Skip to main content

Why I don't think Spotify HiFi is coming any time soon (and why it doesn’t matter)

https://www.reddit.com/r/truespotify/comments/p2vsz7/heres_a_sneak_peek_at_the_upcoming_hifi/
(Image credit: https://www.reddit.com/r/truespotify/comments/p2vsz7/heres_a_sneak_peek_at_the_upcoming_hifi/)

In case you didn't know (where have you been?), Spotify HiFi is the ubiquitous music streaming service's long-anticipated entry into CD-quality streaming. It was initially teased in 2017 and promptly disappeared from consciousness. 

Then, on 22nd February 2021, the company officially announced Spotify HiFi to the world at its 'Stream On' event, but this time it promised the tier would be with us by the end of the year. A leaked video and a cheeky icon glimpse in the iOS app gave us our first look at HiFi in the wild. Things were looking good.

Since then we have been mostly waiting. And waiting. At the time of writing, Spotify has less than 10 days to make good on its promise. 

When (if?) HiFi launches, Spotify Premium subscribers will be able to 'upgrade' their membership so they can listen to higher-quality streams, although said streams still won't be 'hi-res' quality (generally defined as anything above CD-quality) the kind that are already offered by rivals TidalQobuzAmazon and, since June 2021, Apple Music

Will Spotify Premium subscribers have to pay a surcharge for not-quite hi-res streaming? Even this hasn't been clarified, although when Apple Music casually rolled out its Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless tiers for free to subscribers this summer, it likely quashed any designs Spotify may or may not have had about instigating a price hike. 

In fact, although Spotify claims "high-quality music streaming" has consistently been one of its users' most requested new features, it remains tight-lipped about its HiFi tier's price, device compatibility, territories and launch dates as we come to the end of play on 2021. Did I mention that Tidal, our top choice when it comes to streaming services, recently introduced a free tier in the US?

I'm prepared to go on record and say that I think Spotify wasn't prepared for any of this, and that it will struggle to meet the demand for a HiFi tier that doesn't come at a premium. I also think it doesn't really matter. 

Why I think Spotify HiFi isn't coming this year 

In short: coin – both what Spotify stands to gain and what its subscribers will now be willing (or unwilling) to part with. 

Apple Music now offers its ALAC 24-bit/192kHz hi-res files for £10 ($10) per month. Amazon Music HD can get you 24-bit/192kHz FLAC streams for the same money, or £8 ($8) per month if you're a Prime member. If Spotify goes ahead with its plan to present its OGG files (which are currently capped at a bitrate of 320kbps, even if you select 'very high' quality) but in 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality for £10 ($10) per month or potentially more, buyers are certainly likely to notice the discrepancy – even if said streams are compatible with Spotify Connect, as is promised. 

The consumer speaks with their wallet, a truth that presents itself ever more readily in these continued trying times. Spotify has long been a go-to platform owing to its loyal early adopters (having launched in 2006) and of course its super-accessible free tier. Despite what the company says, I do not think music lovers turn to Spotify for quality. They turn to it for convenience and for sociable, cheap (often free) music. 

A few weeks ago my Instagram feed was packed with Spotify Wrapped stories, my friends and acquaintances clearly eager to share their most-streamed artists and listened-to genres. It's times like these that I'm struck by how prevalent Spotify is over other services – we have figures, of course, but social media is the voice of our era. Being vocal about your music is something other platforms have long tried to encourage – Apple has a heart-shaped 'love' button next to tracks to get you to be more public regarding your music tastes – with varying degrees of success. 

When dancing professionally, the words "Don't worry! I'll share the playlist with you!" are often said by choreographers after rehearsals, the inference being that I must practise in my own time and be better by the next rehearsal. There is never a Spotify prefix added to that promise, although Spotify is invariably the vehicle used. Why not? It isn't necessary; every self-respecting human who works with music knows their way around Spotify. 

Don't get me wrong, I want you to care about better-quality hi-res music. Upon listening to songs I regularly use for testing on Apple Music, along with a quality pair of wired headphones and a portable DAC (none of which Apple sells), the difference in quality, in detail through the leading edges of notes, reveals itself to me like turning on a switch to illuminate a dark room. I feel cheated that I've been sharing, rehearsing, and in some cases performing to lossy (but easy to email) MP3 files for much of my career. 

But that just brings me to another sticking point... 

Why the Spotify HiFi delay doesn't really matter 

In order to explain, a bit of background information is necessary. When Apple Music updated its offering to include Lossless (at up to 24-bit/48kHz) and Hi-Res Lossless (with sample rates greater than 48kHz, up to 24-bit/192kHz) files at no extra fee to subscribers, we praised its generosity. 

At the same time, we knocked Tim Cook's mixed message (and from a company that prides itself on direction and vision) because Apple's own headphones cannot play these files. The Bluetooth connection boasting the bandwidth to wholly support them does not yet exist.

Although Apple's free improvements left rival streaming services looking a little flat, Apple had seemingly shot itself in the foot, because its hugely successful AirPods do not play ball with its new higher-resolution streams – not even its flagship AirPods Max (£549, $549, AU$899).

Of course, this issue is not unique to Apple – no Bluetooth headphones offer the capability. Yes, some wireless headphones claim to support hi-res streaming – but even then you aren't getting a lossless audio experience. For example, Qualcomm’s popular aptX codec supports 16-bit/48kHz files, while aptX HD supports 24-bit/48kHz, and these are considered both streets ahead of 'standard' codecs such as SBC. But the codec simply determines how Bluetooth transmits from the source device to your headphones, and both aptX and aptX HD are lossy formats – so even if the audio you are streaming boasts the same resolution as lossless audio, it isn't truly lossless. However you try to paint it, Bluetooth connections are not lossless – not even the highest-quality one around, Sony's LDAC.

Now, Spotify. It stands to reason that if you're on a tight budget, you probably don't own a set of premium wired audiophile-grade headphones or a hi-res multi-room audio system. Although the uninitiated might think that whacking on a HiFi track through the old Bluetooth portable speaker is a good idea, unless your kit is higher up the food chain, you won't benefit from or hear the difference between HiFi and plain old vanilla Spotify. 

Is there really a need for lossless quality in Spotify's admittedly extensive oeuvre? I am not so sure. 

Conclusion: Spotify does not need a HiFi tier

There, I've said it. For many subscribers, Spotify needs HiFi like Primark needs a collaboration with Karl Lagerfeld. Spotify fills the gap for users who need a track cheaply, quickly, and without taking a big chunk out of their phone's data allowance. It doesn't need hifalutin and often inaccessible bitrates and resolutions. 

According to the market and consumer data company, Statista (opens in new tab), Spotify had 158m paid-for subscribers at the start of 2021. By the second quarter of this year, that figure had increased to 165m. The company kicked off the third quarter of this year with 172m premium subscribers worldwide, up from 144m in the corresponding quarter of 2020. Seven million new subscribers within three months, from April to June, all without a dicky bird on Spotify HiFi.

Need to locate, check, share or simply hear a track right now? I defy anyone to tell me that they haven't found themselves heading to Spotify's extensive catalogue as their first port of call. Yes, you may buy your music later (in hi-res or physical format) but come on, Spotify is most obliging initially. Similarly, when you need a new white T-shirt because you've just spilled your coffee down the one you were wearing on the walk to work, where do you go? Tell me it's to Mr. Lagerfeld's store on Regent Street. I'll wait... 

MORE: 

Read our feature on hi-res music streaming services compared: which should you sign up for?

Listen to one of 30 of the best podcasts on Spotify

See our pick of the best music streaming services 2021: free streams to hi-res audio

Becky Scarrott

Becky has been a full-time staff writer at What Hi-Fi? since March 2019. Prior to gaining her MA in Journalism in 2018, she freelanced as an arts critic alongside a 20-year career as a professional dancer and aerialist – any love of dance is of course tethered to a love of music. Becky has previously contributed to Stuff, FourFourTwo, This is Cabaret and The Stage. When not writing, she dances, spins in the air, drinks coffee, watches football or surfs in Cornwall with her other half – a football writer whose talent knows no bounds. 

  • manicm
    Becky you're just plain wrong here. There's a major difference between Apple Music and Spotify - the Connect option which allows seamless connection to hifi streamers.

    You've wrongly only focused on Bluetooth connections, erroneously assuming hifi users don't care. Well you assume wrong. Hifi users employing the Connect option will embrace a true CD quality streaming option.

    Sorry, your piece is big on assumptions, big on Bluetooth, but short elsewhere.
    Reply
  • bill k
    I know how to get Spotify to offer hi-res. I switch to Tidal A week later Spotify will offer hi-res. I was on Spotify forum about this. Scores of people from all over the world were complaining. We will eventually switch streaming services. You are right about aptx hd being lossy. But it still has 576 kbps, compared to 320. And spotify makes far more money from their premium members than the free ones.
    Reply
  • Friesiansam
    What Hi-Fi? said:
    Need to locate, check, share or simply hear a track right now? I defy anyone to tell me that they haven't found themselves heading to Spotify's extensive catalogue as their first port of call. Yes, you may buy your music later (in hi-res or physical format) but come on, Spotify is most obliging initially.
    Not being willing to pay for sub-CD quality music, I have only used free Spotify and, last few times I tried to listen to something, it was impossible due to over-insistent advertising. I don't use Spotify any more.
    Reply
  • Hifiman
    I wonder if WHF staffers now plan to apply the same logic to their other group reviews? ‘We are going to stick with the inferior sonic quality product that costs the same or more than its rivals because it is, let us think, currently the most popular? Your ancillary equipment may not be good enough to tell the SQ difference anyway? The superior products may use up more of your mobile data if you forget to choose their data sparing options? People stick with what they know?’
    I remember Blackberry coming up with comparable arguments in 2007.
    Reply
  • Patrick dv
    manicm said:
    Becky you're just plain wrong here. There's a major difference between Apple Music and Spotify - the Connect option which allows seamless connection to hifi streamers.

    You've wrongly only focused on Bluetooth connections, erroneously assuming hifi users don't care. Well you assume wrong. Hifi users employing the Connect option will embrace a true CD quality streaming option.

    Sorry, your piece is big on assumptions, big on Bluetooth, but short elsewhere.
    Correct It is the Connect option. That is why I use Tidal. Spotify seems to have a bigger database and algorithm
    Reply
  • mizzor
    It has not been proven that more than 0.0001% of people can make the difference between spotify high quality and losless or high res in a blind test!
    Reply
  • arconreef
    This article feels very out of touch. I am currently using Amazon Music HD, and I hate it. It F***ing sucks. The mobile app in particular is just awful. Tidal is no better. I am waiting for Spotify to roll out their Hi-Fi feature so that I can finally justify switching over. The reality is that I, like most people (including audiophiles), spend the majority of my time listening to music while away from home through bluetooth devices on my phone, but I also have an audiophile grade setup at home that I use to listen to high fidelity music on the weekends. I am definitely not going to pay for two separate streaming services, so I am stuck with Amazon Music until Spotify can offer an acceptable alternative. The reality is that 16-bit 44.1khz CD quality audio is already very good, and most of the music I listen to isn't available in "Ultra Hi-Fi" on Amazon Music or Tidal anyway. CD quality is good enough for me. I just wish Spotify would hurry up and implement it so I can finally make the switch.
    Reply
  • mizzor
    arconreef said:
    This article feels very out of touch. I am currently using Amazon Music HD, and I hate it. It F***ing sucks. The mobile app in particular is just awful. Tidal is no better. I am waiting for Spotify to roll out their Hi-Fi feature so that I can finally justify switching over. The reality is that I, like most people (including audiophiles), spend the majority of my time listening to music while away from home through bluetooth devices on my phone, but I also have an audiophile grade setup at home that I use to listen to high fidelity music on the weekends. I am definitely not going to pay for two separate streaming services, so I am stuck with Amazon Music until Spotify can offer an acceptable alternative. The reality is that 16-bit 44.1khz CD quality audio is already very good, and most of the music I listen to isn't available in "Ultra Hi-Fi" on Amazon Music or Tidal anyway. CD quality is good enough for me. I just wish Spotify would hurry up and implement it so I can finally make the switch.
    That's what I thought and when I switched to Spotify for convenience I noticed I couldn't hear the difference while I get annoyed by "ultrasound" device because I hear very well the frequencies which are trimmed in lossy recordings which most people can't hear... don't bother, spotify is the way to go
    Reply
  • Rezonater
    I use both Spotify Premium and Tidal. Spotify for the far superior curation and Discover Weekly - Tidal for when I fire up the big system. I found a fantastic service that instantly syncs playlists on both services. Tidal doesn’t have about 15% of the tracks.
    I would love to dump Tidal, as many features don’t work like download files not playing properly with CarPlay - or worst of all, its propensity to degrade into angry gangster rap. Put on some Spanish guitar… 4 hours later you will be listening to someone yelling how they slapped their lady and popped a cap into someone’s butt. (Seriously, try it).
    Apple‘s library is gleaned right from every top 40 radio list from the last 30 years. “Oh, you like Massive Attack… here’s some Radiohead… oh, you like *insert name*… here’s some Radiohead”.
    Unfortunately, we don’t get Qobuz in Canada.

    So for me Becky, I’m really really eager for Spotify to go hifi. Most of what I listen to isn’t in MQA anyways, nor does my Chord DAC decode it.
    Reply
  • robsrand
    I've been jumping around from service to service lately, and lately have gone with year-long subscriptions to Tidal and Spotify. Sadly I think you're right: Spotify doesn't really need to make this happen. With the equipment that the overwhelming majority of people use for listening to music, they'll never know the difference - and most of the people I've talked to don't even want to know the difference. Unless I'm wired into my LG V phone (while it lasts), I'm hard-pressed to tell the difference either.

    I still wish Spotify would make it happen. But lately I've become happier with the curation/content on Tidal, and their apps have worked well enough for me... so I can just stick with that when my Spotify runs out on 2/7/22.

    Another commenter is right about one thing: Amazon HD is hot garbage. They can't even pay me to use their android or Windows apps again.
    Reply