If you’re in the market for a good music streaming service, odds are you’re trying to decide between Apple Music and Spotify. These may not be the only options out there, but they’re certainly the two leading giants in music streaming, with the largest libraries.
Which begs the question: is one better than the other? Or, slightly more specifically: does one have higher sound quality than the other?
This is exactly the question we are going to answer in this article!
Here’s Why Apple Music Has Higher Sound Quality:
Apple Music and Spotify use file compression formats to maximize bandwidth. Apple Music streams at 256 Kbps in AAC (Advanced Audio Coding). Spotify streams at 320 Kbps in OVF (Ogg Vorbis Format). But Apple Music offers lossless audio, which is as close to studio quality as you can get.
How Good Is Spotify’s Sound Quality?
Like all streaming services, both Spotify and Apple Music must compress their files to make streaming possible over a variety of internet speeds.
Spotify streams at 320 Kbps in OVF (Ogg Vorbis Format), and while it is compressed, both the format and the bitrate are considered very good by industry standards.
OVF is a “lossy” format, meaning that the audio is compressed and therefore loses at least a small amount of data compared to “lossless” formats.
In a Cnet review on the subject, Spotify was praised for its compression format being able to deliver heavy-hitting bass and sharp, clear high notes.
However, how good something sounds is incredibly subjective because different people have different tastes when it comes to sound.
All this being said, Spotify seems to do very well on a number of fronts, and the Vorbis format (referred to here as OVF for “Ogg Vorbis Format”) it uses certainly deserves some credit.
So while OVF may be a lossy format, it’s considered one of the better ones and outperforms .mp3 files in terms of quality.
The particular way in which it’s compressed allows OVF to strike a great compromise, trading only a very small loss in quality for reduced file size.
All this to say, Spotify’s sound quality is very good.
Take a look at our article about why Spotify takes up so much space!
How Good Is Apple Music’s Sound Quality?
Just like Spotify, Apple Music has to compress its files for streaming to be possible, so it likewise uses lossy formats.
However, Apple Music goes about achieving this goal slightly differently.
If we look at the numbers alone, it may look like Apple Music is already behind because it only streams at 256 Kbps, compared to Spotify’s 320 Kbps.
However, this wouldn’t be a fair comparison because both services use different compression formats, and the format can make a big difference that bitrate alone can’t account for.
For that matter, 256 Kbps is not bad at all, and even if it is a slightly smaller bitrate than Spotify, it would still be considered very good by most standards.
As for the format, Apple Music compresses its files in the AAC format, short for Advanced Audio Coding. Like the OVS format Spotify uses, Apple Music’s AAC-encoded files are considered superior to the popular and commonplace .mp3 format.
In fact, ACC was created with the specific intention of being a superior alternative to .mp3.
And as far as we can tell, it does a great job at this, offering superior sound quality at the same bitrate as .mp3.
This brings us back to why it’s impossible to do a direct comparison between the quality of files encoded in different formats at similar bitrates.
Due to a lot of technical details that would take too long to explain in this article, it’s possible for two files streamed at the same bitrate to vary widely in quality due to their encoding formats.
With all this said, the same Cnet review mentioned earlier found Apple Music tracks to be high quality but that details like cymbals, bass, and high notes weren’t quite as good.
There are a lot of caveats to this assessment, however, which we’ll elaborate on shortly.
Please check out our article about Apple Music’s EQ settings.
What Are the Major Differences Between Spotify and Apple Music’s Sound Quality?
We’ve mentioned the different audio formats and bitrates between Apple Music and Spotify, which are the primary differences between the two services.
To reiterate, Spotify streams at 320 Kbps in OVF, while Apple Music streams at 256 Kbps in AAC.
However, it would seem that Apple Music should be declared superior due to the fact that it has started offering lossless audio streaming and download options.
We talked about lossy and lossless formats earlier, but the main takeaway is that lossless files tend to be very large but have no loss in quality.
Lossy formats, by contrast, sacrifice at least a small amount of quality in exchange for smaller files that are easier to stream.
What this means is that Apple Music subscribers can, theoretically, listen to music with no loss in quality whatsoever. In other words, lossless audio is as close to studio quality as streaming can get!
After all, files on streaming services are compressed for a reason, and streaming lossless takes a better internet connection than lossy formats. So, in order to truly enjoy lossless audio, you need to ensure you have sufficient bandwidth.
Unless you’re a serious audiophile, you might not even notice the difference between Spotify and Apple Musics formats.
And you definitely won’t notice a difference if your audio hardware isn’t up to the task, which most reasonably-priced speakers and headphones simply are not.
So as you can see, it’s actually pretty complicated and impossible to definitively claim that either service has better quality because each has both pros and cons in this respect.
Does Spotify or Apple Music Handle Buffering Better?
Surprisingly, we weren’t able to find a lot of hard data or many user reports on this subject, so all we can do is speculate.
We might expect Apple Music to do slightly better in this regard simply because it streams at a lower bitrate.
When talking about sound quality, a lower bitrate can be a red flag, but the trade-off is that it, theoretically, should mean it’s less demanding to stream. That is, after all, the entire point of file compression.
That said, it seems that both Apple Music and Spotify buffer and stream very easily, even on slow connections.
This is probably why there isn’t a lot of data on the subject: because there doesn’t need to be.
Most people, even with slower-than-average internet, should be able to stream either service without significant interruptions.
Therefore, it doesn’t really matter if one is slightly better than the other in this regard because it won’t make any meaningful difference for the average user.
Do you have buffering issues on Spotify? Please check out our article with quick solutions to Spotify constantly buffering your content.
Are Podcasts Higher Sound Quality on Spotify or Apple Music?
There’s no reason to believe that podcasts would be any different from music when it comes to sound quality on these two services because they use the same bitrates and formats.
So if there’s any difference at all, it’s likely that Spotify’s podcasts may sound slightly better in the lossy format comparison between AAC and OVF.
And if you have the hardware to handle it, they should theoretically sound best of all with Apple Music’s lossless option, but this will only really matter if you’re a major audiophile.
Of course, some of this is speculation as there seems to be less interest in the subject of podcast audio quality comparisons and, therefore, fewer sources to draw on.
After all, high sound quality matters a lot more for music to most people than it does for just listening to people talking, which is ultimately all podcasts are.
Please also check out our article exploring whether Spotify is good or bad for artists.