Deezer’s high-def audio service comes to Sonos speakers worldwide

Deezer’s high-definition music streaming tier is expanding beyond the U.S.: Sonos owners around the world can soon stream their music as high-definition FLAC files with bit rates of 1,411 kbps or higher by subscribing to Deezer Elite, as the new tier is being called. This comes after Deezer launched Deezer Elite to U.S.-based Sonos owners last September.

Deezer is rolling out the new tier in two phases: Existing Deezer subscribers can upgrade to Deezer Elite right away for no additional cost. New users that already have a Sonos device will be able to sign up by March 19th, but the company hasn’t announced yet how much it will charge customers at that point. Deezer is charging users in the U.S. $14.99 for high-definition streaming with month-to-month billing.

Deezer USA CEO Tyler Goldman told me during an interview last week that Deezer Elite is part of the company’s mission to build specialized tiers that cater to certain audiences, rather than offering everyone the same music service. “We are going to super-serve the needs of audiophiles” with Deezer Elite, he said, adding that the company has gotten a lot of positive feedback from U.S.-based Elite subscribers.

The most striking data point may be the engagement that Deezer is seeing with Elite: Goldman told me that the typical Deezer subscriber streams for close to two hours per day. With Deezer Elite, the amount of listening almost doubles, he said.

Deezer is just one of a number of companies trying to cash in on high-definition audio. In December, HD music streaming service Tidal launched on Sonos as well, and Neil Young’s Pono recently started to sell its HD music player on the web and in select stores. Pono’s model is a bit different in that it is based on digital album sales as opposed to a all-you-can-eat streaming service like Deezer, but Young told me during an interview at CES that it would be possible for Pono to team up with a streaming service down the road as well.

Neil Young: Pono won’t be a hardware company for long (video interview)

Neil Young’s high-definition audio startup Pono just started selling its Pono player, but the music legend told me during an interview at CES in Las Vegas Wednesday that he sees Pono getting out of the hardware business sooner rather than later. Asked whether Pono wants to continue to make its own hardware, Young said: “Not really. This is just so people can see what can be done. I would welcome the chance to have another company make this player.”

Young went on to say that he’d be happy to share Pono’s technology with other companies, and license the Pono brand. “It can say ‘certified Pono’ or it can say ‘branded Pono’. Those are the two things we offer, and neither of them are very expensive,” he explained.

Check out the full interview with Young:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZUY5vL7q-g]

Young said that he first thought about building the Pono when the MP3 format became popular around the turn of the century. He then started building a prototype four or five years ago. Young went on to announce Pono with an appearance on Letterman in 2012, but it took the company quite a while to actually get the product ready and out of the door.

In that process, Pono went through a number of CEOs, and is now officially headed by Young himself. Asked about that process, Young said: “It’s been difficult, we’ve made mistakes. But we are still here.”

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With Tidal, Sonos adds its second HD music service

HD music subscription service Tidal launched on Sonos Friday: Tidal is now available to Sonos owners in the U.S. and Canada, and the company announced that it plans to launch in the U.K. soon.

Tidal’s catalog offers access to more than 25 million tracks from all major labels, as well as 75,000 music videos, which Tidal subscribers can access on the web as well as through the company’s iOS and Android apps. Tidal is offering its HD streams in the open source FLAC audio format, as well as Apple’s own ALAC format, as 44.1kHz / 16 bit recordings with a bitrate of 1411 kbps. Those extra bits will also cost a bit more: With a monthly fee of $19.99, Tidal is twice as expensive as your regular Spotify subscription.

With Spotify being the undisputed streaming music market leader, HD music increasingly is becoming a differentiating feature for anyone trying to carve out a lucrative niche — and the kind of people who spend money on something like Sonos speakers seem like a really good target audience.

That’s why Deezer already launched its HD streaming tier exclusively on Sonos earlier this year. Just like Tidal, Deezer is charging consumers extra for high bitrates, albeit a bit less. Deezer Elite, as the tier is called, is costing $14.99 per month.

With CES coming up in January, one should expect more such HD audio announcements, both from services as well as connected speaker manufacturers. These services will directly compete with companies like Pono, which is trying to get consumers to buy its own hardware, as well as individual downloads.