Anyone who has hauled load after load of vinyl-packed milk crates can appreciate this new digital age in which we live. But analog’s not dead, and in 2017, LPs made up 14 percent of all physical music sales — not bad for a medium that hit its stride in the ’60s. One of the main reasons? Sound quality. Streaming services like Apple Music, Spotify, Tidal, and Amazon may boast ludicrously large catalogs of pretty much everything ever, but to get that music to you, the quality pays the price. Compression — music’s means of digital delivery — is the auditory equivalent of cutting holes in a pair of pants. Sure, they’re still pants, but they’re missing some important parts.
That may be changing, however. As the demand for high-quality audio grows, many services have settings you can tick to increase sound quality. Then there’s the hardware option. A quality pair of headphones or even upgrading your device can dramatically improve and enhance the listening experience. Finally, software companies are already making strides in tackling the issue.
Let's start with the best of the best: An absolutely brilliant amplifier that delivers best-in-class streaming performance coupled with powerhouse sound. If you want to feel like you're at an actual live concert (remember those?), the M10 is the answer. It's totally immersive. It's compatible with Amazon Alexa Voice commands as well as Apple's Siri. Plus, you get a USB-A input, preamplifier output, subwoofer outputs, IR input, and trigger output. If you want to rock it old school, you can connect the M10 to CD and Blu-ray players, cable boxes, and digital tuners. It's easy as hell to set up: You just connect it the speakers you want. It's small and handsome. And the front-panel touchscreen makes it that much easier to operate.
At the other end of the spectrum, pardon the pun, is the new Sonos Roam, a small speaker with outsize sound. It has up to 10 hours of play time, an IP67 waterproof rating, voice control, and lets you stream directly from your smartphone, tablet, or computer using Bluetooth. Best of all, it adapts to your surroundings, so music is never too overpowering or too bland.
Here’s everything you need to make your streaming music sound better.
Check Your Settings
For just about every streaming service, simple setting changes ensure you get better-than-average sound quality — at a cost. Higher quality audio requires more data and a strong connection. Without both, you’ll find your songs jerking, whether or not you want the remix.
For Pandora, go to the Advanced menu from Settings in-app and toggle the switch on.
Apple Music subscribers, from their phone’s Settings Menu, can adjust their music’s sound levels through an “EQ,” or equalizer, menu, which allows for pre-determined sound profiles to be applied by genre.
Finally, Spotify can be customized in multiple ways through its Settings menu, accessed through the Your Library tab. Under the “Music Quality” option, users can change music quality from Automatic to Low, Normal, High, or Extreme.
For experienced audiophiles, the nearby Playback menu has an Equalizer that can be adjusted over six points, with pre-made genre profiles below. Finally, the much-lauded Tidal streaming service offers a premium-price monthly subscription that offers CD-quality audio called HiFi ($20/month). Simply put, it’s the best but also the most expensive.
Upgrade Your Hardware
The intermediary between your music and your ears is a crucial point, and advances today have allowed for unprecedented quality in new tech. Whereas once music-lovers had to sacrifice the convenience of wireless on the altar of sound quality, the distinction is almost a thing of the past.
The latest Bluetooth iteration in the Master & Dynamic MW60, for example, sounds as good as it looks, and it has a minuscule falloff of performance between it and the hardwired version. Another thing to note: If you play music directly from your phone’s speakers, an upgrade can also be beneficial. Apple’s iPhone 8, 8 Plus, and X all incorporate the company’s new built-in stereo speaker.
The Apps For Enhancing Your Streaming Sound
The latest frontier in software tech customizes sound to the space, whether that be your own ears or to the room in which you listen.
Sonarworks’ TruFi applies individual headphone profiles to adapt your listening experience, resulting in studio-quality streams. Then there’s Dirac, which developed Dirac Live to mold your music to the surrounding area, including such detail as to adjust for furniture. Both of these are currently desktop-only, but each claims to have a smartphone app coming very soon.
Finally, Waves Nx integrates with Spotify while creating a richer three-dimensional sound that can be adjusted with much greater control than in-app settings allow.
With these apps your streaming music will sound rich and full as the original recording, instead of the soggy facsimile compression creates.
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