Check Your Hearing Before Paying for Spotify “Hi-Fi”
I’ll admit, I was delighted that my favorite streaming service Spotify has announced the rollout of a new level of service for lossless audio streaming . Sure, it will cost more than what I’m paying now, but throwing away the expected $ 20 a month for perfect sound sounds good, doesn’t it? My future trips are ten times better.
That’s the problem. I wouldn’t pay a dime for “enhanced sound” on any streaming service simply because the opportunity exists. At least not knowing if I can tell the difference between existing high quality streaming service offerings and lossless offerings. I’m going to argue that most people probably won’t notice the difference in most cases – and I’m not the only one who says that.
As Napier Lopez of The Next Web writes :
“Spotify Premium (existing $ 9.99 ad-free tier) already streams at a maximum of 320 kbps (256 kbps on the web) if you’ve turned it on in the app’s settings . While the difference between lossy and lossless audio can be pretty obvious at low bitrates, I bet most people can’t tell the difference between a lossless file and a 256 kbps MP3 file, let alone a file compressed with a more modern codec. Ogg. which Spotify uses.
Our hearing is subject to a variety of placebos. Merely believing that a certain update or key specification will improve the sound of your speakers or headphones is often more likely to result in an “improvement” than any actual change. However, many audiophiles with golden ears swear they can hear the difference without proof. “
Since Spotify’s ‘HiFi’ service isn’t out until this year, you can’t directly test its lossless streaming. However, it’s pretty easy to see if you can tell the difference between audio files with different bitrates and compression right now. Lopez recommends the ABX Digital Feed test , which gives you two audio files, sample A and B, and a target sample. Your job is to tell if A or B is fit for purpose, and you can choose between a faster five-track “can I say lossy or lossy” test, a ten-track test, or a 20-track test.
In other words, the benchmark checks to see if you can tell the difference between the lossless and the lossy version of the song. And if you think it’s going to be easy, well … this is what the test setup looks like when you are going to use it:
You press A, X or B to start playing the track, and you can switch between different versions by pressing A, X or B as much as you like. Even then, it was quite difficult for me to distinguish between files in most situations. Either my hearing sucks or it’s just really, really hard to separate the 320Kbps Spotify streaming – the highest quality – from the lossless file.
I won’t even show my results, because to be honest, most of the time I was just guessing. It’s likely that my home audio system – essentially a $ 150 pair of headphones plugged directly into the motherboard of my desktop PC – is simply not good enough for me to hear the difference between a high-quality file and a lossless file. But even with a more advanced setup, it’s an ordeal, as one Reddit user describes it :
I ran this test with an LS50W in a treated room. I got about 65-70% of correct answers. The point is, I REALLY had to concentrate hard, critically listening in a completely inorganic way. And even so, I was still mistaken by a large percentage. The difference was so minor that after this test, I switched to Spotify from Tidal. I haven’t looked back since then.
If you want a simpler quiz, NPR also published a similar study in 2015 that you can use to test your ears. On this I did a great job, choosing a file with a speed of 320 Kbps. But the file is lossless? Not so much.
And if you have a lossy and lossless file of the same song, you can try this old trick to compare the differences between the two:
That said, I wouldn’t bother with the more expensive audio hi-fi services if you can’t tell them apart from the “regular” streaming service offerings for whatever you have in your home — headphones, speakers, or ears. You will be wasting money on “benefits” that you will never appreciate, and that seems silly.