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Ben Halpern
Ben Halpern

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How much does audio quality matter to you with your headphone music?

I got Tidal because I was sick of not having Jay Z in my streaming libraries. Then I decided to test out the $20/mo for hifi/master to see if I can appreciate the difference.

I don’t know if either my ears or my headphones are capable of picking up the difference in quality, but I’ll continue to experiment with it.

I have the Bose QCII which are bluetooth (e.g. compression) so it's unclear to me whether I'm even benefitting from less compression in the streaming, but I got mixed answers when I researched this.


Do you go for highest quality with your hardware/software and if so, am I thinking about things the right way?

Opened ended chat about anything related to this is welcome and appreciated.

Top comments (48)

slick3gz_ profile image

As someone that is a musician and has tried mixing multi-track recordings, I feel like the energy of a song is 10x more important than clarity in most instances. The art of music is very subjective. You can spend as much as you want on music equipment but with decreasing ROI imho. Most adults can’t hear above 16k in the audio spectrum. So you can have speakers or headphones with extreme dynamic range but will you actually hear the upper harmonics of a hi-hat? Not to play down clarity (I remember the days of 22 kbps mp3s 😞) but I tend to value music that evokes emotion rather than music that is technically pristine. CD quality playback at 44k is a great middle ground for me.

dfockler profile image
Dan Fockler

I have Spotify Premium which has a Very High streaming quality setting and I can't tell the difference. Unless you have really good headphones that can actually produce bass frequencies, I don't think you can determine the difference between good and bad sound.

lmuzquiz profile image

I agree. Could never tell the difference when using tidal

manuelojeda profile image
Manuel Ojeda

Well at this moment I have both: Spotify and Tidal and I can assure you that quality is needed in music streaming, Spotify needs to release a FLAC version yer o yes.

Then in my personal preference I love a lot the Quality sound from Tidal because I have cleansed my audition and I can know when an audio has bad quality.

But there are 2 problems with Tidal over Spotify:

1.- The audio quality depends of the hardware. I code in two different PC's (work and personal), In my Personal PC I have a good audio chipset and I can get the great quality from Tidal, but in my work and can't hear the quality that I get in my home, so the quality depends from the HW.

2.- The music library from Spotify defeats Tidal. I usually consume a lot of gaming OST and Spotify have a lot of soundtracks that other services doesn't have.

In conclusion: Depends from Hardware and content, but I can assure you the quality from Tidal is superb.

PS: I listen music with a HyperX Cloud 2 (A little older)

mabla0531 profile image
Matthew Bland

Spotify is enough for me. I feel like if you're not using noise cancelling wired headphones there will always be noise and often background sound that negates the perfect audio quality that Tidal claims... Hardly noticable imperfections with Spotify are tolerable for me. Just a personal preference tho

scottishross profile image
Ross Henderson

Until you've listened to High-Quality music, you won't know what you're missing. And when you realise what you're missing, you'll also realise it's hard to hear everything you want in high-quality.

I find if I am listening to music, I want high-quality, good headphones and a good source. But if I'm working or using music as background noise, as long as it doesn't sound awful I'm fine.

workingwebsites profile image
Lisa Armstrong

"Some people have sound systems to listen to their music. Other have music to listen to their sound systems."

I'm a Spotify fan. I have premium, it works and I'm happy, good enough. I'm auditory and appreciate good sound, so I'll spend a little more on equipment, but can't say it's a huge issue.

Question: Anyone using YouTube music? Thoughts on it??

ferricoxide profile image
Thomas H Jones II • Edited

Google's Music service, when you select the high-quality option, is a data-gobbler, that's for sure. When I was still using it, I'd go through a several GiB/month on my cellular data-plan ...and I was only commuting 10mi each way and only commuting 2-3 days/week. That said, the streaming was via BT from my phone to my car's head-unit, so, the end result wasn't appreciably different than SoundCloud (especially compared to direct-streaming through my pre-amp → power-amp → speakers setup).

iamschulz profile image
Daniel Schulz • Edited

I listen on noise cancelling wireless headphones. They do signal processing by design, so even if I was listening to super high quality audio, I wouldn't get close to the original recording.

I have Spotify premium because it's ad free. I can't make out a difference in quality.

This guy has a very nice comparison between services and paid tiers:

(Edit: oh god the typos)

wolfhoundjesse profile image
Jesse M. Holmes

I have the Bose Soundlink Around-Ear Headphones II, and I definitely understand the feeling about sacrificing quality because of compression over BlueTooth and other factors … but I can hear the boards of the stage creak when members of the Punch Brothers are shifting their weight while they play. That doesn't happen in the car, with ear buds, or the super old Beats by Dr. Dre I had until they disintegrated (I loved those things, but they're obviously not for refined audiophiles).

In other words, I quit worrying about it so much. I stream at the highest quality available through my streaming service, and I'm happy with all the things I can notice in this headset that only came through in the audio gear I had in the Army.

Also, know you aren't alone! There was constant back and forth about the quality of signal in our bands' rigs, wireless vs wired, analog vs digital, etc. At the end of the day, the thing that really mattered is the energy coming from the stage. It's not the same argument (live music vs a closed environment around your face 🤣), but I think it's related enough.

mraubreycodes profile image
Aubrey Fletcher • Edited

I have noise-canceling headphones and in my office, you REALLY need them (especially with a guy who is in your ear behind you coughing loudly, and complaining about how a piece of software doesn't work (mainly Microsoft Office)).

In the morning, I usually listen to some comedy show, and then usually listen to Yacht Rock or ChillHop on SiriusXM

moopet profile image
Ben Sinclair

I used to be big on FLAC but I got older and my ears tell me there's no difference.
Any music I buy is on Bandcamp where I get it in 320kbit, but I really appreciate that they have lossless options. For futureproofing and programmer reasons!

tiffany profile image
Tiffany White

As someone who collects headphones and has a Spotify and Apple Music subscription (I listen to a lot of music daily) I can tell the difference in quality. It really depends on the cans and your preference in music.

My AKG k240 headphones are cheap and sound as such. I also have the Audio Technica M50s, the Audio Technica ATHMSR7BK (what the f kind of name is that?), and just recently bought the beyerdynamic DT 990s, all of which sound markedly different from one another.

I'm not an audiophile. Far from it. But I like music and like to hear different parts of a song I would have never caught without decent headphones. YMMV

eddysims profile image
Eddy Sims

Sometimes I wonder if my hearing sucks because of this question. Someone will give me their headphones and be all "check out the quality on these!". To me it just sounds like more bass?

I can't hear the small difference in quality.

peiche profile image

Spotify is sufficient for me. Since I'm going back to school, I have the student plan that gives me Hulu as well. As far as the audio goes, I can't tell the difference. I'm definitely not an audiophile and I don't pay that much attention to music whether I'm at my desk or working out. I use a $20 pair of JLab Bluetooth earbuds.

danjconn profile image
Dan Conn

For me I have studio quality reference headphones that can translate frequencies from 5Hz to 20,000kHz and use the highest quality streaming or 24-bit (or at least 16-bit) WAV files to listen to.

If you have high quality audio then it's worth getting high quality headphones for detail, however if you only listen to 320kbps mp3s, then there's no point having the high quality as the detail won't be in the recording.

Also if you can't tell the difference, and a lot of people can't, then go for the cheaper option!

rudolfolah profile image
Rudolf Olah

There's a noticeable difference when using Spotify. I used 7digital back in the day to be able to get high-quality FLAC and high-quality MP3s because the Sennheiser headphones I have are really good and it's noticeable when you've increased the volume to drown out the background noise in a busy open office layout.

I think it mainly depends on the music you listen to, if it's just to get through a noisy day at the office, the medium/normal quality MP3s are good enough. If you want an adventure in psychedelic sounds, go for high quality MP3s and/or FLAC.

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