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Deezer Joins a Crowded Music Subscription Market, With a High-End Pitch

If you've got the right kind of speakers, the streaming service says it will bring high-fidelity audio into your home. Do you care?

Peter Kafka covers media and technology, and their intersection, at Vox. Many of his stories can be found in his Kafka on Media newsletter, and he also hosts the Recode Media podcast.

If you want to spend $10 a month on a music subscription service in the U.S., there are plenty of companies that are happy to take your money*.

Here comes one more: Meet Deezer, which has been around in Europe for a while but hasn’t come to America until this month. It opens for business on Monday.

The bad thing about launching a music subscription service in the U.S. is that there are plenty of competitors. The good thing is that none of them have really caught on. Even Spotify, the best-known service in the U.S., isn’t that well known, and likely has fewer than two million paid subscribers here.

Deezer’s initial attempt to distinguish itself will be with high-quality audio streams. It will offer “lossless” audio, streamed at a rate of 1,411 kilobits per second, while services like Spotify top out at 320 kilobits per second.

That offer comes with some caveats: The $10-a-month pricing is only available to people who sign up for a year of service; otherwise it is $15 a month. And for now, the high-quality streams will only work if you’ve got a Sonos home audio system; if you’re listening on a device like an Android phone or iPad, you’ll get a more conventional-sounding stream.

Deezer also won’t promise that the pricing will stay at the $10/$15 level. It says the service will normally be priced at a whopping $20 a month, but it’s unclear about when, if ever, it will head to that level. Recall that many smart people think music services need to be priced below $10 a month to really catch on.

The biggest issue is whether there’s a big audience that really cares about high-quality digital audio. Tyler Goldman, who is running U.S. operations for Deezer (you may remember him from his last gig, running what used to be called Buzz Media), says internal research says that’s the case.

The counterargument would be that aside from Beats headphones, no high-end digital audio product has taken off in the last couple decades. And many audiophiles argue that Beats are a fashion item, not a high-end audio item.

But if you don’t like Deezer’s high-end pitch, stick around — Goldman says he’ll bring other versions of the service, at different price points, to the U.S. in the next few months.

* I’m probably forgetting something, so let me know if that’s the case, but here’s the list I have in my head: Spotify, Rhapsody, Rdio, Beats, Xbox, Sony and Google Play Music. Coming up: A service from YouTube.

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