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Thread: Does streaming create sound quality issues?

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    Senior Member adriesba's Avatar
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    Default Does streaming create sound quality issues?

    Sorry if this has already been discussed somewhere.

    Some streaming services offer high quality audio, but does the fact that you use internet for this compromise the audio quality? Can the device used significantly decrease the quality of the audio? Maybe it's all in my head, but I thought for sure a CD I ripped sounded worse on my phone compared to playing it through an mp3 player.

    Another thing I wonder about, is audio quality degraded by using Bluetooth?

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    Senior Member Joe B's Avatar
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    ^^^
    Sorry if this has already been discussed somewhere.

    Some streaming services offer high quality audio, but does the fact that you use internet for this compromise the audio quality?
    Short answer, no. However, if the connection is not good and there are errors or missing data in the packets then error correction will be used to fill it in which can compromise the sound.

    Can the device used significantly decrease the quality of the audio?
    Of course. This is why there are so many offerings on the audio market.
    The selection of the parts used in the build and the implementation of those in the circuits most definitely affects sound quality. Anything in the signal path can affect sound quality.


    Maybe it's all in my head, but I thought for sure a CD I ripped sounded worse on my phone compared to playing it through an mp3 player.
    Your ears are the last word on sound quality.

    Another thing I wonder about, is audio quality degraded by using Bluetooth?
    I would think my first answer would apply here as well, but I'm not an electrical engineer.
    Last edited by Joe B; Jan-23-2021 at 23:22.
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    Senior Member NoCoPilot's Avatar
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    Bluetooth has a pretty limited throughput, although it's not restrictive. I Bluetooth from my iPad to my stereo and it sounds great.

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    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by NoCoPilot View Post
    Bluetooth has a pretty limited throughput, although it's not restrictive. I Bluetooth from my iPad to my stereo and it sounds great.
    I have used bluetooth between my iphone and amplifier - the sound in comparison to streamed CD quality or an actual CD is flat and the soundstage has little to no depth.
    Just my experience.

    ETA - It is listenable but it reminds me of low bitrate mps, also note I download the files to my phone in CD quality flac from Qobuz (sorry but thats about as technical as I can get).
    Last edited by Malx; Jan-28-2021 at 20:37.

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    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    Sorry if this has already been discussed somewhere.

    Some streaming services offer high quality audio, but does the fact that you use internet for this compromise the audio quality?
    Provided the network packets all arrive on time, then it's no different to having a wire carry electrons from your amplifier to your speaker. If they don't arrive on time, then you'll have electronic 'stutter' and 'stalls', which are worse than any scratch you've ever heard on an LP surface!

    However, audio, even hi-res audio, is pretty low-bandwidth. A full-bore FLAC (so, compressed but lossless audio) is around 900Kbps (that's kilobits per second). Divide by 8. That's 112KBps (112 Kilobytes per second). What's a pretty ropey home Internet connection do these days? 10Mbps? (i.e, 1.25MBytes per second). So a pretty bad Internet connection should be able to cope with around 10 or 11 simultaneous streams of lossless audio.

    I would urge you to not use streaming services, however, not because of their audio quality (which should be fine, assuming even the barest acceptable minimum of Internet connectivity), but because if you care about music, you should own it, not rent it. But that's just me, I guess.

    Streaming is great to try music out. If you like it enough to want to hear it repeatedly, don't depend on someone else to provide it, tag it, curate it. Do it yourself.

    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    Can the device used significantly decrease the quality of the audio?
    "Device"? If you mean, will it sound different/better/worse if I listen via my TV plugged into a proper amplifier/speaker combo, versus plug in some el-cheapo headphones on a mobile phone: sure, of course. If you mean, if I get streams via the Internet and play them via a computer plugged into a proper amplifier/speaker combo versus via a television plugged into an equivalent amplifier/speaker combo, then no: digitial is digital. It matters not what the receiving device is, but it matters a lot what the digital-to-analogue (ie, Internet to Sound Waves) interfaces are. Amps and speakers count far more in this scheme of things than the device that is receiving the digital stream.

    One source of potential 'badness' is if a receiving device tries to be clever. You have to turn digital 1s and 0s into analogue electrical signals (because your headphones or speakers only work in analogue). The device that does that is called a DAC (digital to analague converter). Your phone probably contains a DAC. Your computer does. Your TV does. Not all DACs are made equal, however. So yes, a phone doing its own conversion to analogue and then plugged into splendid amplifier/speakers may well sound much worse than a high-end television doing the same thing with the same amp/speaker combo: because the TV's DAC is better than what's baked into a phone. Similarly, a desktop computer can either use the DAC built onto the mainboard (which will be electrically noisy and built down to a price) or not. You can always bypass a built-in DAC and send the digital signal direct to an external DAC that you've bought yourself -and then, at that point, you can spend stupid money making the conversion between digital and analogue as perfect as you like.

    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    Maybe it's all in my head, but I thought for sure a CD I ripped sounded worse on my phone compared to playing it through an mp3 player.
    Depends on the phone and the MP3 player, to state the obvious. Secondly, you mentioned MP3. MP3 "works" because it looks at the audio signal, decides that you probably can't hear any audio over 16KHz, and therefore tosses that part of the audio signal away. Lower-rate MP3s toss more of the signal away by picking even lower cut-off frequencies. When you hear an MP3, therefore, you are definitely not listening to the entire audio signal as captured by the audio engineers in the recording studio. If you are playing lossless FLAC on your phone, it should therefore sound better than anything you will hear from a dedictaed MP3 player playing actual MP3s.

    That said, you will need good ears to spot the difference between ripped CD in lossless format and MP3 in 320Kbps (which is about as high as MP3 generally goes). You can tell the difference when the percussion section goes bonkers, or the harpist gets busy... but it takes quite a bit of listening to work that out. If you're comparing lossless CD Rips via a phone to 192Kbps or (shudder) 128Kbps MP3s, however, it should be no contest: the phone will win every time.

    However, it depends on the player: if you've got an excellent MP3 player and a pretty ropey phone, all bets are off.

    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    Another thing I wonder about, is audio quality degraded by using Bluetooth?
    I hate to say 'it depends', but it depends. If you are transmitting MP3 via bluetooth, you're not going to degrade an already degraded audio signal significantly more than it already is But if you're trying to transmit lossless hi-res audio between a transmitter and some bluetooth speakers or headphones, then yes: bluetooth re-encodes the signal so it fits within its bandwifth limitations and that usually involves adding lossiness to the sandwich. The default Bluetooth codec used to compress a signal is called 'SBC' and equates to about 345Kbps -that's as good as good quality MP3, but significantly worse than FLAC or AAC. Whether your ears can hear the degradation is up to genetics and your age, really: I'd certainly be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Other Bluetooth devices might be able to negotiate significantly better codecs, however, so ... it depends.
    Last edited by Guest002; Jan-30-2021 at 23:43.

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    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    Sorry if this has already been discussed somewhere.

    Some streaming services offer high quality audio, but does the fact that you use internet for this compromise the audio quality? Can the device used significantly decrease the quality of the audio? Maybe it's all in my head, but I thought for sure a CD I ripped sounded worse on my phone compared to playing it through an mp3 player.

    Another thing I wonder about, is audio quality degraded by using Bluetooth?
    No, streaming is fine, provided the connection to the Internet is good. I have my two streamers connected via Ethernet cable to the routers, and it works like a charm.

    Bluetooth is a different beast. There are different codecs, but even the ones using more bandwith like aptX HD or LDAC, are lossy. However, you can really enjoy music shared via Bluetooth, only technically is not the best solution.

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    Senior Member HenryPenfold's Avatar
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    The concept of ownership regarding music is very often misunderstood and this thread is no exception. When we buy a CD containing music rather than for example, streaming it, we still do not own the music. We have the right to use it for specific, limited purposes. If you care about music, I'd urge you to understand that you don't own it and I would hope you don't get into trouble with the people that do actually own it (it can be a very costly mistake, as some people have found out).
    Last edited by HenryPenfold; Jan-31-2021 at 00:01.
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    Quote Originally Posted by adriesba View Post
    Sorry if this has already been discussed somewhere.

    Some streaming services offer high quality audio, but does the fact that you use internet for this compromise the audio quality? Can the device used significantly decrease the quality of the audio? Maybe it's all in my head, but I thought for sure a CD I ripped sounded worse on my phone compared to playing it through an mp3 player.

    Another thing I wonder about, is audio quality degraded by using Bluetooth?

    Audio CD that's ripped to MP3 loses some detail and quality, so you may well hear this. Even at 320kbs, elements of the original are lost. What you hear will also depend on the equipment that you're listening on. I've spent a lot of time building two dedicated music rooms (one for playing, one for listening / watching), and the equipment in the 'listening' room is capable of very detailed reproduction of the source. I can certainly hear the difference from a CD to MP3 rip. Playing SACD brings out another level of detail over and above CD (let's face it, RedBook CD is hardly high resolution audio).

    As I've hinted at above, the devices being used can massively effect the quality of the audio. Every component in the chain from source to ear will impact the sound in some way, and if you're using speakers that includes the acoustics of the room that the speakers are in. Even a simple 'one-box' device such as a phone or MP3 player will have different DACs, different amplification, and therefore can produce a different sound quality.

    As for streaming, it's going to depend on what is being streamed. If it's low bit-rate, then the sound will be poor. If you can get a high bit-rate, then the sound will be much better. As stated earlier, FLAC will give you a better result than MP3.

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    Senior Member Malx's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by HenryPenfold View Post
    The concept of ownership regarding music is very often misunderstood and this thread is no exception. When we buy a CD containing music rather than for example, streaming it, we still do not own the music. We have the right to use it for specific, limited purposes. If you care about music, I'd urge you to understand that you don't own it and I would hope you don't get into trouble with the people that do actually own it (it can be a very costly mistake, as some people have found out).
    My understanding of buying any method of replaying a recording is that you have bought the 'medium' holding the music - CD, LP, Cassette, Download or Stream is irrelevant - which enables you to listen to and copy if you wish, for replay on any of your own devices. The music itself remains the property of other parties.
    Last edited by Malx; Feb-02-2021 at 13:19.

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    Senior Member GrosseFugue's Avatar
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    This is my setup for home streaming. I bypass the phone's DAC with the Fiio K5 Pro and use HifiMan 400i' headphones.

    But like the OP I've wondered about how much devices affect the sound. My Moto G7 Android isn't exactly made for an audiophile experience. The DAC is just one link in a longer chain.

    I would love to get a hold of a high-end DAP (Digital Audio Player). Like this Astell & Kern! Just $3,500! Problem is: I'd still need to buy food and pay rent.

    BTW, I don't use Hi-Res streaming because I don't think my current set-up could take advantage of it. Just 320 kpbs for now.
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