At this point, it’s fair to assume that something went wrong with Spotify HiFi. Two years ago today, during the company’s Stream On event, Spotify announced a new streaming tier that would let customers enjoy lossless, CD-quality audio from the leading subscription music service.
Spotify felt the news was worthy of some star power and filmed a promotional video for HiFi with Billie Eilish and Finneas. It remains on the company’s YouTube page, and you can still read the blog post saying upgraded sound would arrive “later this year” — meaning by the end of 2021.
And then it just... didn’t happen. Two years on, Spotify HiFi still hasn’t been released. The prolonged wait and lack of updates have become meme-worthy at this point. It’s a bizarre saga, frankly: companies of Spotify’s stature don’t often announce a feature only to stop talking about it as though nothing ever happened. HiFi routinely goes unmentioned on Spotify’s quarterly earnings calls, and inquiries about its status with Spotify PR are usually met with radio silence or “nothing new to share.”
So what happened? Unfortunately, there’s no clear answer. Spotify has managed to keep a lid on whatever sent HiFi so far off course. Even well-sourced reporters that focus on the company haven’t been able to nail down what’s behind the delay.
The Apple Music dilemma
At the time Spotify introduced HiFi, lossless music came at a premium. It was a paid upgrade. Services like Amazon Music and Tidal charged extra on top of their standard monthly rate to unlock higher fidelity playback.
But just a few months after Spotify’s news, Apple revealed its own plans around lossless music and Dolby Atmos spatial audio tracks: both would be offered to Apple Music customers at no added cost. Amazon must have sensed this coming and stopped charging more for “HD” streaming on the very same day as Apple’s press release. Other competitors also soon fell in line.
If Spotify had conceptualized HiFi as another way to help pad its bottom line, that quickly became impractical. It’s been speculated that Apple’s pay-nothing-extra approach caught the company considerably off guard and derailed whatever the original HiFi rollout plan might have been.
But other services have been able to adapt. Optional lossless audio has become status quo among Apple Music, Amazon Music, Tidal, Qobuz, and Deezer. Why not Spotify? (It’s worth mentioning that YouTube Music also remains a holdout on lossless.)
Signs of life, but the wait drags on
Over the last couple years, people have uncovered mentions of HiFi, tutorials, and dormant settings for the feature hidden within the Spotify mobile app. From a technical perspective, it seems like things have been ready to go for quite some time and Spotify just needs to flip the switch. No such luck.
There have also been surveys floating the idea of new monthly plans that would include HiFi among other benefits at a higher price. It’d be a bad look to demand more money for HiFi quality alone when you can get it for free elsewhere, so perhaps Spotify will try to justify a pricier subscription by throwing in other exclusive perks and advanced library management.
The company hasn’t made any of this official, mind you. Maybe that will happen at the next Stream On in March. Or maybe they’ll say nothing at all, and this very strange situation will just keep right on going.
Why does anyone still care about this?
Spotify is enormously popular and considered by some to be the best music service for personalized playlists and recommendations — and you can’t forget about social media sensations like Spotify Wrapped. But for a company that lives and breathes music, Spotify is badly dragging its feet at improving music consumption. I’m not here to debate whether your average person can hear the difference between the service’s “very high” streaming bitrate and a lossless FLAC or some high-resolution track. But for every month that we keep awaiting HiFi, Spotify is sacrificing the opportunity to be the one destination that covers all the bases.
So far, it’s also missing the boat on spatial audio and Dolby Atmos music. Again, plenty of people will dismiss spatial audio as gimmicky, but having the option has quickly become the norm for Apple and Amazon customers. Sonos is about to release a speaker designed to showcase the immersive format, and Spotify isn’t even in the fold.
In that video above, Billie Eilish says “we make music that wants to be heard the way that it was made.” Friends, it’s been a stupidly long wait, but I’ve still got a shred of hope left that 2023 will be the year that Spotify puts some importance back on the way we listen.