Sound quality: Apple Music vs Spotify vs Tidal

Music streaming services are not build the same, down to the audio quality that is delivered to you. Apple Music streams its music at 256kbps using AAC format, Spotify is using Ogg Verbs format at 320kbps for its premium subscribers, and Tidal is touting its CD quality lossless streaming as its major selling point.

On paper, Apple Music seems to be the worst off. But it is widely acknowledged that 256kbps AAC sounds as good and often better than 320kbps Ogg Vorbis or MP3 due to AAC’s better encoding scheme. Tidal appears to be the one with the best sound quality out of the three. But in real world listening, there probably is not much difference between all three streaming services in term of sound quality.

The Verge did an audio blind test comparing Apple Music, Spotify and Tidal

The results were very, very surprising to me. It was generally random across the board, though Spotify fared slightly worse than Apple Music and Tidal overall. In roughly 29 percent of the tests, subjects couldn’t tell any notable difference at all. Tidal — which wants you to pay more for lossless quality — most definitely didn’t take the crown, and in several cases, subjects actually identified it as the worst-sounding of the three.

It is generally very hard to do an audio blind test. Typically you need high end audio equipments in order to better discern the sound differences. The Verge is using a small sample group and only tested three songs. They are using a under $100 headphone (Sony MDR-7506) paired with iPhone 6 Plus,  suggesting they are getting feedback from normal listening setup. 

It is debatable if the test is conclusive. But one thing is certain: the difference in sound quality among the streaming services doesn’t matter if you do not have an audiophile quality headphone or speaker.