Reports claiming that SoundCloud changed its music streaming compression format surfaced earlier today. Some users have reported a shift in both the streaming audio codec and bitrate from MP3 at 128kbps to Opus 64kbps, which is a relatively new music compression format, and this change has resulted in reduced sound quality.
These users say the new Opus format sounds worse than MP3, with electronic music producer Direct even going so far as to create a browser plugin that restores SoundCloud streams back to the MP3 format. SoundCloud has refuted the claim, saying that it has been using the Opus codec from as far back as 2016.
The company reached out to us and said: “SoundCloud has not altered its approach to audio quality. We have been using the Opus codec (among others) since 2016, and we regularly test different combinations of encoding and streaming to offer listeners a quality experience on any device.”
What is Opus?
Opus is a music compression format like MP3 and AAC that was developed in 2007 (MP3 was introduced in 1993, AAC in 1997). Some in the development community claim it sounds better at lower bitrates compared to the aforementioned formats.
Though the “death” of MP3 in 2017 was big news, it remains to be one of the primary formats used in compressing and storing audio files for both consumers and DJs.
We’ve got to a point where compressed MP3 music files have become a “standard” of sorts, meaning that new ways of making music files smaller and more economical will be judged based on the MP3 format. Just two decades ago, MP3 got a severe drubbing for lowering the quality from CD and WAV files, and of course all digital files are still weighed against the “warm” analogue sound of vinyl today. It’s too early to tell if Opus will be a game-changing format, but at the moment it seems to be just another step in the long, winding road of music formats which we’ve all been treading since the advent of recorded music.
The big question is does Opus sound better or worse than MP3? Hear it for yourself in the side-by-side comparison created by Direct below: The third clip in particular reveals some undesirable artefacts introduced into the music by Opus.
• Read the full Twitter thread of Direct here.
What are your thoughts on this? Can you hear the difference? Do you think it’s better, worse, or you can’t hear the difference? Let us know in the comments.