I have been relentless on holding Soundcloud accountable regarding its poor business decisions over the past couple years, but this one might just take the cake: for the new year, the company has decided to quietly switch bitrates from 128kbps to 64kbps.
Now, this change is a bit more convoluted than a simple bitrate switch, as they’ve also moved from the MP3 codec to the Opus codec, so a bit of a tech lesson here: encoding is a process by which information is converted to a digital format which can then be decoded by an audio player to output the resulting sound.
Switching to more efficient codecs is nothing new, and in fact we’ve seen a number of major codec switches in recent years, like the recent adoption of Google’s WebM and WebP codecs for photo and video, respectively. Still, even though the Opus codec claims higher efficiency than the outdated MP3 codec, I highly doubt any 2018-era codec can achieve acceptable audio quality for music at 64kbps.
Sure, Soundcloud might save you some bandwidth costs, but when your audio quality is at the same level as voice-over audio recorded for AM radio, you’re not living up to your audience’s expectations. Besides, 128kbps MP3 was already heinously low for a service that claims to provide premium audio, so moving down to 64kbps is nonsensical.
Users are already noting the quality dip, and Soundcloud has yet to give any comment about it to the public — let’s see how long their silence lasts. At any rate, this is an ill-advised move that will save some money but at the cost of Soundcloud’s credibility with the musical community.