Who streams best?

A quick breakdown and experiment on which of the top 3 audio streaming services provides the best quality playback.

Something I’ve noticed in online discussion boards is the quality of audio regarding Spotify, Rdio, and MOG on cellular networks. Lots of people ask these services what their bit-rate is for streaming through cellular data, but never get a concrete answer. Do these 3 services slightly degrade their audio? How can one tell when none of those services will go completely on record?

I have the answers.

On my iPhone with Wi-Fi off and LTE turned on, I went to Settings > General > Usage > Cellular Usage. I then tapped on Reset Statistics. From there, I opened Spotify and played the song “Heart Problem” by Trip Lee (which I produced). It’s roughly 4 minutes long and I know the 320K MP3 is 12.8MB in size. I then played the song using Spotify’s “extreme quality” AKA CD quality setting. When the song was over, I went back into Settings and checked how much data was transferred in Cellular Usage – exactly 12.8MB. Spotify, on 3G with the “extreme” setting plays music in true 320K. Impressive.

I repeated this same method for Rdio and MOG. Rdio transferred 8.4MB of data which is equivalent to 256K quality. Essentially, this is the same bit-rate as songs you’d purchase from iTunes or Amazon. Not CD quality, but damn close to the untrained ear. Nice to see whether you’re using Wi-Fi or LTE, you’re getting the same quality throughout.

MOG was disappointing. Playing the same song, I checked to see how much data was transferred. I stared, bewildered at a measly 2.8MB. That’s 64K. That’s terrible. MOG should be ashamed. Do keep in mind, the highest quality audio settings were turned on for all 3 services.

Here’s what each service states on the quality of their audio streams:

Premium members deserve premium sound quality. To be precise, you can stream music at a higher bitrate of up to 320kbps on your computer (not all tracks are currently available in high bitrate). That’s some serious high-fidelity listening coming your way.
Rdio uses the highest quality audio available we receive from the record labels. We are always looking to increase this quality if possible.
From earbuds to studio monitors, music sounds better on MOG. Enjoy the best audio quality of any music service, streaming at 320 kbps.

I think after reading these quotes and some real world testing, that “streaming” is a loose word to describe audio quality. At least Spotify admits that not all songs are available in 320K. Rdio doesn’t offer any number. And MOG is slightly misleading people into thinking 320K would be available at all times.

If audio streaming is to sustain itself and defeat piracy, more transparency is needed. If these companies want people to subscribe to their services, they should deliver the best product possible – CD quality audio that’s delivered efficiently over any network.

When paying $10/month for unlimited mobile use, the consumer should expect the highest quality audio, especially when you have the setting turned on in the app.

Anything less is ludicrous and misleading.