Q&A: Can you hear a difference in quality between Spotify’s 320 kbps stream and TIDAL’s HiFi lossless audio stream?


Yes, absolutely.

If you can't hear the difference between say Spotify and Tidal's FLAC streaming you might have either or all of these three problems -- all of which have to do with the dynamics of the music:

1. Your equipment isn't good enough. If you're listening to your music through your iphone headphones everything tends to sound the same. The argument here, though, is that you don't need to have a $200k amplifier to tell the difference. Just get a pair of decent headphones by AKG, Sennheiser, or others. You don't need to go crazy -- a pair such as the Sennheiser Momentum 2 will work really well just plugging straight into your smartphone or computer (but even a little better with a cheap USB Dac). I suggest you take your smartphone and walk into a hifi shop an try your favorite music with some good headphones. I personally prefer AKG, Sennheiser, Grado, and Audeze, but there are many other good brands too.

2. The music you're listening to isn't recorded and/or produced to sound any better on hifi equipment. A lot of today's music is mixed to sound good on cheap headphones. A lot of today's music is also heavily compressed -- and I mean HEAVILY compressed. Genre is important too. The difference is much easier to spot in acoustic and low-key music than say techno. But even there the quality difference is possible to hear, just listen for fragile sounds such as open hi-hats or ride cymbals.

Try listening to some songs that have good dynamic range: then it's quite easy to tell the difference, such as:
- Everybody Hurts, REM
- A Rainy Night in Soho, the Pogues
- Revelation Big Sur, Red House Painters
- See the Sky About to Rain (from Live at the Massey Hall), Neil Young

3. You're not used to high-quality music. This is a bit controversial perhaps, but I firmly believe that many people have never really listened to music produced by high-quality stereo, so they've got used to the sound of inferior mp3s and think that's how their favorite songs should sound. This is a shame! The difference between listening to say Red House Painter's Songs for a Blue Guitar album on a good hifi stereo versus listening to it through my iphone earbuds is quite honestly like night and day. It's still a great record, but in the same way that watching a good hockey game on a black and white TV is still a good game -- it's just such an endlessly richer experience to watch it live.

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