Streaming music is not a new phenomenon by any means. Since the early 2000’s people have been streaming their music either from their phones, tablets or computers at mostly mp3 resolution either at home or on the go. So whats new in streaming audio today? Probably the biggest advancement has been the ability to stream higher quality music than before. Higher quality either being cd quality or better music streams from different streaming services and the hardware necessary to bring in those streams. Here is a quick breakdown on both the popular music streaming services available and their quality, as well as the hardware you would need in order to achieve that quality audio we all love.
Pandora Radio – Possibly the most popular streaming service out there because it makes streaming easy, and it’s free. Essentially what you get from Pandora is the ability to input your favorite artists/bands and Pandora will create streaming radio stations based on your preferences. You can listen for free with advertisements or pay $5 per month with no advertisements. Because Pandora is a very popular service, it is available on almost all devices, from phones to tablets, computers, TV’s, bluray players, music streaming devices like Sonos, etc. The quality of the stream is 192 kbps, which is the lowest quality of the services mentioned here.
Spotify – This service has been around the longest and works differently from Pandora, in that you listen to whatever tracks you want instead of listening to a radio station generated from your preferences. You search for an artist/band and listen to whatever you want. Spotify has a huge catalog of content at around 24 million tracks so it should have all the music you may want to listen to. You can listen to basic Spotify through a computer for free with advertisements, or pay $10 per month for no advertisements and the ability to use Spotify across a multitude of devices. Like Pandora, Spotify is available on most devices. The quality of the stream is 320 kbps, which is much better than Pandora, but still not the best available today.
Tidal – This service is the newest of the streaming world and works the same way as Spotify, with a catalog of music that you search for by artist/band and play whatever music you can think of. Tidal is a popular streaming option right now for two reasons. First, the service is owned by Jay-Z. and the whole idea behind Tidal is to support artists/bands and provide them with more of the proceeds than other streaming services. The other reason Tidal is great choice right now is that they have the best quality streaming out there. They have 2 tiers of streaming, first $10 per month will get you the same quality stream that Spotify provides, 320 kbps. The second tier is $20 per month, and this option gives you full CD quality streaming. This is new to the industry and is sought after by many audiophiles, as well as anyone who just wants to hear their music in the best possible quality. Because Tidal is so new, it is not compatible with all devices, but is compatible with the most popular devices (such as Sonos).
Apple Music – Also new to streaming but definitely not new to the music space, Apple music makes it easy to stream your iTunes music library, as well as a huge catalog of music that Apple has access to. Apple is banking on people that have existing IOS devices using their service because it is the easiest option from all of your iphones/ipads around the house. The service has a kind of “best of both worlds” approach, in that you can listen to curated playlists based on an artist/band similar to the Pandora approach, or you can listen to specific tracks and or albums by searching for an artist/band. Apple music costs $10 per month for one user or $15 per month for their family plan in which case everyone in the house can stream from Apple. Again because Apple Music is so new it is mainly compatible with Apple devices but is also compatible with Sonos. Apple is really aiming at existing iOS users for their service. The quality of the streaming is 256 kbps, which is not great but not horrible either.
Streaming Devices – In order to stream audio in your home you need a device capable of connecting to the music and streaming it to your stereo. Here is a brief intro to the top brands of streaming devices out there.
Sonos – The most popular company for streaming audio devices is Sonos. Sonos pioneered streaming audio in the home and has a variety of devices from portable speakers, amplifiers, streaming source devices to sound bars and subwoofers for home theater use. Sonos has the largest variety of compatible streaming services. Almost any streaming service you can think of, from Tune in Radio for local broadcasts, Pandora Radio, to Tidal. What really makes Sonos shine is their user interface, which is intuitive and easy to use for anyone from high-end users to novices. The only real limitation with Sonos is their current inability to stream high-resolution audio, which is becoming important to people for high quality music, especially audiophiles listening on high quality equipment. Currently Sonos owns about 85% of this market!
Blue Sound – This company uses a similar approach to Sonos but has the ability to stream high resolution audio as well. They also have several devices like portable speakers, amplifiers and streaming devices, but no sound bar option for home theater. Blue sound has many of the same streaming services as Sonos, but not all of them, and most notably it is not compatible with Pandora Radio. The user interface is clean, but not as user-friendly as Sonos, which is part of the reason why Sonos is still heavily preferred.
Heos by Denon – Heos is the newest player in the mix and again like Sonos they have have many devices including home theater products. Heos also has the ability to stream high resolution audio. Again, Heos has a multitude of compatible streaming services available, including the most popular Pandora Radio. The user interface is clean but not as intuitive or user friendly as Sonos, so while it works, Sonos is still the leader in the space.
So there you have it, a brief rundown of the most popular streaming services today and the streaming devices which can get that music to your home audio system. In my experience, Pandora Radio and Tidal as a combination offer all the streaming audio I need. With those services, I can get general radio (like music from Pandora) for free while I am doing things around the house. Tidal gives me the higher quality music I crave when I want to sit down and really enjoy my music in a dedicated way. I have used all of the hardware mentioned above and like most clients, I have found that the user interface and compatible services with Sonos make their products my favorite choice. Streaming audio around the house is a great way to enjoy music, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. Please ask any of us to design a streaming solution to meet your needs, you will love it!