Hi-Res Audio still isn’t commonplace in the online streaming music world, but a handful of services offer the audio standard. Here’s where to find the streams that promise a superior listening experience.
Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify are just a few of the many online streaming music services that let you listen to your favorite songs and compositions while in the office, making the morning or evening commute, or just sitting in the laundromat watching clothes dry. They’re a musical convenience.
That said, that musical convenience comes with a small price beyond the monthly subscription fees. The streaming music services typically compress the audio into smaller, more manageable files that are easily streamed. For most people, MP3- or CD-quality audio gets the job done, but folks with a thirst for supreme audio-audiophiles-may want to investigate online music services that deliver Hi-Res Audio.
What Is Hi-Res Audio?
Hi-Res Audio, as defined by the Recording Industry Association of America (and its Consumer Electronics Association, DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, and The Recording Academy Producers & Engineers Wing partners), is “lossless audio capable of reproducing the full spectrum of sound from recordings which have been mastered from better than CD quality (48kHz/20-bit or higher) music sources which represent what the artists, producers, and engineers originally intended.”
In other words, Hi-Res Audio aims to deliver sound that comes close to what you’d hear in a recording studio. That’s a big promise. In fact, Xiph.org, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the internet from private interests, claims that the entire affair is hogwash and shenanigans. Tim Gideon, a PCMag contributing editor and audio expert, is also somewhat skeptical, but from a logistics point of view.
The Hardware Angle
“The issue is: What else is part of the signal chain?” asked Gideon in an email to me. “Hi-Res Audio through laptop speakers or crappy earbuds will not sound like Hi-Res Audio, and even really decent speakers may not be able to convey the subtleties.”
Still, Gideon suspects that if everyone had an amazing sound system and listened exclusively to Hi-Res Audio for a year, that they’d hear a difference when listening to CD-quality tunes through the same system. “The ears get used to things,” he said. “Even if I am skeptical now, there’s no doubt that down the road, streaming quality will be what we currently consider Hi-Res Audio. But by then, we’ll have maybe have raised the bar again, and Hi-Res Audio will have a new meaning or be outdated.”
Stream Hi-Res Audio
Regardless of where you stand on the Hi-Res Audio issues, what’s indisputable is that there is a small but growing number of online sources to stream this music standard. We highlight three of them below. And, in fact, Amazon is rumored to be preparing to debut a $15 per month Hi-Res Audio tier sometime this year. So, grab some quality headphones or fire up a home sound system and explore what Hi-Res Audio offers.
Primephonic is a streaming music service designed for the classical music lover. You can search for compositions via work, composer, or album — a much-needed solution that solves a problem inherent to most streaming music services that feature classical music. More relevant for this story, Primephonic offers a Platinum tier ($14.99 per month or $149 per year) that lets you stream more than a million classic works in lossless, 24-bit FLAC adaptive bit rate.
Currently in public beta, Qobuz fancies itself as the home for true music fans. The service offers three streaming audio plans, but its newest tier — Studio — caters to people in search of supreme sound. Studio ($24.99 per month or $249 per year) serves up 24-bit FLAC music at up to 192kHz. At the time of this writing, Qobuz has more than 185,000 Hi-Res Audio albums. In a nice touch, you can download Hi-Res Audio albums for $14.99, or $9.99 if you subscribe to the $299 per year Sublime+ plan.
Tidal is an excellent music service, one that offers exclusive backstage content, live streams, and concerts. One of the service’s more heavily hyped features is Tidal Masters, a partnership with Master Quality Authenticated that brings more than 170,000 studio-quality streams (typically 24-bit, 96kHz) to your ear. All that you need to listen is a $19.99 per month Tidal Hi-Fi account and either the mobile or desktop apps.
Originally published at https://www.pcmag.com on September 4, 2019.