It’s amazing to think that ever since Spotify launched back in 2008 they have never streamed in better than MP3 quality sound. That’s 13 years of 165 million subscribers happily binning the superior quality of their CD collection for the sake of convenience. To be fair Spotify was mainly a headphones on your phone thing back then, but now we have speakers in every room of the house, and these are good speakers, and they can play very high resolution music. So why is everyone still using Spotify?
AMAZON Music HD Unlimited £9.99 (£7.99 for existing Prime Members)
Bezos and his buddies are disrupting the audio streaming market by offering high resolution music for no extra charge over their regular streaming service. What they call HD and Ultra HD quality (16 Bit and 24 Bit recordings) are CD and better than CD quality songs at no extra cost to the regular 320Kbps service. The entire 75 Million track database is available in HD (CD quality), with over 7 million songs in Ultra HD. They also have a small selection of Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 spatial audio songs. Amazon Music is available on pretty much every home audio platform on the market, from your Sonos and Bluesound, to your Control4 and Crestron. Amazon have just jumped from try-hard late contender to best value HD streaming on the market
APPLE Music £9.99 (typical cost, can be bundled in with other Apple subscriptions)
Amazon are not the only provider offering hi-res music at no extra cost, as of June this year Apple announced their entire collection of 75 million tracks would be able to stream at CD quality with some up to Hi-Res 24 bit/192kHz. Apple also have Dolby Atmos and a Spatial Audio format (their own). But Apple are also quite frustrating in that they do not like to play ball with other manufacturers, so actually getting this high-res music into the speakers in your home has it’s hurdles. Where Amazon Music is available on basically anything, Apple Music is only available on their own speakers and devices, or through Sonos. To use Apple Music with anything else you are looking at wirelessly doing it with Airplay or even worse Bluetooth. And this takes your hi-res music and 3D spatial soundtracks right down to the MP3 quality that we started with. Shame really, because as an iPhone experience and for people in the Apple ecosystem it really is a glorious service to use. Would be nice if it was available on other hardware
DEEZER Premium £9.99 / Hi-Fi £14.99 (Free service also available)
Just about hanging in there but charging more for high resolution audio isn’t going to cut it now Amazon and Apple have both slashed their more expensive tiers. I can’t see why you would use Deezer over Amazon now, the playlist curation is about equal, the song database is about equal, the quality is equal but only if you pay a premium to do it with Deezer. They do offer a totally free service low resolution service to play with but it will only work on their app not on your multiroom or home automation system. Although that said Deezer is also available on a huge variety of platforms as a native option. There have traditionally been good deals about for Deezer subs, and their mobile app is much nicer to use than Amazon’s so perhaps with some price adjustment for they will find their way back
SPOTIFY Premium £9.99 / Hi-Fi £???? (Free service also available)
Spotify have announced Spotify Hi-Fi, and we eagerly awaiting how high res this will go and how much it will cost. In the meanwhile though, Spotify cause us a headache here every time they are brought up. Except for Sonos and Autonomic who have a special deal with Spotify that goes back over a decade, every other Spotify integration is via Spotify Connect. This is Spotify’s own Airplay equivalent where you use the Spotify app on your phone or tablet to cast music into your multiroom audio system or control system. Now this does actually work very well, Spotify is well regarded for having the nicest to use app and the best curated playlists of all the streamers, so staying inside their app and seamlessly casting your music to a multitude of different brands of speaker and sound system is a very slick experience. The only niggle is that it is at much lower quality than you can achieve with the other providers. Word is the new Hi-Fi service will work with Spotify Connect, although I suspect it will be CD quality at best. Leading mobile experience, but for your home system I’m just not convinced this is the best
TIDAL Premium £9.99 / Hi-Fi £19.99
Tidal led the way, and arguably still do lead the way, with their Masters. They didn’t just bring us back to CD quality streaming (16 bit depth, 44.1kHz sample rate), they went right back to the original studio master and streamed it at up to 24 bit at a sample rate of 192kHz. To put this in perspective, the big players typically stream at 320 Kbps, which is like a very good MP3. A 24bit/192kHz Tidal Master can be streamed at 9,216 Kbps!! Even their CD quality streaming they send out at 1,411Kbps compared to 850 Kbps for Amazon’s CD quality equivalent
The very best Tidal Masters use MQA technology to achieve those super high bitrates. This means you are going to need an MQA compatible player to playback the absolute best of the Tidal database. Your Sonos wireless speaker for example both is not compatible, and would be a rather underwhelming experience anyway (it can run regular High-Res Masters just not the full insane MQA). This kind of material is for your higher end multi-room systems (e.g. BluOS, Control4, Crestron NAX, Denon HEOS) and your reference hi-fi system. Where you will have both the MQA compatibility and the sound quality of the system to do it justice. This is for people who like nice things
SO WHAT SHOULD I CHOOSE?
As of now, I am finding it very hard not to want to recommend Amazon music for multiroom. It fits inside every system with great ease. It’s selection of Ultra HD material doesn’t need extra hardware to play. It has a decent database of songs. And it’s not a great deal of money for a hi-resolution service to existing Prime members.
I do think that the Spotify Connect way of doing things is going to grow in popularity. Using the app of the streaming provider, rather than the app of the music player, is totally logical. The experience is the same whether you have a Crestron or a Sonos so it’s only one app to work out how to use no matter what player you are sending the song to.
But that said, I’m a proper a nerd. And I have Roon, and Meridian, and Control4, and that means I have the MQA option in every room. So you can be damn sure I’m going to have Tidal! Meridian invented MQA, so I know I’m in good hands
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