This season, the USA gets not one, but two CD-quality music streaming services: Tidal Hi-Fi and Deezer Elite.
Whichever service you ultimately choose, this is huge for music lovers. Going from a 320-kilobit-per-second (kbps) data rate to 1411 kbps overnight is the biggest sound-quality leap in music streaming ever, an improvement you will hear immediately. My casual direct comparison revealed that, in many cases, the streaming version sounded better than its CD counterpart. How is this possible?
A CD player is a machine with a lot of parts: laser components, laser drive assembly, disc drive motor, compact disc, disc loading assembly, power supply, digital audio section, analog audio section, internal wiring, external wiring, connection jacks, etc.
On the other hand, a streaming service just delivers the bits. Depending on the system, a streaming signal can stay digital all the way to the speakers. The fewer motors, jacks, electronics, moving parts, and wires you have between you and the music, the higher the potential sound quality.
Even if that’s debatable, one thing isn’t: Music is about to get fun again. Both streaming services boast in excess of 25 million tracks, meaning you will find something to like, guaranteed. (Who wouldn’t want to expand their music collection by at least 24.9 million songs overnight?) And what you like is going to sound amazing.
Which service should you go with?
Good question. One service claims to have millions more songs than the other. That may make a difference if you’re a completist. (How many ways can they repackage the same songs by Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Bob Marley? Trick question. The answer is infinity.) But pretty much everything most of us want is on both services.
Here’s where you come in. Whether you’re a Consumer Electronics manufacturer, retailer, or end-user, CD-quality streaming should be a big deal to you. Audio was an essential part of our lives decades before video was even imagined. Yet, these days, too much of the home entertainment conversation seems to center around video. The recent explosion in headphones, portable speakers, and multiroom audio has introduced an entire new generation to the intoxicating allure of great sound, but the quality of online music hasn’t kept up.
Now we have a chance to level the playing field, elevating music software quality to the standard of music hardware, and at the same time swinging the attention pendulum a bit from video back to high-performance audio. Retailers know that there’s a slim chance of a customer walking in with their favorite CD, and that the chances of the retailer having the customer’s favorite music on hand (in full resolution) are also slim. With full-resolution streaming, you potentially have every song on earth — including your customer’s favorites — in your hand. For manufacturers, this means that your product can now be demoed with the quality control you’ve been missing for years. And for music lovers, this means you’ll be able to audition systems with music you know, allowing you to make truly informed buying decisions.
I’m positively blown away by the win-win-win prospects of better sound for manufacturers, retailers, and their customers. I now spend a good chunk of each workday basking in all the extra bits that my chosen higher resolution service delivers. Both new services offer a free trial, and that should be Number One on your entertainment to-do list.
By Charles Thompson for Sell-Through Solutions, Inc.
By Mark Waldrep
As a musician, audio engineer, producer of high-resolution recordings, audiophile, blogger (www.realHD-Audio.com) and professor of audio recording, my life has been dominated by music and sound for a very long time. I’ve been working in the field for more than 40 years and have experience with a wide variety of formats including analog tape, vinyl LPs, cassettes, CDs, minidisc, DVD-A/V, Blu-ray and soundfiles…as an engineer AND consumer.
Sound recording has been around for more than 100 years. During that period, the fidelity of each succeeding format has improved. From the first Edison cylinders and Emil Berliner’s flat discs to today’s high-resolution formats, music consumers have benefited from the inevitable march of technology. With the possible exception of the MP3 format, listening to recorded music has never been better than it is today…and you don’t have to be a well-heeled audiophile to appreciate it.
Creating and distributing quality recorded sound is a collaborative effort involving a variety of talented individuals and state-of-the-art technologies. The fidelity potential of today’s equipment and processes is far greater than at any time in the past…but only if producers and engineers make conscious choices to deliver recordings full of dynamics, extended frequency response and maybe even surround mixes. Believe me you’ll know quality sound when you hear it (there are free downloadable samples from my own AIX Records catalog at the realHD-Audio.com site).
Consumer demand for high quality sound is only beginning. Younger listeners are transitioning from ear buds and to better quality personal headphone listening. They’re finding that the richness and increased fidelity makes the investment in better gear worthwhile. The personalization of music also means that older listeners can get refreshed versions of their “classic” favorites in high-resolution for delivery through a new generation of better sounding devices…for the home, in their cars and from the pocket.
Quality sound brings you closer to the music regardless of the type of music that you enjoy. If things sound more natural and lifelike, you’ll want to listen more and won’t experience the sonic fatigue that sometimes accompanies over processed, heavily compressed music playback.
Better quality sound is out there. There’s new gear on which to enjoy it and lots of music content…both classic and new…to spin, download or stream. Check it out and pass it on.