Music Streaming - Which service to pick?
You’d have to be living under a stone not to notice the seemingly unstoppable rise of music streaming. Last year, the US alone streamed 900 billion songs, so it’s well and truly mainstream.
It’s not the similarities between the major players – Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music and TIDAL that count, it’s the differences that can radically affect your listening experience. So, if you love music, here’s the low-down.
Spotify (2008) provides 217 million users access to 40 million tracks, plus a wealth of curated and algorithmically-generated playlists. Premium users enjoy support for Bluetooth, AirPlay and Chromecast, and can download music for offline playback. But reduced bitrate from file compression compromises sound to less than CD quality.
Monthly subscription tiers: Free; Premium – $14.99; Family Premium (6 users) – $22.50; Student Premium – 50% of standard Premium for up to three years; Spark customer deal – Free Premium (for 24 months with certain plans)
Apple Music (2015) has around 56 million subscribers and five million tracks more than Spotify. Drawcards are ‘Exclusive’ releases and its ‘Beats 1’ Radio stream.
Monthly subscription tiers: Standard – $14.99; Family Plan (6 users) – $22.99; Student – $7.49
YouTube Music was débuted in 2015 by the internet’s largest video platform, and allows streaming of any material in its music category. Audio-only playback in locked mode is a feature.
Monthly subscription tiers: Standard – $15.99; Family Plan (6 users) – $23.99; Student – $10.49
TIDAL (2014) has an impressive catalogue of 60 million songs plus around 240,000 music videos. Its high resolution Masters streaming delivered via Master Quality Assured (MQA) technology is its ace card.
Monthly subscription tiers: Standard – $14.99; HiFi tier (MQA streaming) – $29.99
Bitrate (sample rate X bit-depth X number of channels) is key to quality sound – the closer streamed music is to the original recording, the better. Compressing digital files might save bandwidth, but data can be damaged or lost and results are poorer. As the graph shows, far and away the best quality is TIDAL Masters (nine times more musical data than a CD, and nearly twenty-nine times more than Spotify).
Soundline says: Go for gold with TIDAL’s HiFi Masters (MQA) tier, offering digital ‘Master’ files, with no compression, and you’ll get an authentic taste of the studio version. You’ll need a compatible Digital-Analogue Converter (DAC) and you’ll be good to go.
The next step is how to get your favorite music from your chosen streaming service and into your stereo. Here are our picks for the best streaming devices for every level of audiophile.
The Sonos Connect supports all of these streaming services so is ideal for the person who has to listen to it all. The greatest strength of Sonos is the user friendly app, and the digital and analogue outputs allowing for easy connection to any system. One caveat with the Sonos Connect though is it is limited to 44.1kHz/16bit play back so the full benefits of Tidal's MQA master files will be missed out on.
Supported streaming services: all of them!
The Bluesound Node 2i is like the hot-rodded Sonos Connect. Great app, digital and analogue connections, but also with support for higher resolution files allowing you to reap the benefit of Tidal's MQA master files, and hear your favorite tunes in all their glory.
Supported streaming services: Spotify, Tidal (MQA compatible) & more
The Antipodes EX is the home town hero - made in Wellington. The EX is the pinnacle of digital music playback, and paired with Roon, gives an unrivaled user experience. This is by far the best way that we at Soundline have found to listen to Tidal, and must be experienced to be believed.
Supported streaming services: Tidal (MQA compatible), Spotify
Savant Music Server - $1449
This one is a little different - not a stand alone music streamer, but rather one that can be incorporated into a Savant home automation system. Whereas the other streamers featured above provide streamed music into a single room, Savant home automations systems are designed to provide music to as many rooms as you want. Contact your nearest Soundline to find out more.
Supported streaming services: Tidal, Spotify & more