Spotify recently introduced a new lossless version of their streaming app called Spotify HiFi. While no details are yet available about what format it will take, they’ve promised “CD quality”, meaning it will at least be lossless (meaning there’s no file compression), 16-bit and 44.1kHz sample rate. If that doesn’t mean much to you, or you’re a child of the MP3 era, it’s worth taking a test to see if lossless is more than just a marketing term to you. The results might surprise you.
The other snag for Spotify HiFi, apart from the fact that there’s a high chance you won’t be able to tell the difference – is that most people listen on wireless speakers, be it a Bluetooth or AirPlay system, or via Spotify Connect built into a speaker. Most Bluetooth protocols end up compressing the sound anyway, and while AirPlay can be lossless, only high-end AirPlay speakers (which do exist) will really feel the benefit of lossless streaming.
We’re not saying lossless streaming is snake oil – far from it, on the right system, that extra detail can be the difference between great and brilliant quality – but in the age of streaming and wireless audio, the number of potential variables introduced in your system means you might not benefit as much as you thought. There's actually an argument to be made that some will prefer lossy audio to lossless, as it's what they're used to, in the same way some people romanticise vinyl because they grew up on it. Let's not open that box, eh?
Try this comprehensive test to see if you can tell the difference between compressed and lossless audio on your system, and make sure you read the instructions before starting. A key thing to bear in mind is that it's asking you which is which, not which one you prefer. If you are vibing more on a 128 YouTube rip over a vinyl 12-inch through a Macintosh amp and some B&W speakers, more power to you.