Apple Vs Spotify Music: test the audio quality

Apple Music was launched in late June with an individual subscription for EUR 9.99 per month or family (6 people from the same household) to 14.99 euros / month. The music listening streaming service arrives on a market already long and Spotify arises No. 1 competitor. We have auscultated Apple Music from every angle, including its ease of use and the proposed catalog. so we also wanted to assess its performance in terms.

Does one of these two services is better than the other?

Apple Music Spotify

Subscription

€ 9.99 per month

€ 9.99 per month

Free offer

not only the radio service is free

yes, with advertising

Testing period

3 months free

3 months to € 0.99 / month

Catalog

more than 30 million pieces

more than 30 million pieces

“Family Offer

€ 14.99 / month for six members

a subscription for € 9.99 / month and € 4.99 / month per additional person (within the limit of 6 max) or € 34.99 month for the equivalent of Apple’s offer

Offline Access

Yes

Yes

applications

iOS, Mac, Windows and Android and Apple TV this fall Windows, Mac, PlayStation, Android, iOS, Windows Phone

We deliberately excluded services such as Pandora in this comparison because it is “radio” that are somehow preconfigured. Listeners can change songs only occasionally while Apple Music and Spotify offer a true card music service that is likely to replace their disco. During some sessions, we used the Tidal service as comparator because it offers the Hi-Fi streaming lossless.

The audio formats

Like all digital media, both services practice data compression to maximize bandwidth and ensure stable operation even with poor Internet connection. But each uses an encoding format and a specific bit rate.

Apple has opted for AAC (Advanced Audio Coding) 256 Kbit / s while Spotify chose Ogg Vorbis to 320 Kbit / s. On paper, the higher bit rate Spotify seems to give him the advantage, but the two formats are not comparable only beginning their bit. We can in any case say that each of these formats has its followers and they are both preferred to MP3 by connoisseurs. From a technical point of view, we can say that Apple Music as well as Spotify left on solid ground, yet different.

our setup

As we have already seen by comparing Tidal Spotify and the listening tests can be scavengers, especially with older titles. When we listen to a piece dating from the analog era, the version used by a streaming service may be one of a dozen different. For example, Spotify version of “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis was better than Tidal, which nevertheless offers an uncompressed high-fidelity sound that is supposed to be higher. The most recent pieces are easier to compare because the record companies provide the same version at all.

For this test, we wanted to mix Apple devices currents and a high-end audio equipment. So we installed the Apple Music and Spotify apps on an iPad Air 2 WiFi connected to an Apple TV box (itself connected by Ethernet to an Internet router). In both cases, the music was played from the iPad to the Apple TV via AirPlay wireless protocol.

The Apple TV was connected to a Blu-ray player Oppo BDP-105 by an optical cable to exploit the excellent DAC (digital to analog converter) that mark. Finally, the analog signal was transmitted by the Oppo player to an amplifier NAD C 358BEE and speakers Pioneer SP-EBF73.

Since we did not configure the iOS app Tidal to send via AirPlay, we went through the application PC by connecting the USB DAC Oppo to have the same comparator.

The test

Recently we had the chance to listen through the Sony studio version of a classic jazz, the “Take Five” by Dave Brubeck. One thing that surprised us was how this old record of 60 was clear, how the drums were powerful. With this impression still in mind, we were able to compare the versions of this piece offered by Apple Music and Spotify.

They proved broadly equivalent, although the version of Spotify was closer to the character of the studio recording. We perceived a greater sense of space around the saxophone while the Apple version of Music seemed a little more distant and less vibrant.

Jazz, we then moved to indie rock with the title “Life” by The Beta Band. The descending bass line of this piece is a justice for most audio systems that we test. And it turns out that it is equally daunting for streaming services. The deep bass through an entire octave and the sound was softer and homogeneous on Spotify as Apple Music.

If there is one thing that can bring out the defects of compressed audio formats, it is the distorted guitars and cymbals. It is in many in “Monkey Wrench” by Foo Fighters. We tested both services turn to turn and the result was surprisingly the same: the sound was good, we ended up beating time and our neighbors to bump into the walls in protest.

However, neither one nor the other held the comparison on this piece played via Tidal. The cymbals and guitars there were much better dissociated which gave greater clarity. Finally, we also tested the most vocal pieces. On “The Singer addresses His audience” The Decemberists is again Spotify which is a bit better drawn by offering more details Apple Music. Still, the result is good on both services and you do not have the impression that something is missing if you were listening to only one or the other, but to compare with Tidal.

Subtle differences …

Overall, this is Spotify, which was slightly above Apple Music. But this result is accompanied by certain reservations. The most important is that both services sounded very similarly on our test configuration and we really had to strain to perceive differences. The second reservation is that we worked with pieces of our choice with which we are familiar. And it is quite possible that some pieces look better on Apple Music on Spotify.

Is the subtle differences we identified are sufficient to recommend one over the other service? Not really. We tend to think that the size of the music catalog, the price of subscription and emphasizing its service are the most important criteria over time. If you prefer the sound quality above all, there are many better options: vinyl, high fidelity streaming at Tidal, or even CD.