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Where is Spotify Hi-Fi? And do we still want a lossless Spotify tier?

Spotify Hi-Fi was teased three years ago – so where is it? And do we even need it now?
(Image credit: Spotify)

In March 2017, a Spotify Hi-Fi subscription tier was teased by the green giant itself: some Spotify Premium subscribers in the US were offered lossless, CD-quality (1411kbps) streams in the app for an extra $7.50 per month – a vast improvement on the 320kbps streams they typically offered.

At that time, we were already blessed with CD-quality offerings from rival services Tidal, Qobuz and Deezer. Tidal was even three months into its now well-established Tidal Masters offering, which introduced hi-res 'better than CD-quality' streaming.

But despite this, Spotify introducing a lossless, CD-quality option, let alone hi-res audio, would have been welcomed back then. It was (and still is) the most popular service of its kind – currently with over 130 million subscribers, compared with Amazon Music’s 55 million and Apple Music’s 60-odd million. 

So what better way to promote the importance of high-quality music than to offer it as part of the world's most popular streaming service?

But, some three years later, all has gone quiet in the Spotify camp regarding any lossless audio quality. In the meantime, other services have steamed ahead. So where is Spotify Hi-Fi? And do we even want it any more?

The state of play

Spotify’s audio quality limit is still 320kbps (the maximum bitrate threshold for MP3), which it calls ‘very high quality’ in its audio settings menu. This is available to Spotify Premium subscribers at a cost of £9.99 ($9.99) per month. 

For comparison, the ‘average’ bitrate offered by Amazon Music HD’s highest quality ‘Ultra HD’ hi-res streams is 3730kbps (according to Amazon) and is available to Prime members for £12.99 ($12.99) per month or, for non-Prime members, £14.99 ($14.99) per month. Tidal’s £19.99 ($19.99) per month HiFi tier offers 1411kbps CD streams, with its hi-res Masters again offering much higher quality than that.

You don’t need to be particularly well versed in audio bitrates to see that there is plenty of room for Spotify to up its audio game. With some services, including Amazon, Tidal and Qobuz, now offering not only CD quality but also hi-res tracks, Spotify is essentially two steps behind.

And there is at least some demand. You only need to read the multiple threads about hi-res requests on Spotify’s forum, or consider the subscribers of Tidal and Amazon's hi-res tiers (although neither has released exact numbers), to see that plenty of people do care. That said, it’s safe to say they don’t represent the majority of Spotify’s 280-odd million users. And Spotify knows that.

In response to Amazon launching its hi-res service, Spotify’s chief financial officer, Paul Vogel, told The Verge: “A high-quality option is not something that’s been a big differentiator among services. It’s really about the user interface, algorithms, playlists and discoverability. In terms of what consumers are looking for, it’s not something that has really resonated.”

While Spotify was almost certainly testing the waters for a Hi-Fi tier back in 2017, it clearly isn't at the forefront of the company's priorities now. In fact, the chances of it coming to fruition anytime soon seem pretty low.

Instead, Spotify is busy expanding into new markets (it recently reached 92 countries), introducing new subscriptions (most recently, Duo) and launching new top chart podcasts and real-time lyrics, for example – all worthy developments to maintain its global domination; to grow its subscriber base and keep it appealing to streamers today.

Do we still want Spotify HiFi?

In a word, yes. We’d love Spotify, the world’s biggest music streaming service, to champion high-quality music. However, thanks to a trio of fine alternatives, including Amazon flying the hi-res flag for mass-market streaming... we can't say we need it. 

But we're as disappointed by Spotify's absence as anyone. The impact Spotify Hi-Fi would have on audiophiles is clear: they'd get better sounding music and, presuming CD/hi-res compatibility was implemented within the Spotify Connect feature, a simple way to stream it to networked wireless speakers and music systems – in the same way Google Chromecast does for Tidal’s hi-res streams. 

Spotify leads the way with world-class curation and a wealth of discovery features, including its own branded playlists, such as Discover Weekly and Daily Mixes, and it would be great to be able to enjoy them in high quality.

Artists would have the satisfaction of their fans hearing music even closer to how it was intended. Of course, it would also build on Amazon's efforts to promote the importance of good audio quality, and why it matters in the mainstream market.

Good news, bad news

The suggestion three years ago was that Spotify would ask between $5 and $10 extra (presumably £5 and £10) per month for a lossless tier. To compete with Amazon Music HD, which undercut the £19.99/$19.99pm standard for CD-quality and hi-res streams, it would presumably be closer to the latter.

Those who care about audio quality might perhaps pay a little more for Spotify’s class-leading experience, device integration and handy Spotify Connect feature. But would Premium subscribers be happy paying more than their current monthly fee? That’s the big question but, sadly, it doesn’t seem we’ll get an answer anytime soon. 

That will, however, be music to the ears of Amazon, and especially Tidal and Qobuz, who could struggle if Spotify decides to raise its game. Audio quality is their main USP – take that away and you wonder how they would compete.

So, no Spotify HiFi on the horizon might be bad news for its subscribers who crave higher-quality audio, but it's possibly good news for rival services, and those of us who enjoy them.

MORE:

How Spotify saved the music industry but left some genres behind

33 Spotify tips, tricks and features

16 hi-fi and home cinema products we want to see in this world

Save 95% on hi-res streaming! Tidal HiFi now just £1 per month

11 of the best Spotify playlists to listen to right now

  • gel
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    With Amazon, Tidal and Qobuz flying the flag for hi-res streaming, has the moment passed for the music service?

    Where is Spotify Hi-Fi? And do we still want a lossless Spotify tier? : Read more
    I still use Spotify all the time and one of the main reason is because it’s free!
    Reply
  • GriffinN
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    With Amazon, Tidal and Qobuz flying the flag for hi-res streaming, has the moment passed for the music service?

    Where is Spotify Hi-Fi? And do we still want a lossless Spotify tier? : Read more
    If spotify added FLAC, I'd cancel Tidal in a heartbeat. It's the only reason I have tidal. Spotify has way more features plus podcasts.

    Plus they don't put two artist with the same name on the same page and say both their albums are made by the same person... (COIN)
    Reply
  • CyberAthlete
    Hello everyone! If Spotify starts streaming Hi-Fi audio, I will ditch Amazon HD. Spotify has the friendliest interface, easiest playlist management, best ability to discover new tracks, algorithms to suggest songs that are pretty much exactly what you're looking for any given playlist, edit playlist track listing on the fly and the best live recorded catalog of any streaming service.
    Reply
  • Joseph Cotten
    Why would anyone mention a "maximum bitrate threshold for MP3" in relation to an OGG stream? Does Spotify no longer stream in higher quality OGG (at the same bitrate, OGG contains more original information)...?

    I'd rather have WHF do an actual comparison of the Apple, Tidal, Qobuz, and MP3 codecs with Sotify's implementation of OGG than quote bitrates that do not mean anything without explanation of the compression.
    Reply
  • CyberAthlete
    I think you should do that yourself and be the judge yourself. All hi-fi sites will always and every time state that all HD Music streams sound much better than Spotify. I subscribe to both Spotify and Amazon HD. I'll do some listening tests on my end.
    Reply
  • AyEye
    I really hope Spotify do put the work in to add lossless streaming. I'd be happy to pay double for my family plan. I've had both Quobuz and Amazon Music HD but Amazon's interface is just terrible, it feels like an 'app' sitting over an old web client made by two different teams who don't talk to each other, it's just naff. And unfortunately Quobuz just doesn't have the catalogue or anywhere near the same calibre of discovery features. And I don't want anything to do with Tidal's Lossy MQA format. Spotify are the best service out there and I'll just continue to use my hard copies when wanting quality and put up with 'Very High Quality' Compressed OGG for the time being and keep hoping, for years to come.
    Reply
  • DBB
    AyEye said:
    I really hope Spotify do put the work in to add lossless streaming. I'd be happy to pay double for my family plan. I've had both Quobuz and Amazon Music HD but Amazon's interface is just terrible, it feels like an 'app' sitting over an old web client made by two different teams who don't talk to each other, it's just naff. And unfortunately Quobuz just doesn't have the catalogue or anywhere near the same calibre of discovery features. And I don't want anything to do with Tidal's Lossy MQA format. Spotify are the best service out there and I'll just continue to use my hard copies when wanting quality and put up with 'Very High Quality' Compressed OGG for the time being and keep hoping, for years to come.
    Exactly this. I've done loads of tests of Amazon, Qobuz and Tidal and Amazon just about edged out Qobuz, due to the larger library and more personalised recommendations. The Amazon app is pretty terrible though, and the lack of support for external DACs on Android is annoying.

    I found Tidal to be the most like Spotify in terms of app UI, music discovery etc but, like you say, can't be done with all that MQA nonsense. Plus there are nowhere near as many hi res songs and albums as there are on Amazon or Qobuz.

    Qobuz sounded the best for me of the three but there were gaps in the catalogue. I requested for a few albums to be added but heard nothing further about it a few weeks later.

    If Spotify had FLAC or, even better, hi res FLAC, I'd ditch the others in a heartbeat. I use Freeyourmusic to copy my Spotify playlists over to Amazon, but I'd rather not have to do that.
    Reply