Sound quality comparisons between Spotify and Amazon Music…

Interestingly, last week on the 'Spinning Today' classical thread, Jerry asked me to listen to some Magnard (Symphonies 1 and 3), performed by the Malmo Symphony orchestra, in order to gauge my opinion on this version of the composer's music, as opposed to the usual 'all-French' variety (conductor and orchestra), which I did.

Now I rarely listen to Spotify, as I've got 10TB worth of music stored on my hard drives (approx 25,000 albums), not to mention 1000s of CDs and LPs, so I normally just access stuff from my own (vast) library of music, without the need for an 'external juke box', as it were.

Therefore, it was interesting having a listen again to stuff on Spotify, via my home-cinema system, on 2-channel stereo mode (using my Celestion Ditton 15XRs), which I also use when listening to CDs and streaming music through the RPi. Now whilst I enjoyed the music Jerry had asked me to listen to, there was something about the sound I couldn't quite get on with, in comparison with what I'm used to with CD or streaming, through the RPi.

So I decided to do some sonic comparisons between identical albums, played via Spotify, CD, file-based streaming, and lastly via Amazon Music, which is essentially the same as Spotify, in terms of having access to an unlimited 'virtual' library of music. The interesting thing about Amazon Music, however, is that every album you've ever bought from Amazon (on CD or LP) is stored on 'My Music', allowing you to play it directly, as listed on the screen alphabetically, without having to seek out the CD or LP.

That was particularly useful for this exercise because it would allow me to make direct and very quick comparisons between the sound of, say, the CD itself and the streamed version from 'My Music', using whatever player Amazon employ for the task. Plus, I could also compare the latter directly with the same on Spotify, and quickly switch between the two, to make some sonic comparisons.

What I subsequently discovered was rather interesting.... Firstly, there is a very obvious drop in the output playback level between Spotify and CD, with the latter sounding much louder at the same given point on the volume control. Consequently, I had to crank up the volume, when switching to Spotify, to equal the same loudness level on CD, which was a little annoying, but it also had the effect of making music on Spotify sound 'weedy' and lacking in dynamic impact, compared with CD, which sounded bigger and 'ballsier'.

Now of course, the change in sound could also have resulted from a number of other factors too (and probably did), namely the DAC connected to my Sony DVD/CD player, which is a Beresford Bushmaster MKII, as when listening to Spotify (via my Apple laptop), the sound would've been coming through the built-in DAC in my Sony AV amp, via an HDMI cable, although the DAC in the Sony is also very capable.

Switching to Amazon music, and doing the same comparison with CD, firstly the output level is higher than that of Spotify, so I didn't have to crank up the volume as much, in order to match the level available from CD, and to my ears the same album I had been listening to (in this case Yello's The Eye) also sounded better via Amazon music, than Spotify. It was just more punchy and dynamic, as if the music was coming from a higher resolution source.

The only way to find that out would be to compare the bit rate of the players Spotify and Amazon use, when music is accessed by listeners, via their respective websites. However, as good as the sound was via Amazon Music, and for me it was notably better than Spotify, it was still a pale shadow of what I was getting from playing a CD of the same album, via my cheap-as-chips Sony DVD/CD player, and highly capable (although not terribly expensive), Bushmaster MKII DAC.

The same also applied when the same music was streamed via the RPi (and IQ Audio DAC), and which sonically was comparable in quality with the above, perhaps just having the edge, but both sounded significantly better than either Spotify or Amazon music.

Now, to carry out this test [Spotify versus Amazon Music, versus CD, versus streaming of the same music, via the RPi] a little more seriously, I need to do it through my main system, which I can't access at the moment, as the room is slowly being tidied of kitchen paraphernalia, due to recent refurbishments in that area, but when I get the chance to do that, I will report back accordingly.

The point, however, is this: it's patently obvious to me, even through my secondary system, that using Spotify as a music source is a sonically compromised way of listening to one's favourite music, and easily bettered by even a modest DVD-player/DAC and streaming source. Goodness knows how much better my Sony X-777ES/DAS-R1 would sound, via CD, playing the same music as on Spotify, or on vinyl, via my modded Technics T/T!

Therefore, Jerry, as someone whom I believe uses Spotify almost exclusively now to play music, have you not noticed this when comparing matters with your own CD source? Or have you noticed the output level difference I've described between Spotify and CD? In my system, it is quite marked.

Also, what do others here think who've tried the same test or who use Spotify, or something similar of that ilk, to play music from? It's quite clear to me that genuine high-resolution, top-notch sound, simply isn't possible using the likes of Spotify as a source. It is just too sonically compromised, and so not something I could use for serious listening in the long term...

Marco.

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