There are plenty of streaming music services to choose from, but they’re not all created equal. Audio quality is one area where they can differ greatly. So which one sounds the best? Let’s find out.
Generally, streaming music over the internet means it’s not going to sound as good as physical media or local audio files. High quality audio requires more data. However, there are some services that offer high-quality streaming music.
What Do All These Numbers Mean?
As you’re reading this article, you’ll notice a few different units being used. The main one is “kbps” (kilobits per second), plus there’s “bit” and “kHz” (kilohertz). Here’s what you need to know.
- Kbps: The “bitrate” of the audio file. It’s a similar concept to video resolution—the higher the number, the better it sounds. Kbps is mostly used as the metric for regular, compressed audio files.
- 24bit: The bit depth of lossless file types (AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MQA, etc) and uncompressed file types (WAV). This measures the dynamic range of the file. The higher the number, the more depth there is. You can listen to it quieter without losing detail.
- kHz: This measures the sampling rate for lossy, lossless, and uncompressed filetypes. Essentially, it tells you how many samples of audio are taken per second. Higher numbers are not always better, but it’s usually a good sign.
RELATED: What Is Lossless Audio?
Tidal HiFi Plus: 9216 kbps
Tidal burst onto the scene in 2014, and it was one of the first streaming services to put a big emphasis on audio quality. It’s still one of the best services if you care about audio quality.
There are three Tidal tiers, two of which offer high-quality audio. The “Tidal HiFi” plan is the best for most people. It serves up audio up to CD-quality, which is equivalent to 1411kbps. A step above is the “Tidal HiFi Plus” plan, which adds “Tidal Masters” lossless audio that goes up to 24bit / 192kHz, 9216 kbps. Tidal supports AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MQA.
That extra high quality comes at a price—Tidal HiFi Plus is $19.99 per month.
Amazon Music Unlimited: 3730 kbps
A more affordable option for high-quality audio is Amazon Music Unlimited. It’s $10 per month or $9 if you’re a Prime subscriber. Prime Unlimited uses FLAC for high-res audio, which comes out up to 24bit/192kHz. For the best possible quality, look for tracks labeled “Ultra HD.”
The majority of the high-res tracks are labeled “High Definition,” which go up to 1411kbps. One advantage of Music Unlimited over some of the others is the desktop app is also capable of playing high-quality audio up to 3730 kbps. You’re not just limited to your phone.
Apple Music (Lossless): 1411 kbps
Apple Music is a sleeper pick if you’re looking for high-quality audio that doesn’t cost so much. Lossless audio can be enabled on the standard $10 per month plan. Apple uses its own proprietary codec (ALAC) and AAC for CD-quality streams.
There are some caveats if you want the best possible audio quality from Apple Music. First, the desktop app is capped at only 256 kbps. Second, lossless audio only works over wired headphones. If you meet the requirements, you’ll enjoy 24bit/192kHz quality.
What About Spotify HiFi?
You may have noticed one of the biggest names in music streaming hasn’t been mentioned yet. Spotify Premium‘s highest audio quality settings only goes up to 320 kbps. However, in early 2021, the company announced “Spotify HiFi.”
As of October 2022, Spotify HiFi has still not launched. When it does, Spotify claims it will “deliver music in CD-quality, lossless audio format to your device and Spotify Connect-enabled speakers.” That typically means 1411 kbps and 24bit/192kHz.
Spotify did not share whether this will be included for Premium subscribers or if it will require a new plan. Regardless, the leader in music streaming is lagging behind in this area.
RELATED: YouTube Music vs. Spotify: Which Is Better for Streaming?
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