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I saw Jay-Z's music service launched last night and I found one of their mini-games online asking you to spot the difference between "high quality" music and "high fidelity" music as that's its unique selling point.

Terms are defined here:

How good is the sound quality on TIDAL?
Normal quality: 96 kbps (AAC+)
High quality: 320 kbps (AAC)
HiFi: Flac 1411 kbps - Lossless (16/44.1 khz)
How do I change the quality? Go to ‘Settings’ to select sound quality.

Personally, I couldn't hear a difference (but scored 2 out of 5 from pure guess work) so it's tough for me as a user to want to sign-up - especially when Spotify is half the price.

So my question is: what's the physical difference between high quality and high fidelity? Is it a higher bitrate or something more?

  • I couldn't hear much of a difference on my work computer and cheap headphones, though I got 4/5 from picking randomly... – user16 Mar 31 '15 at 15:41
  • With current streaming technology, the only valid reason for having two tiers is financial. – user3169 Mar 31 '15 at 16:29
  • Edited the title to correspond with the bitrates mentioned in the test and the terminology at tidalsupport.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/… – user16 Mar 31 '15 at 17:17
  • @user3169: Sorry, but that's utter BS. Current streaming technology? You can easily stream a 24-bit FLAC on today's bandwidth – hell, you could probably even try streaming a 96kHz version of it and you would be fine. "Streaming technology" has nothing to do with it. – MMM Apr 13 '15 at 8:46
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If you believe http://test.tidalhifi.com/about, what the test is asking is if you can tell the difference between a lossless (FLAC/ALAC) file and an AAC 320 kbps file for those five songs. So yes, the difference is (probably) a higher bitrate, and a different (lossless) compression method for the 'high fidelity' file.
(FLAC files manage to fit all the data in a smaller size, and hence lower bitrate, than the equivalent uncompressed audio without losing any quality, but they are usually higher than 320kbps - hence why I say 'probably').

There are no details on whether they've treated the files the same in every way so I don't know how scientific the test is. In general it is hard to tell the difference between a good 320kbps encoding and a losslessly-compressed or uncompressed encoding for most music, so if it is a fair test I wouldn't be surprised if most people found it hard to tell the difference.

  • But a lot of people will not settle for "standard" quality, as this almost always implies there is something better. – user3169 Mar 31 '15 at 16:32
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    @user3169 that could well be a pertinent marketing consideration, though I can't see that Tidal use the word 'standard' on the linked page. It's worth noting that Tidal say that their 'High Fidelity' is 1411kbps - in other words, the FLAC files decompress to the same , 44 100 Hz, 16 bit stereo 'CD quality' that we've had for years - it's not some special 'high definition' (i.e. 'better than CD') audio. – user16 Mar 31 '15 at 16:49
  • Pretty sure I saw "standard" on the news this morning. This article 3 reasons why Jay Z's new Tidal streaming service is stupid says "The service is also available at two plans: a $9.99 per month option which gets you the standard quality, or $19.99 per month HiFi plan that gets you the highest quality, which is lossless audio." Most people will not have the expertise to understand the technical details. – user3169 Mar 31 '15 at 17:00
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    Anyway it seems that from tidalsupport.zendesk.com/hc/en-us/articles/… the test is actually between what tidal call 'High' and 'High Fidelity' quality. – user16 Mar 31 '15 at 17:18
  • @user3169 Don't forget that also most people don't have the speakers/headphones nor the ear to tell the difference. Not saying I do have one. – Alex Apr 2 '15 at 13:23
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Well, I can tell you that the standard quality MP3 was always 256kbps bitrate. To most people, this will sound fine. However, if you have a very good sound system with above-average speakers, you will definitely hear the difference between a 256kbps MP3 and a SACD.

So, I'm assuming Jay Z is hyping some kind of digital SACD sound. However, I'd be pretty leery anyway, because Rap artists seem to have bad hearing. Beats by Dre are the biggest ripoff ever unleased upon the unsuspecting public willing to pay for a name. Those things sound horrible next to my Bose QC25's, which are about $50 cheaper.

  • I think the nose is the relevant organ when it comes to beats - nose for profit, that is! – user16 Mar 31 '15 at 15:42
  • Standard quality mp3 has been 320kbps for a long time now, not 256kbps. – ByBw Mar 31 '15 at 18:49
  • You're totally right about the Beats by Dre. Even my Philips headphones for 50 bucks have a larger frequency range than the standard beats. The only thing those things have is bass. Also the hardware is shit. Almost everyone I know who owns a pair of beats headphones has issues with some of the parts. – Alex Apr 2 '15 at 13:26
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    I'm voting this down because you're mixing terminology (file encoding and optical disc formats), making invalid claims (standard MP3 compression rate?), including an irrelevant rant about Beats and generally "guessing" wrongly about what Tidal is about (explained here). – MMM Apr 2 '15 at 16:22
  • Dunno, but this article seems to support my claim of 256kbps as a standard rate. It's your vote, though, do with it as you see fit. – Johnny Bones Apr 2 '15 at 16:34

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