Is lossless audio really worth it?
In March, Spotify briefly A/B tested a new lossless audio version of its streaming service. Spotted by Reddit users and confirmed to The Verge by a source inside Spotify, the new tier, currently dubbed Spotify Hi-Fi, will cost an additional $5 to $10 a month on top of the service’s $10 monthly price for its premium ad-free streaming service. Though a Spotify spokesperson declined to confirm the existence of the new tier, the move would not be unexpected; streaming service competitor Tidal already offers high-fidelity streaming for $19.99 a month.
Up until now, Spotify has compressed audio down to a bitrate of 160 kbps on desktop or 96 kbps on mobile devices — Spotify calls this rate “normal.” Paid subscribers also have a “high quality” option of 320 kbps audio on desktop. High-fidelity or lossless audio has a significantly higher bitrate of 1,411 kbps.
When a song is compressed, an algorithm removes bits from the track that it believes the human ear can’t pick up, which reduces the overall file size. So objectively speaking, there’s less audio there for your ear to interpret. Lossless audio cuts less bits.
But in actuality, the difference is very difficult to discern. Couple that with a range in the quality of soundcards and speakers, and it’s almost impossible for the average listener to pick which is which. Can you tell the difference?
Below are three songs, each presented in three different versions: a lossless version at 1,411 kbps, a “premium” version at 320 kbps, and standard version at 160 kbps. Try and see if you can pick the lossless audio out of the three.
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