The tech debate: Is it a big deal that Spotify's going hi-fi?

Rumour has it that Spotify will add CD-quality streaming soon. We weigh up the pros and cons

So it seems Spotify is going to get hi-fi-quality streaming. 

According to multiple news sites, the music streaming site is trialling lossless CD-quality sound, which it will ultimately offer to subscribers for an extra fee.

Sounds great, right? Well possibly - because this wouldn't be the internet without an angry argument...

NO, says Stuff contributor Craig Grannell

When I first downloaded some MP3s, back in the Stone Age, they made songs sound like they’d been remastered in a biscuit tin, and were being played from the other end of the street, on a tiny stereo someone had viciously attacked with a baseball bat. For good measure, the files also happened to be large enough that I could only fit about seven on the tiny drive inside my steam-powered Mac. 

Fast-forward quite a few years and compressed formats are now far more impressive, to the point if you blindfolded me and demanded I tell you the difference between a decent MP3 or AAC rip and the lossless original, I’d likely have nothing to offer. Aside from being terrified about an audiophile breaking into my house and holding me hostage in a really weird manner. 

So when it comes to Spotify A/B testing a new lossless audio tier, I’m excited in the same way I’m excited about expensive ‘deluxe’ toilet cleaner, or ‘taste the difference’ food that to my senses is practically indistinguishable from the normal stuff. 

For doubling my outlay, I’ll get music that takes longer to cue up and demands more space for local downloads, but that also makes naff-all difference to my listening experience. There’s also a nagging sense all of these streaming services will soon enough offer lossless anyway. 

The question is whether it will remain ‘special’ or become the new default. When we’re living in the Matrix, will we still have to ‘suffer’ 320 kbps unless willing to splash out, or be serenaded by millions of lossless audio tracks (preferably not simultaneously)? 

Right now, if I’m going to hurl another tenner a month into the money pit, I’d sooner fling it an artist’s way by buying new music on Bandcamp than at Spotify for flicking a switch.

Craig Grannell, Stuff contributor par excellence and music obsessive

Yes, says What Hi-Fi?'s Joe Cox

Good news, Spotify is about to get a lot better. If the rumours are true, and they look pretty solid, then the music streaming behemoth is about to reveal its biggest upgrade in years. 

A new ‘Spotify Hi-Fi’ subscription tier looks set to deliver lossless, CD-quality sound, following in the footsteps of Deezer, Tidal and Qobuz in offering higher-quality audio (for a higher price). 

For years, the digital revolution has meant lower quality audio. Despite all the advances we have enjoyed – the ability to listen to music whenever you want, wherever you want – sound quality has been left languishing in the past. MP3s and other compressed file formats, which have become the standard for downloads and subsequently streaming services, deliver lower-quality audio than that offered by the humble compact disc – a format released in 1982. But thanks to faster, cheaper data and improved hardware, that need no longer be the case. 

Spotify currently offers files at 320kbps. The bitrate of a CD is 1411 kbps. So lossless, CD-quality audio means a lot more information, which means more detail, better dynamics - all the good stuff that makes your favourite tunes sound, just, well, better. And now that extra information looks set to come to streams on Spotify. 

Lossless, CD-quality audio was previously a feather in the bow of rival services, notably Tidal. In fact, Tidal recently went one step further, launching a high-resolution tier called Tidal Masters, which sits above its lossless, CD-quality tier. 

Still with us? Good. 

Now, while many may argue (and indeed Craig does above) whether they can really hear the difference between CD-quality and high-resolution audio – which delivers up to 9,216 kbps of information – the difference between CD-quality, lossless tracks and compressed, 320kbps files, really should be clear to anyone with a decent pair of headphones or a good music system at home. 

Musicians, producers, engineers and more, all currently work hard to deliver a piece of music to your eardrums. If you’re listening to a 320kbps stream, then in all honesty, you’re not hearing the full picture. A lossless, CD-quality file is much closer to “what the artist intended”. And if you’re paying more for better quality music - likely £20 per month rather than £10 per month - the artists should be getting more money for every stream, too. Surely we’re all happy to see that? 

While picture technology has streaked ahead with HD, 4K and HDR, and surround sound has seen a host of advances from DTS to Dolby Atmos, music quality simply hasn’t kept pace. If Spotify, the biggest streaming service in the world, makes this public commitment to better-quality audio, it can only be a good thing for consumers and the music industry.

Joe Cox, Brand Development Editor, What Hi-Fi?

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