Frankly, it’s gotten to the point where we’d juxtapose the painful six-year wait for Spotify HiFi with the 13-year and 36-year gaps for the Avatar and Top Gun sequels. The worst part, of course, is that this is six years and more. OK, so Spotify really only confirmed it would release a ‘Spotify Hi-Fi’ tier just two years ago, but we can trace stories of the first rumors back to 2017. We wrote that ‘Spotify Hi-Fi tier is set to offer lossless streaming’ in March of that year (just after Donald Trump was inaugurated as president, to make a nice point of how long ago that actually was) based on a test the service is running was, and since then there’s been a steady stream of hints and developments pointing to Spotify HiFi appearing on the horizon.
The elephant in the room is that 22 months after Spotify said HiFi would launch, we still haven’t got it. It’s very disappointing, although Spotify must be just as frustrated with what’s holding it back from its launch – apparently it’s mired in a licensing feud, though the company hasn’t said much about it publicly.
Next year must surely be the year when it becomes a reality (I know, we said that last December…), but as we continue to wait, not so patiently these days, let’s take a trip down memory lane to remind ourselves of the journey so far and, more gleefully, some of the milestones that show the strides lossless and hi-res streaming have made over the last decade…
2013: a French coup for quality without loss of quality
Qobuz, a French music streaming service that has been operating exclusively in its native country since its inception in 2007 (the same year Spotify launched), is expanding its reach to other countries in Europe and becoming the first service in the UK to offer lossless streaming – notably FLAC files in CD quality (16-bit/44.1 kHz).
It’s safe to say that Qobuz was the only ‘audiophile’ choice at the humble beginnings of the hi-res streaming journey.
2014: Tidal brings the competition
The Tidal streaming service was born as a rebranded WiMP by Norwegian founder Aspiro, bringing lossless (CD quality) streaming to the UK and US. It was then acquired by Jay-Z in March 2015, leading to a star-studded ‘relaunch’ that saw the likes of Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire, Beyonce, Madonna, Daft Punk and more publicly show their support for the streaming service. , with Tidal repositioning itself as “the first-ever artist-owned global music entertainment platform”. Around this time, it also announced plans to support hi-res streaming in conjunction with Meridian’s MQA technology (see below) and launched in several other markets.
Meridian Audio is launching Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), a technology that enables efficient streaming of hi-res music and will enable hi-res streaming on Tidal from early 2017 (then MQA would be its own company).
2015: Qobuz puts Tidal on high resolution
In June, Qobuz becomes the world’s first service to deliver hi-res streaming, offering subscribers to its Sublime tier (which includes access to streaming, plus discounted hi-res downloads up to 24-bit/192kHz) through its Android app. In 2019, the service completely shut down lossy (mp3) streams and entered the US market, claiming to offer “the richest catalog of hi-res music for streaming and download” today.
2017: a promising year for progress
Tidal announces that hi-res streams – dubbed ‘Tidal Masters’ – will be offered free to subscribers of its ‘HiFi’ tier, after two years of hi-res streaming testing using MQA technology (we heard about it before first in January 2016). Later that year, Deezer (another French streaming service) also teamed up with MQA, though a hi-res service never materialized.
The first rumors of Spotify delivering a quality layer without loss of quality appear. Some Spotify Premium subscribers in the US are getting access to a lossless “Spotify Hi-Fi” streaming service via an in-app notification, raising expectations that a level of CD quality will soon be available for an additional $ 7.50-$10 on top of the cost of the Premium tier, which offers lossy 320 kbps music.
Deezer is launching a ‘Deezer Hi-Fi’ lossless CD quality level for its desktop application, though it won’t roll out to its web player and Android and iOS apps until 2019.
2019: Amazon joins the party
Amazon is launching a lossless and hi-res streaming tier of its music service called ‘Amazon Music HD’, offering subscribers more than 50 million CD-quality songs and “millions” of 24-bit hi-res streams for an additional £5/ $5 / AU$5) per month. However, in May 2021, Amazon dropped the charge — no doubt in response to Apple Music suddenly adding hi-res streaming at no extra cost — bundling its lossless and hi-res streams into its all-encompassing Music Unlimited service.
In response to Amazon’s launch of its hi-res service, Spotify’s chief financial officer, Paul Vogel, explains The edge: “A high quality option is not something that has been a big differentiator between services. It’s really about the UI, algorithms, playlists, and discoverability. In terms of what consumers are looking for, it’s not something that really resonates.”
While Spotify was almost certainly testing the waters for a Hi-Fi tier in 2017, it clearly didn’t seem to be at the forefront of the company’s priorities in late 2019.
2021: Spotify HiFi appears (ish)
Four years after it was first teased, Spotify becomes HiFi official. Spotify says the tier will offer lossless streaming (there was no word on hi-res) “starting later this year”. Spotify promises to share more details soon, including price and launch dates. It says the CD-quality streams would be compatible with Spotify Connect, supposedly allowing Spotify HiFi subscribers to easily play high-quality streams between their phone or computer and the multitude of Spotify Connect-enabled speakers and devices on the market.
Sonos finally supports hi-res on its service – via Qobuz. It comes as welcome news to Sonos owners who’ve been patiently waiting for the chance to stream higher quality audio. In December of that year, it was announced that Amazon’s hi-res streams would also be supported by the popular multi-room ecosystem.
Since then, Sonos has posted on its blog: “If you prefer another streaming service that offers High-Resolution Audio that isn’t currently available on Sonos, please know that we look forward to introducing more high-resolution experiences in the future. ” So there is hope that Tidal can be added at some point.
Be able to
Apple Music adds support for lossless and Hi-Res Audio at no extra cost, as well as Spatial Audio with Dolby Atmos, making it the best value Hi-Res service on the market at £10 / $10 / AU$11.99 per month at the time of launch (today it’s a close call between Apple and Amazon).
Spotify HiFi seems within reach as one Reddit user reports that he found the Spotify HiFi menu in a song in his iOS app. The HiFi icon apparently appeared in the bottom right corner of the app and clicking it brought up the message: “Use wired devices or speakers capable of playing lossless audio, 16-bit/44.1kHz quality or higher , to successfully listen to music in HiFi.” This indicated that Spotify’s long-awaited higher-quality offering would launch soon. Of course that wasn’t allowed…
A leaked video posted online by someone else Reddit user, seems to offer a welcome tour of Spotify HiFi. The 57-second video, which appears to be legit, is attached with the caption: “Here’s a sneak peek at the upcoming HiFi onboarding process of customizing the app.” The tour explains “how to get the full HiFi experience” and why Spotify Connect is “the best way to listen to HiFi”, and ends with a “Get access to HiFi” button. Again, more teasers that cheered (and then shattered) us.
2022: disappointing delays
As December 2021 came and went and Spotify didn’t exist yet, people started wondering where it was and what had happened. Spotify was clearly feeling some heat, posting a plea on the Spotify Community website with, “We know high-fidelity audio is important to you. We feel the same way, and we’re excited to bring a Spotify HiFi experience to Premium users in the future. But we don’t have any timing data to share yet.”
Spotify CEO Daniel Ek admits he doesn’t know when Spotify HiFi will launch. Speaking to analysts and investors, Ek says the launch of the tier is being held up due to the licensing process, adding that Spotify was in “constant talks” with music labels about bringing the feature to market.
Will Spotify HiFi become Spotify HiFi after all? The latest rumor after six months of near-silence suggests a new tier could be called ‘Spotify Platinum’ and include not only ‘HiFi’ sound, but other usage features such as ‘Playlist Pro’ and ‘Library Pro’ – for two times the price of Premium. This is from one Reddit user who, when canceling his subscription to the streaming service, reports that he has received a survey from Spotify asking whether he would be interested in such an offer.
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