Spotify Doesn’t Need to Sound Like Crap

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Spotify vs. Apple Music is a debate we won’t soon hear the end of. However, lately, Apple Music users claim that their service sounds better than Spotify, that Apple tracks are tighter and sharper than competing streaming services, especially when using high-end headphones or speakers. While Apple Music users might have a point, there’s a simple way those on Spotify can boost their audio quality right now.

Spotify and Apple Music offer different audio quality options

Comparing Apple Music and Spotify sound quality in general is a bit tricky. Spotify offers free users a maximum bit rate of 160 kbps (kilobits per second), while Premium offers double the bit rate of 320 kbps. Apple Music, on the other hand, does not have a free tier system, but offers a variety of audio features. The service’s standard playback is 256 kbps, less than Spotify’s maximum. However, Apple Music also features lossless playback, allowing you to choose between CD-quality 24-bit 48 kHz playback, or, if you have the right equipment, 24-bit 192 kHz playback. Spotify has plans to roll out its own lossless streaming option, but at the moment its quality on paper isn’t quite where Apple Music is.

However, 320 kbps is still high quality enough to sound good great, even when bouncing between the two platforms. So why are there more and more users complain about the quality of Spotify?

Audio mode is ruining your Spotify quality

The fault lies in a setting called “sound normal”, and it has a purpose other than making your music sound worse. Spotify uses audio tuning to offer you a more consistent listening experience across tracks. It tries to equalize the volume of all your music, so you don’t have to fiddle with the volume all the time. If one song tends to be quiet, you tend to turn up the volume; if the next song gets loud, it’s likely to sound louder than you want.

Now, that’s all well and good (nobody likes a particularly loud song that surprises them), but there’s still this unintended consequence: Your songs don’t sound as good, especially ones that tend to be louder. Whatever Spotify’s plans, the app is still limiting the volume of songs, which affects the dynamic range of the music. It is especially noticeable when listening with good headphones or speakers.

However, it is easy to turn off the sound mode. On a mobile phone, open the settings in the app, then select Playback. Find “Enable Sound Mode” (iOS) or “Adjust Volume” (Android), then turn off the switch. In the desktop app, open the app’s settings, then turn off “Normal volume” from the options.

If you’re a Premium subscriber, or you’re using the desktop app, you’ll see the “Volume level” options below the volume setting: “Loud” which adjusts the volume for a loud environment, “Normal” which assumes you’re in average sound conditions, and “Quiet” which adjusts the volume for a quiet environment. Spotify claims that there is no effect on sound quality when the volume is set to Normal or Quiet, only when Loud is turned on, but I’m not so sure. Any additional filter will affect the overall sound and I’m not interested in that when I’m looking for the highest quality experience.

Even as a free subscriber I hear a difference when this setting is turned off.

Other settings to check

If you’re still not happy with your Spotify sound quality, check if an equalizer is enabled under the same Playback menu. An equalizer can be useful for boosting or reducing certain sound elements, but it often gets in the way of the intended sound. I recommend turning it off if you don’t have a specific goal with it.

Under Sound quality, make sure your sound quality is as high as possible, which means “Very Loud” for Premium and “Loud” for Free. That applies to both “WiFi Streaming,” “Mobile Stream,” and “Download,” to ensure your audio quality is the best it can be, no matter what the situation. Note that increasing mobile streaming quality will use more mobile data. Finally, turn off “Auto-adjust quality” on this settings page to prevent Spotify from lowering audio quality when it detects poor internet speed.


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