Deezer Elite, it’s on! After it’s initial launch in autumn 2014 and an exclusivity deal with Sonos, the audio streaming service now offers its FLAC format membership in France. The partnership with Sonos is also an important feature of this membership as you will need a network player or wireless speaker to enjoy the 35 million tracks available on Deezer in their original CD quality. It was the perfect occasion for us to test the famous Sonos Connect player, coupled with various DACs and compact amplifiers.
Deezer: three types of membership
The French version of the audio streaming service now offers three different types of membership. The first one is free and gives you unlimited access to 35 million tracks via a computer with a web browser. The music is streamed in MP3 format with a debit of 128 Kbits/sec and there are commercial breaks in between songs. The second type is a paying membership, Deezer Premium +. There are no more commercial breaks, the transfer rate goes up to 320 Kbits/sec and it is possible to listen to Deezer on a computer or from the Deezer app for tablets and smartphones as well as some audio devices, such as Sonos products (visit our multiroom audio systems section). The third type of membership, called Deezer Elite, is (for the time being) exclusively compatible with Sonos products and offers the possibility to stream FLAC files, meaning a quality equal to that of an audio CD.
Is the FLAC format really better ?
Yes. The FLAC format is undoubtedly superior to the MP3, even when the latter is encoded in high resolution. The compression used to code MP3 files is deteriorating and a large amount of musical information is simply suppresed. This alteration of the original format results in a lack of depth and a very limited delivery of low frequencies. FLAC format uses a non-deteriorating compression (comparable to a zip file), which results in a more dynamic and truly detailed listening experience as well as a better layout of the sound levels, true to the original mix.
Listen to music the way it was recorded with Deezer Elite.
Deezer Elite: true high-definition sound’
When compared to MP3 format, yes. Nevertheless, the resolution is the same as an audio-CD, meaning 16 bits and 44.1 kHz. For the time being, Deezer Elite does not offer true HD studio quality (24 bits coding). It is not likely that this format becomes available in the near future.
Deezer Elite: all 35 million tracks available in CD quality?
Yes. There is a very simple explanation for this: Deezer stores all of its tracks in FLAC format and then code them in MP3 @126 Kbps and @320 Kbps for the various memberships. Hence, there was no technical difficulty to offer FLAC files for the Elite membership outside of increasing the size of the Deezer servers since a track streamed in FLAC requires two to three times more bandwidth than an MP3 file.
With Deezer Elite, is it possible to listen to FLAC files on a computer or tablet?
No, or at least not for now. The Elite membership is solely compatible with Sonos devices. Nevertheless, it is possible to use the Elite membership with a computer, smartphone or tablet, but the transmission will be in MP3 format at 320 Kbits / sec. Just like the Premium + membership, the Elite membership only lets you listen to Deezer on one device at a time.
Deezer Elite: How to listen to it on a Hi-Fi system?
To listen to Deezer in CD quality, it is necessary to own a compatible network player compatible with Deezer as well as having an Elite membership. As of today, only Sonos devices, especially the Sonos Connect and Sonos Connect:AMP comply with these requirements.
To control them, it is necessary to use a smartphone, tablet (Android, iOS, Windows Phone) or computer (Windows / MacOS).
The Sonos control interface is currently the most complete and the easiest to use.
For this review, we used a Sonos Connect network player. Since this device features analog and digital stereo output, suitable for an external DAC or a stereo amplifier equipped with a DAC. We paired up our Sonos Connect to several DACs and DAC amplifiers during our tests such as the Micromega MyAMP (aesthetically close), Micromega MyDAC (same), Denon Ceol RCD-N9 (integrated DAC) or Hegel H80 (integrated DAC) along with the Focal Aria 906 and Klipsch Heresy III speakers, an ideal configuration to highlight the differences between MP3 and FLAC.
Dezeer Elite and Sonos Connect: extremely easy to set up
Installing the Sonos Connect is child’s play, all there is to do is to connect it to the local network, to download the Sonos app from the App Store, Play Store or Windows Store (or the Sonos Controller software for Windows and Mac OS). The user is then guided through the whole configuration process.
Next step: adding a Deezer account. If you haven’t created an Elite account on the Deezer website yet, the Sonos app will remind you to do so. Then enter your username and password in the app.
Be careful: if you create a Premium + account, the music will be streamed in MP3. It is necessary to subscribe to the Elite Membership to listen to FLAC format tracks.
Deezer & Sonos: how does it work?
To access Deezer, you need to use the Sonos app and not the Deezer official app. Besides, the Sonos app give you access to many other online sources as well as music shared on a local network (NAS, iTunes, up to 16 servers). This way, any research will go through all of the declared sources, unless you have specified a certain service beforehand, Deezer for example.
The Deezer section of the app features the same layout and options as the official app for Android and iOS. It is very easy to create playlist or to modify those that were created from the Deezer website. Everything is automatically synchronised.
As we mentioned earlier, the abscence of deteriorating compression obviously has a beneficial impact on sound delivery. In order to confirm it, we connected the Sonos Connect and a DAC (Deezer Elite) to the same amplifier as a computer paired up with the exact same DAC (Deezer Premium +). The differences heard with our Klipsch Heresy III speaker were blatant. Bass is more textured while treble is sharper and more precise. The amount of detail with Deezer Elite is clearly superior to that of Deezer Premium +.
Music comes alive, the sound becomes more flavourful and breaks away from the staleness of the MP3 format.
The gap is even more striking with complex music such as concerts or classical music with a wide dynamic range. Nevertheless, audiophiles will have to find their hidden diamond as one track can be found on several albums with a different mix each time. It’s also one of Deezer’s strengths, to offer remastered original versions.
A few good reasons to choose Sonos to listen to Deezer
First of all because the FLAC format Elite membership drastically boosts up sound quality especially with a good system. Although, even if the Elite streaming will be available via web interfaces and Deezer app for iOS, Android and Windows phone by 2016, the Sonos ecosystem remains a very attractive solution. No hi-fi amplifier with network functions regroups so many musical sources, local or on line, and let you control it via a intuitive and efficient app.
FLAC format streaming is absolutely convincing.It is better to use an external DAC to listen to Deezer Elite (with a headphone output if possible) to bypass the limitation of the player’s analog output. We also recommend using a quality digital cable.
What is Sonos Connect worth without Deezer Elite?
The device enjoys an excellent reputation and it deserves it. On the top of its control app and the many musical sources handled, the device benefits from a compact format and is very easy to use. The Sonos Connect can also create its own local network (SonosNet) to interconnect several Sonos players, amplifiers or speakers and create a multiroom system. The connections are interesting as the Sonos Connect features an analog input to connect a record player (with RIAA preamp) or even a TV and a 10/100 Ethernet switch. The only drawback of this device is its stereo digital output, completely average and unfit for true hi-fi listening. It is a good thing that two digital outputs are featured to connect a quality external DAC or use one from a DAC amplifier.