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Krakow Sonic Society № 146

STREAMING SERVICES: Spotify, Tidal and Qobuz

When listening to Aavik SD-880 File Player

Streaming services promise us, the users, access to files almost directly from the mastering studios. In theory, then, music played through them should sound the same, at least if we were comparing files of the same resolution. This is not the case either. Why is this so? And, more importantly, which service "sounds" best? - The 146th KSS meeting was an attempt to answer these questions.

19th April 2024
KRAKÓW ⸜ Poland

Krakow Sonic Society

Text and and transcription from the tape WOJCIECH PACUŁA
Images by Tomasz L. Lachowski, „High Fidelity”

№ 146

June 1, 2024

'Streaming service': This is a place on the Internet (websites or apps) that gives free or paid access to content. The most popular services currently are those distributing movies and tv series (Netflix, HBO, etc.), music and podcasts (Spotify, iTunes, Google Music, Google Podcast): source: →, accessed: 13.05.2024

STREAMING SERVICES have become modern radio broadcasters, at least that's how I see it. Classical radio, with presenters, schedule, and even commercials, exists and is doing surprisingly well. Which should be treated as a positive surprise. Also, sales of physical music media, thanks mainly to the vinyl renaissance, seem to be stable and not threatened. However, streaming has turned the tables and neither the popularity of radio nor sales of LPs or CDs are as high as they once were and, it seems, will never be so again. Well, unless something happens and the availability of the Internet suddenly declines.

⸜ Aavik SD-880 file player we used to listen to the music

For the time being, however, we live in a world of streaming. Streaming, that is, the transfer of audio files (PCM) from external servers over the Internet, usually in real time, to our audio systems or mobile devices. Searching the web for the phrase "music internet services 2024" will probably bring us to a summary of the CNet website, which lists a few of what it considers the most important ones: Spotify, Apple, Qobuz, Tidal, Amazon (more → HERE).

Interestingly, two of those listed above are owned by powerful corporations - Apple and Amazon - and two are niche services with audiophile aspirations - Tidal and Qobuz. Looming between these two groups, Spotify seems to be the "golden mean", as the portal's editors emphasized when they wrote "best service overall."

Spotify is the best streaming service for most people. It offers the best mix of features, including great community features such as Spotify Wrapped, audiobooks, plus the excellent Spotify Connect for streaming to all your devices. Spotify also offers the best free tier: Without paying a dime or providing a credit card number, you can listen to millions of tunes and even stream to Wi-Fi devices.

⸜ TY PENDLEBURY, Best Music Streaming Service of 2024, →, 24th April 2024, accessed: 13.05.2024.

It's an interesting choice, a "middle" choice, if I may say so. For when we ask the average Internet user where he or she listens to music from, he or she will probably mention Apple, Amazon, YouTube, and in the case of the younger ones - TikTok. Music lovers focused on classical music, meanwhile, will point to services such as Deutsche Grammophon's Stage+ or - also based in Berlin - Idagio. BTW, Apple has its own division of this type called Primephonic. Audiophiles, on the other hand, will point - I know, because I asked around - to Qobuz as the right one, possibly to Tidal, expressing a hardly concealed contempt for other ones.

Audio files

DIGITAL AUDIO FILES, which are the storable and editable collection of samples organized in a standard form, can be stored on computer drives, transferred to other computers or samplers, shared on the Internet to be downloaded, added to video files, or played-back in real time.

They are different from audio CD or DAT tracks, which mostly contain only the raw sample data or items useless to a computer, such as error-correction and subcode data to help point the CD laser, etc. That is why a CD track must be extracted or ripped to an audio file format to be usable by a computer application. A standard 16-bit, 44.1K stereo file eats up about 10 megs of disk space per minute of sound.

Audio files come in a huge variety of types, which can influence their bit depth, multi-channel organization, compression scheme, sampling rate, organization of bytes high to low or visa versa (calledendian-ness) and amount of non-sample information stored in an area called the header, in units called chunks.

⸜ JEFFREY HASS, Introduction to Computer Music, →, acessed: 13.05.2024.

TO KNOW WHAT we are talking about we need to say what we are talking about. Above I quoted the definition of a digital audio file by Jeffrey Hass, prof. emer. Jacobs School of Music Indiana University Bloomington, from his book on computer-generated music. So we're talking about a digital signal that has been properly encoded and "packaged" in one of a selection of "containers". In this form it can be stored or transmitted - either over the Internet or on physical media. On the recipient's side, it is "unpacked" in a computer or audio device, with the result of a digital signal that can be understood by D/A converters.

Audio files are the backbone of streaming services. And they are simply servers with the appropriate software and user interface. Each service chooses the type of files it offers, prices its services and pays artists based on the number of views. Simple? - Very. All too simple. First: artists are hardly paid and only the biggest stars really earn something from this way of distributing their music. Secondly, the services offer files of varying resolution and therefore, at least in theory, sound quality.

⸜ The rear panel of SD-880 file player

The days of compressed mp3 or AAC files can now, thankfully, be forgotten. The basic type of files now offered by all sensible services are uncompressed FLAC files with a resolution of at least 16 bits and a sampling rate of 44.1 kHz, which they refer to as "CD quality". The better ones, namely Tidal and Qobuz, offer something more, namely, high-resolution files - 24-bit and with sampling rates up to 384 kHz, with Tidal still in part in the form of MQA files.

So theoretically, the sound quality should look like this: 1st place - Qobuz, 2nd place - Tidal, 3rd place - Spotify. And this is what seems to be commonly accepted in the audiophile world. But only theoretically. For it is the case that each of the audio streaming services requires files with slightly different mastering. They differ in LUFS level, compression (we're talking about dynamic range compression, not lossy compression) and other parameters. Even MQA Studio files, theoretically supposed to be a faithful copy of studio files, are subject to these treatments (more about LUFS → HERE ˻ PL ˺).

PAWEŁ "BEMOL" ŁADNIAK, responsible, for example, for mastering the latest Metallica album for streaming services, and also CHRISTOPH STICKEL, mastering engineer for Deutsche Grammophon records, nominated this year for a Grammy in the Best Engineered Album, Classical category for his album with the recording of John Williams' Violin Concerto No. 2, performed by Anne-Sophie Mutter and the Boston Symphony Orchestra talk about those issues and challenges

To summarize: each service receives a slightly different version of the master, and therefore files that differ in sound. So what is it really like? Which service "sounds" best? And, finally, aren't we falling prey to biases, extremely strong in the audiophile world? To answer these questions, or at least some of them, we prepared a meeting to which we invited MICHAEL BØRRESEN and MORTEN THYRRESTRUP. Michael is the co-founder and chief product developer of the Danish Audio Group, which includes, among others, Aavik. We've had the pleasure of meeting Morten, a representative of the company, before, on the occasion of listening to the i-880 amplifier (more → HERE). They brought Aavik's top-of-the-line file player, the SD-880, costing more than 300,000 PLN, to Krakow.

Michael said that he approached this project in a different way than usual. His main concern was to prevent "ringing" from appearing in the digital signal when decoding it before and after the signal. He also wanted to minimize the noise created when switching the circuit between values. He realized the first postulate by converting all types of signals played by the SD-880 to DSD form, and the second by abandoning the classic D/A converter, using in its place a simple resistor circuit and an analog filter

As he mentioned, when the CD hit the market, with the promise of "perfect sound forever”, many people gave up on digital sound because this promise was not fulfilled. As he said, the CD sounded not very natural, somewhat aggressive. On the other hand, the Sony and Philips people were constantly trying to improve digital, and thanks to them, much of the music was preserved, otherwise it wouldn't have been there - analog tapes mostly fell apart (literally) in their hands. Only now, he said, are we beginning to understand what digital is all about.

But PCM and the available chips were too similar for him. And they were noisy. His solution for it is using DSD512 - and that requires advance knowledge. The advantage is the elimination of switching in the decoding circuit. First, however, you need to convert all PCM signals, in the FGPA circuit, to DSD512. There is an analog summing circuit at the output, with 32 samples that are summed. Since the sampling rate is 22 MHz, each transition between samples is very fast. And this, in turn, gives a very smooth, almost analog representation of the signal. And there is almost no need to filter anything - it is very smooth in the SD-880. And it was with such a player that we proceeded with the listening.


HOW WE LISTENED • THE BASIS OF THE LISTENING SYSTEM was, already mentioned, the Aavik file player. It was connected to the analog input of the Kronos Signature DAC/linear preamplifier, and the latter to the Accuphase P-7300 power amplifier. New to Tomek's system were the speakers - after years of playing the Dynaudio Confidence C-4 Signature, it was time for a change - from now on we will be listening on another model of this Danish company, the Confidence 50 (test → HERE).

The tracks from the Tidal and Qobuz services were selected to be identical files. In order not to distort the results, this time it was a "blind" test. We played a given track three times, from the three services, each time in a different order, after which participants commented on the sound quality and voted for, in their opinion, the best one. After the vote, the order and names of the services were revealed. I will say this: there was no shortage of surprises.

⸜ Final preparations for the listening session, from left: Leszek Kalucki, the company's distributor, with Morten Thyrrestrup in the back, and the host of the meeting on the right

And a technical note, but a very important one: when editing the text, I slightly changed it. And that's because those taking part in the listening session didn't know which service they were listening to and used the terms "first", "second" and "third" during their statements. Only at the end did we find out how to match them to specific streaming services. So in order to avoid confusion I changed the "first", "second" and "third" to the names of the services. It seems to me that this makes the text easier to understand.


⸜ KENICHI TSUNODA BIG BAND, Take Five w: Big Band Scale, Warner Music Japan (2015).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/96, Quobuz → FLAC 24/96
⸜ BRENDAN PERRY, Saturday’s Child w: Eye of the Hunter/Live at the I.C.A. (1999/2023).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/44,1, Quobuz → FLAC 24/44,1
⸜ MILES DAVIS, So What, w: Kind Of Blue, Columbia Records (1959/2008).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/192, Quobuz → FLAC 24/192
⸜ FLEETWOOD MAC, Albatross w: The Best Of Fleetwood Mac, Columbia Records (1996/2016).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC MQA Studio 16/44,1, Quobuz → FLAC 16/44,1

⸜ PROKOFIEV, I. Andante – Allegro w: Piano Concerto No. 3, Ravel: Piano Concerto in G, Deutsche Grammophone, wyk. Martha Argerich, Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra, dyr. Claudio Abbado (1995/2015).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/96, Quobuz → FLAC 24/96
⸜ PAUL WELTZ, Ode an den Bass, Columbia | Sony Music Entertainment Germany (2024).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/48, Quobuz → FLAC 24/48
⸜ MARK KNOPFLER, Scavengers Yard w: One Deep River, EMI (2024).
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/192, Quobuz → FLAC 24/192

All tracks used for test are available in TIDAL HERE


» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/96, Qobuz → FLAC 24/96

» Vote: SPOTIFY → 2, TIDAL → 1, QOBUZ → 6

WOJCIECH PACUŁA Let me say right away that the whole point of this comparison is not about determining a winner in guessing which service was which, but about finding the answer to which service in any given case offers the best sound. That is, not a guessing game, but a realistic, unprejudiced approach to the sound of all three "content" deliveries, so to speak.

TOMEK FOLTA ⸜ KSS • Expanding on what Wojtek said, I'll add that with Jacek Kalucki, Aavik's distributor, we spent quite a bit of time today preparing the playlist so that in all cases we would find files from exactly the same year, if given, and with the same parameters. The exception, of course, is Spotify, which still only offers 16/44.1 FLAC files, which is standard, not high-resolution file.

MICHAEL BØRRESEN ⸜ DAG • It is clear that there are differences between these playbacks. But let's remember that this is not a static situation, but a dynamic one. Everything is changing all the time. If we had made such a comparison a year ago, I think we would still like Tidal and Qobuz the most, but the distances between these services in sound quality would be greater. And now we can hear that Tidal, however, has caught up, while Qobuz has come to a standstill. I feel that in a short period of time these two services may have sound of very similar quality.

This is very interesting, because there are much more challenges facing streaming high-res files than 16/44.1 files. Therefore, in my opinion, still hi-res files from streaming do not show the full capabilities of the files as such. In my experience, when streaming audio files over the Internet something happens to them along the way that messes them up to some extent, which alters the data. Therefore, decoding a format with less information is much simpler, and sometimes, paradoxically, it may be that a 16/44.1 file will sound better in streaming than a 24/192 one. But let me give the floor to others :)

ARTUR REICH ⸜ Audio Video Summit • I kept changing my mind (in my head) while listening to this long track. It was Tidal that sounded the best to me, due to the placement of the layers of the stage, which made everything lively and immersive. With Spotify, the sound was smaller and more withdrawn. The layers with the instruments were no longer so clear.

TOMASZ LECHOWSKI ⸜ KSS • I liked the second version - as it turned out, Spotify. I'm shocked, because I listen to Qobuz at home and I believe it's the best streaming service. I never even considered Spotify because I thought it sucked. And here Tidal played too harsh and too flat for me. That's why I thought it was Spotify. When we played the second version, which was just Spotify, everything played softer and more pleasant. The brass sounded beautifully. I liked the Qobuz version too, but it was the transition from the first to the second that was the biggest leap for me. Let me repeat, I'm shocked.

LECH ⸜ Audio Emotions • I liked the second version best, that's Spotify, so I agree with Tomasz. It was the closest to what I'm all about in equipment and music: I like calmness and don't look for details. And it was this playback that gave me such tranquility, without being obtrusive.

ANDRZEJ (KSS debut) • For me, the best sound, as it turns out, was from Qobuz, because it had the best dynamics and the most energy. But I also wondered for a long time whether to raise my hand at the first one, the Tidal, because it was very natural sound. But my impression is that there was better precision and higher analytic with Qobuz.


˻ 2. ˺ BRENDAN PERRY, Saturday’s Child
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/44,1, Qobuz → FLAC 24/44,1

» Vote: SPOTIFY → 0, TIDAL → 2, QOBUZ → 8

WICIU ⸜ KSS • I voted for Tidal. Tomek sold his CD player - and he was right, because the file player plays, for me, exactly like a CD player and is completely different from vinyl record. When I listened to Perry the track seemed quite bright and harsh, not "analog" at all. Therefore, the third playback, that is from Tidal, which was the smoothest and warmest, also seemed the best to me.

⸜ MICHAEL BØRRESEN, the latest member of the Krakow Sonic Society

RYSIEK B. ⸜ KSS • I liked the second track the best, that is, from Qobuz. I was surprised by the taste of my friends, after all, everything with Qobuz sounded best. What bothered me more than the brightness and harshness of sound bothered Wiciu, was listening to the music as if from a third room, as if from behind a curtain - which is how I heard it with Spotify and Tidal. After all, we've been fighting for twenty-five years for quality and we know what progress is - and Qobuz is a big step forward.

MICHAEL • Let's not forget that we are listening to differently mastered and streamed files by a particular system. And it may be that a particular mastering will be better reproduced by that system because of the configuration, choices and sound of the system, not the quality of the file itself. So it could be that a particular streaming service is more suited to one system or another. Our evaluation may therefore be distorted by this.

ANDRZEJ • Indeed, this may be so, because I got confused when Spotify and Tidal played, and they completely swapped places for me. And yet it is Qobuz that is supposed to be better :) By the third playback I stopped listening at all, it sounded so bad to me, because I thought it was Spotify - and it was Tidal....


˻ 3. ˺ MILES DAVIS, So What
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/192, Qobuz → FLAC 24/192

» Vote: SPOTIFY → 9, TIDAL → 2, QOBUZ → 0 (no → 1)
» 1. – Qobuz, 2. – Tidal, 3. – Spotify

LECH • The difference between the first and second playback was so huge that the latter stayed in my memory. Considering the sound quality, the second time, that is, with Tidal, was much better. In every respect.

ARTUR • Janusz is right, because I also did not like any of them. The first one (Qobuz) depressed me, the bass was rumbling somewhere in the distance, nothing but problems with this one. Then came two and three, and if I had to choose, it would be between them, and as it was, the three, it's Spotify, would be the best, because it had mastered bass. But in general I missed the timbre of the instruments.

RYSIEK B. • I like to agree with others, so I confirm - these were not good playbacks of this track. Neither timbres, nor bass presence, nor dynamics scaling or clarity - nothing here was very good. But if anything, the three (Spotify) - this was, in my opinion, the best playback. Wiciu here said that the trumpet sounded best in it, and I think so too.

ANDRZEJ • True, in the three (Spotify) dynamics was the best.

TOMASZ L. • The first version, or Qobuz, was a disaster and it was impossible to listen to, because it was flat and bland. When Tidal played, it sounded better, but it wasn't until the third version, Spotify, that it won me over, because I could hear everything even better there.

MORTEN THYRRESTRUP ⸜ DAG • As for me, it was quite clear that everything would play out between number one - Qobuz - and number two - Tidal. But I still liked the third playback better, because of the better presented details, but shown in a more natural, flowing way. The dynamics were also better. With the first playback I got nothing out of it, and with the second I only got a limited amount. With the third, what I liked most was the natural "flow" of the music.

MICHAEL • For me, the first playback, that is from Qobuz, was muffled and with each successive versions the sound was more and more vivid and thus natural. But, in my opinion, the second and third playback - Tidal and Spotify - were very close to each other. I liked certain elements in the second, or Tidal, better, and certain elements in the third, but overall it was the latter that sounded best, I think. The second version was the most emotional, the third the most energetic.


˻ 4. ˺ FLEETWOOD MAC, Albatross
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC MQA Studio 16/44,1, Qobuz → FLAC

» Vote: SPOTIFY – 4, TIDAL – 5, QOBUZ – 1
» 1. – Qobuz, 2. – Spotify, 3. – Tidal

WOJCIECH • Wiciu, you did not vote this time, why?

WICIU • I didn't vote because I wasn't sure whether the first, and thus Qobuz, or the third, and thus Tidal was the best.

RYSIEK B. • I for one had no doubt that the first - Qobuz was the best. It was all about clarity, purity, timbre scaling, emotion - and that's what I look for in music, and that's what was there. The second version, Spotify, made absolutely no sense, as if someone was broadcasting music on long-wave radio. In the third track, which is with Tidal, I found the bass agitation bothersome. It annoyed me, but also the homogeneity of the sound was weaker.

⸜ The „power group” or, from the left: Morten Thyrrestrup, Michael Børresen, yours truly and out host

ANDRZEJ • I chose the third version, as it turns out - Tidal, because I felt more space in it and, for me, it had better holography. The guitars in the middle were brilliantly laid out, and the second one, playing higher up, was shown far into the stage towards the end. To be honest, the bass didn't bother me, but that's perhaps a problem of where everyone is sitting.

WICIU • The problem was also that the second version, Spotify, was so poor - the we were prone to take the third one as the better one.

TOMEK L. • I voted for the second one - Spotify. In the first version, Qobuz, I did not like the bass, which seemed flat and not very spacious. In the second version, it played meatier and space appeared, and the third - Tidal - also had space, but I didn't like its bass.

JANUSZ • I also chose the second track (Spotify) because it was relaxing, which suggests a glass of wine and tranquility, while the three (Tidal) is about detail, space, dynamics. Therefore, it seems to me, the three is the better recording, but the two was more pleasant, less attacking. And the one (Qobuz) with the overwhelming bass, is something that does not suit me.

ARTUR • I hesitated between two - Spotify - and three - Tidal , but - in fact - neither of them appealed to me. I lacked natural timbre and clarity. And the bass here, at this point, rumbles a bit, in every song, so I am not able to evaluate it.

JACEK KAŁUCKI ⸜ Audio Emotions • I voted for the second track, which is Spotify. I was sitting in a hopeless place, but I heard that the first track (Qobuz) was somehow distorted, as if there was something disturbing behind the high notes that did not allow them to be played cleanly. That's why I liked the second and third, because those artifacts weren't there.

MORTEN • I voted for the third track, Tidal, because it simply sounded the best.


˻ 5. ˺ PROKOFIEV, I. Andante – Allegro
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/96, Qobuz → FLAC 24/96

» Vote: SPOTIFY – 7, TIDAL – 0, QOBUZ – 3
» 1. – Tidal, 2. – Qobuz, 3. – Spotify

WICIU • The first thing I will do in the morning will be finding this CD and playing it at my place. In my opinion, all three versions sounded really bad here. The third version, however, sounded the best. In general, the orchestra sounded flat, without color. But, by all means, go for the third one.

ARTUR • The first version (Tidal) - a disaster. By the second (Qobuz) I took a breath, because it was better, and by the third (Spotify) I found my peace, because the entering of the instruments was smooth, pleasant and nice. The stage and space appeared. But the instruments didn't sound very clean here. If I must chose, however, I chose the third version.

MICHAEL • I feel that the second version (Qobuz) sounded the best, and yet it was the weakest format. Number three (Spotify) was the best recording, but too many dynamic transients could be heard on this system, it just sounded too bright.

JANUSZ • I will join the group of people who will sit outside the window next time, because - for me - no instrument sounded real. In the end, however, I was persuaded to go with the second version, the Qobuz, and that was because there was the most space, there was calmness in it.

TOMEK L. • No one voted for the first playback, that is Tidal, because it was a disaster. The second, that is Qobuz, I immediately liked, because it was very pleasant, smooth, etc. But I was convinced by the third version, which is Spotify, because it played the most dynamically and you could "see" the instruments.

RYSIEK B. • Three (Spotify), for me, was the best because of: clarity, transparency, emotion, engagement.

ANDRZEJ • I voted for the second version (Qobuz), because somehow it spoke to me. I perceive classical music with my heart, not analytically, and it was this recreation that moved me more. It was a bit more natural, so I felt a bit more like I was sitting in a concert hall.

MORTEN • I will agree with most of you here that the first version (Tidal) was terrible. The second (Qobuz) played better, but, as Michael said, it was probably not a better recording by itself, but it sounded better due to the better "compatibility" with the system. It was very interesting. But for me, the third version (Spotify) was the most interesting one, because it was dynamic, but also challenging. I liked the vitality of this playing.

MICHAEL • Yes, by the way, it has to be said that with the files we have no idea what the version is and what the master is. We need to force such information on the suppliers. And that's because we have access to everything, but we don't own anything. And that's one of the reasons why the LP is back - we just have something for ourselves, forever. And the streaming file is ephemeral and not ours.


˻ 6. ˺ PAUL WELTZ, Ode an den Bass
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/48, Qobuz → FLAC 24/48

After playing all three versions, Michael asked to listen to the first one again, but quieter. As it turns out, it was much louder than the next two, which may have caused distortion. After the first listen, without volume adjustment, the voices were distributed as follows:

» Vote I: Spotify – 5, Tidal – 7, Qobuz – 0
» 1. – Qobuz, 2. – Tidal, 3. – Spotify

The second vote, after volume level correction (the first version with lower level than other two), gave different results:

» Vote II: Spotify – 4, Tidal – 4, Qobuz – 4
» 1. – Qobuz, 2. – Tidal, 3. – Spotify

TOMEK F. • Now you can see better that if you are listening from files to older music, recorded - say - up to the 1970s, it is important what kind of master is offered by a given streaming service, because the sound depends mainly on that, not on the streaming itself. And with new music it matters less.

ANDRZEJ • I am one of those who changed my mind after hesitation, because now everything in this first version, that is, from the Qobuz, "clicked". The bass was not tiring, it was in good balance with the other sounds. The midrange came out, making the vocals more audible, more pleasant, by the way. I like electronic music, I listen to it every day, but I did not know this piece. But nevertheless, in the first version (Qobuz) I got what is most important in such music, namely rhythm, beat, dynamics.

WICIU • I love classical music, I don't listen to this type of music, and maybe that's why for me the difference between the three versions is almost none. It seemed to me that in the second version, which is from Tidal, the vocals sounded warmer, so I chose the second version.

RYSIEK B. • I chose, obviously, the second version, that is, Tidal, although the first (Qobuz) and the third (Spotify) came close. There was more going on in the second, however, which drew me in.

⸜ The meeting’s participants

TOMEK L. • I voted for the third version (Spotify), while all of them were not right for me. They played differently, but these were not big differences. The first (Qobuz) was dynamic, so for this music it was OK. The second (Tidal) was more mellowed, so it was more "audiophile", while the third (Spotify) sounded even smoother, almost relaxing.

JANUSZ • I stayed with the three (Spotify), I did not change my choice. And that was because it played nicely. But all the tracks sounded quite similar. Here, by the way, there's not much going on - we have a strong bass base that drives the whole song, vocals, etc.

ARTUR • I chose the second playback, that is, from Tidal, because I received it emotionally. Although, it must be said that all the performances were close to each other. But in the second version, there was a strong emotional shift at a certain point, when there was a lot of space. It was fantastically done. The third, which was Spotify, was similar to the first, although it sounded a little better. For me, version number two (Tidal) won by maneuvering the emotional tension. Let me add that although I don't listen to this kind of music, I liked this track.

RYSIEK B. • I must say that Arthur stands out in this company, because he can really hear things... :)

MORTEN • I really liked this track, and I have never heard this artist before. And I like electronic music. For me, the first track sounded the best, it is Qobuz, but played quieter. The bass line was clear, more punctual. Also the vocals were a little closer to me, which was pleasant.

MICHAEL • Yes, in the first track, with Qobuz after correction, the voice was much better than in the others, as if the diction was better. You can also hear much greater dynamic and spatial contrasts. On the first, loud playback, the room boosted the bass, making the whole seem low-resolution.


˻ 7. ˺ MARK KNOPFLER, Scavengers Yard
» Spotify → FLAC 16/44,1, Tidal → FLAC 24/192, Qobuz → FLAC 24/192

» Vote: Spotify – 0, Tidal – 9, Qobuz – 1
» 1. – Spotify, 2. –Tidal, 3. – Qobuz

MICHAEL • I asked to play the first track again, from Spotify, because the second time I reversed the absolute phase in the player. I believe it was reversed the first time, and it played better now. The next two playbacks, namely Tidal and Qobuz, seem to have the correct absolute phase. After this change, the voice was clearer, the layers were better differentiated and everything was cleaner.

WICIU • One myself voted for the third (Qobuz), because it was more spacious, clearer, the instruments sounded better. But, in general, the second and third were very similar. The first one, which is Spotify, - very bad.

RYSIEK B. • I chose the second version, from Tidal, because it was more musical than the others and it really was engaging. But, to be clear, I didn't like either version.

TOMEK L. • I chose version two, or Tidal, because it was most dynamic, clear, and you could hear the vocals very well. All the sub-bands suited me very well, because they were well collected with each other. The third, that is Qobuz, was OK, but there was less emotion in it.

JANUSZ • In the second playback, that is, from Tidal, all the elements were best "stitched together". But I liked the fourth version best, which is the first (Spotify), but after phase reversal.

ARTUR • For me, the first version, Spotify - was very bad. The second, Tidal, I liked the most, because I heard a diversity of instruments. For me, the most important thing in music is timbre. I can sacrifice everything - space, detail, etc. for timbre. And in the second one it started to appear. It wasn't crazy, but overall it played nice. The vocals in the three versions were very similar - it's nicely recorded track, so the differences came at the level of arrangement.

ANDRZEJ • In my opinion, this new Knopfler album is a bit like campfire playing and I prefer his beginnings. But it's still a good album, it's classy playing. But I liked his mature voice best in the second version, which is from Tidal. It was a nice melody and good harmony.

MICHAEL • It is absolutely clear to me that the most important thing in the various versions was how well Knopfler's fingers can be heard on the strings. We know that he plays in a very distinctive way, without a pick, just fingers and nails. Maybe that's why he still plays so well - Clapton is a similar age, and he can't play anymore.


THIS WAS ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING KSS MEETINGS in a very long time. All of them bring something new, all of them teach us something, but this particular one had something else in it: a direct reference to what is happening "here and now", i.e. the sound quality of streaming services. As I wrote at the beginning, among audiophiles their stratification is clear - the best is supposed to be Qobuz, then Tidal and finally Spotify, as the one for the "masses". The listening showed that this division is not true, but also that it is a much more complex issue.

⸜ The system we used with the new speakers, Dynaudio Confidence 50

We can start from the end, i.e. with two contemporarily recorded and mastered tracks. Here we could hear that Qobuz and Tidal are very close to each other, that Spotify played the worst and that preference will be decided by other elements, not the streaming sound itself. It is true what the host said, which is that in this comparison Spotify is simply the poorest sounding service.

However, the matter begins to get complicated when dealing with older music, for which the master was performed by different people. As the transcript of the discussion above clearly shows, just as often the participants chose Qobuz as Spotify (!). Why? Applying Ockham's razor, one would have to say that sound quality does not depend on the streaming service, but on the file itself. That seems clear. However, Michael pointed out something else: the importance of volume level and the absolute phase.

Repeated listening to the same piece, but with a higher or lower level, and also with the reversed phase showed that these are changes that can alter our choices. As if each service should be listened to with a specific volume level. Or put another way, as if each song requires a specific volume and a specific absolute phase, which, it seems, is notoriously altered at the mastering stage.

And there is something else that our guest from Denmark also raised, namely "matching" the sound to a particular system. The differences between services are large, sometimes even very large. Both in terms of tonality and dynamics. Therefore, these will "work" differently with the system and the room. Those that sound good in one, will play worse in the other, and vice versa.

So how could all this be summed up? Well, it is absolutely clear that the input file (on the streaming service’s drive) is more important, the system is more important, than the choice of streaming service. Following this line of thought, we can say that it is possible to "set" the sound of the system for a particular service. And that if we listen mainly to contemporary recorded music, Tidal and Qobuz will be the best, and with old recorded music Spotify may play better than both of them.

And there is one more thing. While transcribing the statements of the participants in this meeting from the recording, I remembered another comparison, from six months ago. At the time, Tomek and I organized a "Young KSS" for my daughter Alicia's friends. These were people between 18 and 20 years old, but listening to the most diverse music - from death metal to contemporary pop. Tomek played them a few songs from Spotify and Tidal, it was a blind test, and they chose the former almost every time. So perhaps a lot depends on one more thing: attitude and expectations.

Used system

⸜ FILE PLAYER: Aavik SD-880
⸜ POWER AMPLIFIER: Accuphase P-7300; test → HERE
Speaker cables: Acrolink 7N-S8000 ANNIVERSARIO (3 m)
Analog interconnect XLR: Siltech Classic Legend 880i / Oyaide Focus XLR
Digital interconnect AES/EBU: Acrolink Siltech Classic Legend 680D Oyaide Focus XLR (1,5 m)