Neil Young has been a prominent backer of hi-res audio (and consequent disparager of low-res streaming services) over the years. The sound quality bee in his bonnet led to the launch of a hi-res portable music player called PonoPlayer, and then the PonoMusic hi-res download service.
Lately, though, his hi-res audio attention has turned to a music streaming service.
Announced earlier this year, Xstream by NYA (Neil Young Academy) – created by Neil and his team alongside technology partner OraStream – is a streaming service whose not-so-humble beginnings lie with Neil Young’s own catalogue. "What better way to introduce it than with Neil's music!", as a post on the Neil Young Archives website reads.
"How about the rest of the world's music?" you ask. Well, according to Young it may be possibl;e to offer it "someday". The problem is, he says, that "record labels… want to make High Resolution more costly to listen to than MP3 and other streams. We found that cost to be too high for Xstream by NYA to offer it.”
Users can stream his songs for free from the Neil Young Archive site until June 30th, after which date there's a subscription cost.
Songs can be found in the site’s ‘file cabinet’. Whole albums can be accessed on the timeline, which dates from a couple of The Squires’ 1963 tracks to his 2017 studio album (his 39th!) The Visitor – both of which are in glorious 24bit/192kHz.
The playback bar shows song information and resolution, and beside it a VU meter reveals kbps in real time. There’s a switch to listen to ‘Masters’ (“equivalent to the original recordings that were created in the studio or in concert”) or in 320 kpbs (i.e. Spotify quality) if your internet bandwidth or computer memory cannot cope with the streaming bitrate required of the Masters.
As Young says in his blog post, “an MP3 file will stream from 60 up to 320 kpbs, a 44.1kHz/16bit (CD) at about 700 kpbs, and a high-res 192kHz/24bit recording at 2500 to 6000 kbps.”
What will become of Xstream is not yet clear, but we'll be keeping a close eye on his news page...