Neil Young Announces New Hi-Res Audio Streaming Service
After months of speculation, Neil Young has admitted that the marketplace built around his Pono player is "gone" — but he's already moved on to his next attempt to bring high-resolution music to the masses.
In a lengthy message posted to the Pono community message boards (via Vintage Vinyl News), Young reflected on the service's early success, including selling "tens of thousands of players" and being named Stereophile's best digital portable product of the year. Despite that, he admitted the company faced some critical struggles. Cost was a constant concern — which Young blamed on the major labels' insistence that hi-res files should command a premium price — but it was ultimately rendered moot when Omnifone, the company powering Pono's store, went out of business.
"We began work with another company to build the same download store," wrote Young. "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: to deliver the Pono promise, meaning you’d never have to buy the same album again if was released at a higher quality; the ability to access just high res music, and not the same performances at lower quality, and the ability to do special sales. Each of these features was expensive to implement."
The upshot is that Pono is no more, but Young hasn't abandoned his dream of exposing the mainstream to the joys of hi-res audio. His latest idea is "the next generation of streaming" — a company he's dubbed Xstream, which uses proprietary technology to deliver audio at "the highest quality your network condition allows at that moment and adapts as the network conditions change." Although the new service doesn't have a launch date yet — and he admits the concept of yet another player in the increasingly crowded digital music marketplace is "a difficult sell" — Young has already vowed to hold a hard line on pricing.
"Good sounding music is not a premium. 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. Record companies will ultimately lose more money by not exposing the true beauty of their music to the masses."
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