There is an ongoing debate on how music should be delivered to your ears. Some want it like Dre, tweaking the music to emphasize the bass and vocals, while depressing the “less interesting” middle frequencies, thus giving it a sharpness to your ear. Others may want their music a little more flat sounding or prefer it be like a “CD” and finally you have the “the way it was recorded in the studio” crowd. Defining each of those presets is a little subjective in my opinion and going to be a picky crowd to please. So how do all these online music services like Beats, Rdio, Spotify and Tidal make everyone happy?
With their library selection, price, app interfaces and sound quality. My first impression with Beats was “wow, these tunes are crisp, clear and sharp” compared to Spotify and so I switched services for 30 days wooed over by Beats sound quality. I was curious on why Beats sounded so much better to me. Both Beats and Spotify stream different qualities of the song based on network type, delivery method (mobile app vs. web app) and membership status. Beats FAQ reads, “On the web, we stream in 320kbps MP3 quality audio – industry standard high quality audio for streaming services. A small minority of tracks may not be available for 320, in which case we’ll stream in 256kbps.” Spotify’s FAQ reads, “We use 3 quality ratings all in Oog Vorbis format. ~96 kbps for normal quality on mobile; ~160 kbps for desktop and web player standard quality. High quality on mobile is ~320 kbps (only available to Premium subscribers) and is considered high quality on desktop and extreme quality on mobile.”
That wasn’t much of a technical difference but the auditory improvements are quite noticeable. Then at Starbucks one day I was becoming frustrated with Spotify’s flat sound once again, and it hit me: EQ (equalizer) settings. Spotify has no option to adjust the EQ on their desktop clients, either OS X or Windows. Although, this feature was recently added to their iOS mobile app (not sure about Android). I googled Beats EQ and bam! I found my answer. Beats automatically applies Dre’s EQ settings on the tracks streamed, thus giving them, in my opinion, a superior sound quality.
So how do I make Spotify sound more like Beats? Or just less flat. Adjust your EQ. On my Macbook Air I simply installed Soundflower and Apple’s free Audio Lab app (Windows users will need to google a different solution) then made a few tweaks and now I have better sounding tunes through Spotify. Not exactly the same sound as Beats by Dre, but much richer in tone with the adjusted settings.
Also, remember the quality capabilities of the device you are outputting to have auditory ranges and limitations. Although one EQ settings my be great on your Bose home system they may not work so great on your Skullcandy headphones. I don’t have a deep technical understanding of all the frequency ranges and just moved the sliders up and down until something sounded great! sounded similar to Beats by Dre.
Jim, why not just save yourself some time and use Beats in the first place? I tried it for 45 days and found the curated playlists to be out of date. During the 2014 holidays, Beats was suggesting playlists titled “Christmas 2012” and “Best songs of 2011”. In addition, Beats has no radio style feature relying entirely on its community to create relevant playlists.
Spotify on the other hand has radio based on genre or similar to Pandora you can create your own station. In addition, Spotify also has curated playlists and a rather unexplored area of Spotify include apps which give you an interesting interaction with services like last.fm and pitchfork that add value to my music listening experience in a similar way that I listen to music.
You have probably noticed that most of these services are price driven, with Spotify clearly being the winner in my opinion for family at $9.99 a month +$5 a month additional family members. The next closest is Rdio which has a web only subscription for $4.99 as well as unlimited ad-free for $9.99 and a family plan similar to Spotify starting at $14.99 for 2 people. However, Beats by Dre (um, I mean Apple) recently lowered its price to $9.99 month or $99 a year (that’s basically getting 2 months free) and finally Tidal which brands itself as offering “high fidelity music” at a whopping cost of $20 a month in comparison to the others, but I also haven’t tried the service out yet; a free 7-day trial is available with credit card, which I don’t necessarily agree with requiring for a trial.
On a last note, choose the music service that fits your listening style. If you like to listen to CDs top to bottom and build playlists as well a library than Beats may be a good choice for you, but if you like to discover new music and only have a few playlists of your own Spotify may be the way to listen.