When one door closes, another opens, which is apparently the case for Neil Young’s ambitious but failed music player, Pono.
The Canadian rocker, a vocal critic of the diminished quality of highly compressed music offered by digital sources such as MP3s, launched his high-end digital music player in 2014. While reviews of the device from audiophiles were generally positive, the high cost of the player (about $399) and the digitally remastered songs themselves (available from the Pono website, with a Pono-friendly album retailing at a cost of $20-$30 U.S., more than double the cost of regular MP3s on iTunes, for example) were apparently too expensive for most music lovers.
As a result, the Pono website has been dormant since July 2016 — until Young posted a lengthy update in the site’s community blog on Thursday, announcing plans for a new high-res streaming service to be called Xstream, reports CBC News.
“It’s time to talk about Pono,” wrote Young, noting that the “player won best digital portable product of the year from Stereophile Magazine, and we offered some of the best high-resolution content to be found anywhere. We sold tens of thousands of players, every unit that we made.”
After Pono music-partner Omniphone shut down, however, Young wrote that “we began work with another company to build the same download store. But the more we worked on it, the more we realized how difficult it would be to recreate what we had and how costly it was to run it… I believe all music should cost the same, regardless of the technology used.”
As a result, he explained, he’s teamed up with Singapore-based Orastream to create “an adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth” for “complete high-resolution playback,” with this new service, which he’s calling Xstream.
“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,” Young 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,” he said, adding that “every recording I have ever released will soon be available in Xstream high-resolution quality at my complete online archive.”
While there’s no word on when Xstream will launch, Young admitted that finding investors for the project has been “a difficult sell” but declared that he’s committed to seeing the project through. “All songs should cost the same, regardless of digital resolution,” he wrote. “Let the people decide what they want to listen to without charging them more for true quality. 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.”