Spoti-fi?

As reported by The Verge via a posting on Reddit, Spotify is now testing an upgraded service that will allow its premium subscribers to stream losslessly for an additional $5 or $10 a month. Although Spotify would not confirm or deny the allegation when asked about it by Billboard, I suspect given the number of users who reported receiving an email to sign-up for the new service, they are indeed testing a new “hi-fi” service. But should you care?

Let me first give you the audiophile party-line: Lossy streaming is evil and always has been since its inception. In fact the MP3 and its ilk have single handily ruined a generation of music listeners and is the main reason why modern music sounds stale (never mind the horrendous production techniques used to create said music). But now if Spotify offers the ability to stream lossless than Apple Music will soon follow, and thus the days of lossy streaming will soon be over. In nomine Lossless et FLAC et Spiritus Streaming. Something like that.

The truth is 320k bitrate Ogg Vorbis sounds as good as a CD on most listening platforms, particularly if you stream music through a phone or other smart device. In fact, I claim Ogg Vorbis “sounds” better if said devices is on a data plan where those extra bits cost real money. Furthermore, if you read these initial reports carefully, you’ll note that Spotify is also thinking about offering other incentives to their “hi-fi” service in addition to lossless streaming, including discounts on tickets and other exclusive merchandise. Spotify is quite aware that lossless streaming in itself is not a very compelling offering. Just ask TIDAL.

With all that said, I do think lossless streaming in general is a) a good thing and b) an inevitability.

I believe lossless streaming is good for the marketplace because it allows luddites like myself (and I suspect many of you) to make the transition from owning music to renting it less painful. The fact is that if I’m going to be forced into some streaming based walled garden as my primary way to consume music, it might as well be lossless based just to ensure that I am hearing exactly what the artist intended. Part of being an audiophile is also being an archivist too, which in turn means I like to have access to the original set of bits instead of a very close facsimile of them even if most of the time I can’t tell the difference between the two. That’s why my number one platform for music is Bandcamp. And when I do Bandcamp I always FLAC.

I also believe lossless streaming is inevitable because it is an easy way to upsell a service that already operates on very thin margins. Streaming is a volume business after all, so it should come to you as no surprise that all the major streaming platforms are constantly looking to offer as much value add as possible to build up their subscriber base. And the “hi-fi” moniker has always been an attractive marketing ploy, even if there is very little sonic substance behind it for the casual music listener. Paging Mr. Young.

The truth is I’m not sure I myself would opt for the “hi-fi” tier even though I fit the demographic and own a system that can surely take advantage of those extra bits. Maybe I would depending on that value-add though. I just don’t know. If you use Spotify, would you be interested in a lossless option for say an extra $5 a month? Post your comments below.