Even though New Zealand has a stellar international reputation as a country that thoroughly dealt with the coronavirus, recently the whole country went back into some form of lockdown thanks to a small outbreak in Auckland, where I live.
That means I am back to not being able to go out or go to the pub. Park runs are my sole exercise outlet, and I am going to the supermarket with my mask on just for something to do.
It has also meant that I’ve gravitated back to the app and service that immeasurably improved lockdown the first time around for me, and that’s Deezer. Specifically, the service’s ‘HiFi’ tier that streams music in the High-Fidelity FLAC format at a tasty CD quality bit rate 1,411kbps (though this is not to be confused with High Resolution Audio which is another level entirely at 9,216kbps. One step at a time).
Without getting too nerdy, 1,411kbps is a lot higher quality than Deezer’s standard 320kbps sampling rate. You have to set Spotify Premium’s quality to ‘Very High’ to get 320kbps. Its ‘Normal’ tier is only 96kbps and 'Low' is a paltry 24kbps.
I’m not an audio snob by any means, but since I started using Deezer HiFi I’m not sure I can go back. I pay for Spotify Premium and happily hum along to my familiar well-worn playlists like my top songs of 2017, unfussed by the fact the audio is very compressed and tinny blaring out of my AirPods.
During lockdown Deezer asked me if I wanted to try out its HiFi tier. I was hesitant at first as all my music is set up in Spotify and starting a new library from scratch is a hassle. But I was at home with a lot of free time on my hands, so I took them up on the offer, dug out my wired headphones and dived into the deep end of high quality streaming.
For the first time since I was a student (with no smartphone and no money) I simply lay back, put on one of my favourite albums and just listened. How often do we actually do that these days? Music is special to me, but I could not tell you the last time I simply sat and listened to an album front to back on my own without doing anything else before I did it a couple of months ago.
I’ve been using HiFi through my wired Echobox Finder X1 wired headphones into the LG V60, a phone I recently reviewed that has a headphone jack with a Quad-DAC in it that improves the sound even further. The combo of that jack with Deezer HiFi results in audio so much better than what my ears are used to.
I must have listened to Radiohead’s ‘In Rainbows’ album a hundred times but I heard new instruments and tones in the mix when I sat and took it all in again with renewed attention. The same applied to Interpol’s ‘Turn On the Bright Lights’ and Beastie Boys’ ‘Paul’s Boutique’. The Deezer app lets you dig into the audio settings, so I made sure I tapped on ‘Best audio quality available’ and sat near the Wi-Fi router.
I grew up obsessed with music and bought a ton of CDs, but I haven’t fully appreciated how much better the sound quality is on those ageing discs compared to what you get from most modern streaming platforms. I used to blast CDs through a half decent stereo whereas the last decade has seen me, like millions of others, move to cheap headphones and 320kbps (or less) streams, a decided downgrade. Deezer HiFi boosts the audio back to the level it should be at and the noticeable improvement in quality (even through said cheap headphones) means during this second lockdown I have made the time to simply listen again.
It has also reminded me to share music more. I sit with headphones on at my desk while I work, but I’ve remembered that the Sonos One sitting in my living room is pretty good and connected to Deezer HiFi it shines. My fiancée is having to get used to the weekly Bowie retrospectives.
Streaming platforms have warped our sense of the value of music. £10 a month to stream basically anything for as long as you want is absolutely mad when I think about the number of £10 albums I used to buy. But listening to great quality audio again has made me realise I had put far less effort than I used to into discovering new music, whether that’s the latest Run The Jewels album or finally trying to get into Captain Beefheart.
Music had become the soundtrack to me ploughing through work or huffing and puffing round the park, and I realised I resented that. Streaming apps and their algorithms make you lazy.
So this lockdown, with the help of a £15 Deezer subscription (the company permanently reduced the price down from £20 in May), I’ve been reminded that music is restorative, comforting, and life affirming if you want it to be. The commoditisation of music into a monthly streaming service has masked that majesty somewhat, so it’s ironic that a more expensive streaming service has unmasked it for me personally.
I’ll be paying for Deezer HiFi when my free trial ends. I hope my lockdown luxury of simply paying more attention to music again turns into a life-improving habit.