First of all, based on current knowledge, this means that Spotify will offer its catalog in “CD quality”, which corresponds to 16bit / 44.1kHz and a data rate between about 700kbps (lossless compressed) to 1,411kbps (uncompressed CD quality). This is not what is commonly referred to as “HiRes” (High Resolution). This means everything above CD quality. Compared to the previous Spotify streaming offer with lossy compressed transmission (Ogg Vorbis) with 320kbps, CD quality is an important and, in the right environment, a clearly audible leap in quality.
In times of video streaming in HD or even 4K UHD with HDR, the available internet bandwidth has long ceased to be an argument to limit music streaming to highly compressed data rates, like Spotify and also Apple Music do it so far. At least not in the home WiFi with flat-rate internet. If you have a limited data volume, you should at least choose a lower resolution when you are out and about, possibly also compressed with loss.
But why do the big providers Spotify and Apple limit the data rate so much instead of at least offering CD quality (or higher)? The answer to this is quite simple: Because you don’t have to, because for most users it is simply enough and they don’t complain. Those users who seriously want more and who by no means want to be satisfied with Apple’s or Spotify’s quality – a comparatively small minority – have long since turned to other services such as Qobuz or Tidal who have been making their catalog available in CD quality for a long time and at least to a certain extent also stream in HiRes with up to 24bit / 192kHz. An estimated 80-90% of the offer is limited to CD quality even with these providers. At Qobuz, however, there has recently been a clearly increasing tendency towards more HiRes. Most of the rest of the users live well with what the big providers deliver to them and will probably only be happy about a higher quality when they experience it for the first time. Be it on your own loudspeakers at home or with friends with a better playback system.
For users who stream music with common lifestyle or smart speakers such as the HomePod or mobile with the iPhone and Bluetooth headphones, the lossy compressed data stream is otherwise still sufficient. Playback in CD quality or higher is largely superfluous because, for example, the wireless Bluetooth transmission itself works with lossy data compression. Although many smart speakers theoretically offer the transmission options for CD quality (e.g. via AirPlay), they can hardly be heard due to other technical / acoustic limitations.
Nonetheless, the demands of a not inconsiderable number of users have grown over the years, so that CD quality – something that has been technically possible since the early 1980s – should finally also become standard for streaming offers. Spotify is currently said to have almost 300 million subscribers. Apple Music is likely to have around 80 million users today. This means that Spotify and Apple serve far more customers than all other providers combined. At least some users of the upcoming Spotify HiFi offer will get to know and appreciate the higher sound quality in practice. Even if that’s only 5% of Spotify users, that would still be a significant number of users. Much more than, for example, the user base of Qobuz or Tidal.
This is good news for the hi-fi industry because it should fuel the demand for better playback systems. Apple is less affected in this regard because the iPhone manufacturer does not offer audio components with a correspondingly higher playback quality. Even the AirPods Max are irrelevant in this regard because of their limitation to Bluetooth. And yet the call for higher streaming quality could also get louder in the Apple camp. If only because the lawn next door always appears greener than your own.
In order not to end up alone in the hallway with an exclusively highly compressed range of music, Apple might ultimately have no choice but to do the same with Spotify. – Better late than never!