No, CNN, Apple Music Will not Sound Worse

Oh, my, CNN is really full of nitwits. They say: Apple Music will sound worse but save on your data plan. (To be fair, there are a number of tech websites, such as The Next Web, that get this wrong too.)

It just goes to show, digital music codecs are confusing. You can’t blame them for just looking at the numbers. But a bit of research would show that this is simply wrong.

Apple Music will stream music in AAC format at 256 kbps. CNN compared this to other services, such as Beats Music, which stream MP3 files at 320 kbps.

What they don’t consider, however, is that AAC – also known as MP4 – is a much better codec. It won’t sound worse at that lower bit rate; it will sound just as good, if not better, than 320 kbps MP3 files. And, it saves you money on bandwidth.

While they point out that Spotify only uses 320 kbps for paid subscribers (others get 96 or 160 kbps), they still manage to say that Apple Music will sound worse. And they don’t point out that Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis files, which are much lower quality than either MP3 or AAC.

Frankly, I think Apple Music should have an option to stream 128 kbps AAC files, when you’re using it on mobile devices. You don’t need the difference in audio quality between 128 and 256 kbps unless you’re listening in a quiet environment, at home, or on really good headphones.

14 thoughts on “No, CNN, Apple Music Will not Sound Worse

  1. Couldn’t agree more about the need for a <256kbps stream. Let's be honest… when you're playing music on your stock stereo over Bluetooth, a 128kbps stream will sound just fine.

    If you save your music for offline use, sure… send the 256kbps file (an option to allow this only when on Wi-fi would be good here). But otherwise, give users a choice.

  2. I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple Music ends up using Apple’s own HLS (HTTP Live Streaming). This would effectively allow them vary the bit rate depending on a listener’s bandwidth at any given time. If you have a good connection, you get a high quality 256kbps stream and if you’re in an area with poor speeds, it downgrades to a lower quality but smaller stream.

  3. re – Ogg Vorbis files, which are much lower quality than either MP3 or AAC.

    Thats not what I’ve understood over the last few years. My understanding was that OV was similar to AAC at the same bitrate, with both being better than MP3 VBR.

    Is there anything out there that shows a recent comparison I wonder.

  4. I’d like even *lower.* I pretty much use my phone as a radio and have an Icecast server at home running HE-AAC at 64kbps. With Bluetooth to the car stereo or earbuds on the train, the quality’s surprisingly good. It goes easier on my data plan and is virtually rock solid on AT&T’s network, especially compared to the performance of iTunes Match.

  5. >Ogg Vorbis files, which are much lower quality than either MP3 or AAC.

    You need to get your own facts straight before criticising others.

  6. I think it’s overstating to say Ogg is much worse than AAC/MP3.
    At mid to high rates differences can be minimal.

    But as Kirk says (kind of), the audio codec/bit rate dick waving by the music companies is full of ignorance, that’s very true. It’s used to lie to consumers, meanwhile the quality of the source is never discussed.

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