Lossless music streaming is becoming a thing. A small company, Tidal, that started out in Norway, which offers lossless streaming, was recently purchased by one Jay-Z, even though it has a few users. It has just announced that it will be expanding its service to a total of 30 countries.
The French company Deezer, which offers Deezer Elite, a lossless streaming service, is expanding this to 150 countries. And the French Qobuz has been offering lossless streaming for a while, but hasn’t yet spread very far.
So what does all this mean? Is lossless streaming a good thing? What are the pros and cons of streaming lossless music?
First, what is lossless? This is music that is compressed in a way that, when it is played back, the musical data is exactly the same as on a CD. I explain how lossless compression works and discuss the different lossless formats in this article.
Is lossless music a good thing? Well, if you’re at home, listening to music on a very good stereo, you might hear the difference between lossless music and, say, 320 kbps MP3 or AAC files. But, then again, you probably won’t. If you’re outdoors, walking down a street, or riding a bus or train, then you won’t hear a difference, no matter how good your headphones.
The drawback with lossless music is that it uses a lot more data than standard AAC or MP3 files. If you take music from the iTunes Store as a benchmark, a 4-minute track takes up about 7.5 MB, compared to 15-30 MB for the same track in a lossless format. Because of the way lossless compression works, file size – and effective bit rates – vary greatly. In a test I did a few years ago, I found that, for a number of classical works, the effective bit rate of lossless tracks varied from 446 kbps to 902 kbps, or a difference of a factor of two (though these are not absolute limits).
Because of this, streaming lossless music will eat up your mobile data more than twice as fast as AAC or MP3 streams. A couple of hours of lossless music is easily a gigabyte of data. If you’re one of the few people with a truly unlimited data plan, and you’ve streaming to a very good stereo, you might want to try this. Otherwise, you’re better off streaming compressed music.