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.