Chances are, if you’re listening to music, you want it to sound good. And for the best quality, various methods and internet tips recommend lossless audio. But what is lossless audio and where can you get songs that have it? And what is HiFi sound anyway?

Fear not, we’ll walk you through these sometimes confusing terms and help you decide if lossless audio is worth it to you and where you can find tracks that take full advantage of it.

What does harmless mean?

Beyerdynamic M 70 Pro X microphone.

To understand lossless audio, we need to start where most audio starts: the human ear. Most people, with the exception of rare edge cases, can only hear sounds in the frequency range of 20 Hz to 20 kHz. This can vary, and decreases with age, but generally everything you hear here – whether from headphone Or out on the street – lies. But just because you can’t hear anything else doesn’t mean other frequencies don’t exist. Take, for example, a dog whistle. You can’t hear it, but your dog can. When recording music and converting it to digital, every possible frequency that the microphone can detect is stored, even if you never hear it.

Since this process preserves the last piece of data, it is called harmless.

Lossless audio often results in very large files. In contrast, “lossy” audio strips out any information about frequencies you don’t hear, which results in smaller file sizes. Very low volume, formatted audio also throws out data that you can hear.

But there is a bit more to the story, as both lossy and lossless audio can be included Sound compression. There are uncompressed lossless audio files including WAV on Windows and AIFF on macOS. However, as mentioned, saving a lot of audio data takes up a lot of space. As a result, engineers have developed various ways to make audio files smaller. Discarding frequencies, which lossy formats like MP3 do, can result in very small files. Compression may also cause other problems, including audio quality. Sometimes, trying to compress an audio file too much can result in something called compression artifacts. These are unpleasant sounds created by the compression process itself and not found in the original recording. Additionally, certain types of music may experience “pre-echo,” or hearing a sound shortly before it actually occurs in a track, due to the way it’s compressed.

In order to preserve all the data in a file, preserve its original quality, and not introduce any artifacts, smaller lossless audio formats, such as FLAC, use other compression tricks. However, these files will never be as small as lossy formats. But what you lose in hard drive space, you gain in sound quality and preserving the integrity of the original recording.

What about Bitrate and HiFi?

Bottom view of the Sony WH-1000XM5 next to the Bose QuietComfort 45 on a metal surface

Chris Thomas / Android Authority

Something that often gets involved in lossless audio discussions is bit rate. This is a fairly complex topic, but to simplify it here, the “debate” usually boils down to 16-bit vs. 24-bit files. Bit rate refers to how often a digital display “samples” an analog audio signal. Think of it like measuring the temperature of a pot of heated water on the stove. If you dip the thermometer in the water and note the reading, you can eventually plot how it rises over time. The more times you do this per second, the higher the bitrate.

A standard audio CD uses 16-bit audio and has a frequency of 44.1 kHz – hence the name “CD-quality audio”. CD quality is also called HD sound. This is now more than twice the range of human hearing. With the format, 24-bit audio can reach 96 kHz and higher. Therefore, it is often labeled “Ultra HD”. So it must be better, right? In addition, Streaming services They often convert everything to “HiFi Lossless Streams” to make it even more confusing.

Whether you or anyone else can hear the difference between 16-bit and 24-bit audio is questionable.

Not so fast. In addition to the fact that the human ear cannot perceive high-frequency sounds, we also know that due to some complex mathematics called Nyquist-Shannon sampling theorem, 16-bit audio at 44.1 kHz is sufficient to fully reproduce any signal within the limited frequency range of human hearing. 24-bit audio amplifiers claim that because more samples occur per second, the resulting curves are “smoother” or less “jagged”, but in practice it makes no audible difference. Why? Well, for one thing, The curves produced are still just as smooth. You can think of it like over-explaining a topic: you only need a certain amount of detail to get an idea across, and in the end it just reduces efficiency.

In general, lossless audio is any file format that preserves everything the microphone recorded and is at least 16-bit at 44.1 kHz. Higher bitrates are certainly possible, but you probably won’t notice a difference. As we’ll see in a bit, however, both higher bitrates and lossless streaming are available through HiFi streaming services or Surfaces.

Which streaming services support lossless audio?

More and more streaming services now have lossless audio available. Typically, you’ll find this option at the “hi-res”, “HiFi”, “HD” or “Ultra HD” premium levels. Ripping files from CD also allows you to enjoy lossless files locally. But it’s not the most convenient option, so here are some streaming services that offer lossless audio. Keep in mind that lossless files are large and you will consume a lot of data streaming them. If you’re on a data-capped plan, it’s best to enjoy them over Wi-Fi instead. Plus, while many phones these days can play lossless files, you may need external adapters for very high bitrate options.

Apple Music

Apple Music Radio section

Edgar Cervantes / Android Authority

Apple Music It offers two levels of lossless sound. CD quality is available with your subscription. You can enable it in it Settings > Music > Sound quality on your iOS device. Also available are 24-bit lossless “hi-res” tracks. However, these require the use of an external Digital to analog converter.

Amazon Music HD

On Amazon Music, signing up for an unlimited subscription gives you access to lossless HD (16-bit) and Ultra HD (24-bit) tracks at no additional cost. Amazon Music indicates that a song has HD or Ultra HD content with a small icon in the player.

Deezer HiFi

Deezer Android App

Register for Deezer Gives you access to Deezer HiFi. You can enjoy quality CD tracks without loss without paying extra. There’s no “Ultra HD” or “hi-res” subscription level, but that doesn’t really matter, as said.

Tidal HiFi

Tidal Android app

Tide Lossless playback options are divided into two levels. HiFi is $9.99 per month and provides access to CD-quality tracks. HiFi Plus is $19.99 and goes up to 24-bit tracks, but you might opt ​​for this level because it also includes surround sound support. Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio.

Qabuz

Qobuz 2020 screenshot

Indian Joe / Android Authority

Qobuz offers a Studio subscription for $10.83 per month and Sublime for $15.00 per month. Both stream up to 24-bit and 192kHz lossless. Sublime also includes discounts of up to 60% on every high-resolution download.

How about Spotify HiFi?

jbl connect spotify

Ryan Haynes / Android Authority

Spotify announced a lossless streaming service called Spotify HiFi, which was supposed to launch in 2021, but has yet to appear. When (if?) it launches, it will likely have CD-quality audio for playback.

Can you stream lossless audio over bluetooth?

There’s one limiting factor to enjoying lossless audio that you may not have noticed: Bluetooth audio. Short stories, all are now widely used bluetooth codec It compresses the sound at least at some point. There are complex technical reasons for this, but suffice it to say that there is a trade-off between bandwidth, connection stability and sound quality. Basically, there isn’t enough room in the Bluetooth signal to pack the data together for lossless audio streaming.

To get around the bandwidth problem, Bluetooth codecs use various tricks to keep the connection stable. Certain codecs are better at this than others. For example, the widely available SBC codec does not maintain high quality, so not much data is sent, but the connection is very stable. Higher quality codecs such as aptX and aptX HD use more advanced algorithms. Certain codecs such as aptX Adaptive and LDAC can actually change their bitrate depending on content and connection needs. In fact, LDAC generally achieves almost CD-quality sound. It’s not a perfect match, but only really discerning listeners might notice. There’s also aptX Lossless, which is slated to hit devices this year.

If you use a short story Bluetooth headphones To listen to audio tracks without loss of quality, you will lose some quality. It’s better than starting with lossy audio tracks, but if you’re worried about that, it won’t be a complete experience. To take full advantage of what lossless audio has to offer, it’s best to stick with it Wired listening options.