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Audio Files: Darn That Stream

We now have three high-res streaming services—but choosing the right one is confusing

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Streaming Audio Service
Qobuz’s desktop app

For most music fans, the ability to stream practically any tune you want in seconds through the Internet is a dream come true. Audiophiles have been less enthusiastic, because most of the major music streaming services use data compression (such as MP3 or AAC) to reduce the Internet bandwidth and disk storage space needed to supply your music stream. This compression discards most of the data in a digital music file, keeping only what’s absolutely necessary. The results usually sound good; still, this is a compromise most audiophiles refuse to make.

But thanks to streaming services that deliver sound in CD quality—or even better—no longer must anyone sacrifice audio fidelity for the convenience of streaming. Tidal, the company famously purchased by rapper Jay-Z, has largely had the market to itself since it launched its CD-quality streaming service in 2014; its only competitor has been Deezer, which hasn’t made much impact in the U.S. But with the entry of the French streaming service Qobuz (pronounced “ko-buzz”) into the U.S. market earlier this year, and the launch of Amazon Music HD in September, high-quality streaming just got more interesting—and, thanks to the considerable differences between the services, more confusing.

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Originally Published

Brent Butterworth

Brent Butterworth has been a professional audio journalist since 1989, and has evaluated and measured thousands of audio products. He is currently a writer at Wirecutter and editor of the SoundStage Solo headphone site; served as an editor at such magazines as Sound & Vision and Home Theater; and worked as marketing director for Dolby Laboratories. He also plays double bass with several jazz groups in Los Angeles.