Nothing screams ‘dead-on-arrival’ more than Apple’s decision this week to foist a lossy version of U2’s new album onto EVERY iTunes user. And I’m not just talking about the music itself. It’s doled out free of charge because MP3 and AAC encodes now hold next to no intrinsic value. Why pay for a download from the iTunes store when you can stream the exact same thing over on Spotify for nothing? Adverts can only be of minor inconvenience to those listeners who refuse to stump up the $10/month to get rid of them.
I bet most of your non-audiophile friends listen to music via Spotify or YouTube? I know many of mine do. Occasionally, the keener ones will yoink the odd download from the Hype Machine until said release lands elsewhere but for them it’s a streaming world. It begs the question: does anyone really torrent lossy-encoded music any more?
For those that care about CD-quality listening Spotify serves as the ultimate tasting platter. Sample the goods before you drop your cash. Buy only what you like – the risk of wasting money on a dud is all but erased. Still, the separation remains: Spotify for casual listening, lossless downloads and CDs for the serious, gotta-own stuff.
In reviewing the AURALiC Aries this week I’ve had my first taste of WiMP Hifi. Lossless streaming from a library of ~25m songs for $20/month. It’s impressive because it blurs the line between streaming-to-taste and downloading-to-own. When everything comes down the pipe at 16bit/44.1kHz, what’s the point in paying for a CD or download? The sound quality shortfall zero-d, you’re now paying $15 per release simply to own it.
Streaming won’t every satisfy collectors, die-hards who won’t surrender their commitment to physical media (or the right to own a download) lest you prise it from their cold, dead hands will continue to exist – idealists till the end. Fair enough. But for the more pragmatic music fan who still demands CD-quality the download game must soon be up if WiMP can make their business model work. With Qobuz on the financial ropes seeds of doubt are bound to take root. However, WiMP’s counter-punch that it will soon launch lossless streaming in the USA and UK under the brand name TIDAL paints a sunnier picture.
News this week that Spotify is testing lossless streaming paints in a possible rainbow. No launch date has been set. The engineers won’t risk turning listeners off with lossless streaming’s considerably slower start-up time. Punching in albums on WiMP via AURALiC’s Lightning DS app sees music playback typically take 3-4 seconds to come to life.
Several seconds and $20/month are a small price to pay to get WiMP’s entire library in CD-quality. Why pay for a download when you can stream it as part of a music rental package? For the compulsive listener who simply must have access to everything by an artist (that’s me) lossless subscriptions leave more cash on the table for titles not covered by such libraries. It also leaves more cash for vinyl (if that’s your thing).
CDs won’t die away completely. Neither will 16/44.1 downloads. They’ll simply slip off into a niche interest. With Qobuz, WiMP, TIDAL and (possibly) Spotify in the lossless streaming game, it’s primed to be the dominant force in music supply for the foreseeable future.
The point? You could buy an AURALiC Aries and never have it connect to your existing digital audio library. WiMP (or Qobuz) could be its only source of music and that music would sound better than if played from a MacBook Air or MacMini, even with Audiophilleo or Resonessence Labs Concero intervening as USB re-clocker.
Read my full review over at 6moons right here.