High Resolution Audio Streaming Services Compared

Jul 22, 2020 | 0 comments

As much fun as testing new speakers can be, in the end it is the music that we love so much. The speakers are only an aid to experience the music. Where we used to go to the store for an LP or CD, the development of the internet has ensured that we now stream our favorite music very easily. All of a sudden we have access to tens of millions of songs, through dozens of different streaming services. There are many differences between these services in, for example, the price, the offer or customization options. But in the end it is the quality of the music that is decisive. In this article, we will first discuss the options you have and then dive deeper into the differences between high resolution audio streaming services.

HOW DID STREAMING SERVICES ORIGINATE?

With the advent of the MP3 player around the turn of the century, the demand for digital audio files suddenly increased. Around the introduction of the iPod in 2001, it was already normal to store music digitally. In no time our cabinets with CDs were exchanged for the hard disk full of audio files. The internet was also undergoing enormous development at that time. It was getting faster and more accessible. This also created a new way of consuming media: streaming.

Ultimately, Spotify was the first major streaming service in 2006, which immediately caught on with the general public. This is mainly due to the wide range of songs and the fact that Spotify had apps for all different devices. Where previously you could very specifically buy a particular album or film in the iTunes store, for example, you now get access to millions of songs for a fixed price per month.

High-resolution audio streaming Spotify

WHEN DO WE TALK ABOUT ‘HIGH RESOLUTION AUDIO’?

High resolution audio, also known as ‘high-res audio’ or ‘high-quality audio’, is music that has little or no compression. This allows the music to be played in higher quality than, for example, an MP3 file or a song on a CD. MP3 files lose details due to compression, making the file smaller. This also reduces the music range.

If we look at the technical story behind this, we see that this has to do with bitrates and sample frequencies. A CD-quality song is 16-bits (bitrate) with 44.1kHz (samples per second). With normal use, this is good enough for most people. Generally, music is recorded with a much higher bitrate and sample rate. If this music is put on a CD, then some of the quality is lost by compressing the files. This is where high resolution audio comes into play. These audio files often have a bit rate of 24 bits at a sampling frequency of 192 kHz. This may be slightly lower depending on the original recording.

THE CONFUSION ABOUT HIGH RESOLUTION AUDIO

The name “high resolution” entails a lot of confusion. Some companies see CD quality as high resolution. In this article we assume a minimum bitrate of 24-bit and a sampling frequency of 96kHz. The images below show this difference between the original recording, CD quality and high resolution audio.

High-resolution audio recording
Analog recording
High-resolution audio CD recording
CD recording: 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
High-resolution audio recording
High-resolution recording

WHAT IS THE QUALITY OF SPOTIFY?

As mentioned earlier, Spotify is one of, if not the largest streaming service in the Netherlands. This is due to the fact that the range of songs at Spotify is huge. Spotify also has applications for all devices. So you listen to an account on your laptop, television and mobile phone.

As a Premium member of Spotify, you have the option to adjust the quality of your audio. If you choose the option “very high”, you will stream music with a maximum bitrate of 320 kbps. This is lower than CD quality, making it good enough for most people. If you compare this CD quality with high resolution audio, chances are that you will hear a difference. High-resolution audio sounds more energetic and contains many more details.

WHICH STREAMING SERVICES ARE THERE?

Most of us are familiar with Spotify or Apple Music. However, the range of streaming services is much larger than this. Although the different services all stream music, the differences between them are sometimes very large. In the table below, we compared ten of the largest streaming services by price, offer and quality.

We previously said that CD quality is equal to 16-bit, 44.1 kHz. The table below lists in some cases how many kilobits per second (kbps) this is. In the case of CD quality, this is usually 1411 kbps (16 x 44.1) x 2 = 1411. For comparison: an MP3 file has a bitrate of 320 kbps and high resolution audio 9216 kbps.

Streaming platformPrice per monthMusic offerMax. streaming quality
Amazon Music HD$5,- (Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers)
$12,99 (Prime members)
$14,99 (Amazon customer)
HD: +/- 60 million


UHD: +/- 10 million

HD: FLAC – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 850 kbps)

UHD: FLAC – 24-bit,
44.1 – 192 kHz
(average of: 3730 kbps)
Amazon Music Unlimited$7,99 (Prime members)
$9,99 (Non-Prime members)
+/- 60 million16-bit, min. 44.1 kHz
(average of: 850 kbps)
Apple Music€9,99 (Individual)
€14,99 (Family)
+/- 45 millionAAC – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 256 kbps)
Deezer€0,- (Deezer Free)
€9,99 (Deezer Premium)
€14,99 (Deezer Family)
€14,99 (Deezer HiFi)
+/- 56 millionDeezer:
MP3 – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 320 kbps)

Deezer HiFi:
FLAC – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 1411 kbps)
Idagio€0,- (Idagio Free)
€12,99 €9,99 (Premium+)
+/- 2 million
classical tracks
FLAC – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 1411 kbps)
Napster$4,99 (unRadio)
$9,99 (PREMIER)
+/- 40 millionN/A
(average of: 320 kbps)
Primephonic€9,99 (Premium)
€14,99 (Platinum)
+/- 1 million
classical tracks
Premium:
MP3 – N/A, adaptive bitrate
(average of: 320 kbps)

Platinum:
FLAC – 24-bit, adaptive bitrate
(average of: N/A)
Qobuz€19,99 (HiFi)
€24,99 (Studio)
+/- 40 millionHiFi:
FLAC – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 1411 kbps)

Studio:
FLAC – 24-bit, up to 192 kHz
(average of: N/A)
Spotify€9,99 (Individual)
€12,99 (Duo)
€14,99 (Family)
+/- 50 millionOgg Vorbis – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 320 kbps)
Soundcloud GO+€9,99+/- 200 millionAAC – 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of 256 kbps)
Tidal$9,99 (Premium – individual)
$14,99 (Premium -family)

$19,99 (HiFi – individual)
$29,99 (HiFi -family)
+/- 60 millionPremium:
AAC – 16-bit, 44.1 KHz
(average of: 320 kbps)

HiFi:
MQA – 24-bit, 96 KHz
(average of: N/A)
YouTube Music Premium€9,99 (Individual)
€14,99 (Family)
N/AAAC- 16-bit, 44.1 kHz
(average of: 256kbps)

It is important to mention that this is a snapshot. The various services are constantly working to improve their products. The above data may therefore change over time.

WHICH STREAMING SERVICE IS THE BEST OPTION FOR ME?

That completely depends on what wishes you have. If you go purely for sound quality, we see a number of platforms stand out with high resolution audio, namely Amazon Music HD, Primephonic, Qobuz and Tidal. In this list, Amazon Music HD Qobuz and Tidal are just above the rest with a sampling frequency of up to 192 kHz.

However, Amazon Music HD is not yet available everywhere. For most high resolution music lovers, the choice will go between Tidal and Qobuz. If you go for Tidal, you will be slightly cheaper every month, you will have a larger range of numbers, but you will yield very lightly on the quality that Qobuz offers.

WHAT EQUIPMENT DO YOU NEED FOR HIGH-END AUDIO?

First of all, the device with which you play audio must have a digital-to-analog converter (DAC) that supports high resolution music. Nowadays almost all new PCs support this, just like Android phones. Just because your device contains such a DAC does not mean that audio is played in high quality.

For this you need to have speakers, headphones and an amplifier that are also of good quality. In order to display your music as accurately as possible, these devices must have the widest possible frequency range. For example, this is not the case with simple all-in-one systems. The Origin speaker has a frequency range from 20 to 24.000 and a dynamic range of 115 decibel. In addition, they are equipped with WiSA, which supports lossless digital audio transmission up to 24-bit, 96kHz. Simply put: with the Origin speakers you can listen to high resolution music wirelessly.

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