When it comes to consuming music, you can split the SoundStage! team into a few broad categories: those who are big into physical media, those who have fully embraced streaming, those who rely on downloaded and ripped music, and those with feet in all these camps.
Across the SoundStage! Network, you’ll find coverage of all kinds of audio products: high-end gear on SoundStage! Ultra, affordable components on SoundStage! Access, headphones and accessories on SoundStage! Solo, lifestyle audio here on SoundStage! Simplifi, portable Bluetooth speakers on SoundStage! Xperience, news and events on SoundStage! Global, and all manner of gear on the mothership—SoundStage! Hi-Fi.
One of the occupational hazards of writing for an audiophile website is a condition photography enthusiasts call GAS—Gear Acquisition Syndrome. After hearing about a new lens (or amplifier), you decide you really, really need this new toy, even though the gear you already own is more than adequate for your needs. During my adult life, I’ve experienced GAS hundreds—maybe thousands—of times, and succumbed to it more often than I care to admit.
Was 2021 the year that lossless and hi-rez music streaming became mainstream? Last year, Spotify promised it would start delivering lossless music, but failed to deliver. Three months later, Apple announced plans to offer lossless and hi-rez content, and started delivering shortly thereafter. Amazon Music HD had been offering lossless and hi-rez music since 2019; but following Apple’s move, Amazon reduced its price for the service. These aggressive moves by major providers like Apple and Amazon led several smaller streaming services to revamp their own pricing plans in 2021.
Today is Simplifi’s birthday. Five years ago, on New Year’s Day 2017, the SoundStage! Network launched a site dedicated to “convenient, lifestyle-oriented hi-fi” with a short feature by Al Griffin, entitled “Why Simplifi.”
Most audiophiles know Canada’s Lenbrook Industries for its three audio brands: PSB Speakers, NAD Electronics, and Bluesound multi-room streaming products. Fewer people know Lenbrook as a software developer. But the fact is that Lenbrook’s BluOS software platform is a key component of many of its products—not just the Bluesound multi-room components for which BluOS was originally created, but also NAD integrated amplifiers, preamplifiers, AV receivers, and a multi-zone streamer targeted at the custom-integration (CI) market.
On May 28, 2020, Tidal announced that it was rolling out Dolby Atmos Music for home-theater systems. Nearly a full year later, on May 17, 2021, Apple Music announced that, along with lossless audio, its catalog would support spatial audio, which also uses Dolby Atmos. For Tidal, Dolby Atmos Music is included in the higher-tier HiFi subscription at $19.99 (all prices in USD) per month for a single subscription ($29.99 for up to five additional family members). For Apple Music, spatial audio and lossless audio are included in the $9.99 plan ($14.99 per month for up to five additional family members). For most audiophiles, the biggest draw would be lossless audio—the company was joining niche providers such as Tidal and Qobuz, but Apple’s pervasive influence brings it to a much wider audience.
You might think that a guy who earns his living by writing about technology would want to have the latest and greatest of everything. Not yours truly. When I make a purchase, I’ll spend what it takes to get a product that will meet my needs for a long time—but then I’ll make that thing last and last. I’ll replace a product only if it stops working properly and can’t be repaired economically; or if my circumstances change and the thing no longer suits my needs.
In his July 1 editorial, “Rich Guys and Reviewers Running Amok in Hi-Fi,” SoundStage! Network founder and publisher Doug Schneider discussed the amount of exorbitantly priced hi-fi products available today, and the fact that their performance often does not justify their crazy price tags. And he cited academic studies showing that consumers often mistakenly equate price with quality.
We’re just past the halfway point of 2021, but I think I’ve already heard my favorite album of the year. On August 6, Impex Records will release Clique, an album of jazz standards by Patricia Barber, on MQA CD, SACD, and hi-rez download. Stereo and 5.1 surround-sound mixes will be included on the SACD, and available as hi-rez downloads. Clique will also be streamed by Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and Qobuz. Coming later this year is a 33rpm LP; a 45rpm LP and a reel-to-reel tape release will follow in 2022.
First Amazon, then Spotify, and now Apple. With the company’s May 17 announcement that it was planning to make the 75 million songs in its Apple Music catalog available in lossless format, and that a substantial number of tracks would be available in high resolution (up to 24-bit/192kHz ALAC), all the major streaming services have now joined the lossless party.
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