Apple Music currently offers the lowest audio quality of any music service. Recent developments indicate that Apple may be improving their streaming service’s audio quality.
As technology improves, audio quality has actually decreased over the years. We’ve gone from high fidelity vinyl played through warm tube amplifiers, to low quality compressed audio piped through bass-deficient ear buds. Although tests reveal that most people can’t tell the difference between a CD and a 256 kbps compressed audio file, Apple Music is not good enough for most audiophiles.
For those who own high end audio systems, a vinyl revival has renewed enthusiasm for high fidelity music. Vinyl records made today are of higher quality than their predecessors. Independent rock bands, in particular, are re-issuing many of their records on high quality vinyl.
Vinyl records and turntables aren’t for everyone. They don’t work well in automobiles or public transportation. Streaming services like Tidal have addressed the need for better quality music, however, in my experience, their selection is too limited.
There are signs that Apple may improve Apple Music’s audio quality. Their “Mastered for iTunes” program enforces mastering standards to provide clearer music without eliminating dynamics. Unfortunately, these recordings are still offered in 256 kbps AAC format. Competitors like Spotify and Google Play Music encode music at 320 kbps. One can actually hear the difference on a high end audio system.
Although “Mastered for iTunes” music is 256 kbps, these tracks do sound better than standard Apple Music songs. Music fans have tested both versions, and the majority claim that “Mastered for iTunes” songs sound better than the alternative.
Apple has never been a stickler for audio quality. The original iPod had less impressive specs than competing music players. The stock earbuds that ship with Apple products have weak bass and treble response. As Beats technology has filtered into Apple products, audio quality has gradually increased. The Home Pod is considered one of the best sounding smart speakers on the market today.
While it’s not clear that Apple will improve their streaming service’s audio quality, it seems like a possibility. This move would increase data throughput and costs in the data center, but it may convince more music fans to adopt streaming services.