new streaming service has been “a difficult sell” for investors, but that he’s committed to pushing forward. Long live Xstream!