CD Quality Versus Streaming Quality

I realize this will be a contentious subject, and far be it from me to challenge any of the many expert opinions on this forum, but if I may offer my feedback vis-a-vis what I am hearing, and gain some knowledge in the process.

i will begin saying that my digital front end setup is not state of the art, but i have had the good fortune to listen to a number of really high-end systems. I guess the number one deficit in my digital front end is a streamer server, and no question about it that will improve the sound.

My CD player is a universal player; Pioneer BDP-09fd. It uses Wolfson DACs. It has been modified to a degree. I have bought and sold other players, but kept this one, because it has a beautiful sound that serves the music well.

Recently, i ventured over to my son’s place and we hooked up my player (he doesn’t have one and rely’s on streaming only) We compared tracks / albums of CD quality and master quality streamed on Tidal with ‘redbook’ CDs I have. For example, some Lee Ritenaur CDs and some Indian classical and the wonderful Mozart and Chopin.
His system is highly resolving.

we were both very surprised to find the CDs played on the player to be the better sound. And not just by a little. The sound was clearly superior, with higher resolution and definition, spatial ques, much better and clearer imaging. Very surprising indeed. Shouldn’t there be no difference? This would suggest the streaming service is throttling the bandwidth or compressing the signal?

i am most interested to hear others’ observations, and suggestions as to why this might be? I do love the convenience aspect of streaming, but it IS expensive for a chap like me of fairly modest means. The Tidal HiFi topline service is $30 per month I believe, something the good lady is not too thrilled about. God forbid I should suggest Roon on top of that I may likely get my walking papers. I jest, but only partially LoL. My point is, if I pay this sort of money, isn’t it fair to expect sound to equal the digital stream from the CD player and silver disc?


As noted above, music is often re-mastered for streaming, making direct A/B comparisons between those and the original CD's very difficult. Whether hi-res is audibly superior to to Redbook is still an open question in my own mind.

MQA is another whole can of worms. Many contend that MQA "folding/unfolding" is not a lossless process, and some artists have removed their catalogs from Tidal, because the end result was not to their liking. Tidal maintains that MQA content must be played back through proprietary MQA-licensed gear to achieve a complete sonic "unfolding".

I've personally opted to stream hi-res for my own system from Qobuz, rather than Tidal. Qobuz offers FLAC content quality up to 24/192 for many releases. Another streaming alternative is Deezer, which provides CD-quality content streaming. Subscriptions to both Qobuz and Deezer together can be had for less than the price of a top-tier Tidal subscription.

Let everyone go to streaming. I will continue to happily scoop up their unwanted CD's at goodwill gfor pennies on the dollar, just as other people did years ago with LP's.
Vinyl, Redbook CD, and hi-res streaming aren't mutually exclusive. One would need need to pry my extensive Redbook collection and all of my old records from my cold, dead grasp.
It would be nice if every audio recording had something like a VIN number, so that it could immediately be compared with another (supposedly) "same" recording.
It is not the technology, it is the mastering of the music.  Even with CDs, you can find early CDs that sound MUCH better than later CDs because of the change in mastering.  A lot of more recent material is, as others mentioned above, very highly compressed.  This is actual desirable for those who listen casually, listen with earbuds while in high noise environments, listen in the car, etc., but it sucks for those who want higher quality sound.  It is really not the fault of the music industry; it is the public that actually favors compressed music.  If you want the best digital source material, you have to actually seek particular CD issues or download files from sources offering high quality material.