Spotify just beat Apple Music to lossless CD-quality music

Given Apple’s long history in high-quality music technology, it’s strange to see the company get left behind in the sound quality of streaming music. On Monday, Spotify followed Amazon, Tidal, and Deezer in announcing a new, higher-fidelity streaming music service level, which it says will become available later this year.

The new service, called Spotify HiFi, promises to stream content to smartphones and connected speakers in CD quality, with a wider dynamic frequency range (higher highs, lower lows) as well as more definition, sound placement, and clarity. The format is “lossless,” meaning that the music is not compressed but sounds exactly the way it does after mixing and mastering.

Spotify says it’s now working with several manufacturers to design HiFi-ready speakers.

There’s reason to believe that Apple will add lossless sound quality to Apple Music sooner or later. The company announced a whole line of 5G iPhones last fall; 5G wireless service supports larger streams with higher reliability, which would come in handy for lossless audio. As 5G service becomes more widespread, a lossless version of Apple Music might be a natural upgrade.

Apple continues to focus on audio hardware of high quality and high price. The company’s HomePod smart speakers are one example–the original HomePod costs $299, while even the new $99 HomePod Mini emphasizes sound quality more than rival entry-level smart speakers that cost less. Apple recently released a new pair of high-quality over-ear headphones called AirPods Max, which sell for $549.

Spotify said both listeners and artists have said that higher music quality is a highly desired feature.

“Adding a HiFi tier of streaming service to their platform . . . will enable more consumers, and a younger generation of listeners, to experience their music with more detail, dynamics, and realism,” says Jeff Poggi, Co-CEO of McIntosh Group, which makes audiophile-grade components and speakers.

Spotify enlisted Billie Eilish to explain (in the video below) why it’s important to artists. “We want our music to be heard the way it was recorded,” she said.

Spotify said earlier this month that its paid subscriber count had increased 24% to 155 million from the same time last year. Apple doesn’t report subscriber numbers, but several estimates from last summer put the number at between 60 million and 72 million.

Spotify announced the service at its “Stream On” virtual event Monday, saying HiFi will launch “in select markets” later this year. It did not announce the monthly cost of the service.

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