Streaming services

A streaming service is an online provider of entertainment (music, movies, etc.) that delivers the content via an Internet connection to the subscriber’s computer, TV or mobile device. 

Audirvana Studio is primarily a third-party player. It scans your local library, finds your tracks/albums, and allows you to access them in a common interface. Like Roon or Plex, it’s able to retrieve your album’s information and fill the blanks in your library. Audirvāna Studio integrates multiple HD Streaming Services – but, isn’t actually one itself.

  • Audirvāna is a refined music player. In this sense, it is NOT one of the streaming services. It does however complement them well. You download software from the website and install it on Mac or PC, etc. You do NOT download music from this website. You do that with other subscriptions (TIDAL, QOBUZ, SPOTIFY, etc) which can be accessed by the software.
  • It natively supports all audio formats, including multi-channel, used by professionals and music enthusiasts such as WAV, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC, MQA and DSD etc.

Roon isn’t technically a streaming service. Roon is a multi-device, multi-room music software platform. They try to sell you the nucleus as the “core” of your Hifi system. You don’t have to go down this route. You can look at their list of partners, e.g. Cambridge Audio. You will find that the CXN (V2) can be used as an end-point. This is preferable, as you will not be limited to just Roon. The software is brilliant and beats Audirvāna. Is it worth $9.99 per month? That is debatable.

  • Roon is a connecting, streaming and music management software that brings multi-room smarts to your hi-fi equipment
  • You do NOT download music from Roon. In this sense, it is NOT one of the streaming services. It does however compliment them very well. You will stream with other subscriptions (TIDAL, QOBUZ, SPOTIFY, etc) which can be accessed by the software.
  • Roon lets you enjoy up to 768kHz/32-bit PCM and DSD512 (stereo and multichannel) in WAV, WAV64, AIFF, FLAC, ALAC (Apple Lossless), OGG, MP3, and AAC at resolutions up to 32 bit 768kHz. Roon supports DSD64, DSD128, DSD256, and DSD512 in the DSF and DFF formats. If your gear doesn’t support a format, Roon transcodes to playback at the best quality it supports. 
  • Like Audirvāna – you download software from the website and install it on Mac or PC, etc. You will also need an end-point.

Deezer is a French online music streaming service. Deezer is one of the streaming services that you can use for free. In the basic version, you have access to a desktop and mobile app. Just like with most services the functions are limited, however, Deezer still has a lot to offer. In the basic version, you access your playlist, your favourites and song search (desktop only), which is comparatively impressive.

  • Deezer Free’s audio quality tops out at 128kbps via MP3 files
  • Deezer Premium is 320kbps. You can also download audio files of any of these quality settings.
  • Deezer has a HiFi setting, which plays lossless FLAC files at 16-bit/44/1 Khz (CD quality), so long as you pay for it

Spotify is the best-known streaming service. 

  • The free version of Spotify currently only has lossy file options, Ogg/Vorbis (96, 160, 320 kbps), AAC (128, 256 kbps) and HE-AACv2 (24kbps)
  • Spotify HiFi will apparently deliver music in CD-quality, lossless audio format.

The free version is world-famous. Music can be played (with adverts in between tracks) for free. If you don’t want the adverts, you must pay. The quality of the files on the free version isn’t good. The Hifi version will probably use FLAC at CD quality – but not the very hi-res quality. This needs to be confirmed Many famous artists have now abandoned Spotify streaming services. They include Neil Young, Joni Mitchell, Ava DuVernay, India Arie, ​Nils Lofgren, David Crosby, Stephen Stills and Graham Nash

Amazon Music Unlimited offer premium music subscription streaming services with thousands of expert-programmed playlists and stations. Amazon is brand new and very much an unknown quantity

  • Amazon Music Unlimited offers 75 million tracks in lossless High Definition (HD). HD tracks are 16-bit audio, with a minimum sample rate of 44.1 kHz (16/44.1 is also referred to as CD-quality), and an average bitrate of 850 kbps.
  • They offer millions more in Ultra High Definition. UHD tracks will “have a bit depth of 24-bits, sample rates ranging from 44.1 kHz up to 192 kHz, and an average bitrate of 3730 kbps.”. This isn’t very helpful as you still don’t know what quality you are getting.

TIDAL is a global music streaming service with high fidelity sound, and hi-definition video quality, along with expertly curated playlists and original content 

  • TIDAL is integrated with Roon and Audirvāna software
  • TIDAL HiFi provides uncompressed lossless sound quality, streaming at 1411kbps or 16-Bit / 44.1 kHz. M
  • ‘Tidal Masters’ has partnered with MQA to give you (96 kHz / 24 bit).
  • TIDAL HiFi Plus is a service that allows you to listen to music in lossless high fidelity audio, Master Authenticated Quality audio, and immersive audio formats all in one place – But at a heavy price

Tidal ‘HiFi’ is not lossless. It just streams the MQA version of tracks with some metadata removed to prevent most DACs from recognising it as MQA and limits streaming to 16 bit. The Master’s level is also not proper “hi-res” either. All MQA files are lossy. The HiFi Plus is too expensive. It is also not available in Vietnam (where I live)

QOBUZ

  • Their streaming services offer the very highest sound quality, for streaming & download (on the Sublime account)
  • They also have the largest collection of digital files to choose from with over 80 million tracks. They have all genres of music too (Jazz, Classical, Rock, etc)
  • Qobuz is integrated with Roon and Audirvāna software
  • The uncompressed formats available for download at Qobuz are the WAV and the AIFF. Both file types are as good as it gets.
  • The Studio Premier plan delivers 192kHz, 24-bit FLAC streaming for available titles, which is considerably higher resolution than standard CD-quality FLAC (44.kHz at 16 bits).
  • The Studio Sublime account adds significant discounts on music download purchases.

IDAGIO

  • This streaming service is for Classical music lovers only
  • IDAGIO offers a free radio version (ads and no on-demand listening at 192Mbps sound quality); IDAGIO Premium ($9.99/month), which includes unlimited streaming of its 2 million tracks at 320Kbps sound and the ability to save your library, download music, and connect with various speaker systems; and IDAGIO Premium+ ($12.99/month), with still more hi-def sound (lossless FLAC).

Primephonic streaming services have been bought by Apple and has been taken offline. It was also aimed at Classical music lovers

Plex offers global streaming services and a client-server media player platform, made by Plex, Inc. The Plex Media Server organizes video, audio, and photos from a user’s collections and from online services, and streams them to the players. Anyone wanting to find a free alternative to Itunes should definitely check it out

The best streaming service

In terms of streaming services, Qobuz has been laser-focused on music for a very long time and thus works worldwide. They offer very hi-res file formats and give you access to the biggest online library. You also get to download the files too if you pay for the highest tier. You are unlikely to find anything better in these regards.

Neil Young is also openly encouraging people to sign up for Qobuz and he would know! The Qobuz software is acceptable. So, if you also want a really well sorted out management software package too that fills in the metadata too, you might also want to subscribe to Roon as well. For more information on Qobuz, visit their website and for more information, do visit my post about high-resolution audio

If you want the best free streaming service, Spotify is hard to beat. It features acceptable sound quality, around 90 million songs, offline listening, bags of podcasts, and new features arriving daily and it all works on almost any device imaginable. You simply have to put up with annoying adverts. Moreover, if you own a dedicated network streamer such as the Cambridge Audio CXN (V2) and stream directly into it, you probably won’t need to pay for a better service. To take advantage of streaming services such as Qobuz, you really do need to have a first-class hi-fi system to make it worthwhile



Author: Piers Midwinter
I am an artist and a teacher. I am currently teaching at a Cambridge International School in Vietnam.