Music streaming services haven’t traditionally focused on audio quality. Spotify and Google Play Music both boast maximum bitrates of 320 Kbps, while Apple Music comes in at just 256 Kbps.
This might sound like a lot, and for most users, it’s enough. However, when you compare the quality of most streaming services to CDs — which typically offer 1,411 Kbps — there’s no contest.
If you’re an audiophile, this poses a problem. You don’t want poor-quality audio to sully your expensive Hi-Fi system. Because you demand the clearest and most refined music available. As such, your options are rather limited. Thankfully, there are a few options available to you.
Tidal is the most well-known high-definition music streaming service around right now.
Operated by global rap star Jay-Z, the service’s entire reputation has been built on its high-quality audio offerings (well, that, and Beyoncé’s Lemonade).
Tidal offers users two different plans. The Premium plan costs $9.99 per month and provides a music bitrate of 320 Kbps. If you’re an audiophile, you need to focus on the Hi-Fi package. It offers lossless, CD-quality 1,411 Kbps music for a monthly fee of $19.99. Both packages have family plans available.
And just because Tidal doesn’t have the same allure as the big three — Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music — don’t worry about not being able to find something to listen to. At the time of writing, Tidal boasts 48.5 million tracks and 175,000 music videos.
Qobuz is often overlooked in people’s quest for a high-definition streaming service. Qobuz is based in France, with entrepreneur Yves Riesel having launched the service in 2007. In addition to streaming services, it also offers music downloads.
Unfortunately, the app does not have the international reach of some of its competitors. While Tidal is currently available in 52 countries worldwide, Qobuz operates in just nine: France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Switzerland, and Austria. Additionally, Italy, Spain, and Poland are due to come online in late-2017.
In terms of subscription plans, four tiers are available. Audiophiles can gloss over the $9.99 per month, 320 Kbps entry-level package and focus on the other three. Which are:
- Hi-Fi — Music offered in 16-bit 44.1 KHz FLAC format ($19.99 per month).
- Sublime: Music offered in 16-bit 44.1 KHz FLAC format, downloads offered in 24-bit 192 KHz FLAC format ($219.99 per year).
- Sublime Plus — Music and downloads offered in 24-bit 192 KHz FLAC format ($349.99 per year).
If you live outside Qobuz’s supported countries but don’t want to subscribe to Tidal, Deezer might be exactly what you’re looking for.
The second French company on this list is a relative newcomer to the world of high-definition streaming. The $14.99-per-month Elite plan only went live in September 2014 thanks to the company’s collaboration with speaker manufacturer, Sonos.
Due to its connection with Sonos, the $14.99 Elite package is only available to users with a Sonos speaker. It offers 16-bit, 1,411 Kbps audio.
If you have a Sonos system and live in the United States, it’s a fantastic option. Deezer has been available in the country since mid-2013. In fact, at the time of writing, Deezer is available in 187 countries around the world.
Beatport is the first non-streaming service to make the list. The site, which predominantly focuses on selling dance tracks and DJ mixes, lets users download content in three formats.
- MP3 — All Beatport’s MP3 files are encoded at 320 Kbps.
- AIFF — AIFF files can support album artwork and ID3 tags. The tracks themselves are offered in 16-bit, 1,411 Kbps quality.
- WAV — Lastly, Beatport offers WAV files. They are the original master copies of the tracks and are the highest quality. If you download a lot of WAV files, be careful. Due to the quality, one minute of music equates to roughly 10 MB of disk space — so they’ll eat through your storage in no time.
It’s free to register on Beatport and browse the site, but you have to pay for downloads. The MP3 versions of most tracks are no more than a couple of dollars. However, if you want an AIFF or WAV version, you will have to pay a little more.
Bandcamp is well-known among people who enjoy discovering new music by indie bands. The service has allowed many artists to become famous without the backing of a major record label. In some cases, artists have even dumped their label to work with fans directly on the platform.
The company doesn’t allow any MP3 files on its service. If you’re an artist who wants to upload your work, you can only add AIFF, WAV, or FLAC files. The good news is that, as a user, you know you’re going to get higher quality audio when you hit the Buy button.
Like Beatport, Bandcamp isn’t designed to be a streaming service, though you can use it to listen to some tracks for free.
Because Bandcamp has a mobile app, it’s one of the best ways to listen to high-definition audio on-the-go. It can stream all the music you’ve purchased through the site.
Primephonic recently launched its new streaming service for classical music fans. It’s made quite a splash. Users have praised the app for its reimagined approach to cataloging tracks, its impressive artist biographies, and its ease-of-use.
Classical music-loving audiophiles will be delighted to learn that Primephonic streams all its content in 16-bit, 1,411 Kbps CD-quality. The service will cost you $14.99 per month. No other plan is available.
Primephonic also lets you buy music. Again, all of your purchases will downloaded in high-definition audio.
The use of FLAC audio for classical music makes sense. It’s the music genre that has the most to gain from high-definition audio. After all, you don’t want your Mozart masterpieces to sound like something your school orchestra has thrown together.
We end the list with HDtracks. If you’re not willing to subscribe to an expensive streaming service, check out HDtracks instead.
As the name suggests, the online shop focuses exclusively on high-definition content. In fact, it boasts the largest library of downloadable studio-quality high-resolution music anywhere on the web.
It covers the full range of music genres. So you’ll find everything from the latest music release to the iconic albums of the 1960s. You can purchase full albums or individual tracks.
When you click on an album, you will see its audio quality at the top of the page. Make sure it meets your needs before you confirm your purchase.
Spotify Makes a Play for Audiophiles
Lastly, it’s also worth mentioning Spotify. In early-2017, news broke that the world’s most popular streaming service was planning to enter the world of high-definition audio streaming.
Branded as Spotify Hi-Fi, the company is A/B testing the price on users around the world. Some are being asked to pay $5 per month extra, while others are being asked to pay $10 per month extra.
You’ll have noticed throughout this article that the streaming services currently offering high-quality audio generally charge about $20 per month. If Spotify enters the fray at $15 per month, it could be a serious player in the world of high-definition streaming.
Which Sites and Services Do You Use?
These seven music sites should be more than enough to keep all but the pickiest audiophile satisfied. Whether you prefer to stream music or download it onto your hard drive, you’ll be able to find something to suit your needs.
If you’re an audiophile, we’d love to gather your input. Which sites do you visit when you want to listen to something beyond the 320 Kbps standard? Do you subscribe to Tidal or one of the other streaming services offering HD audio?
And remember the next time you’re preparing to go to a local music event, spend a little time making sure you have the right tech gadgets for that music festival.
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