Streaming vs. Streaming?

Have you heard of WiMP HiFi? Founded in 2010, this Norwegian company is trying to elevate the fidelity of streaming music. And they have some influential supporters. I get and read Bob Lefsetz’s daily emails on the music business. He’s a SoCal local and has responded to a number of my emails but somehow refuses my repeated invitations to travel 15 minutes to my place to experience Real HD-Audio quality. He’s ranted about the transcendent sound of a certain brand of headphones, loves the “warmth” of vinyl and now is raving about the sound of WiMP streaming while railing against Neil Young and the Pono project.

I’ve had the WiMP page up in my browser for a while and listened to their demonstration. Today, I read further and did additional research. They are a small competing streaming music service that is trying to compete with Spotify by supplying better fidelity files.

There idea was to return to the content holders and re-transfer all of the source music to new files. I shouldn’t really say “re-transfer” but rather “re-rip” because the sources are the original CDs not anything in real high-resolution. Still, if we can stream music in “CD-Quality”, then we’re going to get a listening experience that is close to that we can get in a car or at home.

And if you believe Bob Lefsetz:

“…we can discuss business models all day long, all I can tell you is the sound of WIMP is blowing my mind.

The tracks don’t queue instantly. Maybe that’s because the company’s in Norway, maybe that’s because of the amount of data, although they said 4G is sufficient for streaming, that you need very slow broadband to be good enough, I think it was 2.5, which just about everybody has these days, except maybe those still paying bupkes for DSL.

So I put the app on my phone and was instantly astounded. I played all my favorites, all the songs I knew by heart. And I heard stuff I never heard before, or forgot, because I never fire up the big rig anymore, even though it’s right by my computer, it’s easier to play files. But suddenly, with WIMP, everything old is new again.”

Sorry Bob, you’re being “blown away” by getting back to a level of fidelity that we had 30 years ago. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s listening to WiMP using ear buds. If you have no basis against which to compare OR ears to know when something is juiced or merely louder, than you shouldn’t be talking about sound quality.

WiMP is delivering a range of fidelities, according to its website. At the highest level, you can get “HiFi”, which is a FLAC file or ALAC for iOS devices. This delivers “CD-Quality” or 44.1 kHz/16-bits.

The next lower rung of their format offerings is “High”, which jumps down to AAC 320 kbps. Remember that this is a lossy algorithm that is only slightly better than 256 kbps and a long way from true CD quality at 1411 kbps. The files are smaller and they are actually quite good…but still not high fidelity. Good enough for the masses but not a sound that will “blow you away”.

Finally, you get the “Standard” WiMP format. This level of fidelity is what most users will be receiving until the bandwidth is available for higher quality streams (those listed above). Here we see the AAC+ 96, AAC 320 and either FLAC or ALAC…and we would expect fidelity commensurate with these formats. Not that this is an unwelcome change in streaming but it’s not really earth shattering.

In fact, when you read the rest of their page, you see them pushing hard for “offline” mode…meaning it’s recommended to download the files and store them locally on your machine. What happened to streaming “high fidelity”?

So will Spotify customers migrate to WiMP because they use a slightly higher codec? I doubt it. The time is coming when real “lossless” streaming will be the norm…but it’s not now AND it only gets us the same quality as the CDs that we’ve been listening to in our cars and portable players for years.

Dr. AIX

Mark Waldrep, aka Dr. AIX, has been producing and engineering music for over 40 years. He learned electronics as a teenager from his HAM radio father while learning to play the guitar. Mark received the first doctorate in music composition from UCLA in 1986 for a "binaural" electronic music composition. Other advanced degrees include an MS in computer science, an MFA/MA in music, BM in music and a BA in art. As an engineer and producer, Mark has worked on projects for the Rolling Stones, 311, Tool, KISS, Blink 182, Blues Traveler, Britney Spears, the San Francisco Symphony, The Dover Quartet, Willie Nelson, Paul Williams, The Allman Brothers, Bad Company and many more. Dr. Waldrep has been an innovator when it comes to multimedia and music. He created the first enhanced CDs in the 90s, the first DVD-Videos released in the U.S., the first web-connected DVD, the first DVD-Audio title, the first music Blu-ray disc and the first 3D Music Album. Additionally, he launched the first High Definition Music Download site in 2007 called iTrax.com. A frequency speaker at audio events, author of numerous articles, Dr. Waldrep is currently writing a book on the production and reproduction of high-end music called, "High-End Audio: A Practical Guide to Production and Playback". The book should be completed in the fall of 2013.

14 thoughts on “Streaming vs. Streaming?

  • April 18, 2014 at 11:13 am
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    WiMP is delivering a range of fidelities, according to its website. At the highest level, you can get “HiFi”, which is a FLAC file or ALAC for iOS devices. This delivers “CD-Quality” or 44.1 kHz/24-bits.

    You must mean 44.1 KHz/16 bits. Gerald

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      • April 18, 2014 at 2:19 pm
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        These improvements in streaming quality are certainly welcome, but all I have to do is listen to my flac versions of the original CD to be satisfied. So I agree, while these differences are audible, this doesn’t get me interested enough to spend any cash.

        In the last few years, with all the different marketing strategies to improve fidelity, the most consistent way that I have been blown away has been by either upgrading my hardware (amplifier quality, speaker drivers, etc) or by listening to a properly recorded and/or (re-)mastered track. I had never really listened to Van Morrison’s Moondance album (I know…a travesty!). So when you mentioned it on your list, I played it on Spotify and was definitely very impressed . Not quite blown away, but impressed (the audio fidelity is below CD-quality)

        But I think this recording and mastering aspect is the key why your albums as well as Cookie’s and David Lyndberg tracks are tops on my list of being able to blow me away by an audio experience. While the genre of music that you guys record is often not my preference, I can’t deny that they provide a truly elevated auditory experience.

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  • April 18, 2014 at 5:47 pm
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    If WiMP truly offers streaming of CD-quality, I’m all for it. Of course, the determining factor will be size of its’ catalog of streamed music.

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  • April 19, 2014 at 12:09 am
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    Got all excited but it’s not available in the UK.
    Looking forward to its arrival here.

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    • April 19, 2014 at 4:03 pm
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      Yes, it’s true. John lays out the realities of PCM sampling and the “inter sample values” very well in this piece…and with a bit of humor. I was planning on writing about it as well. A good read.

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      • April 20, 2014 at 5:29 am
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        Thanks for link to John’s article, very interesting read. Does this suggest that clipping may be the underlying phenomena that causes some people to have a sonic preference for Dsd? I would be interested to learn more about how clipping affects the sonics of a track.

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        • April 20, 2014 at 9:01 am
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          I don’t think clipping is happening as widely as one might think. It does happen. I’ll write a post about this topic and augment it with some illustrations.

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      • May 16, 2014 at 3:35 pm
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        the inter-sample “overs” or peaks are discussed and were submitted by two members of the T.C. Electronics firm a number of years ago and has been accepted as scientifically accurate amongst the pro audio establishment. Also, over at the Mastering forum, a gentleman whose name I don’t recall but, is highly respected as one of the lead designers of the Sony Oxford mixing console and SSL mentioned in his exhaustive forum topic regarding proper recording levels regarding digital workstation software pointed out that even plug-ins of various types cause these inter-sample overs on individual tracks, the master bus notwithstanding thus, the recommendation to drop, by approximately 6 dB, levels entering into the various audio processors.
        Apparently, many, if not most of the digital metering on various DAW setups, miss or do not report illegal “overs due the sampling nature of the type of meters. SSL, a leading pro mixing desk manufacturer supplies, at no charge, a pug-in that will identify any in-sample “overs”. The whole issue and its true understanding in engineering terms is out of range here. If anyone needs links to any of this, I could get in perhaps a few days but, I suspect the admin is to par on this subject. About Benchmarks extra headroom, yes its real especially due the the TC electronic subject matter and how certain CD players fared better than others according their DAC design’s ability to provide a margin of head room.

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  • May 9, 2014 at 2:28 pm
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    Hi Mark,
    First of all a disclaimer – as I think Ive mentioned to you I have worked as a consultant for WIMP. But only on sound quality – not the business side of things. I spend the other 99% of my time working as a mastering engineer here in Norway.

    Just for WIMP to get labels onboard cd quality streaming was a challenge. I was astounded that the WIMP team managed to seal that deal so quickly. Most of their catalogue is now in 16bit 44.1k FLAC – so the majority of 23 million songs. I have no problem streaming lossless – no stopping and starting here either over WIFI or cellular data.

    WIMP have tested hires (24b 192k) streaming and the infrastructure works. To deliver hires they need to clear this with enough rights holders to produce a large enough catalogue. Only then would they have a sellable product. That will take time.

    Slamming WIMP for “only” delivering 16bit 44.1k is a bit harsh – when there are few others in the world that are managing this. I know the US and Europe are very different markets but streaming here in Norway is now over 70% of the market. I don’t see downloads recovering. Can’t we applaud WIMP for getting us back to cd quality and look to a bright future?

    On a side note WIMP are in the process of adding proper credits – including engineering and production. Personally I think that is fantastic.

    All the best

    Chris Sansom
    Propeller Mastering
    Norway

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    • May 9, 2014 at 4:54 pm
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      Chris…I don’t think I “slammed” WIMP. It’s frustrating that Bob Lefsetz goes all “blown away” by CD-quality when he won’t listen to real HD-Audio. I applaud WIMP’s efforts and believe that CD fidelity will be a vast improvement over Spotify and Pandora.

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      • May 12, 2014 at 5:55 am
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        OK – I see your point. Its a sad fact that the “norm” is now lossy compression. However Bob is not a tech guy but a music business man- and I think he was equally blown away by a company that is thinking differently to many others at present. The switch from download to streaming is a huge change in technology and infrastructure – HD streaming will happen. It will just take time to build up enough catalogue to make it of interest to the end user.

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        • May 12, 2014 at 9:22 am
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          If Bob was really interested in exploring high-quality audio, he would accept my invitation and drive the three miles to my studio to hear something that really would blow his mind. He shouldn’t talk about things that he doesn’t know anything about. I’m with you that HD streaming is coming.

          Reply

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