You can not ignore streaming audio. The turnover of music services continues to rise, the share of streaming in the total market is now 65 percent over and Spofity, the established name in the streaming landscape, is preparing for an IPO.
The popularity of streaming as’ go to ‘option for the daily music experience and the very simple way in which we have access to music libraries that are millions of songs, could not be imagined a decade ago. That luxury also means that we become more critical of the offer, because where the difference is no longer in the format of the catalogs of the services, we see a variation in the quality of audio offered. It’s about time to put the most important players in streaming audio together.
Audio file formats
Before we dive into that offer, it’s good to have the different file formats once again. In our article with everything you need to know about hi-res audio you can read how the fork is in the handle and you will also find an overview of all common audio files, with everything from ALAC to WAV via Blu- ray Audio and SACD.
Back to the music services. There are now quite a few of them, because there are always new parties. For example, Talpa and MediaMarkt started streaming service Juke together, the offer has recently been enriched from South Korea with Groovers and Neil Young is always in the news because of his ongoing struggle to make music available in high quality – starting with his  own catalog . In order not to make the following complete bookings and to keep things simple, we therefore focus on the usual suspects such as Spotify, Deezer and Apple Music and the parties that are committed to streaming in higher resolution, such as Qobuz and Tidal.
The social media of Apple Music is regularly plagued. The question ‘what’s everyone listening to?’ On Twitter for example is not answered with a song or artist, but simply with ‘Spotify!’. Although that recurring online joke seems to give an indication of popularity, the service launched in the summer of 2015 is well on its way and the range of 40 million songs is over – about a third larger than Spotify. However, this overview is not about the number of subscribers or the format of the music library, but about the audio quality offered.
We can be brief about that. Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer are the three music services that offer subscriptions with lossless files, and in principle the three more audiophile options. At Apple Music you get 256 kbps, in the AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) format. A subscription costs you 9.99 euros per month, but with a probation period of no less than 90 days. For all other parties that is at most a month.
As said, Deezer is one of the three more audiophile parties. Then we are talking about FLAC files in 16-bit / 44.1kHz, or streaming in CD quality. The originally French streaming service will also support MQA. MQA stands for Master Quality Authenticated and offers potentially high sound quality within an existing file format. Never heard of it? No worries, even then there is a background article about MQA with the right information.
On the hardware side there are many brands that Deezer offer integrated, including Sonos, Yamaha MusicCast, Denon HEOS, Bang & Olufsen and Harman Kardon. The current offer can be found on the Deezer website .
Qobuz probably has the best name where it comes to ‘hi-fi audio’, because already in the beginning the French company came up with a basic and hi-fi version. The service, which is now acquired by a French investor, offers both streaming and a download store and, like Deezer, goes up to 16-bit / 44.1kHz, where you pay around twenty euros per month for the hi-res abo. The entry level in standard 320 kbps costs 9.99.
A year ago, the Sublime variant was also introduced, supplemented in the spring of 2017 with Sublime +, both combinations of hi-res streaming and downloads for a fixed amount per year. . As part of Sublime +, the complete range available in FLAC 16-bit / 44.1kHz and part of the catalog – some 60,000 albums – can even be heard in Qobuz 24-bit hi-res, streaming or offline. Qobuz Sublime costs 219 euros per year (about 18 euros per month) and Sublime + 349 euros (or 29 euros per month), in both cases to be paid in one go.
Qobuz has now been integrated into products of for example Sonos, Samsung and Astell & Kern. The full list of hi-res partners can be found on the Qobuz website including Arcam, Klipsch, McIntosh and Onkyo.
The attentive reader has already noticed that Spotify currently does not offer streaming in CD quality. According to various sources, hard work is being done, but if that ‘Spotify Hifi’ should then appear and what it will cost is still unknown. Although we already wrote about Spotify Hifi a year ago (!), The library is still available in two known versions: free (with advertising and only the shuffle function) or for 9.99 euros per month for the Premium version, both in a maximum of 320 kbps.
Unlike for example Spotify, Tidal does not offer a free version, so all subscribers are connected to the service for a fixed monthly fee . In itself logical, because as with Deezer and Qobuz you can go there for streaming in CD quality. In addition, in addition to audio, Tidal is also active with video: in addition to your 30+ million songs in lossless FLAC, there are also about 75,000 music videos in HD quality to play. And especially with Tidal, the list of hardware partners is considerable. Take a look at the overview on the Tidal website including Auralic, Bluesound, Cambridge Audio, Denon HEOS, KEF, Linn, McIntosh, Pioneer, Roon, Sonos and Technics.
Tidal Premium in standard quality (320 kbps) costs 9.99 euro per month, for Tidal Hifi in cd quality you pay 19.99 per month. In addition, the music service announced at the CES of 2017 an additional feature for subscribers of the hi-fi package: Tidal Master. Thanks to this addition you have access to recordings in master quality from a collaboration with, you’ve guessed it, MQA. Read more about Tidal Master .
Fresh from the press finally: HIGHRESAUDIO, the German platform for downloads of hi-res audio files, will shortly be called a streaming service under the name HRA launch. With a music library of purely native hi-res audio recordings, we talk about at least 24-bit studio-quality, and therefore strong competition for hi-fi parties Qobuz, Tidal and Deezer. An exact introduction date is not yet there, although we expect the service to be launched in mid-May: at High End Munich 2018. HRA Streaming will cost 199.99 per year or 16.66 euros per month.
Finally interesting to mention: Spotify and Deezer are the two options that are possible with Android Auto, CarPlay is Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer and Tidal. Qobuz ‘works’ on both. Most new car models come with CarPlay and / or Android Auto.