Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in Napier Lopez is a writer based in New York City. He's interested in all things tech, science, and photography related, and likes to yo-yo in his free time. Follow him on Twitter.
Spotify Hifi’s announcement in February of 2021 seemed poised to shake up the streaming industry. With the introduction of lossless audio, Spotify would increase its credibility among audiophiles, not just casual listeners. Even if most people can’t tell the difference between lossless and high-bitrate compressed music, it indicated Spotify was paying more attention to sound quality.
At the time, Spotify said that HiFi would launch “later this year” and that it would have “more details to share soon.” Yet we’ve started a whole new year, and Spotify HiFi is still nowhere to be seen.
A few days ago, the company made one of its first comments about lossless since its original announcement. Unfortunately, it wasn’t good news. Instead, Spotify provided an update on its community forums that suggests HiFi i isn’t close to launching.
“We know that HiFi quality audio is important to you. We feel the same, and we’re excited to deliver a Spotify HiFi experience to Premium users in the future. But we don’t have timing details to share yet.”
In other words, the feature will launch eventually, but the fact that Spotify isn’t even able to provide a rough timeline for arguably its most anticipated feature doesn’t look good. Unless Spotify is being coy, “in the future” isn’t likely to mean “soon.” We reached out to Spotify for comment on this update but had not heard back by the time of publication.
So why the near-year-long silence? If you ask me, there’s at least one likely explanation: Spotify was caught off-guard by Apple and Amazon both announcing lossless music at no additional cost in May, and had to scramble to rethink its hifi strategy.
First things first, I want to make clear that this entire article is speculation and opinion, and there’s every possibility I could be flat out wrong. I’m not sourcing any insider knowledge, just connecting the dots. But from where I’m standing, those dots aren’t too hard to connect.
When Spotify announced its HiFi tier, it seemed all but certain it would come with a higher price tag than its Premium tier. As far as I know, the company didn’t explicitly say that there would be a price bump, but it was described as an “add-on” the language suggested as much:
”Beginning later this year, Premium subscribers in select markets will be able to upgrade their sound quality to Spotify HiFi and listen to their favorite songs the way artists intended.” The company also promised the music would be available in CD-quality, which typically means 16-bit resolution with a 44.1kHz sample rate.
The whole “be able to upgrade” bit is indicative that this would be an optional upgrade. In any case, at the time, this was the norm, as lossless streaming services typically cost $15-20 bucks a month, rather than the $9.99/mo typical of standard streaming music.
But then Amazon and Apple both announced they would offer high-resolution lossless music, going all the way up to 24-bit/192kHz, for the same $9.99 of lossy Spotify Premium ($7.99 for Amazon Prime subscribers).
Suddenly, charging more for hi-fi audio just seemed silly.
(Mind you, I do think paying more for your music is a good thing if that money goes back to the artists, but that’s a topic I’ve written about elsewhere.)
Imagine you were in Spotify’s position, planning a big rollout of your new lossless music tier, only to learn that two of the most powerful companies in the world just severely undercut your pricing strategy. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if Spotify had learned of Apple and/or Amazon’s plans to some degree shortly before announcing HiFi, and that’s why it revealed so few details in the first place.
But here’s the thing: even if Spotify did plan to make HiFi a free upgrade, it would have been a comparatively weak deal; Spotify only promised audio up to 16-bit/44.1 kHz, not the high-res 24-bit/192 kHz tracks of its competitors. You can bet that if Spotify was aiming for high-res, its marketing would have reflected that from the get-go.
Moreover, Apple and Amazon’s $9.99 plans also now throw in spatial audio. When done right, spatial audio can have a much more palpable positive impact than lossless ever could. But Spotify has never mentioned plans for spatial audio alongside Spotify HiFi.
To recap: Spotify’s originally promise for HiFi was an audio upgrade with lower resolution and fewer features than the competition, for what likely would have been more money. If there’s any truth to my assumptions, launching Spotify HiFi as it was originally planned would have straight-up looked bad in light of Apple and Amazon’s announcements.
The delay sucks for audiophiles who have remained loyal to Spotify, but the good news is I expect that patience will be rewarded. While before we were only promised an upgrade to CD-quality audio, I would now be really surprised if Spotify HiFi’s eventual launch didn’t include high-res tracks up to 24-bit/192kHz and some form of spatial audio as well. Who knows, maybe there’ll even be some extra freebies.
Whatever the case, you can be sure that when Spotify HiFi launches, it’ll be better than it would have been had Apple and Amazon not thrown down the gauntlet.
Get the TNW newsletter
Get the most important tech news in your inbox each week.