Neil Young’s high-fidelity audio project Pono is undergoing a new change. In a post to Pono’s Community site, the singer informed users that after the company shut down its music store last summer, it will become a high-quality streaming audio service.
The new service will be called Xstream, and comes after Pono has struggled to relaunch its music store after its supplier shut down last year, and to find an audience willing to pay a premium for its audio files.
Young described Xstream as an “adaptive streaming service that changes with available bandwidth.”
Unlike all other streaming services that are limited to playing at a single low or moderate resolution, 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.
In the post, Young didn’t reveal when Xstream would launch, only that he will be announcing it “very soon.” He also didn’t get into specifics about what the service would cost, other than to say that he’s “insisted that there be no premium price for this service.” He went on to citing the difficulties that Pono faced with its music store, and that when faced with a choice, consumers will follow price, not quality.
Young first introduced the PonoPlayer in 2014 on Kickstarter, and its 2015 retail launch was accompanied by an online music store, where users could purchase high-quality audio files for the device. The service catered to audiophiles who were disgruntled with the lower quality audio that other online stores provided. While the service provided high-quality files to music lovers, its high costs (at times, almost twice the price of what its competitors were asking) left Young and Pono struggling to grow its audience.
In 2016, the music store went offline after cloud-based music provider Omnifone ran into financial troubles and went into court-ordered Administration. Because it was the only source of high-quality files for Pono, it’s demise forced Young’s company to find a new provider, 7digital, which prompted it to change its model from storefront to streaming service. In the post, Young noted that they began to work on rebuilding the storefront, only to find “how difficult it would be to recreate what we had and how costly it was to run it.” Young goes on to note that the company also faced difficulty raising money to implement its model, and decided to shift to a premium streaming service instead.
In shifting models, Young’s company is a latecomer into a crowded market that is already dominated by major players such as Apple, Google, and Spotify, and which already includes a service that specializes in high-quality audio: Tidal. It remains to be seen if Pono can adequately distinguish itself from its competitors to deliver its dream of high fidelity to the masses. We’ll know “very soon.”