I’ll admit that as someone who loves to rock, I was thrilled that my favorite streaming service – Spotify – announced it was introducing a new level of service for them lossless audio streaming. Sure, it costs more than what I’m paying now, but throwing away the expected $ 20 a month on perfect audio sounds pretty good, doesn’t it? My future road trips are now ten times better.
Here is the thing. I wouldn’t pay a penny more for enhanced audio for a streaming service just because the option was there. At least not without seeing whether I can tell the difference between the existing, high-quality offerings of the streaming service and its lossless offerings. I will argue that for the most part, most people are probably unable to tell the difference – and I’m not the only one to say so.
As Napier Lopes from The Next Web writes::
“Spotify Premium (the existing, ad-free level for 9.99 US dollars) already transmits streams with a maximum of 320 kbit / s (256 kbit / s on the web) activates this in the settings of the app. While at low bitrates the differences between lossy and lossless audio can be obvious, I’m willing to bet that most people can’t tell a lossless file apart from a 256 kbps MP3 file – let alone a file that does more modern Ogg codec compressed the Spotify was used.
Our hearing is subject to a lot of placebo. Just assuming that a certain upgrade or key specification will make your speakers or headphones sound better often results in an “improvement” rather than an actual change. Still, many gold-eared audiophiles will swear they can hear a difference without evidence. ”
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Since Spotify’s “HiFi” service isn’t coming out later this year, you can’t test lossless streaming directly. However, it is pretty easy to see if you can currently tell the difference between audio files with different bit rates and compressions. Lopes recommends that Digital Feed ABX testThis gives you two audio files – an A sample and a B sample – and a destination sample. Your job is to say whether A or B fits the target, and you can choose between a faster five-track test, a ten-track test, or a mega-20-track test.
In other words, the test is to see if you can tell a difference between a lossless and a lossy version of a song. And if you think it will be easy then when you use it, the test setup looks like this:
Screenshot: David Murphy
You click A, X or B to play a track and you can switch between the different versions by clicking A, X or B. Even then, in most situations, I found it quite difficult to tell the difference between the files. Either my hearing is bad or it’s really, really difficult to separate Spotify’s 320kbps streaming – the highest quality – from a lossless file.
I’m not even going to show my results because honestly, most of the time I was just guessing. It’s plausible that my home audio setup – basically $ 150 headphones plugged directly into my desktop PC’s motherboard – just isn’t good enough to tell the difference between a high quality file and a lossless one to recognize. But even with a pimped up setup, it’s a tough test for a Reddit user describes::
I ran this test with LS50W in a treated room. I’m about 65-70% correct. I had to concentrate REALLY hard and listen critically in a completely inorganic way. And I still have a high percentage wrong. The difference was so negligible that I switched from Tidal to Spotify after this test. I haven’t looked back since.
If you want a quiz with more bones, NPR published a similar study back in 2015 that you can use to test your ears. In this case, I picked the 320kbps file superbly. But the lossless file? Not as much.
And if you happen to have a lossy and lossless file of the same song, you can try this old school trick to compare the differences between the two:
Regardless, I wouldn’t bother with a more expensive “hi-fi” audio service if you could tell the difference between this and the “regular” offerings of a streaming service for everything you have at home – your headphones, speakers, or yours Ears. You are going to be spending money on a “benefit” that you will never appreciate, and that seems silly.