Spotify Is Now Advertising ‘High Quality Sound’ ⁠(Just Don’t Tell the Audiophiles)

Spotify is now advertising its 320 kbps bitrate as ‘high-quality sound’ to its Premium subscribers. Meanwhile, Amazon Music HD tracks have an average bitrate of 850 kbps.

Back in 2017, Spotify tested offering lossless audio for an additional $5—$10 cost. That’s around the same price services like Tidal, Amazon Music, and Qobuz charge for their hi-res audio content. But Spotify ultimately decided against the move, noting that users are more interested in the content itself, a great interface, and other features.

The standard bitrate for the Spotify desktop app is 160 kbps for free users. Mobile devices get an even more compressed 96 kbps bitrate. But subscribing to Spotify Premium unlocks access to 320 kbps audio streaming, which Spotify advertises as ‘high-quality sound.’

High-fidelity or lossless audio usually delivers a significantly higher bitrate. For example, Amazon Music HD offers HD tracks with an average bitrate of 850 kbps. Its Ultra HD tracks have an average bitrate of 3,730 kbps.

Compressed songs are achieved by using an algorithm to remove bits from the track. The algorithm focuses explicitly on bits that are undetectable to the human ear (or at least less detectable). The result is a reduction in file size with a minimal loss in quality.

For the average user, it may be impossible to tell the difference between various bitrates. The range of soundcards and speakers on the market also determines how much of the track is discernible.

NPR experimented with this concept back in 2015 when Tidal blitzed the market with a hi-end offering. A six-question quiz features tracks in three different bitrates to showcase the differences. You might be surprised by your results, since the vast majority of people don’t own audio equipment designed for listening to high-quality sound.

Equipment, room size, and even the shape of your ears can make a difference here. That’s one reason Sony is working on (yet another) high-fidelity audio format that can cater to your ear shape.

So maybe 320 kbps is ‘high-quality sound’ for Spotify Premium users. But for genuine Hi-Fi users? Most certainly not. With Amazon’s hat in the ring with actual lossless audio, Spotify may be forced to reconsider its fidelity strategy.

11 Responses

  1. Avatar
    Jesse

    Since when does Amazon have a high-quality bitrate of 3.73 mbps? Heck, even YouTube Music is much higher quality than Spotify or even Apple Music. It makes me want to buy the service, but the in-app purchase is like $12. It’s supposed to be only $8. YouTube just suspects people to move over to Android in order to pay the actual price. If you use Android, you get YouTube. If you use an iPhone, you get Apple Music. It’s clearly a fight for competition, but needless to say, it’s becoming too depressing now…

  2. Avatar
    Tidal Rox

    I waited enough Spotify. Went to TIDAL a year ago. Never looked back.

      • Avatar
        Cynamoon

        Hi,

        I can tell the difference, but I also have a mid-range setup with Sennheiser HD700 + Matrix Mini-I Pro 2s DAC + USB Matrix X-Hi CARD which effectively make it a chain separate from the PC. Coupled with Audirvana it is a whole world of difference and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. It’s all down to the setup. 10$ earbuds or cheap soundcard will sound the same. But if you invest, then parts of the chain matter. Try the test: https://www.npr.org/sections/therecord/2015/06/02/411473508/how-well-can-you-hear-audio-quality

        It’s using a PC interface so I did not expect wonders but I still hit 2 wavs and 2 320 kbps. With wavs being Perahia & Vega – which makes sense. It’s this kind of music you would hear most of the difference anyway. Beats, noise and lots of instruments are way harder to guess, especially with current mastering practices and algorithms that make a compressed music somewhat more pleasing to the ear. So if you’re into vocals, classical, jazz, even some rap AND you do invest in your setup – Tidal is the way to go. If you don’t give a s** about such things – Spotify is a much better experience overall. I still subscribe to Spotify – my wife uses it on her phone with some cheap earbuds – she couldn’t care less about audio quality. It’s also good on a TV and a soundbar for ambiance. I love Spotify’s interface and recommendations, and would switch back in a heartbeat if they introduced lossless. They probably won’t, they just don’t give a f*k – just as the majority of their subscribers don’t give a f*K about HiFi.

        I am eyeing Amazon Music HD but they don’t have API for Audirvana, so it’s still Tidal+Spotify for various needs.

      • Avatar
        Kurt W

        Like night and day. But you have to have quality speakers, headphones to get the most out of that high bit-rate. When you are listening to a high res recording on Tidal it sounds like you are in the sound studio with the musicians.

    • Avatar
      Cynamoon

      Yes, you can – with a right setup and ears 🙂
      Especially when discerning details in vocals and piano – it’s super easy.
      Your usual fix of dance music would be a LOT harder to tell.

  3. Avatar
    Blooloo

    In Australia I tried Tidal for 3 months. I usually buy and download hi res files and also listen to CDs, SACDs, FLACS, AIFF etc.
    With Tidal I had varied results re sound quality. It was ok via Android in my car with a standard car set up although very ‘lean’ in the bass.
    At home on a system with Golden Ear Triton 1s, Emotiva 100w power amps and Emotiva pre via a Samsung laptop and direct to a NAD DAC (bi-passed the laptop DAC) high quality cables it was very, very clean and very detailed BUT again somehow lacking bass and the best way to call it would be ‘anemic’ – lacking vitality…subjective I know but still.
    On high quality Focal headphones and even my Bose CC35s it integrated much, much better, really enjoyed it, but then I rarely listen on headphones.
    If I compared the same setups to Spotify it was all sort of reversed: Spotify had more ‘present’ bass, but not as a clean a sound, nor as separated – a thin veil of cludge was over the whole track (I’m on Premium so I’m guessing 320 mp3).
    Speakers sounded better than headphones here on Spotify.
    I ditched Tidal – hated the ‘curated’ stuff they threw at me. I like electronic, dub, jazz and classical but all I got was contemp music and hip -hop stuff. Their algorithms never matched my listening history. At around AU$30 month it didn’t cut the mustard.
    I use Spotify to casualy listen, buy downloads from various sites and stream from Bandcamp when I buy from there. We don’t have access to Amazon HD nor Qobuz.
    So, can I tell the difference? On my gear absolutely. On my daughter’s phone via Beats headphones – not at all. On my wife’s kitchen laptop beamed to Sonos single speaker – not at all.
    Whatever…

  4. Avatar
    Matthew Bowler

    Not sure what is going on.
    I have a high fi system… Im listening to Satellite by Dave Matthews Band … It sounds better on Spotify’s free streaming than it does on Tidal’s High Quality setting.

    • Avatar
      steve

      yep ive found this too – just get listen to CD rips instead or vinyl

  5. Avatar
    JD

    My hi-fi system is better than most others. In fact, I’ve never met anyone that has any understanding about what quality audio really is. I have a system that costs a little north of 10K and people think I’m nuts. (They’re right.)

    The right track and music genre can betray a low bitrate pretty easily. Most of your ears aren’t going to be able to hear the difference between 192kbps and 320kbps anyway though. I frequently play the same tracks side by side for folks, then introduce a lossless format. It really takes training and practice to appreciate the difference. So it’s probably not worth it for most. Audio is dead and that’s just fine for introverts like me.