Sonos Is Doubling Down on HiFi Streaming

Illustration for article titled Sonos Is Doubling Down on HiFi Streaming
Photo: Adam Clark Estes/Gizmodo

After launching a paid high-resolution radio tier late last year, Sonos is bolstering its HiFi streaming capabilities by partnering with Qobuz, making it the first streaming service to deliver 24-bit/48kHz audio on Sonos’ platform. Starting today, Sonos users can stream HiFi audio via Qobuz—provided they have a subscription.

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If you’ve never heard of Qobuz, that makes total sense. As far as lossless, CD-quality (or better) music streaming services go, Tidal is probably the one you’ve actually heard of. However, Qobuz has also been around for a hot minute. It first offered 16-bit FLAC streaming on Sonos in 2013 and launched as a service in the U.S. in 2019. A monthly subscription costs $15. As for which Sonos speakers are compatible, any speaker that’s compatible with the S2 app should work, including the forthcoming Sonos Roam.

In the realm of music streaming, this is a pretty savvy move. Sonos is a popular brand when it comes to wifi speakers, but it needs to diversify beyond hardware to stay relevant as many smart speakers don’t sound quite as crappy as they used to. Meanwhile, Qobuz is pricier than other streaming services and lacks the mainstream recognition of other big-name music services. The partnership very much feels like an “I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine” kind of arrangement.

The timing also makes a lot of sense, given that Spotify recently announced plans to launch its own HiFi streaming tier later this year. Spotify is obviously the big music streaming kahuna, and it launching a hifi service probably has similar music streaming services on edge. Right now, Spotify maxes out at 160kbps for free users and 320kbps for Premium users. Comparatively, standard CD-quality audio files are 1,411kbps and the 24-bit/48kHz audio Qobuz and Sonos are offering is the equivalent of 2,304kbps. While it’s unclear what resolution Spotify HiFi will eventually support, the company did cryptically hint that it was collaborating with the “world’s biggest speaker manufacturers” to make sure its service can reach as many of its users as possible. We don’t know if Sonos is one of those speaker manufacturers, but even if it is, Sonos only benefits by opening its hardware up to as many third-party music services as possible.

What remains to be seen is how many people actually bite. Audiophiles have been clamoring for HiFi streaming for years, but the average user on a typical pair of earbuds probably isn’t too bothered. Sonos users might be more amenable to shelling out for hi-res audio, but then again, the desire for HiFi audio might also be coming from a particularly vocal minority. In any case, it looks like 2021 could be shaping up to be a meaningful one for HiFi music streaming.

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.

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