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Before you pay for Spotify HiFi, try to pass this lossless audio test – The Next Web

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Spotify yesterday announced a ‘HiFi’ upgrade tier for its streaming service that provides lossless audio, promising music free of compression artefacts. Although it won’t be available until later this year, Spotify HiFi promises “CD-quality” audio and aims to steer audiophiles away from other lossless streaming competition like Tidal and Deezer.

But even if you consider yourself an audiophile, you probably don’t need to pay extra for lossless music.

It’s true that most music streaming services compress audio in one way or another in order to minimize data usage, almost always leading to some lost information. There are ways of compressing music losslessly, but they generally can’t reduce file size as much as a decent lossy compression.

It’s unsurprising, then, that most services turn to lossy compression. After all, the vast majority of listeners do not have the hearing ability to tell the difference between lossless audio and music that is compressed at a high enough quality.

Spotify Premium (the existing, $9.99 ad-free tier) already streams at a maximum of 320 kbps (256 kbps on the web) if you’ve enabled this in the app’s settings. Although at low bitrates the differences between lossy and lossless audio can be quite obvious, I’m willing to bet most people can’t tell apart a lossless file from a 256 kbps MP3 one — let alone a file compressed with the more modern Ogg codec that Spotify uses.

Our hearing is subject to a whole lot of placebo. Simply believing that a certain upgrade or key specification will make your speakers or headphones sound better is often more likely to cause to an ‘improvement’ than any actual change. Still, many golden-eared audiophiles will swear they can hear a difference without evidence.

So before you get your wallet out for the promise of higher quality audio, why don’t you actually put your hearing to the test?

Test your hearing

There are plenty of blind tests out there to help you compare lossless audio with ‘lossy’ audio formats, but I like the Digital Feed ABX test, initially created to test whether listeners could tell the difference between Tidal’s lossless audio and lossy compressed music.

The link above compares Spotify’s 320 kbps streaming against a lossless file, so it should be equivalent to comparing Spotify’s Premium and HiFi tiers. In this test, the goal is to match one of two clips (A or B) to a reference clip (X). They’re randomized, and you don’t know which clips are lossless or not; you just have to pick whether A or B is identical to X.

There are five tracks, for each of which you’ll have to complete 5, 10, or 20 trials, depending on how much time you have to kill. The more trials you do, the more statistically significant your results are. I’d recommend starting with 5 repetitions, as the test can get quite time consuming as you switch between tracks obsessing over tiny differences.

If you are like most audio enthusiasts — let alone most regular people — you probably won’t be able to hear the difference. I just took the test with some $400 headphones and failed.

But I’ve also passed the test before. Problem is, doing so involves a kind of extreme scrutiny that virtually never applies to normal listening or even “critical” listening.

In my case, passing this comparison means making my home as quiet as possible, using the best gear I have, and repeating a two or three-second portion over and over again in hopes of hearing the tiniest bit of extra detail or a subtle change at a specific moment. Moreover, I’ve done this type in multiple iterations hundreds of times and know what to look for.

Perhaps even more importantly, being able to identify which tracks match doesn’t mean you can tell which track was more realistic — i.e., which track was actually the lossless one.

I’m reminded of a survey performed by audio blogger Archimago several years ago, in which 151 participants were asked choose between two sets of samples — one lossy set, and one lossless. 30% thought the lossless tracks sounded better. 18% said there was no audible difference. A whopping 52% actually preferred the lossy track over the lossless one (there are a few possible explanations for this beyond the scope of the article).

Mind you, it’s fair to assume these participants were mostly audio enthusiasnts too; 60% of them reported using audio systems costing $1,000 or more. And this is just one of numerous examples around the web.

So what’s the point of lossless?

The fact most people can’t tell the difference between lossless and high-bitrate lossy audio doesn’t mean lossless streaming is completely pointless. Some reasons you might want to try it include:

  • Peace of mind, so you don’t get the itch of knowing there’s something better out there.
  • If the placebo effect makes you think your music sounds better, then in a way it kind of does sound better?
  • You want the best possible rendition of the music for some sense of musical ‘purity.’
  • You’re a statistical anomaly with platinum hearing abilities.
  • There’s a very hypothetical argument that we need extended listening in order to truly hear small differences in sound quality.
  • Spotify could include other perks with the HiFi tier.
  • You’re holding out hope one day audio gear will be good enough to make the difference more obvious.

There’s also the matter of price: Spotify hasn’t announced pricing for the HiFi tier yet, but you can bet it’ll be more expensive than regular-old Premium. Just make sure the added monthly investment — and it definitely adds up over the years —  is worth it before you shell out your hard earned-money.

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Published February 24, 2021 — 05:29 UTC

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Dead Space Remake Officially Announced at EA Play – CGMagazine

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After weeks of different rumors and leaks, the Dead Space remake was officially confirmed at EA Play 2021.

The Dead Space remake wasn’t given any kind of release window, but it is in development for next-gen systems only, meaning PS5, Xbox Series X|S, and PC. The game is being built with the Frostbite Engine and is handled by EA Motive, who is best known as the developer of the recent Star Wars Squadrons. The original trilogy was developed by Visceral Games, which was shuttered by EA in 2017.

The announcement didn’t show much at all but presented fans with a short teaser trailer showing a grisly space station as the iconic sounds of Necromorphs echoed in the background. As the camera zooms in Isaac Clarke’s backpack lights up and reveals the words Dead Space. A press release from EA says fans will “experience an improved story, characters, gameplay mechanics.” Phillippe Ducharme, Senior Producer of Dead Space, says the team at Motive has invited fans to give their feedback on the remake ever since the early days of development. With that in mind, it’s not exactly clear how far along in development the Dead Space remake actually is. You can watch the reveal trailer yourself down below.

One of the most prolific survival-horror series of all time, it’s been eight years since the release of the last game in the series, Dead Space 3. The franchise was always known for its nail-biting horror and inventive combat, requiring players to hack off the limbs of enemies in order to both slow them down and kill them. Here’s EA’s description of the first game and remake,

“In Dead Space, Isaac Clarke is an everyman engineer on a mission to repair a vast, sprawling starship, the USG Ishimura, only to discover something has gone horribly wrong. The ship’s crew has been slaughtered and infected by some alien scourge…and Isaac’s beloved partner, Nicole, is lost somewhere on board. Now Isaac is alone with only his tools and engineering skills as he attempts to uncover the nightmarish mystery of what happened aboard the Ishimura. Trapped with hostile creatures called “necromorphs”, Isaac faces a battle for survival, not only against the escalating terrors of the ship, but his own crumbling sanity.”

While Dead Space is coming back, Glen Schofield former executive producer of the series, has gone on to make a brand new sci-fi horror game called The Callisto Protocol.

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OnePlus Nord 2: An impressive 5G phone at an affordable price – CNET

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The OnePlus Nord 2, also called the “flagship killer,” has some impressive specs and performs well all round. 


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

OnePlus calls its brand new Nord 2 the “flagship killer,” and I get why. This phone has impressive specs, performs well and when paired with a reasonable starting price (only £399 here in the UK), it’s designed to offer everything you’d need from a phone without emptying your bank account. A powerful processor, a solid dual rear camera setup, 5G connectivity, super fast charging — and it’s not bad to look at either. 

Read more: OnePlus Nord 2 vs. Nord vs. Nord CE vs. OnePlus 9: Comparing OnePlus’ latest phones

Like the previous Nord — and the cheaper Nord CE, launched just a few weeks back — the Nord 2 will not be on sale in the US. It’s destined for the UK and wider Europe, where it’ll cost £399 for the version with 8GB of RAM and 128GB of storage or £469 with 12GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. For reference, £399 converts to about $540 or AU$740.

But no, it doesn’t really “kill” any flagships. It’s not as powerful as a “true” flagship like the iPhone 12 Pro Max or S21 Ultra, nor will its camera skills attract the world’s most demanding photographers. The flagship that I feel is most at risk is OnePlus’s own 9 series, which shares many features with the Nord 2, yet has a much higher starting price of £629 ($729). 

I’ve spent a short amount of time with the Nord 2 ahead of its unveiling, and here are the five things I like most about it.

A powerful MediaTek processor 

OnePlus has typically used Qualcomm’s Snapdragon line of processors for its phones but it went with MediaTek’s Dimensity 1200-AI chip for the Nord 2. You’ll notice absolutely no difference in use — it’s the same as any other Android phone — but you will notice that it’s surprisingly powerful for the price. 

While it’s not up there with the iPhone 12 Pro Max in terms of benchmarks, it did beat the Pixel 5 and wasn’t far below the more expensive OnePlus 9. It’s certainly powerful enough for gaming, photo editing and video streaming and navigating around the Android 11 interface is smooth and stutter free.

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The OnePlus Nord 2 houses a powerful processor, a dual rear camera setup, 5G connectivity and super fast charging. 


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Android 11 software

The Nord 2 runs Android 11 at its core, over which OnePlus has slapped its usual Oxygen software. I really like OnePlus’s software as it’s neat, easy to use and doesn’t try and load the phone up with too many bundled services and bloatware. As a result, the phone remains nippy and trouble-free for longer.

It’s particularly important on lower and midrange phones that might not cope as well with being bogged down by services. The result here is a phone with smooth performance that I expect to remain for some time to come. 

OnePlus says it’s guaranteed to get at least two years of Android upgrades — so an update to Android 12 this fall and Android 13 next year is a given — with an additional year of security updates after that. 

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The OnePlus Nord 2 runs Android 11 software. 


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Incredible fast charging

The Nord 2 has the same 65-watt fast charging seen on the OnePlus 9 series and it’s amazing. It’ll take the phone from empty to full in only about 30 minutes, which makes it amazing for giving it a quick boost before you head out from home. The 4,500-mAh battery should still give you a day of use from a charge, but when you can recharge so quickly, battery life becomes somewhat less of an issue.

Even better is that a 65-watt fast charger comes in the box, so you don’t need to scour Amazon for one. What the phone doesn’t have is wireless charging, but I don’t see that as a particular problem. 

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The OnePlus Nord 2 has the speedy charging with 65-watt support.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Vibrant, sharp display

The Nord 2’s display measures 6.43 inches and boasts a resolution of 2,400×1,080 pixels, which is sufficient to make tiny text look nice and sharp. It’s an AMOLED panel, making it extremely vibrant too: great for videos, photos or playing whatever colorful game is currently making the rounds on the Google Play Store.

It has a 90Hz refresh rate which is a touch lower than the 120Hz of the OnePlus 9 series, but I doubt you’d be able to tell any real difference in day-to-day use. It’s silky smooth when scrolling around the interface, but you can also turn it down to a more regular 60Hz, which will apparently help save battery life. 

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The main cameras on the OnePlus Nord 2 are a 50-megapixel lens combined with a 8-megapixel super-wide lens.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

Decent rear cameras

We haven’t done our full suite of camera tests yet, but what we’ve seen from the cameras so far looks good. The main sensor is a 50-megapixel affair — the same one seen in the OnePlus 9’s ultrawide camera. Outdoor images look well-exposed, with plenty of detail and natural-looking colors. 

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OnePlus Nord 2 outdoor camera test, standard lens.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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OnePlus Nord 2 outdoor camera test, standard lens.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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OnePlus Nord 2 outdoor camera test, super-wide lens.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

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OnePlus Nord 2 outdoor camera test, standard lens with 2x digital zoom.


Andrew Hoyle/CNET

The 8-megapixel super-wide lens is noticeably less detailed, but it too seems capable of capturing good-looking outdoor images. There’s an on-screen option for 2x zoom but there isn’t a zoom lens, so that 2x is based on digitally cropping the shot. Results still look good, but it’s worth keeping in mind that you won’t get maximum quality doing this. 

There’s also technically a 2-megapixel monochrome sensor, which is totally pointless in my opinion as a photographer. If you want good-looking black and white images, use the regular camera and apps like Adobe Lightroom or Snapseed to have full control over converting to mono. Frankly, I feel OnePlus could have pulled this out and lopped another 20 quid or so off the price. 

OnePlus Nord 2 specs

Display size, resolution, refresh rate 6.43-inch AMOLED, FHD+ (2,400×1,080 pixels), 90Hz
Pixel density 410ppi
Dimensions (Inches) 6.25×2.88×0.32 in.
Dimensions (Millimeters) 158.9×73.2×8.25 mm
Weight (Grams) 6.66 oz; 189g
Software Android 11
Camera 50MP (main),  8MP (wide-angle),  2MP (mono)
Front camera 32-megapixel
Video 4K
Processor MediaTek Dimensity 1200-AI processor
Storage 128/256GB
RAM 8/12GB RAM
Fingerprint reader No
Battery 4,500 mAh
Price In-display
Connector USB-C
Headphone Jack No
Special features 5G-enabled, 65W fast charging, 90Hz, dual stereo speaker, face unlock
Price (USD) Approximately $540 (converted from UK price)
Price (GBP) £399
Price (AUD) Approximately AU$740

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OnePlus will add ‘optimized mode’ toggle in Oxygen OS 12 to address throttling – GSMArena.com news – GSMArena.com

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Following a performance vs optimization controversy this month, OnePlus has confirmed that it plans to address the debacle in the way that it should have done from the very beginning. A OnePlus employee confirmed through a OnePlus Forum thread that the Android skin will gain a toggle to enable/disable OnePlus’ performance optimization with an early build of Oxygen OS 12.

Earlier this month, OnePlus was delisted from benchmarking app Geekbench due to alleged performance manipulations. This sparked controversy and OnePlus was prompted to respond to the allegations. Although benchmarking apps were performing in line with what’s expected from the Snapdragon 888 chipset, the phones were throttling many other apps from using the chipset’s maximum capacity during use. Geekbench saw this as cheating and that’s what prompted the benchmark app to delist the OnePlus 9 Duo.

OnePlus gave its reasoning for this: Users offered feedback about both battery life and heat management for future OnePlus devices, and explained that it has “optimized” performance of these devices when using the most popular apps. OnePlus even went beyond and stated that today’s high-end chipsets are overkill for most apps. While they are right to an extent, further testing showed that the so-called battery savings were minutes at most and largely negligible.

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