Posted on 24th April, 2017


If you're a fan of TV show Empire from FOX, you'd be familiar with XStream, a streaming music service created by the label in a bid to drive the record company into the future.

Canadian rocker Neil Young is evidently a fan of the show, this week talking up his plans to resurrect his failed Pono venture with a new streaming service dubbed ... Xstream.

Via the Pono website this week in a message only accessible by members, Young announced:

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. I don't know whether we will succeed, but it's still as important to us as it ever was.

After raising over $6M via Kickstarter with one of the most successful campaigns in crowdfunding history, the Toblerone shaped PonoPlayer wasn't without its issues.

The real challenge to come however was asking consumers to pay nearly double that of other music platforms to buy high-resolution audio files from their online market.

Championing the high-resolution music cause ultimately failed, seemingly unable to attract new consumers. The music store was shut down in July 2016.

Young’s pitch for Xstream came with two main points of difference.

Firstly, he describes it as a modern streaming music service that dynamically adjusts the resolution on-the-fly, according to the bandwidth available.

This is not new technology as many multimedia platforms including YouTube have been using similar technology for quite some time.

In Australia, mobile data still comes from service providers at a premium price. The average Aussie subscribes to a data plan that includes 1Gb or less of data per month. As an example, streaming Spotify at its highest resolution (320Kbps) far from what could be considered 'hi-res', consumes approximately 2.40MB per minute, or 115.2MB an hour. In an average work day, an entire month’s 1Gb data plan could be consumed.

So, hi-res streaming pitched at those on-the-go is not going to appeal to Aussie music lovers.

Addressing the pricing obstacle, Young insists the higher resolution files via Xstream won’t come at a premium price however has not yet given any pricing indication.

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.

Young has already admitted the new venture has been “a difficult sell” for investors and no doubt, proved tougher to secure labels and artists for the platform after the failed first attempt.

Neil Young’s Xstream will likely need to find another point of difference other than ‘adaptive resolution’ if it wants to compete in the crowded market that now includes established platforms including Tidal, Apple Music, Spotify and more.

Marc Rushton's avatar

Marc Rushton

StereoNET’s Founder & Publisher and still buried deep in the review room auditioning everything from docks to soundbars, amplifiers and headphones. Marc is also the founder of the annual International HiFi Show.

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Posted in: Music Industry
Tags: pono  xstream