Lossless Streaming in 2019 - A Comparative Overview & Review

For the longest time I was a firm believer in offline playback for Hi Res content. I appreciated the flexibility and discovery power of apps like Napster [formally Rhapsody] and Spotify but those services are limited to only lossy.

While there has been a few Hi Res Lossless streaming services available prior to 2019, I really feel this year has seen a surge in them. Not only do we have access to Tidal and Deezer Hifi , but now also Qobuz and Amazon HD music. An for the purpose of my overview and review I will be focusing only on Tidal with and without MQA Rendering, Qobuz and Amazon HD Music using content shared between the three with only the highest BitRate output option in each platform.

I used an iFi xDSD with my HD 600 for listening purposes when exploring each platform. I did listening on both Mobile and Desktop platforms via my Cellular Devices and my Win10 Laptop. As for music I spent a few weeks with each listening to a wide variety of music to get a feel for the service as a whole.


The Native interface is quite nice, but for bit perfect playback on Android I did use USB Android Player Pro. While I’m not as much of a fan of it’s layout it get’s the job done and the bit-perfect playback does help preserve the highest quality from each service.

Tidal
Tidal actually won’t even render fully into an external USB Dac in it’s native App so UAPP is required for full Software & Hardware MQA Unfolding. An I did find some subtle differences between Tidal MQA Master Unfolded VS Not

For some masters there was:

  • Blacker Background
  • Cleaner Envelope
  • Improved precision in staging
  • A more “open” sound with better cohesion
    • Or a smoother transition of instruments/sound within the captured space
  • Cleaner Bass
    • Less boomy with more discernible texture

Overall I really felt like Tidal MQA Masters were the real highlight of the platform. It’s non Mastered content wasn’t anything worthwhile and overall I did feel the Native Tidal app was “bright” or introduced some odd top end distortion for all content. Again using exclusively UAPP with software and hardware decoding this distortion wasn’t as evident but alot of even the redbook content and Masters themselves are rather bright. When compared to other services and to my own Offline Files in the same format [MQA Master VS 24/96 or 24/192]

An while the MQA Mastered Library is expanding I am happy to say I had no issues finding all of what I wanted to hear in at least 16/44.1. Tho again I preferred to just stick with MQA Masters if I was listening, given that the 16/44.1 stuff available wasn’t always on par with my own offline files.

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Sadly the biggest issue I have with Qobuz is the Library, there’s a lot of content I wasn’t able to find. But oddly enough there is some content that I have ONLY been able to find on Qobuz too…

That said the biggest strength of Qobuz for me is the sound quality, it’s pretty consistent across the board. If there’s a 24/96 or 24/192 playback option available I listen, if there isn’t I still listen. The redbook or 16/44.1 options on Amazon HD and Tidal are usually a little blurred compared the same track sourced offline. An for the most part compared Qobuz Redbook to offline files I didn’t notice too big of a difference. If I had to pin point something I did feel Qobuz as a whole had

  • Slight Emphasis on Macro Dynamics
  • A touch Dry tonally
  • An “Aggressive” or “fast” Presentation

Though unlike Tidal which is rather obviously bright most times, I didn’t get this impression for every track I listened to and compared with Qobuz.

Still, that consistency and lack of proprietary file formats and associated hardware do make up for the smaller Library. Couple that with the more personable presence Qobuz has within the Audiophile community and I’m certainly happy to remain a paying customer.

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Amazon’s HD music service is at this time kinda unique. The library is MASSIVE and overall the sound quality is pretty consistent. I do find the Ultra HD content to be by far the best. Providing similar benefits of the Tidal MQA Masters when compared to lower bitrate content so:

  • Blacker Background
  • Cleaner Envelope
  • A more “open” sound with better cohesion
    • Or a smoother transition of instruments/sound within the captured space
  • Cleaner Bass
    • Less boomy with more discernible texture

I will say the improved sense of openness in some of the Tidal MQA Masters is pretty cool for the very few tracks that were available in both MQA Master and Ultra HD between Amazon HD and Tidal I did find Tidal to often be more open but kinda bright, VS the Amazon HD Master which was tonally more balanced but not always as “open.” Still the Amazon HD content is more consistent, sometimes the Tidal MQA Masters are just too heavy on the top end imo

But my biggest gripe with Amazon HD Music right now is the lack of bit-perfect playback… the Windows 10 application is limited to Direct Sound and the App maxs out at 24/48. That said for my needs DS out of my Windows 10 Laptop is more than sufficient. Still when compared to my own offline content of the same given album/artist I did notice the Amazon HD Music 16/44.1 content to be

  • A little “blurred”
  • An Slightly softened

But right now I do feel Amazon is more suited to desktop environments than it is Mobile. Hopefully with time they’ll work out integration with UAPP or figure out how to bring Native 24/96 or 24/192 playback to their App. Till then I appreciate having access to such a massive library of both their exceptional Ultra HD and acceptable Redbook [16/44.1] content.

Concluding Thoughts
If your willing to build a system around it Tidal isn’t a bad option. I’ve heard some higher priced Sources with built in Tidal Support using what I felt are “warmer” or slighty more romantic sounding DACs. So these systems seem to be complimented by Tidal rather than Hindered. One such example is the Cary Audio DMS 550. I felt while it was exceptionally detailed and precise it did lack a certain presence or Edge when I listened thru the DMS 550 using my own digital transport.

That isn’t to say it entirely eliminated the Brightness I hear with a lot of Tidal Content but it certainly minimized it. An Roon integration with Tidal may be even better than what UAPP offers so as of right now my issues with Tidal may be related to a lack of hardware or software solutions for it.

Still for my self, I find I really like Qobuz for all my bit perfect Mobile use both at and outside of home and Amazon HD for my satellite touch screen desktop more so than Tidal for either. Neither need dedicated hardware or rendering software solutions and I felt the overall sound quality of what’s available in Amazons Ultra HD to be more or less equivalent to Tidal’s MQA overall, aside from mastering differences. That and for Redbook 16/44.1 I did feel Qobuz was the cleanest. An technically speaking I own nicer DACs that work perfectly fine with both services so having access to my entire library of existing Hardware while still getting the absolute best from each is it self worthwhile in a pursuit for the highest quality streaming playback.

An to be honest if Qobuz’s library expands enough I may even ditch Amazon HD given it’s current lack of bit perfect playback options. For now I’m holding on to both and hoping Amazon patches in bit perfect soon, tho I have a feeling it’ll be Qobuz who puts in the work needed to truly to rise to the top!

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Interesting. I’ll listen for what you have written specifically the “brightness” you “hear with a lot of Tidal content”. This is exactly what I need. What to listen for, good and bad. Thank you.

Well I had some questions regarding what I heard, I typically don’t include such subjective impressions but I’ve seen a few reddits who’ve measured distortion from the Tidal App which I have heard

The Masters themselvs didn’t strike me as bright until I sat down with the Cary Audio DMS 550, that unit is a little rich, I felt compared my own RME ADI 2 it could have more presance. So imagine my suprise when I get to listening to some Tidal MQA stuff I know and it’s both top end heavy AND a little “soft” imo

Still I wouldn’t say “listen” to see if you can hear it, some listeners don’t pick up on it and may appreciate it. I also find a lot of the early HD Tracks Masters BRIGHT. Recently they’ve put out some nice stuff tho

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I’ll listen to it on the Acoustat electrostatics critically in the next few days. I’m getting the interfaces updated. Then compare to headphones using Tidal with MQA and Blu-ray. Thanks for the info. Research Man listens on!:grin:

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Let us know what you find! I’ve heard Tidal sound quite black and rather natural. I imagine there’s some small differances in the implimentation of the Filters both involved in the MQAUnfold as well as the dac-hardware itself. Or maybe not I dunno

Still curious to hear what you find

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I am currently using Spotify and Quboz. Spotify is still my favorite despite it being the lowest quality.

Quboz quality is really nice, but the UI is pretty terrible and it needs a darker theme.

I still prefer it over Tidal, which was extremely buggy for me.

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Spotify and Tidal feel VERY alike in terms of their UI

An yea stock Qobuz is odd to look at, I’ve got screen shots there of UAPP with Qobuz. I really feel on Mobile the app is well worth it. Visually and functionally I like UAPP w/Qobuz more than regular ole Qobuz

An honestly for lossy I like Napster the best!!! The built in EQ is handy, but I switch between it and Spotify

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Well, I can with some reservation state after extensive listening a few months ago the difference between the folding and unfolding from Tidal with the ifi nano idsd bl through either the old windows 7 computer or from the LGV30 cell. The overall impression was most were slightly more open. Particularly the stringed instruments had more bite in a very good way. There is a woody resin bow sound I listen (almost said look) for. It is very recording based and I’m not that sure of myself in making a firm judgement on most recordings. On some it’s like it isn’t working. I keep looking for the gold/orange/yellow(?) Master indicate. Need a few months with the renewed system and new headphones to be more confident of my findings. :grimacing:

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I agree 100% on that openess, the bite is hit or miss I found and like you said very much master/song dependant

But I like the staging you get with the MQAUnfold, I will admit an MQA Master of RHCP made my wife actually comment on how “much clearer” the song was VS what she’d heard over the years

I need to see if Qobuz has some 24/96 RHCP stuff lol

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Yeah I forgot to mention the Tidal bugs with the ifi nano. It gets to be a chore to get consistent master playback. Some songs just won’t play!:face_with_symbols_over_mouth: Some songs I have to play and restart over and over. Blog sites with same problem suggested we reload the older(!) software drivers to solve the problems. It played better but not perfect. Tidal has done about 3 updates this last few months to supposedly address the issue. It’s gotten better but not good enough. I blame the old Windows 7 but I’ve read some windows 10 people had the same issue. Tidal plays green very consistently just not gold master consistently. Sigh.:face_with_raised_eyebrow: The fight goes on.

Oh eww sorry to hear that, I didn’t have much issues with Purpleplay back via xDSD

A shame to hear on the nano tho, I really liked that unit <.< I should also mention [I don’t recommend the product tho] I had suprinsgly little issues with Audioquest Cobolt playing MQA via UAPP

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Yeah. The magenta flashes white for a split second on the nano. The master is gold on the screen. Go figure.

Did you install the 2.0 usb drivers? That fixed it for me and xdsd

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I had my computer buddy do it. If memory serves I think he loaded a 3.2 and then read the older 2.0 software worked better on Windows 7. But don’t quote me.

See all of this is why I’m finding so much more Value in Qobuz and/or Amazon HD. All this proprietary MQA madness needs to be put to bed lol

But I can’t deny how well executed Tidal and MQA has been, heck there is still some good content only in MQA via Tidal. An I gave a software only MQA Render a listen and it was acceptable. Better than spotify so that was nice lol

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never had problems with the ifi xDSD and UAPP playing mqa
I understand all users to dislike proprietary equipment
for me mqa was not the main point to get the xDSD

I always search in Tidal Tidal first for a song and add it later in Spotify premium
Gave Amazon Ultra HD a try - use it more for audio books

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@MartinTransporter @mshenay @boxster233 @antdroid For the what it’s worth dept. I got Tidal, the ifi nano, the computer and the LG30 for MQA experiments. I’d read about it for years. The HE500’s because the home theater was better than the ATH50’s and DT990’s. Now the system is better than the HE500’s. Next step HE560’s version 4 I guess.

I don’t have a problem with Tidal. They have been steadily improving their desktop app until it is very stable, more so than Qobuz though both have made great strides. Tidal was really bad before Jay-Z took over and started improvements.

Even so MQA was unlistenable for me two years ago when I had a Brooklyn DAC+ because of too many drop outs. Right now Qobuz is pretty stable but I still get the occasional hiccup which is why I use the Audirvana player.

Amazon Music HD is crap. No bit perfect playback and sound is veiled, not as dynamic as Qobuz. I dropped Tidal a while back and also Amazon Music HD before the 3 month free trial ran out. Qobuz keeps improving their catalog and I enjoy exploring new artists and genres beyond the classic rock, jazz and country genres I usually listen to.

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Thanks for the input @allegro . I thought about the Brooklyn gear. All too expensive for me for experimenting. Hopefully you can check MQA and Tidal again unless your just over it. Sorry you didn’t like the sound. When the planets align it’s quite nice for me. Depending on the recording of course.

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As I said elsewhere, and @Torq agreed, is that for me, one of the primary benefits of MQA is that the engineers and the band seem to pay a bit more attention to the sound, mixing and mastering process, simply because it is MQA. This benefits the experience.*

I like MQA because if I am using it, it’s one less thing I can fool with. Should I want to mess with the sound, I can switch headphones and/or add the Schiit Loki in after it’s in the analog domain.

I’ve found that although the iFi xDSD is capable of higher resolution - and this can be audible in TIDAL/MQA chains, the Audioquest Dragonflies (I have both Black and Cobalt) are about as fuss-free and bulletproof as you can get. I use them almost exclusively if I’m streaming off my iPhone.

Although it was later in coming, TIDAL on iOS is better than Android, because UAPP is just another thing to add in (and you do need it). For minimum fuss, iPhone, Camera Adapter 2, and Dragonfly Black. It draws less power than Cobalt, and if you’re going minimalist, you’ll use an IEM you can easily power or something efficient like Grados.

If I’m not trying to be totally mobile, I’ll use the Camera Adapter 3 and plug in to save battery.

* This is not to say that MQA isn’t inherently evil as a proprietary format, nor to say that other high-res non-MQA isn’t equally as good or perhaps better.

** Radio Paradise FLAC streaming is the best thing EVER. I’ve never found so much wonderful music as when listening to Radio Paradise.

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