Tech

Spotify will offer hi-fidelity streaming this year in a blow to Tidal

Dubbed 'Spotify HiFi,' the new paid tier will offer the option to stream CD-quality, lossless audio.

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Audiophiles have long complained about Spotify's "very high quality" music streams that max out at 320kbps, a far lower audio resolution than what CDs offer. That's about to change, however, as the company has announced it's finally going to offer the option of streaming lossless audio through a new paid tier called Spotify HiFi.

The announcement was made during its "Stream On" media event today where Spotify also announced that it will be launching its streaming service in 85 new markets over the next few days, with support for 36 new languages. Altogether, more than a billion new people will be able to access Spotify.

Light on details — Of HiFi, Spotify said that high-fidelity audio is "consistently one of the most requested new features." It actually offered some users a high-fidelity option back in 2017 for an additional $5 to $10 per month, but that appears to have only been a limited trial.

Pricing is yet to be announced and, strangely, neither has the bitrate HiFi will offer when it goes live. CDs have a maximum bitrate of 1,411kbps, so certainly it will at least reach that threshold. The most famous service to offer high-fidelity music, Tidal, can offer up to 9,214kbps through its Tidal Masters program which uses master recordings provided by studios.

Amazon and Sonos also offer CD-quality or better streaming, though neither comes close to Tidal Masters.

RIP Tidal — It's unclear why Spotify took so long to jump on the high-fidelity bandwagon, but it probably has at least something to do with low demand. Lossless audio may be something people want, but it evidently hasn't been enough to draw people away from Spotify. There's also the issue of bandwidth: higher-bitrate streaming means bigger hosting costs for Spotify.

Tidal has not recently reported its subscriber numbers, but estimates peg them at somewhere between one and three million. Maybe bringing high-fidelity audio to a popular service will be enough to generate interest if people give it a try and can hear the improvement in quality. Of course, for that, they're also going to need better gear than the sort of earbuds until recently supplied with most smartphones.

Either way, Spotify HiFi is bad news for Tidal, which bills itself as the best streaming service for people who care about music quality. Besides high-quality tracks, Jay-Z, who bought the company in 2015, initially used his star power to offer exclusive content from major artists. Most of that eventually made its way to competing services, though, including Jay-Z's own catalog. Late last year a report suggested that Jay-Z has discussed selling Tidal to Square as it struggles to keep up with Spotify.

Besides music, Spotify also used today's event to make some podcast announcements. Most notably, the company is partnering with DC and Warner Bros. to produce narrative scripted podcasts, starting with one entitled Batman Unburied. It also teased a podcast produced by the Obamas called Tell Them, I Am. Podcasts have become a key pillar of Spotify's business as it works to differentiate itself from the competition and create lucrative streams of revenue from original content.