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Everything you need to know about HiFi audio streaming

What are your options when it comes to HiFi audio streaming services?

February 23, 2021 / 03:59 PM IST
Spotify India | Representative Image

Spotify India | Representative Image

With news that Spotify might actually buck the trend and may launch a HiFi streaming service in India, there might be people that are interested in finding out what the big deal about a Hi-Fi audio stream is? Don't fret! We got you covered.

This makes my head hertz. HiFi audio streams: What are they?

The official definition says that any audio that manages to capture the full spectrum of a mix as the artists intended at better than CD Quality (48kHz/20-bit or higher) is considered HiFi audio. In simpler terms, it means the music you are hearing is very close to the actual recording of the song.

Obviously, there is more to it than that. A HiFi audio stream is only part of the equation. If you want the full experience, you are going to need to invest in some seriously pricey audiophile gear to get the full experience.

Remember the music will only sound as good as what its being played on. So, even if you subscribe to a HiFi audio stream but play it on normal speakers, it likely will not sound as good as it was intended to be.

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Okay, what are my options when it comes to music streaming services in India?

Currently, none. Though that may change if Spotify does indeed launch its HiFi streams in India. It's hard to put a finger on what exactly the problems are but they can be many. Every time a music service like Spotify launches in a country, it has to strike deals with record labels, go through tons of legal stuff to get permissions and work out royalties with artists and labels. Which is why it takes a while for features to roll out.

The process is likely even more convoluted for HiFi audio, which will likely mean a fresh series of permissions, licences and other legal hoops to jump through.

Fine, I'll use a VPN. What are the services that support HiFi audio? 

The latest on the list is Spotify, the popular streaming service has announced support for HiFi streaming tier that will be part of its premium subscription plans. The company says it plans to offer CD Quality audio later this year.

Amazon Music is another prominent name that offers Hi-res audio as part of its $14.99 a month Ultra HD service. It streams songs at 192kHz/24-bit which is better than CD Quality audio and when that option isn't available, it defaults to 44.1kHz/16-bit streams which are still better than what regular streams operate on.

If you are western classical music fan, then Primephonic may be something you want to check out. It streams classical music in a lossless, 24-bit FLAC format for $14.99 a month. FLAC is an audio codec that is considered better than MP3 because it stores music information and compresses it without taking a huge hit to quality. The trade-off? The file size is significantly larger than MP3's but still smaller than CD Quality audio files.

Qobuz is another streaming service that offers 24-bit FLAC streams up to 192kHz and the service offers more than 240,000 Hi-Res studio albums. You can subscribe to its Studio Premier Plan which costs $14.99 a month.

Tidal is the one that you most likely heard about when talking about HiFi audio streaming services. There's a good reason for that, it has some of the best features in its category like exclusive backstage content from shows, live streams, concerts and of course, HiFi audio streams. One of its most talked features is Tidal Masters which is partnership with Master Quality Authenticated or MQA.

What is MQA? Like FLAC or MP3, MQA is a music format that claims to digitally capture and store original master recordings (the source recordings in studio) in file sizes small enough to not be cumbersome to download or stream. Another advantage with MQA is that rather than being standalone, it can easily be packaged into a lossless format such as FLAC, WAV or Apple Lossless making it versatile. Tidal charges $19.99 a month for its premium music service.
Rohith Bhaskar
first published: Feb 23, 2021 03:59 pm

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