The site's change of streaming format was noticed by New Jersey producer Direct, who showed in a Twitter post how the site has moved from MP3 files at 128 kbps resolution to 64kbps resolution of the file type Opus.
Looking at the bitrate alone, many gathered that SoundCloud had essentially halved its audio quality, though some users used their own spectral analysis to show that Opus appears as a higher quality format. Direct then released his own test recording to demonstrate the noticeable dips in quality.
Direct also released extensions for Firefox and Google Chrome users that allows the original quality to be restored when played in the respective browser.
UPDATE (1/4, 10 p.m. EST): Following the reports of reduced sound quality, a SoundCloud rep has told Exclaim! that the claims are "inaccurate." The rep added, "SoundCloud has not altered its approach to audio quality. We have been using the Opus codec (among others) since 2016, and we regularly test different combinations of encoding and streaming to offer listeners a quality experience on any device."
You can pore over his findings below.
Soundcloud recently changed their streaming format from 128kbps MP3 to 64kbps Opus. This drastically reduces the audio quality and can introduce strange artifacts.— Direct (@DirectOfficial) January 3, 2018
I made & released a Chrome Extension to restore the 128kbps MP3s. Give it a try.https://t.co/hGUuxiJXYG pic.twitter.com/bYkbyhcNWd
maybe i'm missing something but even at 64kbs, opus appears to be a higher quality format pic.twitter.com/gkjFBcHWAU— Cynabel (@cynasnack) January 3, 2018
https://t.co/ftpw71zLsF— Direct (@DirectOfficial) January 3, 2018
Here is a good visual example of what is happening in 64kbps Opus files.
As well as try monoing the Opus file. It handles the mid and side signals very oddly. You will hear that.
Also listen to this. Here is an audio example showing the differences.— Direct (@DirectOfficial) January 3, 2018
Maybe soundcloud wants to bring users to soundcloud go(+) with better quality included (128 is still low).. Just like Spotify— Luca (@l9cgv) January 4, 2018
I hope this is the case. I assumed they were going to be rolling out higher quality Opus files like spotify but for the past month or so they have been priortizing 64kbps Opus and from what I can tell they aren't hosting higher quality as of right now.— Direct (@DirectOfficial) January 4, 2018