Folk rock fogey Neil Young has continued his crusade for high quality music by announcing a streaming service simply called Xstream.
The service is in conjunction with Young’s own PonoPlayer that was released in 2014 and has the same aim of emulating vinyl quality sound through the medium of a portable music player.
Young stated on the Pono website that: “I’m still trying to make the case for bringing you the best music possible, at a reasonable price, the same message we brought to you five years ago,” adding that “I don’t know if we will succeed, but it’s still as important to us as it ever was.”
This new move may be reflective of an acknowledgement that streaming music is quickly overtaking physical media in terms of music sales. The Pono music player was also notoriously expensive with poor battery life and 64GB of free space that did not complement the high file sizes of hi-fi audio (not to mention an unconventional triangle shape).
For this second attempt, Young seems to have heard the complaints and is looking to make it more accessible for as large of an audience as possible. He also seems to have had second thoughts on streaming services in general, once saying that their sound quality was the “worst in the history of broadcasting”.
Xstream is said to play “at the highest quality your network condition allows at that moment and adapts as the network conditions change” an inconsistency that may be a warning to some consumers if the service is similarly priced to the Pono.
There’s no word yet on pricing or release date, but Young insists that there would be no “premium price” for high-res music, addressing some of the inherent elitism in releasing an overly expensive music player for listening to music as it was “intended”.
Young stated on his website that: “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. 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.”
With the market flooded by other streaming services like Spotify and Google Music, it remains to be seen whether Young will find his niche audience of audiophiles. But it is notable that while PonoPlayer sales have been less than stellar, physical vinyl records have continued their steady comeback in sales over the past few years.
This all goes to show that portable music will always be around and that it sometimes goes without saying that the background ambiance of train noise or street sounds is simply part of the character of listening to music on your iPod. But perhaps the true appeal in vinyl records is the communal aspect, as Record Store Day has consistently shown, and that you’d be forking out more for personal high definition audio when you could get more out of it listening in a room with a friend.