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How to Boost the Audio Quality of Apple Music and Spotify

Do you subscribe to Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon Music Unlimited or YouTube Music?

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Chandler Bondurant

Here is a little-known fact about streaming services like Spotify and Apple Music: they all let you listen to audio at different resolutions. A lesser-known fact: the default playback setting on most of them isn’t the highest.

You might be thinking, ‘Why would anybody choose to listen to worse audio?’ Well, the short answer is that compressed audio files take up less space on your phone. And without a good set of headphones or speakers, it can be hard to tell a difference.

But it’s there.

When high-res is turned on, the soundstage is bigger and you can more easily distinguish between the mids and highs; sometimes you can even hear where the musicians and vocalists are standing in relation to one another on the stage or in the recording studio.

Here’s how to make sure you’re getting the most out of Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon Music Unlimited and YouTube Music.

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Apple Music

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Default Audio Quality: N/A
Max Audio Quality: 256 kbp/s
Cost: Apple Music costs $9.99 per month

Apple Music streams at a bitrate of 256kbps, which seems lower than Spotify’s 320 kbp/s at face value, but it’s not exactly like-for-like because Apple Music uses its own AAC audio codec. Apple also defaults to audio of the highest quality, assuming your device is connected to Wi-Fi. When streaming over cellular, however, the audio quality goes down.

To change this:

• Open the Settings app > Music > Mobile Data > Streaming > High-Quality Streaming

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Spotify

Are-You-Listening-to-the-High-Res-Audio-Gear-Patrol-Spotify

Default Audio Quality: 96 kbit/s
Max Audio Quality: 320 kbit/s
Cost: $9.99 per month

By default, Spotify streams 96 kbp/s audio tracks. Premium subscribers can upgrade to 320 kbp/s, which is a very high-quality stream, but still not on the same level of audio quality found on a CD.

To adjust the audio quality:

• Go to Settings > Music Quality > Very high

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Amazon Music Unlimited

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Default Audio Quality: N/A
Max Audio Quality: 256 kbp/s
Cost: Amazon Music Unlimited costs $9.99 per month, or $7.99 if you’re a Prime subscriber

Amazon has two “entry-level” music streaming services, Prime Music and Music Unlimited, both of which are able to stream audio at a maximum of 256 kbp/s. If you’re unfamiliar, Prime Music is free for Prime subscribers while Music Unlimited costs $9.99 per month (without Prime) and gives you access to way more songs, as well as some audio customization options. By default, Amazon Music doesn’t stream at its highest audio quality, so you’ll want to adjust that.

To adjust the audio quality:

• Open Amazon Music app > click the vertical dots in the upper right corner of ‘Browse” page > Settings > Streaming audio quality > High

Amazon just announced a high-quality music streaming service, Amazon Music HD, which is able to stream lossless audio (the same or better audio quality than a CD). The company claims it’s able to stream HD (850 kbp/s) and Ultra HD (3,730 kbp/s) tracks. It’s a direct competitor to Tidal and costs $14.99 or $12.99 per month for Prime members.

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YouTube Music

Are-You-Listening-to-the-High-Res-Audio-Gear-Patrol-youtube-music

Default Audio Quality: 128 kbp/s
Max Audio Quality: 256 kbp/s
Cost: YouTube Music costs $9.99 per month

Google’s streaming service, YouTube Music, is popular amongst Android users as it delivers the best integration with other Google services, including Google Assistant. It streams in 128 kbp/s by default in “Normal” quality, but Premium subscribers can also select a “High quality” option to stream 256 kbp/s audio.

To adjust the audio quality:

• Open the YouTube Music app > select your profile picture > Settings > Audio quality on Wi-Fi > High (or Always High)

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Want to Listen to Higher-Resolution Audio? Go Lossless.

streaming some new music
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If you want to stream the highest quality audio possible, you need to subscribe to a lossless streaming service like Tidal HiFi, Amazon Music HD, Qobuz and Deezer. (Spotify is also releasing a lossless tier — called Spotify HiFi — later this year.) These services allow you to stream audio that's CD or vinyl quality (16-bit/44.1 kHz), as well as even higher resolution audio files (such as 24-bit/192kHz or even even 32-bit/384 kHz). Read our guide to these lossless streaming services, below.

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