Tag Archives for " Pono "

Neil Young Tries It Again With New Hi-Res Streaming Service

Neil Young XstreamTo say that Neil Young’s Pono download service and dedicated audio player was a failure is an understatement. The service was very late to be introduced, and by the time it became available, downloads had been swept aside by streaming. Young also underestimated the consumer market’s attraction to high-resolution, especially when the prices are much higher than what’s commonly available. As a result, the project was essentially stillborn.

You have to give it to old Neil though, as he’s trying it again, this time with a hi-res streaming service called Xstream. The problem is that the same market forces still exist, which makes the likelihood of the the service being a success a long shot at best.

There are a number of factors that make Xstream an uphill climb.

1. Most people can’t hear enough of enough of a difference between normal resolution and high-resolution material to make them want to pay the difference in price. Tidal found this out with its $20 a month streaming tier. You never hear about its number of subscribers because they’d be embarrassing. Audiophiles have no problem with paying the extra 10 bucks a month, but there just isn’t enough of them to make a significant contribution to the bottom line of a dedicated service at the moment.

2. You can’t go up against the extremely deep pockets of Apple, Google and Amazon (and even first-mover Spotify) unless you have the same deep pockets. Young himself admits that it’s been difficult finding investors to get the venture off the ground and that’s no surprise. Most seasoned venture capitalists are aware of what they’d be up against. It’s not only paying for the infrastructure of the service, but mostly for the marketing that’s daunting when in the shadow of Apple or Amazon.

3. Any of the major streaming services can launch its own hi-res tier at any time. Apple especially has been collecting hi-res masters for about 4 years now and could launch a new tier or even just raise the quality bar on its existing service, which would kill Xstream and Tidal in their tracks. VC’s are acutely aware of this, so you won’t be seeing much dough coming from Sand Hill Road (the home of Silicon Valley venture firms) to get a new streaming service online, especially one who’s only unique feature is high quality tracks.

4. There’s probably going to be some problems with the name, as there are other companies using the same name already.

But Neil Young is a music legend and he’s able to get a lot of publicity for a project almost at will, as is happening now. I have my doubts if Xtream will ever see the light of day though. In the end, you still have to have demand for a product. So far, it hurts me to say that high-resolution currently has none.

December 14, 2016

Neil Young To Turn Pono Into High Resolution Streaming Service

Pono PlayerNeil Young has finally gotten the message about his Pono high-fidelity service, only it’s a couple of years too late. Originally conceived as a download service complete with its own dedicated player, the development took way too long and when it launched potential users had already moved on to streaming instead of buying downloads. Now the artist has announced that the service will convert to streaming, although no other details were given.

This makes sense from the standpoint that the catalog is already licensed, the most difficult part of the equation, and it’s also online, although the format is probably not what will be ultimately streamed.

Of course the big problem here is that the idea of Pono is a service to deliver higher resolution audio than than currently available from the major streaming services. That said, it’s not clear that people will actually pay a premium (approximately double the monthly fee) for something they’re not sure they can hear in the first place. Both Tidal and Deezer offer hi-fi premium tiers already, and that feature hasn’t been a major factor in attracting users or generating revenue for either of those services.

While the world doesn’t need another streaming service, there just may be a niche in the hi-fi area. It’s still unknown whether there are enough people interested to make the service viable though. Then there’s the fact that at some point, the other major streaming players can turn on a hi-fi tier as well (especially Apple, who’s been collecting hi-res audio tracks via its Mastered For iTunes program for about 3 years) at any time. Either way, you have to give Neil Young credit for being passionate about audio enough to take on this gargantuan task.

Pono’s hi-res music store went offline in July. There are no predictions when the new service will be launched.

Neil Young Gives In And Puts Music Back On Streaming Services

Neil YoungNeil Young pulled his music off of every streaming service in 2015 because of the poor sound quality in favor of his own Pono service, but in a reversal, now he’s back. Although last May his music was made available on Tidal, now it can be found on both Spotify and Apple Music.

Pono was Young’s idea for a high-resolution streaming service complete with it’s own player, but the timing, as well as expectations for demand, were off. By the time it launched, music lovers had abandoned music players like the iPod for streaming, so putting an expensive, oddly shaped device in the pants pocket was out of the question, regardless how it sounded.

While Neil Young has always used the argument that his fans wouldn’t stand for the lower quality sound and expected more from him, that doesn’t seem to be the case, and his entry back on the various streaming services is an admission to that premise.

This is another example of how fans care more about convenience than anything else. Although improvements in sound quality have frequently come with new delivery technologies that the music industry has adopted, that’s never been the reason why most people would buy or use the product, although for many it was a happy coincidence. It’s been improved ease of use that’s always won the day, and streaming has been the best example of that ever.

Although the sound quality isn’t up to par with vinyl and CDs, the fact that you can access literally millions of songs almost anywhere anytime is a far more attractive feature to most users. That said, the streaming quality is getting better, and high-quality tiers from both Deezer and Tidal are available for anyone who cares enough.

I predict that by the end of 2017, one or more of the mainstream streaming services will also make the move to high-resolution, which may put the quality issue to bed for good (unless you’re an audiophile, of course).

[Photo: Andy Roo]