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Streaming Uncompressed Music Is Here: A Review of Deezer Elite

Interested in CD-quality uncompressed streaming? Also check out our review of TIDAL.


In September European music streaming platform Deezer entered the US with its Deezer Elite service which delivers true CD-quality uncompressed sound. Currently Deezer Elite is only available to owners of Sonos wireless audio systems.

The Sonos system has been around more than a decade. It consists of speakers and audio components that connect wirelessly to play music stored on your computer or mobile device, or to stream internet music and radio services. Sonos uses wi-fi rather than Bluetooth, which permits the system to handle the uncompressed audio streams of Deezer Elite that require five times the data.

I had the opportunity to audition the service for a couple of weeks using a Sonos Connect and a Sonos Play:1 wireless speaker. The Connect is essentially a component that you connect to an existing hi-fi to use the Sonos system with your own speakers and amplifier, while the Play:1 is a standalone powered speaker that connects to your wi-fi or wired network.

In this review I am focusing on the sound quality and fidelity of Deezer Elite, since that is the chief advantage of the service compared to its major competitors, like Spotify. Recently another uncompressed streaming music service, Tidal, also debuted in the US (check out our review). To the best of my knowledge these are the only two uncompressed subscription music services available in the US.

This was my first time using Sonos. The Deezer Elite experience is presently tied to the system, so my review will also cover some aspects of it. In a separate post I will review other more general aspects of the overall Sonos system. In that review I will cover the Sonos Play:1 speaker.

For the purposes of clarity and transparency there’s quite a bit of detail to this review. You can jump right to my testing results and conclusion if you’d prefer.

The Argument for Uncompressed Music

I am a music lover, and I also appreciate high fidelity music reproduction. One quibble I’ve had with the shift to digital music files and streaming is the reliance on lossy compression technology, like MP3. Such compression reduces the size of a file by throwing data away that theoretically is not perceived by the human ear.

Now, the best implementations of lossy codecs, as they’re called, indeed can sound very good. At the same time, in my experience that gain in data efficiency comes at some sonic cost, that can range from very subtle to annoying and glaring, compared to an uncompressed CD version of the same music.

It is true that CD itself is a compromise–as every music storage and playback medium is–but one that works well and is capable of very realistic sound reproduction. It is, in most cases, the standard by which we compare most commercially available digital music.

At this point in time, my primary complaint with compressed music is that lossy compression is increasingly unnecessary. When MP3 first gained popularity in the early 2000s most computer hard drives were less than 1/10 the size of today, iPods and smart phones did not exist, and most households used dial-up to connect to the internet.

With such constraints in downloading, storage and streaming lossy codecs were a good solution. But today computers routinely come with a terabyte of storage, capable of storing more than 1,500 uncompressed CDs, while home broadband connections easily can handle the data rates required for uncompressed music streaming.

I also have an economic complaint. When buying digital music I think it’s absurd to pay nearly the same price for an MP3 or iTunes version as the CD, when I’m getting only about 25% of the data, and at a sonic compromise.

That’s why I think the time has come for uncompressed digital music to become more broadly available, and why I was interested in trying out Deezer Elite. I wanted to hear for myself if uncompressed streaming audio offers a perceptible advantage over the more common compressed services.

Testing Conditions

When I talked with Deezer US CEO Tyler Goldman he told me that his company chose Sonos as the exclusive partner for Elite because he believes it offers the best end-to-end solution. Ostensibly, this means Deezer can better ensure that subscribers are listening using equipment able to deliver the requisite fidelity. That should also avoid complaints from listeners using tinny laptop speakers or cheap bluetooth speakers.

Now, one can use the Sonos Connect with any amplifier and speakers. But given its $349 price there’s likely little risk that someone would bother connecting it to a cheap, substandard stereo.

For most of my listening I connected the Connect to my main system, which is based around a Yamaha Aventage RX-A1000 receiver and Polk RT600i tower speakers. For comparison purposes I also used my Yamaha Aventage BD-A1010 blu-ray player, which handles most high-resolution formats and to my ear plays CDs very well, with involving and detailed sound. While not necessarily high-end equipment, I would characterize this gear as solidly high quality and quite capable of revealing the nuances of most music sources.

The Sonos Connect has both analog and digital outputs, and comes with a set of stereo RCA cables included. My best advice to anyone who buys a Connect is to immediately replace these cables with something better. I used a pair of high-quality, but inexpensive 22-gauge Monoprice cables and experienced an immediate improvement in detail, especially in the low and mid bass. You could spend more, but even this modest upgrade made significant improvements.

I also tested the Connect using its optical digital output connected to my Aventage receiver’s digital input. The Aventage has very nice Burr-Brown digital-to-analog converters (DACs) capable of resolutions up to 24 bits at 192 KHz sampling. CDs and Deezer Elite have a resolution of 16 bits at 44.1 KHz sampling, which means the receiver is more than capable of handing this audio data. I wanted to see what, if any difference, bypassing the Connect’s own digital-to-analog converters would make in the sound.

For all listening I put the receiver into “Pure Direct” mode. This disables all tone control, EQ and DSP settings, which should provide the most uncolored amplified sound that is closest in quality and character to the input signal.

Using Deezer Elite means using the Sonos system, which requires using the Sonos app on a Windows or MacOS computer, or on an Android or iOS device. The documentation for setting up the system was straightforward, and I was able to get both devices connected to my home wi-fi and up and streaming music within about 15 minutes.

Sonos supports more than two dozen major online radio and streaming services, including 8tracks, Slacker, Pandora, Spotify, DAR.fm, iHeartRadio, TuneIn Radio, Rhapsody and SiriusXM. Sonos also plays music from your device, or from a music server. Each service requires a one-time setup to authorize Sonos to access your account. Many services with both free and paid options, like Spotify, will only stream to Sonos for paid subscribers.

I connected Sonos to my Amazon Music account and a Spotify Premium account for the sake of making comparisons to Deezer Elite.

But How Does It Sound?

Ease of use counts for a lot, but for me, at least, it’s not enough if the system doesn’t sound good. In short, listening to Deezer Elite over the Sonos Connect sounds very good. Most of the time I can hear an improvement with Elite compared to listening to MP3s, AAC tracks from iTunes, or compressed music from Spotify. The degree of difference depends on the source material. Some MP3s or Spotify tracks are more poorly encoded, while some original recordings suffer more from MP3 or AAC compression than others.

I listened to tracks using both the analog RCA output on the Connect and over its optical digital connection direct to the DACs in my Aventage receiver. By and large I had a slight preference for the digital output, finding the placement of individual instruments in the soundstage to be just a touch more precise while still sounding integrated. I’m not necessarily surprised by this, since the receiver had a retail price of about $1100 when new–nearly four times the cost of the Sonos Connect.

At the same time I have to stress that this preference is slight, and really only important when doing focused, close listening. When putting on music as a background to reading or other activities the difference pretty much fades away for me.

Listening to Music

Steely Dan is one of my favorite classic rock bands. Donald Fagen and Walter Becker’s meticulously orchestrated and recorded albums make good examples for testing. I listened to tracks off the well-mastered “Citizen Steely Dan” box set, released in 1993, to compare Deezer Elite with my own CDs.

Listening to “Kid Charlemagne” on Deezer over the Sonos’ analog output I was immediately drawn into the track, with good timing, clear unmarred sound and a nice three-dimensional soundstage. Switching to the digital output, the soundstage got a little deeper, a little more like a live studio performance.

By comparison, the CD on my Aventage blu-ray player had even more definition. Drum fills sweeping across the kit were precise; with my eyes closed I could more clearly imagine hear where each drum was located in space. With Deezer the sweep was still quite lively and 3-D, just a touch less precise.

I chalk up this difference primarily to the excellent DACs in the blu-ray player, which I prefer over those in the receiver. If I were able to connect the Sonos to use the blu-ray’s analog output I suspect I would hear a slight improvement.

I then auditioned the same track on Spotify Premium through the Sonos Connect. That service delivers 320 Kbps Ogg Vorbis audio, generally regarded to be at least as good as MP3 at the same bitrate.

With Spotify the soundstage seemed to collapse, almost as if the speakers moved closer together. Instruments panned more strongly to either side, like the hi-hat, remained firmly planted, but there seemed to be less space in between the left and right speakers. To Spotify’s credit I didn’t detect much high-end shimmer or graininess. However, the difference in quality between Deezer Elite and Spotify Premium was much more obvious than the delta between Deezer and the CD.

Moving to a more contemporary album, I checked out Arcade Fire’s “Reflektor” from 2013. While I really like the music on this record, I feel like it suffers from too much dynamic range compression, all too common on recordings from the last decade. So I was particularly interested in how this might affect my listening tests.

I started with an MP3 of the title track that purchased from Amazon that I played from Amazon Music through the Connect. This is the version of the album I’m most familiar with, and it sounds good, though it can be a little fatiguing when listening at higher volume because of there’s so little dynamic range.

Moving to Deezer Elite, once again the soundstage opened up a bit, the placement of instruments became more precise, creating less muddiness than the MP3, especially in the midrange where vocals, guitars and synth battle it out. In particular the tenor saxophone line is much more defined and clear with Deezer. Still, the difference between Deezer and MP3 was less pronounced with this track than the difference between Deezer and Spotify with “Kid Charlemagne.”

Shifting to something entirely acoustic, I chose “So What,” from the Legacy Edition of Miles Davis’ iconic album “Kind of Blue.” Listening to Deezer Elite the soundstage had both good depth and height. Miles’ trumpet is on the same side as Paul Chambers’ bass, yet both are distinct and don’t compete. Things get more challenging when John Coltrane comes in for his solo, accompanied by Bill Evans’ piano. Despite Coltrane’s powerful blowing, it doesn’t overcome the piano, with Evans’ comps ringing with clarity and natural timbre.

Compared to the CD I was hard pressed to hear a difference. There was a touch more air with the CD, and a tiny bit more definition to the brushes hitting cymbals. But that’s about it.

Moving to Spotify Premium the bass gets a little more tubby, and Miles’ trumpet seems to get smeared in space, becoming less distinct. Coltrane’s sax seems to mask the piano, losing the attack of some of Evans’ notes. I had no difficulty hearing a significant difference between the Deezer Elite and Spotify Premium versions with this track.


Summing Up Results

On the whole Deezer Elite really does deliver CD quality streaming music, and the Sonos Connect plays it well. The Connect’s analog output is the system’s biggest constraint, but the one most easily overcome, especially now that very high quality standalone DACs are available, and many amplifiers and receivers have digital inputs. And, again, I have to emphasize that the analog output’s limitation isn’t a major concern to me, but may be more critical to some audiophiles.

I hear a definite improvement in overall sound with Deezer Elite compared to compressed music files or compressed streaming services, like Spotify. Across the entire frequency spectrum there is more definition, allowing individual instruments and voices to be more distinct, with more three-dimensional depth.

The difference is less pronounced at lower volumes or with background listening. But folks who enjoy just listening to music as a foreground activity should appreciate the boost in quality.

Since Deezer Elite is only available through Sonos, my interaction with it was primarily through the Sonos app, which makes it operationally similar to Spotify and other services. At least for the music I am interested in, the Deezer catalog was roughly equal to Spotify. There are bands I wanted to hear–The Beatles, Metallica and King Crimson–that I could not find on Deezer, but they are also not available on Spotify. Though her music is not my cup of tea, I should note that Taylor Swift’s first four albums are on Deezer, while she has pulled her entire catalog from Spotify.

Elite subscribers can also use Deezer via smartphone app and web interface, but these methods access only the Premium Plus service, which delivers 320 Kbps MP3s.

Final Conclusions

If you’re a Sonos user who has resisted subscribing to a streaming music because you don’t want the compromise of lossy compressing, then Deezer Elite most certainly deserves an audition. It is also merits a trial even if you’re already a subscriber to another streaming service. At a price of $9.99 a month with a full-year commitment there’s no price premium compared to competitors. The month-to-month price of $14.99 is still pretty reasonable.

The bigger question is if Deezer Elite is enough of a draw to entice someone to buy into the Sonos system. Frankly, I find myself more convinced than I anticipated. I enjoyed how the service sounds, but also how seamlessly it works with Sonos. Of course, it works no more or less smoothly than Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio or Slacker. But those services don’t offer uncompressed audio.

With the debut of Tidal there is now a competitor to Deezer Elite that is not tied to one brand of hardware. Given that Tidal offers the same uncompressed music format as Deezer, I have no reason to believe that there will be significant fidelity differences between the two.

Your choice would more likely depend on whether or not you have a Sonos component, and how willing you are to buy one. I also understand that Tidal may soon be available on Sonos, too. That equipment flexibility comes at a cost, however. Tidal costs $19.99 a month, which is twice that of Deezer Elite with a year commitment, and still $5.00 more than paying for Deezer month-to-month.

In the end I’m pleased to see uncompressed streaming audio become a viable and serious option for music lovers and audiophiles who don’t want to be limited to lossy compressed files in order to enjoy the benefits of near-instant access to catalogs of millions of tracks.

If you have a Sonos system or are considering one I would seriously consider a Deezer Elite subscription. If you don’t have a Sonos but have your interest is piqued by Deezer Elite I would definitely recommend visiting a dealer to audition it for yourself.


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12 Responses to Streaming Uncompressed Music Is Here: A Review of Deezer Elite

  1. Brad Hill November 24, 2014 at 6:24 am #

    Fabulous review. I speculate that the people who read the entire article are the same people who will buy into hi-rez streaming. And that is very few people. (Not a criticism of the excellent review! Just a prediction that hi-rez streaming is niche.)

    • Alan Jones January 20, 2015 at 2:24 pm #

      This is not hi-rez streaming. It is just not compressed. therefore there is no loss of information.

  2. Paul Riismandel November 24, 2014 at 11:05 am #

    Thanks, Brad. It may be niche, but I think it can be a big niche. The explosion of high-quality headphones, the successful Pono Kickstarter, and the fact that Sony and other mainstream electronics companies are rolling out higher quality music players all point to the fact that it’s a growing segment.

    Five years ago who would have thought that big, expensive, over-the-ear headphones would turn into a huge CE segment?

    • Aziz June 6, 2015 at 5:08 am #

      I have just come across your review on Deezer Elite. It was a good discovery for me.

      I have a Bose SoundTouch 30 WIFI speaker which gives a sound quality that is satisfying for my needs. I added a Deezer Premium+ within the Bose SoundTouch app, and I can set any Deezer playlist, mix or internet radio to one of the six preset buttons on Bose’s remote controller which works great for me.

      I bought the Sonos Play 5 speaker in hot pursuit of the Deezer Elite for an even better sound quality. The critical point is that I will only upgrade if I can stream Elite in both Sonos and Bose speakers. If I upgrade to Elite within Sonos app, would I also be able to stream the Elite sound quality in Bose since it is emanating from the same Elite account? I suspect not if Deezer has given exclusive Elite rights to Sonos.

      I would so appreciate your input.

  3. Scott Atkinson November 25, 2014 at 1:33 pm #

    Have you done blind a/b/x testing? I’m like you, in that I have decent – not fancy, but decent – equipment, and I *think* I can hear the difference between lossless and high bitrate compressed files. I focus on the kind of detail you describe, difference in sound stage, subtle change in highs or lows – until I try it blind. Then I never get more than 50-60 percent right.

  4. Paul Riismandel November 25, 2014 at 4:36 pm #

    I don’t have the equipment for a true blind a/b/x text. Instead, I try to give each source a long listen, multiple times, on different days. I find that I need to listen for quite a while in order to get accustomed to a sound and then be able to listen critically. A/B/X testing makes this difficult under typical testing circumstances.

    I liken it to tasting wine. I can have a few sips of a wine and get some sense of it and its most immediate qualities. But drinking a full glass often lets me better experience more subtle notes and flavors that develop in the glass.

    There’s quite a bit of criticism of A/B/X testing in the audio press:

    http://www.positive-feedback.com/Issue56/abx.htm

    http://www.tapeop.com/blog/2014/11/22/problem-bing-and-why-neil-young-right-about-sound-/

  5. Alan Rosenthal January 5, 2015 at 6:42 pm #

    It’s worth mentioning that after a one- or two-year commitment @ approx. $9.99/mo, the price of Geezer Elite **DOUBLES** (see their fine print).

    Also, it’s not clear from their subscribing page whether their “one month free” that goes at the start of these subscriptions constitutes a “Free Trial” as described in the Deezer “Terms and Conditions” (Article 6). Is that one free month the “Free Trial” described there or not? The words “Free Trial” do not appear anywhere on the actual subscription page.

  6. Kevin R January 6, 2015 at 6:31 pm #

    Lovely write-up. Just stumbled upon this while looking for additional news on Deezer (I was a subscriber when I was out of the country for a couple years and had missed it since so am happy to be back to. I prefer it to all other subscription services I’ve used personally.) Just wanted to chime in to simply say that I did, in fact, become a Sonos user solely because of Deezer Elite… or at least I was willing to try it out for a bit and cancel Elite and return the Sonos if anything went sideways. Truly, the opposite has happened. I’m genuinely in love with the Sonos system; oddly enough (or perhaps not) my setup is identical to yours in terms of sonos components, having the Connect and a single Play:1 in an adjoining room. The Connect is hooked up to a simple (but lovely to me) system comprised of just an old Marantz 2235B and a pair of Wharfedale Diamond 10.2 bookshelf speakers (hardly bookshelf sound, but that’s another story). I just adore having such a large music catalogue in a lossless format literally at my fingertips. Far from sending anything back, I imagine I’ll expand the system now and had no qualms about signing up for a full year of Elite. My personal digital music collection as well as my vinyl has certainly been wondering what it did wrong to deserve such treatment. 🙂 Very very happy with this experience so far after roughly a month and a half listening. Just wonderful, and I too have very easily discerned the difference between Spotify (which I’ve now cancelled) and Pandora (which I keep around because I love their service for music discovery – nothing beats their algorithm in that regard for me.)
    And, I fjust ollowed your musical queues and just put on a handful of Steely Dan and Miles Davis. Sound is just wonderful. Thanks for this review! Just wanted to echo some of your points. Cheers,
    Kevin in Seattle

  7. Alan Rosenthal January 7, 2015 at 8:45 am #

    I’m glad Kevin is so happy but I wish someone(s) wouid weigh in on my concerns! I’m not a particularly suspicious sort of fellow but I do feel that perhaps Deezer wants to pull people in without their knowing every detail. For example there’s no way to browse their catalog without joining. If I’m going to drop Beats Music with its very large selection (320 kb/s mp3s) I would want to know if I would have the same large selection on Deezer (I’m almost exclusively a classical and jazz person so catalog depth is a large concern). Also, is there a way to contact Deezer with questions, as I didn’t see any “contact us” sort of link on their site (then I wouldn’t have to be posting this!).

    Will Kevin be happy paying $20 a month for Deezer in a year or 2?

    I’ve had Sonos since 2005 and am very happy with it. I use it to access my NAS music collection, all lossless FLAC format, and send it to my quite high-quality component system.
    I can definitely hear the difference between lossless and (Beats Music) lossy and would love to stream lossless, so I am eager to hear from anyone who can fill me in. Thanks.

  8. Maxx January 9, 2015 at 11:35 am #

    I like the concept of Deezer and was not against the price premium, but the fact that the radio stations are not trainable (thumbs up or down) is a deal killer for me. I am currently using Pandora One and Google Play Music All Access at work because these seem to be the only two that have this capability. I like Pandora’s responsiveness to the thumbs up/down better than Google, but I like the music diversity (17 million songs as opposed to Pandora’s 1 million) and the higher quality streaming. Deezer seem to be a great service, but until they implement the thumbs feature on Sonos, its a non-starter for me. I used it over christmas break and there are only so many Alvin and the Chipmunks songs that I am willing to fast forward through!

  9. Paul April 30, 2015 at 11:54 am #

    Great review. I purchased a Playbar six months ago and I have Deezer Elite. There is a noticeable difference in the quality of sound delivered by Deezer Elite, when compared to the other mp3 streaming services. In fact, I do not even listen to my own iTunes library anymore. I simply stream everything through Deezer Elite. Admittedly, I made the foolish mistake of not ripping my CDs to FLAC ten years ago. So, Deezer Elite is the perfect problem solver for me.

  10. swami June 16, 2015 at 3:20 pm #

    Great review. I also have Sonos running through a Standalone DAC (Benchmark Dac2). I find it pretty much identical to my CD transport.

    When I do hear a difference (and I have) it is due to different masters of the same album. In the case of Steely Dan, you will find there are multiple mastered versions. I suggest this is the most likely explanation of the sonic differences. Newer “remastered” versions tend to be increasingly compressed by the evil trolls hating good music.

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