Primephonic review: Classical music fans get a high-res streaming service to call their own

If you’re a classical music fan like me, mainstream music-streaming services such as Spotify don’t meet your needs. Tidal—even with its pricey FLAC/MQA tier—doesn’t either. Well I’ve found a service that does: It’s called Primephonic.

Primephonic, which launched in the U.S. and U.K. on June 26, is a $14.99-per-month streaming service that’s an outgrowth of the same company’s high-resolution download store. I recently took the service for a spin and also spoke with the company’s management: CEO and co-founder Simon Eder and CMO Jonathan Bradley.

You can sign up for a 30-day free trial of the service without needing to provide a credit card to try it. Paying subscribers get an added perk: A 10-percent discount on the purchase of high-resolution downloads from the Primephonic store.

Web streaming today, an app in the fall

Primephonic’s streaming service is currently browser-based and features up-to-CD-quality audio. The website is a responsive design, which means that it’s accessible from desktop, tablet, and mobile devices. The service offers 16-bit, 44.1kHz FLAC streams by default, but you can opt for 192Kbps MP3 if your ISP imposes a severe data cap, for example, or you’re using a mobile connection.

If you choose to stream Primephonic’s FLAC offering from your computer’s digital-audio output to a two-channel or multi-channel audio system, as I did during my evaluation, I recommend using Google’s Chrome browser. I encountered bizarre audio artifacts using Firefox, and Safari produced no audio at all. These problems disappeared when I used my Mac’s own speakers and when I plugged headphones into the Mac. And I  encountered no problems at all with Chrome, Firefox, or Safari when I switched to MP3 streams.

Eder and Bradley told me that PrimePhonic will release an iOS app sometime this fall, which will add the ability to download albums and tracks for offline playback. That’s something you can’t do with the browser-based service. The company is also considering adding video and multimedia content if there’s sufficient demand.

You can choose to stream classical works in FLAC or MP3. Theo Nicolakis / IDG

You can choose to stream classical works in FLAC or MP3.

A streaming catalog growing bigger by the day

Bradley said Primephonic offers approximately 7,000 albums—more than than 100,000 tracks—for streaming today. The company’s online store, in contrast, stocks more than 16,000 downloadable albums.

Classical works range from a fine selection from stalwart classical labels such as LSO, Naxos, and Living Stereo. Primephonic recently signed deals with Warner Classical and Sony Entertainment that will bring three key Warner labels—Erato, Warner Classics, and Muncher Philharmoniker—and more than 30 labels from Sony Music Entertainment to its streaming service. The company hopes to ingest the core Warner and Sony back-catalogs by the end of 2017.

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