Tidal and Deezer hope that listeners care enough about audio quality to pay for it.

By Dan Reilly
April 6, 2015

Revenue from streaming music services surpassed CD sales for the first time in history earlier this year, thanks in part to streaming media companies like Spotify, Apple-owned Beats, and Rdio.

The global launch of Deezer Elite, a high-fidelity audio service, in March is more proof that the crowded market of music streaming has become a battleground. The Paris-based streaming service, which launched in 150 countries, but is for now only available to users of speaker systems by Sonos, the dominant wireless speaker provider.

The only other major player in the “premium”—that is, high-fidelity—streaming market is Tidal, the Jay Z-backed service that launched with much fanfare last month. Both companies promise on-demand listening for high-resolution music files but vary in pricing: Tidal charges $20 per month while Deezer charges $14.99 per month (or $9.99 per month to customers who sign up for one year or more, a nod toward Spotify’s $10 per month rate).

High-resolution audio differs from the music offered by other popular music services because it arrives encoded in the FLAC —Free Lossless Audio Codec—format. FLAC typically offers five times the sonic quality of a typical streamed track found on Spotify or Apple’s iTunes. All of the major streaming services can be used on various desktop and mobile devices.

The question that plagues them all is whether consumers will opt to pay more for premium streaming audio—and whether they can really discern the difference in the first place. Some studies suggest that most people can’t readily tell a difference in audio quality, with many preferring the sound of the MP3s they’ve become accustomed to listening to for years.

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