Adventures In Audio

The Price of Instant Playback: How Spotify Sacrificed Music for Speed (Turntable Tips series)

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Editing SECRETS revealed!:  It comes down to the purpose of the design.
McDonald's was designed to answer the question, "How can we use unskilled teens to provide a consistent hamburger at the lowest price and make a profit?" It was never intended to answer the question , "What is the best of nutrition for each individual's best health ever?"
The Internet's TCP/IP standards suite was designed to answer the question, "Given trusted people inside trusted institutions connected by trusted networks, how can we share computer resources even if connecting nodes are randomly up and down?" It does that brilliantly. It was never designed to answer the question, "How do we protect network resources when bad people can access any of them remotely?" and we are paying that price today.
Spotify was designed to answer the question, "How do we maximize minimally adequate, lowest cost per user audio delivery to listeners who prize fast response and convenience and have minimal interest in highest quality sound, and we do so at a profit for us?"
Neal Young tried to answer the question, "How do we design digital audio for highest sound quality even if that's more expensive and somewhat less convenient?" and not enough people cared about that answer. Spotify also wasn't designed to answer the question, "How can we maximize the opportunity of musicians to make a living?"
For many people, "I can tell it's got a good beat and I can dance to it" matters more than anything about perfect sound quality.

Mark VanOsdol:  CDs are my choice, but Spotify works for party nights where tending to the music interrupts the games .

Editing SECRETS revealed! replies to Mark VanOsdol: I think you're Spotify's perfect customer!

Bennett Theissen:  Spotify is the fast food of music. It doesn't sound good, it isn't good for you, and it gives too much money to rich asshats who don't deserve it. I like Bandcamp.

Peter S:  Apple Music (on Apple TV & Mac) often cuts off the start of a track, due to the fact it takes about 1s for the audio path to un-mute when one presses play. Not always an issue when an album’s subsequent tracks play.
This affects both streamed audio and audio stored locally.

Cameras, Clocks & Watches:  A 10£ cd is still good value.

DrBassFace:  I noticed uploading a HD Master of one of my originals sounds better on SoundCloud than on YouTube… both streaming but YouTube must cut down the quality.

Audio Masterclass replies to DrBassFace: This is something I might look into in a future video. DM

TeeKay:  So here's the deal. Spotify didn't invent this, the internet supports streaming using a protocol call UDP which doesn't care if packets get lost. Every bit of music and video online follows the principle, and it's baked into the basic design. Assuming this is sinister (or even novel) just displays a lack of knowledge about how i.e. the internet works.

Even when using "lossless" music services, they use the same exact design as spotify. So it's never literally lossless, unless you're streaming ripped CD's from your server in your home. When these services say they're "lossless", it means they're streaming 16-44 audio (CD quality), not that they don't lose data. Some lossless services offer up to 24-192 audio, which is theoretically better than a CD., but even those are subject to the rules of traffic on the internet.

Audio Masterclass replies to TeeKay: This isn't my understanding of the clip, which I don't think explained the issue fully anyway. It isn't about lossless versus lossy, it's about how quickly the music starts to play. In the clip, it's said that the standard internet protocol is what's causing the delay, so they find a way to work around that, causing some of the audio, or perhaps some of the resolution of the audio, to be lost, presumably at the start before there's time to buffer. But that isn't the real issue here, it's the fact that - according to the clip - no-one will notice and that doesn't matter. I think it does matter and as technology improves I expect to hear the whole of the music, exactly as the mastering engineer heard it when it left their studio. DM

ThewayICit:  You and I care about the fidelity of the music but for the vast majority of people out there, it only has to be good enough. What should matter more to every one, is what music you choose to listen to and how accessible it is.
But now that music is inexpensive to listen to and so widely available, the value has declined for most people.

Editing SECRETS revealed! replies to ThewayICit: Billiionaires of media access hardware and online services have successfully and ruthlessly commoditized their complements. Complement is whatever you need to add to something to make your experience completely satisyfing. Commoditize is to make it interchangeable and only sellable at the lowest possible price, regardless of how many providers it puts out of business.
Car makers haven't been able to make gasoline free or only a penny a gallon, even though that would make cars more appealing. Washing machine makers haven't been able to get soap makers to accept only getting a penny a packet. But companies that provide our equipment and services for music have succeeded at making music essentially worthless, boosting the value of our gadgets and subscriptions.
Meanwhile Spotify's billionaire owner haughtily lectures musicians that they just need to do better if they want a living from their cute little irrelevant creativity which boosts his service's value proposition.
Henry Ford eventually realized he needed to pay the people who built his cars enough to buy the cars they built. There's no Henry Ford for the music industry yet.

When Better Cars Are Built:  I use Spotify to determine if there is any music I would like to buy on CD. But now most new music isn't even released on CD. I have 5000 CDs, but now I MIGHT buy 3 or 4 CDs a year now. And I NEVER buy dowloads.

craig miller:  I only stream when fidelity isn’t the issue. 🧐🤨👍

Focuspix video & audio services:  its practically unimportant...having said that Soundcloud messes with my low end! I'm guessing data transfer will become cheaper ..

Seiskid:  CD players do the same thing. If they mis read a section - and the error correction can't rebuild it - guess what - they mute. The theory is provided the mute is less than a certain fraction of a second, you won't even notice it. You'd notice the corrupted garbage. But not the silent section. Especially if you are not expecting it to be missing.

medonk12rs:  After 10 years with Spotify I tried Qobuz and Tidal last year. Strangely enough, Qobuz sounds better - even when arguably the same album / album version / master is played. Maybe has to do with normalization and/or watermarking.
Anyway, happy Qobuz user now. 🙂

medonk12rs replies to medonk12rs: @TeeKay thanks for the hint with MQA's bankruptcy... I am surprised all the HiFi youtubers didn't release a lot of content on this "issue" yet.

TeeKay replies to medonk12rs: @medonk12rs My DAC supports MQA, but I haven't tried it since it costs significantly more than flac 24-192, and I don't see how it could be better.

Plus, didn't MQA just declare bankruptcy?

thepuma2012 replies to medonk12rs: @medonk12rs ok thanks

medonk12rs replies to medonk12rs: @thepuma2012 ... in my comparisons between Tidal (FLAC / non-MQA) and Qobuz (FLAC) Qobuz always won.
Since I don't have MQA capable equipment, I cannot comment on TIDAL+MQA.

thepuma2012 replies to medonk12rs: I listen via Qobuz too, I think they sound better because they use lossless FLAC, tidal s mqa seems to be not lossless. Only comment on qobuz I have there is difference in how loud tracks are played.

D. Wyn:  Besides listening to or watching music videos on Youtube, I do not consume music through streaming services. You lose quality for convenience. I check stuff out on Youtube to get an idea about what I am investing my money into when buying music. I want quality.

Carlos Quijano:  Frankly I don’t listen any difference between my CDs and the Spotify Premium version…

DAMN11KIDS:  What about downloading lossless? :o

Editing SECRETS revealed! replies to DAMN11KIDS: When it eventually arrives, you have your own lossless copy on your own device. What you don't have is instant playback of the other billion songs in the streaming service's library, which is the point of the video.

Alvaro Medina:  I don't care if some of the music is lost, as long as it's not too perceptible. I use Spotify (and Youtube, BTW) for convenience. I want the real deal I pay the download or CD. But perhaps that's just me, who was used to "guess" the music over the hiss in 10th-generation cassettes.

About the tests: I uploaded myself the tracks of my band's albums to CDBaby/Spotify, tracks that were ripped directly from the original CDs, burned from the master in a professional facility. When the tracks showed in Spotify I did an A/B test and didnt' find differences. Of course it can be some link in the chain that degraded the master so it didn't matter, or just I have bad ears.

Manea Marius:  We are free to choose.We live in a free world.If we want quantity over quality YES choose streaming ( which is open to all kind of errors( data loss, internet speed, etc ) if you want want CD quality dont be penny wise and buy CD .

Genesis replies to Manea Marius: "It's a free market, Manny. Not a free world." - 2 Guns (2013)

Roger Muggleton:  Practically all the music i hear is classical music, and my reference is the live concert. You might think this ensures pure undamaged music but of course it does not. The listening experience will vary depending on where I sit (or stand), the people around me, other extraneous noises in the concert hall, and where I am looking. If I move my head the sound balance changes. If I stand at the front then I am usually nearer to the leader (violin) than most of the other orchestral players, each of which hears a different balance. If I stand in the middle of the hall, or sit at the back, my experience will be different. If I sit on the floor, the sound will change, as it will if I rest my head on the back of my seat. And being long past retirement age, my ears distort very loud music, and filter out the higher frequencies.

This summer I will travel hundreds of miles to listen to two or three dozen classical concerts at the Proms in London. I will stand at the front, among friends who I've known for years and who all love the music. The experience of this greatly surpasses any musical or audio imperfections, and even the ache in my legs and the various smells emanating from others there!

Listening to recordings is very different, regardless of the recorded quality. But you can still be transported to another place, a place that only those who allow themselves to be moved there by the music will know.

frogandspanner replies to Roger Muggleton: I find that live music has distortions: the outer ear distorts, and at Symphony Hall, on the Ledge, positioning of my head relative to the seat was important. I use the past tense because I have hardly been to a concert there since Rattle left, and his band was made to play easy-listening classical music.

The greatest distortion was at the climax of a piece that had four percussion sections, and the percussionists and brass donned ear-defenders before the four-gong conclusion ©. If anybody has any suggestions as to what that piece might be I'd like to hear them - and hearing was more than I could do after those gongs.

Fred Johnson:  No self repespecting audiophile listens to Spotify. And you're right, if ppl understood how the internet works, specifically TCP/IP, they wouldn't worry about losing packets. VINYL FOREVER!!! and some streaming is good too...

TeeKay replies to Fred Johnson: @Fred Johnson When it comes to audiophiles, you can never be sure.... ;)

Fred Johnson replies to Fred Johnson: @TeeKay that was all tongue in cheek - glad to see somebody knows networking

TeeKay replies to Fred Johnson: "No self repespecting audiophile listens to Spotify."

Even in their cars? And they likely use UDP not TCP. Probably most services do that. Look up the difference between UDP and TCP.

Zibi Konti:  I have listen to streaming service for last 15 years. First Spotify until ~2014 but I found the quality of the music, well spotty. Migrated to Tidal Master but confused with MQA controversy I started to compare tracs with Qobuz. And I found Qobuz the best in terms the quality of music. HiRes is great but honestly I am not sure that I can tell the difference between well recorded lossless CD standard and HiRes on Qobuz. I hope and believe that I get real lossless CD or better honest stream of all true bits delivered to my PC on time. However, with the upgrade of my gear to HiFiMan HPhones and RME ADI-2 Dac I have started to question the quality of the recordings. I think that it is fascinating subject to cover. We all are focused on the quality of our gear (streaming/transport, DACs, Headphones amps, power amps & speakers) but what about the quality of the master recording? Proper mixing? I dare to say distortion on the master ? Why most recordings are so excellent (examples: Sting, Sade, most of Miles Davis, Pink Floyd) and other sound flat, compressed (emp: U2) or even poor and distorted (old Simon & Garfunkel recording). I am not complaining about musicians who use distortion as a way of creative expression like John Fruciante who distorts his guitars and / or vocals quite frequently. I hope on purpose :) Interested in your comments.

Mark Hayman:  Hi , another interesting and informative video, it transpires that Spotify on the premium sub is ACC 256kbits/sec, how ever they we’re supposed to bring out Spotify platinum or Spotify hifi back in 2021 but still waiting. Also talking about in charging $19.99 for this service .regards mark

Audio Masterclass replies to Mark Hayman: Lossless on Spotify has been a long time in coming, and may still be a long time yet. We live in hope. DM

Somebloke:  Interesting. Yesterday, I listened to One World by John Martyn via Spotify and simultaneously recorded it using Audacity. I bought the LP back in the 80s btw. I burned a CD from it and listened to it on my hifi expecting it to sound better than the record. Needless to say, it didn't (apart from the lack of clicks and pops etc). If anyone's interested, the Spotify app for Brave browser means you get it sans ads without a subscription.

Emmanuel Gutierrez:  I have a Bluetooth speaker in the bathroom and listen to Spotify when I shower. It’s not for critical listening.

Ian Roberts:  I sold/donated/gave away my system and over 1500 items of physical media 18 months ago just before we emigrated.
For me now, streaming is my only option. I use a pair of Kef LS50W2 with 2GB Fibre internet. Obviously I am unable to compare cd/lp and stream but suffice to say that I’m extremely satisfied with the experience I get from this method of listening.
I completely understand those who will only ever want physical product - been there, done it, had the t-shirt. But sometimes priorities change as do necessities. As long as I can listen, I’m happy.
Also I don’t consider myself an audiophile but a musophile

Lillie:  I think there's something to be said for just how EASY it is to find music using streaming. It's all free, or if you want no ads for a low subscription. It's all easy to access. A WORLD of discovery is at your fingertips, and there's so many countless playlists for different genres and artists and vibes that you just couldn't realistically achieve on a physical medium. Streaming is an absolutely fantastic way to find new music the exact way you want to.

When I've listened to an album enough on streaming, that's when I start to think about graduating to a physical copy. I think using streaming to find new music and CDs or other physical media to keep the music you like is honestly kind of the perfect system, because you're not locked into buying an album just to listen to it only to realize you don't like it very much.

Maids and Muses replies to Lillie: @Audio Masterclass Indeed. Add cloud services for your music "downloads" and your family & holiday photos and it is easy to predict where this is all heading.
Call me old-fashioned but I'm still buying CDs and storing my own data on my own storage media; that way they won't have me over a barrel (quite so easily). I don't need instant access to all my digital data anywhere in the world (when did that become a necessity anyway?) 😉

Audio Masterclass replies to Lillie: @Maids and Muses This is what I said in the 1980s, that there would come a point where people would pay £1000/year for their home entertainment. The cost of music streaming is low, but the providers surely must want to segment the market so there's a rock channel, pop channel etc, all individually subscribed. And then $10/month for Taylor Swift, $10/month for Ed Sheeran. £1000/year might be cheap compared to what's coming. DM

Maids and Muses replies to Lillie: I totally agree with the try-before-you-buy policy. But I only do that using "free" ( = ad-supported) services, such as this platform. Then if I really like it, I buy the CD. (DVDs/ BluRays I rarely buy, I prefer music to films)
The music streaming subscription cost may seem low like you suggest, but with so many "services" now moving to a subscription model, it all adds up at the end of the month. Here in the UK it is all too easy to start spending a thousand Pounds per year if not more on subscription services if you are not careful!

Audio Masterclass replies to Lillie: I can agree with this. If I see a film I like on Netflix, Prime etc, then if I really like it I'll buy the blu-ray. DM

Robert Westinghouse:  Cannot see the value in streaming service. Call me old.. I like to have the music on my PC/CD and play it when and how often I like

vince snetterton:  most people nowadays want wireless, and bluetooth, and mp3, not hifi.

Worthington Model Railway:  I have with the advent of lossless availability been streaming more than I used to! However it has quickly become obvious that the streaming files are not the same as the CD versions. Many stream files are marked as “remaster” and have basically been f’d with by the streaming service. I enjoy the simplicity of streaming but sometimes am disappointed with what I’m hearing. I’ve started using streaming to preview what I’m going to order on CD knowing I’ll probably enjoy the CD more!

sportscarnut:  The test idea is great. Just do a bit difference.

T Brown:  Oddly, I often find Apple Music to sound the best of the three I use, Spotify and Amazon music being the other. Go figure.

QT Duck:  "When we're listening to streaming music ... we're listening to about a tenth of the music."

I guess it's in reference to the size of the data after compression, which is typically 1/10 of the 'original' 16-Bit/44.1KHz data size. Actually these days studio masters are more like 24-bit/96K to 32-bit/192K. So using this size logic, when we listen to a CD, we're already only listening to about 30.6% (16/24 * 44.1/96) to 11.5% (16/32 * 44.1/192) of the original. But wait, there's more. Sound waves, before digitization, are continuous. A time interval, no matter how small, contains infinitely many samples. So even if you sample it at a million Hz per second, you're still getting exactly 0% of the music. Oh bummer. (Actually I lied. We know from quantum mechanics that time has a minimum interval called the Planck interval. So sound wave is not exactly continuous. But I'll leave that calculation to the concerned reader. Hint: it'll still be very close to zero.)

Here's a little Zen puzzle. If you record a minute of total silence (say, in an acoustic chamber), and compress it, will you be listening to only 1/10 of the silence?

At this point, my head hurts so much I have no more bandwidth to analyze the Spotify issue.

Editing SECRETS revealed! replies to QT Duck: This is why I only listen to minimalism on streaming services. If a measure of a Philip Glass piece is missing, you can just rerun the previous measure. This is why minimalism, Philip Glass measure. Is why mimimalism, streaming Philip Glass rerun.

Audio Masterclass replies to QT Duck: I skimmed over that but the reality is that a compressed file can consume a tenth or less data than the original WAV and still sound passably good, to the point that few people would notice the difference. Regarding silence - As far as I understand it, John Cage's (who I have worked for) 4′33″ is meant to focus the listener's attention on the sounds that are normally considered to be silence. Noise doesn't work well with data compression, so the artefacts might be interesting. DM

Hello Meat Robots:  While we're talking about imperfectly delivered music at the beginning of songs, how about pre-echo on LPs? I'll wager that's far more audible than whatever tricks Spotify plays to get minimal response time from their play button. I mean, if I can hear it, than it's gotta drive golden eared audiophiles nuts.

Editing SECRETS revealed! replies to Hello Meat Robots: You mean you're not using the platinum core, dodo feather wrapped $3,000 cables that optimize pre-echo warmth??

Stephen Rubke:  For me, there is an important distinction between critical listening and casual listening. 95% (or more) of my music consumption is casual. And while I love sitting down in my living room and playing albums on my hifi, most of my life I’m out and about using my phone and Bluetooth headphones.

The thing is, all of the loss that occurs between the multiple compressions before the music gets to my ears and brain seems pretty negligible to me. I’ve done the lossy v lossless blind test and my 42 year old ears cannot tell the difference reliably.

Having grown up on cassettes and then CDs through decidedly lofi equipment, I’m genuinely impressed by what we can get through these lossy formats and relatively affordable headphones and speakers. I contend that this is a golden age for music lovers of all ages. Quality is so important, but I think anyone who believes Spotify’s highest quality setting sounds bad is just being an audiophile gatekeeper. Whatever degradation is there, it’s so subtle and negligible that it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the music. And the numbers of users/subscribers bears out that fact.

Citizen:  My streaming service of choice is Apple Music, and my preferences are set to play lossless when possible. When I drive to work, I go through a mobile data deadzone for about 20 minutes. Apple Music very seldom stops playback, even when I'm playing a play list of stuff I've never heard before. This tells me that the player is streaming far ahead of playback, and is able to rely on its buffer for quite a long time. Of course, prior to that deadzone I'm getting 5G data a rates good enough to stream 4K video with a multi-channel audio. We have very fast mobile data now, and audio data rates, even 24 bit lossless, are not much of a challenge for most of us. (And yes, as a consumer, I do like music streaming services, even if at the same time I recognise artists aren't getting much of a fair deal).

Steve Wille:  I’d love to see Spotify make the leap to lossless as they have been promising for several years. As I have recently become to understand, the delay is not technical; Spotify employees have been beta-testing this successfully for some time now. The issue is financial; Spotify negotiated licenses from record labels for lossless/HD streaming several years ago when they thought they would be able to provide it at a financial premium to customer. In the meantime, both Apple and Amazon have introduced it at no-charge. Spotify can’t compete, providing it for free, without losing money on the licenses in place. Along with the entirely passible sound of Spotify’s highest quality setting when played through a competent digital stack, I fear we may never see Spotify “HiFi”.

Thomas Shea:  Amazon Prime Music has the best - lossless streaming available. Quite excellent.

G8YTZ:  Interesting video. Here is my take: My sources are Spotify, CD, FM radio and Vinyl. My equipment is a Quad 66 CD/34/FM4/405 with Rogers LS7 Loudspeakers, Garrard 401/SME 3009 v2 and Linn Akurate stream receiver. I use Spotify at home and in my car and also have an extensive FLAC/24 bit music collection on a Synology RAID media server.

What I have learnt is there really is no discernible difference between the CD player and Spotify on the Linn (@320kb/s) playing the same album in an A/B comparison. This was auditioned by myself (an ex-BBC engineer) and a friend who is a current BBC sound supervisor and musician. He has a very similar system to me, but with the Rogers Studio 1 loudspeakers. For vinyl my 401/SME/in an SMD Acoustics granite plinth with A&R P77 that's been re-tipped by Expert Stylus Co makes old vinyl sound absolutely fantastic. I have some very high quality Archiv Productions classical pressings from the 1960s & 70s as well as some very good modern pressings. Vinyl is great if you want to hear old recordings in their original form in the way they were originally intended to be heard. Listing to old music on digital media is a bit like looking through modern double glazed windows installed in a Georgian house, yes the image might be better, but the imperfections in the old glass ad the glazing bars is part of the charm and the experience.

My conclusion is that I've no idea what kind of magic fairy dest Linn sprinkle on their stream receivers (I guess it is down to a very stable clock, great codec, jitter management, PSU etc.) but whatever they do but they seem to achieve the impossible by making a service like Spotify sound as good as an old, but well designed, CD player that uses the Philips chip set. At the time this chip set was always considered to be the best and was also had first over sampled DAC (4x). Older CD players, like the Quad, also support equalisation switching used on many analogue mastered CDs. Modern players seem to have forgotten about the two equalisation standards on a CD.

As you say, other so called "lossless" services (lossless means in my book not loss free, just loses less than other compression systems) seem to be more based on marketing nonsense than actually better sound quality. The best theoretical sound quality is available with streaming radio stations such as the German station Mother Earth Radio (96kHz/24bit FLAC, 4.6Mb/s) but the Linn Radio which is 24bit/320kb/s sounds just as good. I trialed both Apple Music and Tidal, neither impressed me, plus the only two mainstream streaming services that support continuation albums that I've found are Spotify and Deezer, yet the Columbia Long-Playing record supported this feature from day one of its launch in 1948 and tape supported this even earlier! At the tine of writing this is March 2023, will they ever catch up?

My conclusion is that with streaming services it's largely all down to the the quality of the stream receiver and what it does with the received stream.

EgoShredder:  Not sure I could make it through six episodes of cringe acting and dialogue like that. 🤣 I've never used any subscription service where I do not own the content, but everything is about speed and convenience these days with few other if any considerations.

Foto Brell:  An interesting test would be to take the lost parts of the music and try if you can recognize the original song

Animal lives matter:  I don't understand what the Swedish clip is talking about - packet loss should trigger retransmission so no data should actually be lost at the user's end. If data was lost, the audio quality would be degraded very severely and very noticeably, to a degree that vast majority of users would not find acceptable. Akin to packet loss during a video conference call, where the video freezes momentarily and audio cuts out intermittently.

Chris Bartram replies to Animal lives matter: i also have no idea what they were trying to get across. Are they saying that they lower the bitrate at the start of the track to fill a buffer more quickly, so the track starts playing quicker?

Citizen replies to Animal lives matter: @Audio Masterclass I think Spotify (and many other streamers) used a transmission mode called UDP, that doesn't not ensure that every packet is delivered. Now, they use TCP instead, and that's detects packet loss and re-transmits at the transport level. As they are using TCP, we can be sure that packets are not lost.

Audio Masterclass replies to Animal lives matter: The drama is clearly simplified and we don't know what was lost. If I had to guess, it would be that the stream started at a very low data rate then quickly switched to high, 'high' in relative terms of course. That's just a guess and we'd need a time machine, or inside information, to really find out. DM

TYLER O:  I have an excellent Gold Note streaming dac. I rarely listen to it. I much prefer vinyl. Its an experience listening to vinyl.

Paul Henner:  Thanks for confirming what my ears have been telling me !

💰 Make $756 Per Day:  "I don't want to get to the end of my life and find that I lived just the length of it. I want to have lived the width of it as well." _Diane Ackerman

Calum McGregor:  Have collected music for past 6 decades ... LPs?... fine in theory but I hated pops, cracks, scratches, warps, crappy pressings and the whole hassle factor ..... loved the gate folds and liner notes though ... collected 1,200 LPs over the years .... cassettes? .. not for me ... CDs in theory should "work" but some of the digitization has not been stellar, had several bronzed CDs and endless rounds of remastering to buy over and over... though, for convenience, and progressively better mastering etc CDs are still worth buying (I have over 3,000) ... I also rip my CDs to easily access my tunes (150,000 plus) ... having discovered the wonders of using an external DAC on my PC to listen to my music I now subscribe to Qobuz for listening / trying out music (Spotify quality was not good) ... and I really, genuinely. do enjoy streaming HiRes from Qobuz to DAC to my ears ... I am really appreciating the oppottunity / pleasure to listen, in great audio quality, to a lot of music each month for a subscription price equivalen to the cost of a single CD ... for me HiRes streaming absolutely "works" ... and I like Qobuz ... (tried Tidal but was not convinced by MQA) ... I still buy plenty of CDs ... but these are more informed choices ... often of artists or genres "new" to me .... purchases based on listening first ... Qobuz does need a better search engine though, but no doubt that will come in due course. I have also been buying a few albums in HiRes on BluRay because I enjoy the listening experience (stereo, not 5.1 or Atmos) ... p.s. I don't have remotely expensive kit to get a great sound ... and not a stylus in sight in my house anymore .. and, apart from a few signed copies, the LPs are gone .... CMcG, Aberdeen, Scotland ...p.p.s. enjoyed the video

David from America:  People don’t know how streaming works. Repeat:
People don’t know how streaming works. Repeat, people don’t know how streaming works.
Repeat, you don’t know how streaming works. If you did you would not be posting this video in the first place.

Garrick:  I’ve had subscriptions to Tidal, Spotify, Prime music and Deezer over the past few years. MQA on Tidal got on my nerves as it was always much loader than other tracks. Loader doesn’t equal better. Spotify has an enormous library but many are very poor quality tracks. Prime has a limited library but the quality was good. Currently using Deezer and it’s a mid point compromise, good library and quality of sound. I have a small record collection (about 160) and a small CD collection (about 100) but rarely play them due to ease of streaming music. I have done some direct comparisons with my CD to the streaming version and they are different but it’s had to pin down which is better. A bit like the analogue verses digital thing, they are different but not sure which I would consider to be better. I would argue streaming is the new ‘radio’ and I/we have to accept we will never actually own our playlists. BTW enjoying your musings 😊

TeeKay replies to Garrick: Qobuz is pretty good but without the selection of Spotify, but good enough to be acceptable for $11/month.

And I think you're overstating the problems with Spotify. Spotify is perfect for listening on you PC, in your car, and often in your home.

Chunksville replies to Garrick: MQA would have been a good solution 10 years ago but with the now available band width its not needed plus its awash with marketing voodoo. It's always difficult to compare streaming with physical discs as there is no guarantee the master source is the same

Tim Miller replies to Garrick: Fully agree on that with a hint to try Qobuz maybe for free 3 month long-. Oitried even more and found Qobuz to have the best sound quality (library of HiRes recording in Jazz and Classic at least very huge) and it does not really stand behind when it comes to the overall music library compared to the biggest streaming services.

Patrick Cashmore:  Yesterday, speaking of streaming, I put an Analogue productions 1/2 speed “master” on my Rega P/10, Jethro Tull’s 2nd album Stand Up. It was good but didn’t blow me away, (which for $60.00) it should have! So I started thinking ah-ha why don’t I stream the same album through my HIFI Rose 250 DAC and sync them both track by track through my Prima Luna Evo300 pre and monoblock Evo 300’s, via Qobuz. Groove to groove as it were and switching between aux1 and aux2, turntable and dac respectively, I was quite astounded at the results; the streamed version was right on one to one as far as timing, furthermore the streamed version though brighter was extremely impressive making me question the 60 bucks I put out for the LP. For reasons only emotion can explain I still preferred the LP, mostly for it’s warmth.

Tim Miller replies to Patrick Cashmore: How I like your comment after all this enthusiasts who feel sorry for me ( I have sometimes the impression) not to own a 5 or 10000 bucks player with your 60 bucks record and wanna tell me how much better this is than ANY digital media. Sorry guys first when it comes to scientifacally compareable numbers digital music IS superior. One might prefer the analogue sound no problem with that and it may have advantages from case to case but its NOT the only way to listen to high quality music. and often not even the best, beside the fact that mixing and mastering is of even greater importance.

Chords Of Orion:  Interesting. After watching this video, I decided I would do a test such as you suggest of Apple Music. I selected a song from my 2021 Album "Wood" and played it through Apple Music at full CD quality, recording the audio at 16-bit/44.1 using Audio Hijack. I then compared it to my original master that was submitted to Apple (also 16-bit/44.1). I then trimmed both files to the same starting and ending samples using iZotope RX 10. Here's what I found out:

1) All LUFS levels (momentary, short-term and integrated) are the same. LU is the same.
2) True peak levels are different. The original is -1.49dB and the Apple Music version is -1.30dB
3) Obviously, the 2 files are not going to null due to the difference in amplitude. But - there is another difference. Some kind of weird stretching of the samples. Both files are the same exact length mathematically and start on the same sample. In RX, they show the same numbers of samples. And they do almost null at the start, but by the end of the 4 minute song, there is a 22 sample offset.

I am not an engineer, so I can imagine what is going on, but at least recording the output of the Apple Music player on my Mac produces slight differences. Not sure if there is a way to capture the audio stream direct without going through the Audio Hijack - this could definitely account for the differences.

Now, can I hear the difference? Not me, with my old man ears.

James S:  Streaming fills the gap for listening to new artists and albums. You like it, buy the vinyl or CD and keep it forever

EgoShredder replies to James S: Finding new music has rarely been an issue for me, as I check out the names of the musicians on any given release and then see what other bands they have been in etc. You can fork off in all directions from just one, and end up with hundreds of albums to check out. Then there are recommendations from friends occasionally.

Manolis Kiagias:  Hopefully, at the current Internet speeds the lossy algorithm used by Spotify will probably not need to lose data as the transfer speeds are usually more than sufficient. But there are other problems with Spotify: You get a lot of remasters and remixes instead of original versions. Many recordings are really low quality and suffer from loudness war like CDs used to. And tracks/artists keep disappearing from playlists as Spotify loses the rights. In the end of the day Spotify is mostly convenience than anything else. It is hard to imagine not using Spotify but it definitely gets infuriating at times.

G8YTZ replies to Manolis Kiagias: I fully agree with your comments, remasters are what I hate about Spotify, I with you could specify a filter for this, plus as you say tracks keep disappearing from your playlists. I use it in the car and for playlists. I buy the music I really like and stuff it on my Plex server.

Maids and Muses:  Streaming? No thanks. Not an issue with sound quality; simply too many modes of potential failure long-term; from streaming service providers dropping some artists at best, to them going bust or a complete breakdown of internet connectivity at worst. There's the environmental footprint as well; the vast majority of songs I will ever listen to in the future I already own on CD or as downloads, so under that pre-condition the environmental footprint of playing the music I already own on CD or DAP is less than streaming it (over and over) from a data centre through my ISP's infrastructure.

Maids and Muses replies to Maids and Muses: @TeeKay Sure. It is about comparing the carbon footprint of streamed music vs. CD in general.
The production of CDs involves oil exploration, distillation & refining for the plastic used, building a manufacturing site, energy for the manufacturing process, packaging, transportation, and distribution.
Setting up a streaming service for music involves the building of one or more data centres (implicitly, they may already exist), manufacturing of data servers, the maintenance and upkeep of the communication infrastructure (internet, ISP etc.)
The play-back of a CD involves the power use of a CD player. The playback of streamed music involves the power use of a computer (or streamer), plus the power use of quite a few data servers in the data centre as well as in the internet infrastructure.
The carbon footprint of these two media are therefore not easy to compare, and would have to be carefully calculated on a per-minute/hour of listening time.

There has been research into the carbon footprint of music streaming vs buying a new CDs now. As expected, the more often you intend to play the same music, the more the carbon-footprint balances in favour of owning & playing the CD. But it is not an easy comparison to make as you would need many more CDs to have access to the same range of different songs you have when streaming. Some (therefore debatable) research suggested that when you play an album for more than 5 hours, buying and playing the CD works out more environmentally friendly than streaming the album (the carbon-footprint of the manufacture & upkeep of the data server & internet infrastructure is rather large, and carbon-offsetting is an accounting fudge that mostly shifts responsibility to other, usually poor, countries).

However, my point was that in my case the music I own I bought on CD already, years or sometimes decades ago. The carbon footprint for the production of those is therefore a past event that cannot be changed. It should be pretty clear that therefore, on a per hour listening basis, going forward playing the CDs I have already owned for years is going to have a lower carbon footprint then streaming the same music. If I were to keep my old CDs (which I will 😁 ) yet constantly stream that same music rather than playing my CDs, I would be more than doubling the carbon footprint of my music listening habit.

TeeKay replies to Maids and Muses: "There's the environmental footprint as well; "

I don't understand this statement. Can you explain it more clearly?

Kaiser:  20 years ago we listened to CD quality music on Dedicated stereo systems.
Today most people listen he heavily lossy compressed music of services such as Spotify. What's more is that this music is played on a lofy cellphone speaker.

The music listening experience has gone downhill big time.

Editing SECRETS revealed! replies to Kaiser: I'm totally flabbergasted at the miserably fuzzy, bareless recognizable sound quality so many people seem to enjoy hearing from their little phone speakers turned way up.

Paul Mack replies to Kaiser: 😫

Hello Meat Robots:  If the lossless music provided by streaming services wasn't, I'm reasonably certain they'd have been called out on it by now. Yes I love Apple Music. Instant access to tens of millions of songs in at least CD quality for the price of a single CD a month? Yes please!

Michael Beeny:  Recorded music has always been about what the general public will accept, and very little about the maximin quality. 8 track, and cassette are two examples. The HiFi side of music only represents a very small part of the industry. Most people simply do not care, few people these days even know what live music sounds like. As a child, most of my music came from AM radio. Caroline, Luxemburg etc. It was never as good as my LPs played on my HiFi system, but I could never buy every piece of music I liked. So AM was my music server.
With so many paid music services about, I wonder what's going to happen when in 10/20 years of paying for these services people wake up and stop paying for one reason or another only to find they have zero music they own and nothing to play!

G8YTZ replies to Michael Beeny: Don’t forget DAB, a travesty for audio quality and ultimately why the format has failed. OFCOMs numbers conflate “Digital” with online streaming to try and hide the near zero DAB listening figures. I thoroughly believe DAB should be closed down in this country, like they have done in Ireland and the existing transmitter antennas repurposed for more digital TV channels on Band III. Digital radio can be introduced by using DRM+ alongside existing FM analogue services on Band II 88-108MHz. Just about every digital television sold in this country has the capability to receive TV transmissions on Band III, just add a suitable receive antenna.

G8YTZ replies to Michael Beeny: @Paul Mack True, but Spotify quality is actually very good, it’s just all those “remastered” versions that annoy me. Spotify is great for that car and exploring new music before you buy.

Paul Mack replies to Michael Beeny: Its all about convenience not quality...just look at our fast food industry.Crying shame.

G8YTZ replies to Michael Beeny: I followed up in the 1970s with my own pirate station, Radio North Kent, one of the first land based pirates to broadcast in stereo (Radio Invicta was the other). My first stereo decoder I built in 1973 ready for the launch of Capital Radio, mated to a 1960s valve JasonKit tuner and my first stereo encoder I got working in 1976, my design was refined and my 1977 design was really quite superb. But you make a great point, today I can listen to Caroline on the stream, DAB or on 648kHz but the 648kHz service subjectively sounds the best, especially on an SDR with synchronous detector and each sideband separately feeding each stereo channel. As Caroline broadcast a 7kHz bandwidth without any significant adjacent channel interference. DAB is by far the worst quality.

Fred The Cat:  Very interesting! 🤔i don't use, and have never used, any streaming service for music (and barely for movies, as a matter of fact) so i don't really know about these issues. But my nephews and nieces all use either Spotify or YouTube to listen to music. I'm just more of a Bandcamp user (but i have more money, so, i understand their point of vue). I buy CDs directly from labels or musicians, and I enthusiastically continue to listen to my "old", ever growing, 5.000 CDs collection… 😄😅

EgoShredder replies to Fred The Cat: @Tim Miller Obviously I do not mean you when I say this, but the amount of times I hear people say they like all kinds of music, but then proceed to names a bunch of artists they like which are all in one genre give or take a bit, and usually mainstream slop with nothing of any substance musically. I usually reply to ask if they like Classical, Jazz, Prog Rock etc and they pull a face at all of them. Your average person does not like music, they like beats and noises with maybe a very short repetitve tune, and often with socially based lyrics.

Jim Hines replies to Fred The Cat: @Tim Miller You are correct the choices are practically unlimited with streaming, which is really cool. It is certainly a huge advantage and I also love streaming because it introduces me to music I would have never been exposed to otherwise. I do still limit my streaming choices to flac streams, with few exceptions and my DAC is connected to vintage equipment. It does sound pretty darn good! While I don't much care for CDs any more (I recently gave away most of my large collection) I am so glad that I never threw out my vinyl when CDs became popular. I have been enjoying it again after 20-some years of being in storage. I had to buy a new TT to do it, but well worth it. Oh, I did a quick average check on some values......CDs = Worth practically nothing (except to our ears). LPs = Who knows, always increasing in value (and also good on the ears). :)

Tim Miller replies to Fred The Cat: Of course money is an argument, but not just that. I listen to streaming music so much, that your 5000 CD collection would not be enough after lets say 2 month. The next problem is variety. Often it is said i listen to all (kind of music) which is never true and usually means the charts maybe from the US and Britain. I don't want to force anyone to read all my examples so I give you just an impression. I listen to music from middle ages, renaissance baroque classic modern, from many countries on all continents, old and new Jazz in all possible form Blues Pop music from different eras and so on. I have more than 100 playlists with an average of nearly 1000 songs and my playlists contain just my favourite music. Ok I haven't done this to show off, I did just to show that nearly nobody has enough LPs Cassettes CDs in his collection to fit a hardcore music streamer at least so now you might understand why at least some are happy about this new high quality streaming services. The only problem already mentioned is the future, when there might be no more streaming services or at least not for everybody to access.

basspig:  Nothing beats physical cds. I don't trust any subscription service and I don't want to pay any monthly fees for substandard audio quality.

TeeKay replies to basspig: @Brodie Jones I agree. When the owners of the masters re-release, they will remaster to take advantage of the fact that the original CD just basically reproduced the mix used for vinyl (which had to be limited). In fact, many times they do that to sell us boomers the same music for the third time (first on vinyl, then on original CD, now on remastered CD's).

Brodie Jones replies to basspig: @thepuma2012 you probably did but not because of the format. I would bet a lot of money they were from different master tapes. I have downloaded 24 bit 192 khz files and then in Adobe audition down sampled part of the song to 16 bit 44khz. Even knowing where the transition was I could hear no difference (via HiFiMan Susvara phones) Many blind tests have been done. No one can pick the difference better than random chance. Usually the higher bit rate files are also remastered. This is where I think the difference comes from. Happy to be proved wrong!

thepuma2012 replies to basspig: @Brodie Jones I recently compared 16 bit/44 khz to 24 bit/96 khz, the same track on qobuz is availlable in both formats, and I certainly heard differences. It depends on your equipment too. I think my equipment is reveiling enough to let me hear it.

Alan replies to basspig: I also like streaming because the value is insane Apple Music lossless is great and with a decent dac you have 24/192 so I love it. I still like my cds and vinyls but on demand whatever I want with almost everything being lossless and many high res options gets the win for me

Brodie Jones replies to basspig: I can point to many examples where the streamed version (on Tidal) sounds significantly better than my CD copy. Listen to Stevie Wonder's Hot August Night for one such example. This is available in hi-res MQA from Tidal. This is better not because it is a] streamed (best case it should sound identical to the CD) or b] hi-res, blind tests show no one can hear the difference between CD quality and the various hi-res formats. I certainly can't or c] it is MQA encoded. Nobody seems to explain the witchcraft that is MQA least of all the inventors and it is certainly not the reason the Tidal version easily bests my CD copy. The reason it sounds better on Tidal is because it was remastered for the hi-res release. It is this remastering (very very well done in the case of the Stevie Wonder albums) that makes it better. In general Tidal sounds the same as my CD's or better dependant entirely on when/if the album was remastered. For the cost of 1 CD a month I get instant playback in CD or better quality (essentially because of remastering, not because of the hi-res as mentioned) anywhere. At home. On my phone, even In the car and with access to thousands of songs I don't own, had never heard of but found I rather liked thanks to rather well calibrated recommendations. Bargain of the century in my mind. I consider myself science based audiophile. None of the nonsense of interconnects and power cables but we'll designed low distortion, low noise components. I listen mostly via my HiFiMan Susvara headphones and Topping D and A90 DAC headphone amp.

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Thursday April 20, 2023

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David Mellor

David Mellor

David Mellor is CEO and Course Director of Audio Masterclass. David has designed courses in audio education and training since 1986 and is the publisher and principal writer of Adventures In Audio.

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