The majority of today’s listeners get their music via streaming services.
Spotify, Apple Music, and others are the greatest ways to listen in 2021 due to their massive libraries, clever algorithms, and inexpensive monthly rates.
Hi-fi audiophiles, on the other hand, have long been critical of the low-resolution audio files available on streaming services.
In fact, Tidal was a direct challenge to the notion that streaming audio had to be a tradeoff when it started in 2014.
But, with the debut of lossless audio in Apple Music and rumors of a similar feature coming to Spotify, lossless streaming is taking on throughout the industry.
So, what exactly is lossless audio? What’s the big deal about it, and how can you listen to it?
I’ll break down everything you need to know in this article.
What is lossless streaming and how does it work? What is lossless audio?
On certain platforms, lossless streaming is a paid option that allows you to listen to high-resolution audio files.
The music file that streams from the platform’s library is high resolution lossless audio, which means it has a high sample rate and bit depth and hasn’t lost any audio information due to lossy compression methods.
If that seems hard, you can brush up on the basics in our audio file formats tutorial, but here are the essentials:
Lossy compression technologies, such as MP3 or AAC, lower file size by discarding some data that has little influence overall.
It’s useful in cases where storage capacity is limited, but some listeners argue that the lost data degrades sound quality.
Similarly, contemporary digital recording techniques go beyond the 16 bit, 44.1 kHz sample rate audio standard of the 1980s.
For their raw materials, today’s manufacturers typically employ files with a resolution of 24 bit / 48 kHz or greater.
In principle, lossless high resolution allows you to listen to music in the manner intended by the artist. It’s almost like you’re getting a direct download of the final mastered audio!
As a result, lossless hi-res audio is much larger than conventional compressed audio files for streaming, so anticipate to consume more bandwidth when listening to it.
Even yet, there are data compression techniques that maintain all of the information in the original while lowering the file size.
As a result, the entire file size is manageable for streaming over a wireless connection.
Is it really worth it to invest in lossless audio?
Lossless audio is a premium feature that needs additional procedures in order to hear correctly. With that plus the additional bandwidth needed to stream it, you might be thinking if it’s worth it.
Unfortunately, no one can agree on whether high-resolution audio sounds superior.
The dispute continues in audiophile circles, although blind testing show that many listeners have difficulties distinguishing between the two.
Even yet, if you mix music and have a good set of headphones or studio monitor speakers, lossless files could sound better to you. That’s all that matters!
It’s possible that the subjective difference isn’t significant. Lossless files, on the other hand, do have a substantially higher information density. That alone could be enough to persuade you that it’s worthwhile.
Finally, you must listen critically and evaluate whether or not high-resolution audio is relevant to you.
To stream lossless audio, what do I need?
Lossless music is stored in a different format than standard streaming audio.
To begin with, the sampling rate and bit depth are far higher than on a CD.
You may be able to listen at sample rates of up to 192 kHz, depending on the speed of your connection and the capabilities of your listening device.
You’ll need a digital-to-analog converter that can handle greater sample rates to get the greatest results at these settings.
Consumer electronics, such as laptops and phones, often have limited built-in sound outputs.
Fortunately for music producers, most excellent audio interfaces can support sample rates of up to 96 kHz.
However, if you want the greatest audiophile experience possible, you may need to invest in a set of high-end converters or a hi-fi DAC to get there.
Furthermore, lossless compression reduces file sizes for transmission, but streaming them requires a high-speed connection.
If you’re streaming hi-res music on the fly, keep an eye on your data use. Depending on your settings, a minute of music playback might take anywhere from 5-8 MB!
As of this writing, there is no good method to listen to lossless audio over Bluetooth-enabled wireless devices like headphones or portable speakers. To ensure lossless audio quality, use a wired hi-fi system or headphones.
The best services for streaming lossless audio
Lossless audio was once considered a niche market. However, there are now more choices for getting high-quality music via the internet.
I’ll go through each one and explain what they’re excellent at.
Tidal was the first high-definition streaming service.
The platform still has an appealing subscription plan with lossless audio in excellent quality.
It has a large library and uses hi-fi MQA technology to accommodate high-resolution files up to 192 kHz.
However, it has another audiophile quality that purists believe is essential for a complete lossless experience: bit perfect audio.
This implies that the audio player does not alter the audio files while they are being played back.
It’s a little more pricey than some of the other alternatives, but in audiophile circles, it’s become a favorite among streaming providers.
With the revelation of lossless quality music coming to Apple Music, the platform is causing quite a stir.
Apple’s dedication to high-quality sound in digital audio dates back to the early days of iTunes and the MFiT digital music release standard.
Apple Music is aiming for the next generation with this breakthrough and the cutting-edge spatial audio it provides.
Apple Music now has two primary lossless options within the app, thanks to the arrival of hi-res:
- For a maximum resolution of 24-bit/48 kHz, it’s lossless.
- For a maximum resolution of 24-bit/192 kHz, choose Hi-Res Lossless. Despite the amazing hardware, the greatest part is that normal Apple Music users have access to the hi-fi selections at no extra cost.
To play lossless audio, you’ll still need the necessary equipment. However, you won’t have to pay any further subscription fees each month.
Apple Music is a great pick for lossless streaming because of its superb collection, algorithm, and UI.
Deezer provides lossless streaming at 16 bit 44.1 kHz in CD quality.
While streaming quality is limited to CD quality, Deezer’s hi-fi premium includes the immersive 3D listening format 360 Reality Audio.
It’s a type of spatial audio that promises to immerse you in music like never before.
Amazon’s platform, which began as a digital download store in 2007, now offers a music streaming option.
In 2019, Amazon Music HD included high-resolution lossless audio for a slightly higher monthly cost.
In the guise of Amazon Music Unlimited, the entire bundle is now accessible at a low price.
The bulk of its extensive catalog is accessible in 16 bit 44.1 kHz lossless CD quality audio, with millions of files available in higher resolutions up to 24 bit 192 kHz.
Qobuz is a lesser-known streaming service with some intriguing high-quality file possibilities.
Qobuz’s premium membership tier includes high-resolution music downloads, which is a unique feature on our list to consider.
However, Qobuz isn’t available in every country, so you might not have the chance to try it.
Furthermore, in compared to the other players, there may be some gaps in its catalog.
Despite this, it claims to have more high-resolution releases than any other streaming service, so it’s worth a look if you’re a lossless fan!
Lossless and flawless
In the streaming business, high-resolution audio is here to stay.
Even if you’re happy with regular streaming audio quality, it’s worth giving lossless a shot to see how it compares.
You could discover that it’s a more enjoyable method to listen to your favorite songs and albums.