Audio quality matters

Audio quality matters whether you are listening to music or watching your favorite show. Many assume audio quality can only be influenced by the device used to stream, but the service you use makes a huge difference. We sat down with our tech expert, Jaime Vazquez, to learn more about which streaming service sounds the best and what products can help you get the most out of the service you use.

Everything you need to know about streaming service audio quality

Does lossless audio matter?

Most music streaming services use MP3 files to stream audio. MP3s are a type of compressed audio file that save space and bandwidth. Compressed files require some data to be discarded, resulting in a lower-quality audio file. On the other hand, lossless audio files are compressed to maintain the original quality of the file.

An MP3 file is around 80% smaller than the original uncompressed song. Lossless file types such as FLAC and ALAC are around half the original file size. Although you may not notice the compression if you are used to listening to lossy files, you’ll hear a massive difference after listening to your favorite songs in a lossless format. High-and-low-end sounds, such as basslines and high hats, will sound completely different when streaming lossless files.

When asked about lossless audio, Vazquez said, “Lossless audio is similar to the difference between SD video and 4K. When you see something in 4K, you’ll see way more detail than in standard definition. Plus, the experience is exponentially better. The same can be said for lossless audio versus compressed audio. You’ll hear instruments you may not have noticed before.”

Which music streaming services offer lossless audio?

Tidal was one of the first streaming services to offer lossless audio. The service offers three subscription tiers, including a free option with regular audio quality, a midrange option that streams lossless FLAC files and a high-end option that claims to make music sound “as flawless as it sounded in the mastering suite.”

Apple Music is one of the only services that allows existing subscribers to stream lossless audio at no extra cost. You can enable lossless audio in your device’s settings if you’re an Apple Music subscriber.

Amazon Music HD has lossless and high-resolution lossless audio. Amazon’s high-resolution lossless audio sounds even better than traditional lossless. This service is one of the most affordable ways to listen to high-resolution audio, especially if you’re a Prime member.

Spotify announced it would release lossless audio in 2021, but it ultimately never released the service. 

Video streaming services

Dolby Atmos is arguably the leader in at-home audio quality. Luckily, numerous services offer Dolby Atmos audio. Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Apple TV Plus and Disney Plus support it. Still, you’ll need a home theater system or sound bar-compatible device with Dolby Atmos to use it. Most services default to two-channel stereo audio if you rely on your TV’s speakers.

Audio quality FAQ

Is there a particular type of TV that offers the best audio?

A. According to Vazquez, “TVs historically haven’t had great audio. Often, TV manufacturers expect a sound bar or home theater system to do the heavy lifting. However, OLED TVs have impressive speakers, specifically those made by Sony and LG. Still, it’s best to buy a TV with great picture quality in most cases, then buy a budget sound bar to handle the audio.”

Are there particular sound bars or surround-sound systems offering the best audio quality?

A. Sound bars and home theater systems can significantly boost your video streaming service’s audio quality. Per Vazquez, “Sound bars are ideal for those with space constraints. Home theater systems are sometimes a multi-thousand-dollar investment, but they will almost always sound better than a sound bar. Consider a ‘home-theater-system-in-a-box’ if you’re looking for great audio on a budget. Sony and LG make great “in-a-box” systems, and Vizio has always been a budget leader.”

Are there particular headphones that offer the best audio for streaming services?

A. When asked about headphones, Vazquez said, “Wireless equals lossy. Some audiophiles say true listening happens with wired headphones. However, Bluetooth headphones have gotten so good that most of us can’t tell the difference. The most important considerations are to have the experience you want in mind, stick with the brands you know and trust your ears.”

Best products to enhance your streaming service’s audio quality

Headphones our expert recommends

Best Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

Audio-Technica ATH-M50X Professional Studio Monitor Headphones

These affordable headphones have strong bass capabilities and a closed-back design that helps block noise. They are ideal for mixing and mastering or enjoying lossless audio. They fold down, making them easy to take on the go.

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Best Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Premium Noise Canceling Overhead Headphones

Sony WH-1000XM4 Wireless Premium Noise-Canceling Overhead Headphones

Although they are wireless, the sound quality is top-notch. They include an audio cable if you’d rather listen to lossless audio with wired headphones. The noise-cancellation features are impressive.

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TVs our expert recommends

Best Sony X90J 50-Inch TV

Sony X90J 50-inch TV

This features a vibrant 4K display and voice-assistant capabilities. The contrast between light and dark colors is top-notch. It integrates seamlessly with most home theater systems.

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Best LG OLED C1 Series 55-Inch 4k Smart TV

LG OLED C1 Series 55-inch 4K Smart TV

This OLED display looks fantastic and the built-in speakers are impressive. It’s compatible with Dolby Atmos and features a slim design. It’s available in five screen sizes and has voice-assistant capabilities.

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Home theater systems our expert recommends

Best Sony CS-Series Speakers Bundle

Sony CS-Series Speakers Bundle

This Dolby-Atmos-compatible system has everything you need to transform your home theater setup. The subwoofer sounds excellent. It’s easy to set up, and you can arrange it in a variety of options.

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Best Vizio M-Series 5.1 Premium Sound Bar

Vizio M-Series 5.1 Premium Sound Bar

This system is compact compared to other home theater systems. It is compatible with Dolby Atmos. You can connect your phone via Bluetooth. This system is significantly cheaper than most others.

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Cody Stewart writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money. 
 

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