Deezer HiFi Streaming Service Review
The lossless audio game is getting busier
What is Deezer HiFi?Deezer HiFi is the lossless tier of the long standing French streaming service and the latest to offer a lossless level - notionally combining the convenience of on demand streaming with removing the requirement to buy any CDs ever again. What makes this interesting is that Deezer is the first service to add lossless streaming to an existing compressed tier. This is a service hoping to tempt existing users into a higher quality offering rather than arriving as the quality option.
This seems to be part of Deezer’s plan to secure long term survivability and profitability and it is a plan that is subtly different to a number of other services - something that was touched on in the recent streaming services article. Deezer is looking to be a goto service in certain corners of the world by having a stronger presence in specific genres and musical types (or at least a better organised presence). Adding a lossless tier allows this to be exploited by the smaller subsection of people that are concerned by quality too.
Whether it works out is another question altogether. I have tested the compressed version of Deezer in varying forms in the past and been left unsure why you’d specifically make a beeline for it over rivals. Does the addition of lossless and the subtle tweaks to the library turn a solid if slightly unremarkable offering into something that’s a must have?
SpecificationFirst, the basics. Deezer is an on demand streaming service and has been in operation for eleven years. The company is headquartered in Paris and the French market remains a strong one for the company. Their movement into lossless has been done in a slightly curious way. While the HiFi tier is the first time most of us can access FLAC content via Deezer, if you are a Sonos owner and Deezer subscriber you have been able to access something called ‘Deezer Elite’ for almost four years. This wasn’t available to anyone else though and while Sonos has a lot of hardware, it did seem like a peculiarly high amount of effort for a limited amount of return. Of course, if it was a sort of beta test for the HiFi library, it might make more sense.
The HiFi library is not anything like as limited in its scope. As well as a web browser option, there is a PC and Mac desktop app and interfaces for the usual operating systems. Additionally, some tests run via a Yamaha WX-AD10 (which, thanks to the diligent efforts of Yamaha, has become a sort of Rosetta Stone of streaming service testing) has confirmed that if your product has Deezer integration, you can gain access to the Hifi tier whereas previously you would have been limited to 320kbps MP3.
This lossless access is extended to a library of 40 million tracks (although, like its rivals, Deezer doesn’t necessarily differentiate there being several repetitions of the same track in this total) and there’s no immediate indication that any of them are not available in FLAC (although it is likely that at least some are given this is the case on both of its rivals). As noted before, streaming service libraries are much of a muchness - finding something that one has that the others do not is a fairly arduous undertaking. The standard test of compatibility - taking some fairly diverse playlists and converting them via Soundiiz from Spotify (where they were created) and into Deezer had very close to a 100% conversion rate and it is likely that had the playlists been organically assembled in Deezer, the reverse would be true.
Where Deezer claims to have an edge is the way that this library is made available to you. The big deal is the ‘Flow’ feature that will analyse your listening habits and create a stream of music that should blow your frock up without the need for you to remember what it is you actually like. The more data it gets, the more ‘you’ the flow will be but in trying to introduce you to new things, it relies on existing linking between different artists. If we accept that Spotify currently has the most sophisticated game in town for this sort of thing, Deezer nonetheless has something interesting here.
One area where Deezer’s main outlet as a compressed music service shows is with the sophistication - in this case lack of - of the USB management. Unlike Tidal and Qobuz which allow for WASAPI in windows to be partially or completely bypassed, Deezer is completely dependent on your computer’s audio processing hardware to get the job done. This isn’t the end of the world but it does mean that you can’t remove notification sounds from your listening unless you physically knock them out in the settings. This is something that could do with improvement going forward.
DesignIn its formative years, Deezer had some limitations in interface terms. The desktop app such as it was, took the form of a thin sliver of hard to navigate sadness that made Spotify look and feel very much like the luxury option. Fast forward to the present though and Deezer has made up a lot of ground. The current desktop app is a vast improvement over what has gone before. The black text on a white background is clear and easy to read (although personally I prefer the light text on a black background). The mechanics of the app work well too. The search function is reliable and effective and the related artists is reasonably good too.
The web app is to all intents and purposes identical to the desktop app, iOS and Android apps closely mirror the desktop app too. One thing that is important to stress is that at the time of writing (April 2018), the mobile apps are still operating with a limit of 320kbps MP3. This is not the end of the world in my personal opinion - for use on the move lossless is usually overkill - but both Tidal and Qobuz offer it.
The only other notable behavioural trait that differs from ‘normal’ mobile apps concerns the Android version. When I first installed it on my Moto G4, it defaulted to the external micro SD card which is unusual and while technically welcome in storage terms, means that on the G4 at least it was unusably slow. It can easily be moved to the internal memory though and works seamlessly once you do. Like most rivals there is a family plan to allow for multiple accounts (all building their own Flow information) to be paid for by a single user. Free from any such silliness, the iOS version has been bulletproof.
Ultimately, very little of Deezer’s software feels truly inspired but that isn’t an entirely bad thing. While there’s nothing here that’s really radical and moving the game on, there’s also nothing here that divides opinion, requires you to change your behaviour or need the processing power of Skynet to make it work. When I switched from my usual Tidal account to the Deezer HiFi trial one, the amount of adjustment time was about two minutes and really, that’s the whole idea of software like this. There is little difference that I can determine between the HiFi and the normal software.
One area where Deezer does lag somewhat is third party support. The list of compatible devices isn’t bad but it does lack some of the companies that Tidal and Qobuz have claimed (and who make some excellent streaming platforms). Like some other aspects of Deezer, the supporting equipment list (with the noble exception of Simaudio) feels like it is geared to the compressed music side and will need some work to go full hifi. Conversely, there’s no gold standard of compatability like Spotify Connect.
When I switched from my usual Tidal account to the Deezer HiFi trial one, the amount of adjustment time was about two minutes and really, that’s the whole idea of software like this
How was Deezer HiFi Tested?On activating a trial account for the service, I downloaded the desktop browser on a Lenovo T560 ThinkPad running Windows 10 backdated to 7. This was output into a Chord Electronics Hugo 2 running Sennheiser IE800S earphones and Audio Technica ATH-A2000Z headphones as well as being run into a Naim Supernait 2 integrated amp and Neat Momentum 4 speakers. The app was additionally installed on an iPad Air and a Motorola G4 Android phone with testing being undertaken with the Sennheiser and the Noble Trident. Finally, a Yamaha WX-AD10 was activated with the Deezer account and tested into the Naim.
Sound QualityAs with the review of Qobuz, any comments on the sound quality of Deezer has to be prefaced by saying that the quality of the hardware you are using with it will have more of a bearing on the performance than the software itself and this should be something you take into account when choosing any of them. Assuming that you are comparing them on a level playing field however, Deezer acquits itself well. First up all the basics are covered. On a 39 meg line, it streams instantly and responds quickly to inputs.
The other area that is worth pointing out is that - based on testing here at least - the lack of direct USB mode doesn’t place Deezer at a significant disadvantage to Tidal and Qobuz. On the proviso that you aren’t using the computer for another task at the same time, the performance into the Hugo 2 is not any noisier or otherwise affected by going via the computer’s sound management. The moment than you start to use that computer for other things at the same time, it finds itself at a disadvantage. Notifications and autoplay material from websites makes its way into the mix and it isn’t ideal. If you’re coming from Spotify though, this won’t be anything new.
With silence arranged, the performance of Deezer manages the most important benchmark that a lossless service can though. Comparing the lossless stream to ripped FLAC taken off the drive of the computer, I would be reluctant to call any real difference between it and Deezer. The debut album by The Music (imaginatively called The Music) is a soaring, rock epic that almost finds itself sounding prog like at times. The Deezer stream very audibly has the same congestion to it that the CD rip does but there’s enough musical quality there for you to ignore it.
This does mean that with a good quality recording, Deezer can sound very good indeed. The wonderful All that must be by George Fitzgerald sounds rich and involving and has a genuine sense of dynamic range and depth to it. Revisiting some of the great 16/44.1 recordings, the performance of Deezer is absolutely outstanding. Something like Talk Talk’s The Colour of Spring is delivered with all the immense care that went into its creation. Not for the first time, you can find yourself wondering exactly what the point of higher resolutions actually are.
Of course, there is no hiding that Deezer does without any high res option in comparison to the two different approaches taken by its rivals. The argument as to whether it’s the extra digital information making the difference of because it is a separate digital master will run and run but the long and the short of it is that listening to David Byrne’s weird and wonderful American Utopia, which has both a Tidal Master and a 24/96 Qobuz Sublime+ stream, the two enhanced versions manage to sound a little more vibrant and lifelike than the standard res version (and the Qobuz version in turn sounds fractionally better than the Tidal version). High res streaming is a niche of a niche but it offers the opportunity to listen to some very high quality digital indeed and both rivals have enough of a genre spread that there is likely to be something you want to listen to on them as well. For now, Deezer finds itself at a slight disadvantage in this regard.
Comparing the lossless stream to ripped FLAC taken off the drive of the computer, I would be reluctant to call any real difference between it and Deezer
- Fast, easy to use and well laid out
- Solid interface
- Flow function is interesting and useful
- Poor sound management options
- No high res content as yet
- Some limits to the apps
Deezer HiFi Streaming Service ReviewThere are two ways of looking at Deezer’s latest offering and these largely come down to perspective and your own requirements. If you are a Tidal or Qobuz subscriber, there are no meaningful reasons to stop paying £20 a month to them and start paying £20 a month to Deezer. The performance isn’t inferior in most usage patterns but neither is there any meaningful advantage either. If you are an existing Deezer customer though, the HiFi tier is a welcome boost to the service and gives you more options. The Flow function is a clever algorithm that gives you the ability to listen to music you are likely to enjoy without having to decide exactly what you want at that minute. The effect isn’t as dynamic as Spotify’s options but it is nonetheless very good.
The other thing to consider is that another lossless option helps to normalise the idea and ensures that competition stays in the sector. You might reasonably argue that at the same price as Tidal and Qobuz, this is a moot point but the arrival of Deezer forestalls any attempt to raise prices. Deezer doesn’t deliver a knockout blow to lossless streaming but it is a well implemented platform that increases our choice and keeps competition healthy. As such, Deezer’s quality offering earns our Recommendation.
Suggested retail price when reviewed: £19.99
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