This problem is out of control, particularly on classical recordings (Decca and Deutsche Grammophon are the worst). This is clearly an issue of digital watermarking, as outlined on Matt Montag's site. Now, I have tried to see if my friends can hear it, and have learned that 1. most people don't notice it, 2. it's nearly inaudible in much of pop music, even to me, and 3. it's nearly inaudible without nice headphones (I have a pair of studio monitors at home and i need to be very close to them before it's audible). That said, when listening to classical recordings on nice headphones, this fluttering watermark is painfully audible to me--to the point where I hear it immediately and am forced to restrict my listening to only recordings that have not been watermarked. This problem is unbelievable, in my opinion. I find it SHOCKING that these recordings are being deliberatedly defaced prior to sale--as far as I am concerned, this constitues knowingly selling a defective product. Spotify should push back on Universal. Stop buying watermarked recordings from them! It undercuts Spotify's reputation. If a friend asks me "How do you like Spotify Premium? How do you like the sound quality?" My response is always "It sounds great, except for the tracks that have been deliberately damaged." Please, please, please fix this or I will be forced to cancel my subscription. I can't in good conscience pay for a service that knowingly sells defaced recordings.
Stumbled upon Matt's post while researching audible differences in streaming services and I must say it's unacceptable that Spotify let's this happen (but on the same par, other streaming and music services as well, like Tidal). For instance: tidal.com/track/8334755 sounds the same as on Spotify Premium, which is horrible.
All in all this is bad news for any streaming service, as uncompromised high quality audio is not delivered through a payed subscription service. The alternative is either buying physical albums again or pirate the content (i.e. EAC-downloads). While this issue has been known for years, I'm assuming that most streaming services calculated this as a business risk. Most people wouldn't probably hear the difference and still pay up anyways. The very minor group of critics probably won't make a dent in the business case of a streaming service, so I'm guessing nothing will change anytime soon.
Except when all paying customers start to understand they are not getting what they should be getting, which is uncompromised, high quality audio streaming or the streaming services decide to draw a line. As long as Spotify accepts compromised audio, I see no justification for paying for a premium subscription.
As for UMG and the like of them: there are unhearable ways to watermark audio, like hiding a watermark within the compression algorithm of a stream. By now, the industry knows that any form of marking (or DRM, for that matter) yields far lower results compared to very accessible and affordable alternatives like streaming services (Spotify, Netflix, Tidal, Amazon). By crippling the experience, you are moving people towards alternatives that are not necessarily legal..
The crazy part, now that I think about it, is that the watermark is not a product of high compression, so not only are we getting a degraded product, but we are downloading a compromised waveform at higih bitrate. So we are using a large amount of bandwidth to receive a damaged product. That just makes no sense.
I'm hoping that Universal can come to some kind of agreement with the streaming and digital download companies. Maybe some kind of marketing promotion for cleaner sound or something would work -- whatever it takes to fix this.
Years ago, Spotify fixed their problem with gapless playback after a reviewer from the New York Times mentioned that opera was un-listenable on Spotify without it. It seems strange to me that no one in the music or audio equipment industry has called any attention to this. I guess I can hope.
I think we all understand that, and are not blaming Spotify directly for adding the watermark. My goal is to bring this to Spotify's attention so Spotify can stop reselling a incomplete, damaged products as part of their premium service. There are plenty of unaltered recordings out there, and Spotify, as such a large player in the streaming game, has a lot of influence. Remaining silent on the issue and telling your users to take it up with the record companies is a silly response. As an analogy: if I go to a grocery store and buy cheese that I later find out has spoiled, the store does not tell me to take it up with the cheesemaker. They make take responsibility for the product they sell. Spotify should do the same.
Yeah, I agree they ought to be allowed to fight piracy, but it must be inaudible. It is truly ironic that their antipiracy measures lead to a situation in which I get better quality audio by engaging in piracy than by paying a legitimate service like Spotify.