Spotify Signals Move Towards Hi-Res Audio Option

Courtesy of Spotify

As the streaming service sector continues to evolve with new players, differentiated price points and a broader slate of features and original content, Spotify appears to be on the verge of making its next move. According to Spotify users posting on Reddit, as reported by The Verge, several subscribers began receiving a message promoting new upgraded subscription tiers offering lossless, hi-fi quality audio for an additional $5 or $10 a month.

When users attempted to sign up, they were denied by either an error message or a notice saying the service wasn't available in their area, according to The Verge, indicating that the messages were sent by mistake. The two offers, both called Spotify Hi-Fi, differed in pricing and features: one, priced at an additional $10 / month ($19.99 total), offered all premium features as well as lossless, CD-quality audio; the other, priced at an additional $5 / month ($14.99 total), offered the same premium features and lossless audio, but also tacked on one free vinyl record and discounts on limited-edition vinyl.

The company, for its part, was noncommittal, issuing a statement to Billboard that reads, "We are always testing new products and offers but have no news to share at this time." A Spotify spokesperson declined to elaborate on that statement, or to provide any details of whether a hi-fi tier is being considered.

Regardless, it would make sense for Spotify to jump into the super-premium, hi-fi audio tier, particularly at a price point higher than its current $9.99 all-inclusive subscription. Tidal notably made waves out of the gate by launching in the U.S. in March 2015 with a lossless tier priced at $19.99; a year later, the most recent date the service has released numbers on this topic, Tidal reported that 45 percent of its 3 million subscribers -- around 1.35 million people -- upgraded to the premium, lossless audio tier, while Deezer also offers a hi-res option.

It would also seem to be in line with recent industry trends. Last May, Billboard reported on Master Quality Authenticated (MQA), a new format that allows for higher-quality audio to be delivered through streaming services in a way that doesn't cause bandwidth -- in other words, connectivity -- issues that would disrupt the stream itself. MQA has received backing from Atlantic Records chairman/CEO Craig Kallman, leading to Warner Music Group signing a deal to license its technology last year, and in January 2017 Universal Music Group signed its own deal with the format. Last month, all three major labels in conjunction with Pandora, Napster and the RIAA, released a joint statement supporting initiatives and opportunities for hi-res audio streaming.

Spotify was notably absent from that statement, however. Apple -- Spotify's main streaming competitor, which also sat out the joint release -- has been rumored to be exploring a hi-fi option since at least the end of 2015 (though none has yet emerged) and its recent retooling of the headphone jack on the new iPhones seems designed to accommodate higher resolutions.

Whether Spotify's hi-res tier is impending, or what the company may end up settling on price-wise and feature-wise, is unclear. But now that the question of quantity -- with a swath of services offering up 30-million-plus song catalogs -- is in the books, the future seems to be one of increased quality.