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Deezer’s Doozie

Deezer stirred up a hornet’s nest in September when it announced the launch of its Deezer Elite streaming service, available exclusively through Sonos wireless multiroom-audio systems sold by systems integrators.

Deezer described its streaming service as delivering “high-resolution” audio quality, stunning the major music labels. Deezer Elite streams on-demand music in CD-quality 44.1kHz/16-bit FLAC, but the music labels use the term high-resolution audio to promote the better-than-CD-quality performance of high-res music downloads available through select online music stores. To prevent consumer confusion, the music companies promptly informed Deezer that their licensing agreements prohibit the company from using the words “high resolution” to describe Deezer Elite’s sound quality.

Deezer seems to disagree.

Yesterday, I received promotional email from Sonos describing the service as offering “high-definition” audio, but a glance at Deezer’s website shows that Deezer is still referring to its service as “high-resolution audio.”

 In its September press release announcing the Elite service, Deezer used the term multiple times:

“September 10, 2014 – Denver, CO – Deezer, the premier digital streaming music service, and Sonos, an innovator in wireless home audio products, today announced an exclusive partnership that will bring streaming High-Resolution Audio (HRA) to music lovers around the world. Deezer’s product “Deezer Elite” is the first global HRA streaming service available to consumers and it’s offered exclusively through Sonos, a system of smart speakers that let you stream all your favorite music to any room in your home in high fidelity sound.”

The release also said:

“Deezer defines HRA as the same or higher sampling frequency and bit depth of a physical CD, which is 16-bit/44.1kHz or 1,411 bitrate (kbps), captured in a lossless format like FLAC, WAV etc. With the vast majority of music listeners using MP3 format (320 kbps or lower), the 1,411 bitrate standard represents a significant jump in music quality.”

In the news story that I wrote at the time, I declined to use HRA or high resolution to describe the service’s sound quality and highlighted the 44.1kHz/16-bit FLAC format that Elite would use.

On Wednesday, Deezer sent this statement to me:

“For higher sampling frequencies of 96kHz or 192kHz at 24-bit and above, there is very little evidence today that this can be discernible to the human ear even on the highest quality systems and equipment.”

What’s next? Will the big three music companies do a Taylor Swift and withhold their catalogs from Deezer?

Possibly. I just learned that Deezer is contractually obligated by year’s end to change the definition on their site and that if it doesn’t, it will be in violation of its contracts with music labels, a music-industry source said.

For now, Deezer Elite is available through Sonos systems only, and Deezer Premium (less-than-CD quality) service is available only through Bose’s SoundTouch wireless multiroom-audio system and SoundLink Bluetooth products.

General availability of both services will roll out in the U.S. sometime in 2015, the company told me.