Test Drive: Aud.io offers hi-fi Internet radio on mobile, but buzzwords aren’t enough

Aud.io canvasThe hi-fi streaming club has another member. Aud.io bills itself as the world’s first high-fidelity Internet radio service. It offers ad-free listening to stations grouped by genre for $7.99 a month. The service uses a Pandora-like system of personalization based on likes and skips. But unlike the online radio standard, there’s no way to add other seeds or artist preferences or new stations. You’re just working with Aud.io’s builds. Right now it’s only out on iOS, but the team is working to add Android, Mac, and PC versions.

The biggest appeal seems to be the sound quality. During a song’s stream, you can tap the Info button to see the file type and bitrates of the song currently playing. I listened on an iPhone 6 with my beloved Bose headphones. The stream sounded fine, but I’m already on record as someone who barely registers the distinctions between the boutique hi-fi tracks and normal streaming quality, so that’s not going to be a big selling point for me.

Aud.io screencapI like to try out the niche genres in these new services; partially because I enjoy both blues and jazz and partially because I think it’s telling of how good a catalog is. The blues station on Aud.io tried to play a huge number of Black Keys soundalikes. Don’t get me wrong, I like the Keys quite a bit. But with a genre as huge as blues, I couldn’t figure out how I’d ever be able to get it to play more of what I was in the mood for (cool electric riffs a la B.B. or Freddie King) when I could only skip five songs an hour.

Listening to the Alternative station was a comparable experience. The genre classifications are just too general for the amount of customization available. My stream wandered from the B-52s and the Ramones to Imagine Dragons, which made for a very disjointed session. I heard more artists, including some that I didn’t recognize, but there’s no way to look through previously heard songs, so I’ll never be able to track them down now. Even though Aud.io promises the potential for discovery, that clearly isn’t the point of using this service.

It can be misleading to take an app for a test drive when it’s still in the very first stages of launch. I had to be on a Wi-Fi network for the app to work in the first place, and the program crashed twice on me while listening. But seeing as it only just hit the app store on Monday, I’m willing to overlook that as part of working out the kinks.

More than any technical issues, my concerns are about the niche Aud.io is trying to carve out for itself. It’s digging into some sectors that don’t seem underserved at the moment. The people who want to pay for better audio quality can already throw their dollars at Deezer, Tidal, or Pono. It’s about the lowest price you can pay for a hi-fi service, so for those listeners to want ALAC and FLAC files or nothing, this is worth your consideration. But those hard-core music fans also have definite tastes and encyclopedic knowledge, so the low degree of personalization may not be enough to convert them from other services.

Entering into this very focused sector seems like a high-risk proposition. It is early enough in the app’s cycle that there could be surprises in store, but at this stage it’s unclear whether Aud.io will be able to offer something unique enough to survive.

Anna Washenko