Which music streaming service has the best audio quality?

Smartphone with big headphones.Olga Miltsova / Shutterstock.com

Tidal HiFi Plus has the best audio quality out there, followed by Amazon Music Unlimited and Apple Music’s lossless audio.

There are plenty of streaming music services to choose from, but not all of them are created equal. Audio quality is one area where they can differ greatly. So which one sounds best? Let’s find out.

In general, streaming music over the internet means it won’t 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 read this article, you will notice that a few different units are 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 usually used as a benchmark 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 more quietly without losing detail. kHz: This measures the sampling rate for lossy, lossless, and uncompressed file types. Essentially, it tells you how many audio samples are taken per second. Higher numbers aren’t always better, but it’s usually a good sign.

RELATED: What Is Lossless Audio?

Tidal HiFi Plus: 9216 kbps

Tide logo.

Tidal hit the market in 2014 and it was one of the first streaming services to place great emphasis on audio quality. It is still one of the best services if you care about sound quality.

There are three Tidal levels, two of which provide high-quality audio. The “Tidal HiFi” plan is best for most people. It delivers audio up to CD quality, which is equivalent to 1411 kbps. A step above is the “Tidal HiFi Plus” plan, which adds “Tidal Masters” lossless audio that goes up to 24bit/192kHz, 9216kbps. Tidal supports AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MQA.

That extra high quality comes at a price: Tidal HiFi Plus costs $19.99 per month.

Amazon Music Unlimited: 3730 kbps

amazon music logo

A more affordable option for high-quality audio is Amazon Music Unlimited. It’s $10 a month or $9 if you’re a Prime subscriber. Prime Unlimited uses FLAC for high-res audio, which is up to 24bit/192kHz. For the best possible quality, look for tracks labeled ‘Ultra HD’.

Most high-resolution tracks are labeled “High Definition”, which go up to 1411 kbps. One advantage of Music Unlimited over others is that the desktop app can also play high-quality audio up to 3730 kbps. You are not just limited to your phone.

Apple Music (Lossless): 1411 kbps

Apple Music

Apple Music is a good choice if you’re looking for high-quality audio that doesn’t cost that much. Lossless audio can be enabled on the standard $10 per month subscription. Apple uses its own proprietary codec (ALAC) and AAC for CD-quality streams.

There are some caveats if you want the best possible sound quality from Apple Music. First, the desktop app is limited to just 256 kbps. Second, lossless audio only works through wired headphones. If you meet the requirements, you will enjoy 24bit/192kHz quality.

What about Spotify Hi-Fi?

spotify logo

You may have noticed that one of the biggest names in music streaming hasn’t been mentioned yet. Spotify Premium’s highest audio quality settings only go up to 320 kbps. However, in early 2021, the company announced “Spotify HiFi”.

As of October 2022, Spotify HiFi is still not launched. When it does, Spotify claims it will “deliver music in CD-quality, lossless audio format to your device and Spotify Connect compatible speakers.” That usually means 1411 kbps and 24bit/192kHz.

Spotify has not shared whether this will be included for Premium subscribers or whether it will require a new subscription. Either way, the music streaming leader is lagging behind in this area.

RELATED: How to Get the Most Out of Spotify Premium

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