Spotify vs. Apple Music is a debate we won’t soon hear the end of. However, as of late, Apple Music users are claiming their service sounds better than Spotify’s, that Apple’s songs are punchier and more crisp than the rival streaming service, especially when using high quality headphones or speakers. While Apple Music users might have a point, there’s a simple way those on Spotify can boost their sound quality right now.
Spotify and Apple Music offer different sound quality options
Comparing Apple Music and Spotify’s sound quality in general is a little tricky. Spotify offers Free users a maximum bitrate of 160kbps (kilobits per second), while Premium offers double the bitrate of 320kbps. Apple Music, on the other hand, doesn’t have a free tier, but offers a variety of different audio qualities. The service’s standard playback is 256kbps, less than Spotify’s maximum. However, Apple Music also has lossless playback, which lets you choose from CD-quality 24-bit 48 kHz playback, or, if you have the right equipment, 24-bit 192 kHz playback. Spotify has plans to rollout its own lossless playback option, but at the moment, its quality on paper isn’t quite where Apple Music is.
Still, 320kbps is still high quality enough to sound great, even when bouncing between the two platforms. So why are more and more users complaining about Spotify’s quality?
Audio normalisation is ruining your Spotify quality
The fault lies in a setting called “audio normalisation,” and it has a purpose other than making your music sound worse. Spotify employs audio normalisation to offer you a more consistent listening experience across songs. It attempts to equalise the loudness 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 you raise the volume; if the next song happens to be loud, it’s likely going to come through louder than you’d like.
Now, that’s all fine and well (nobody likes a particularly loud song startling them), but there’s still that unintended consequence: Your songs don’t sound as good, especially those that tend to be louder. Whatever Spotify’s intentions, the app is still limiting the loudness of songs, which affects the music’s dynamic range. It’s especially notable when listening with good headphones or speakers.
Audio normalisation is easy to disable, though. On mobile, open the in-app settings then choose Playback. Find “Enable Audio Normalisation” (iOS) or “Normalise volume” (Android), then disable the toggle. On the desktop app, open the in-app settings, then disable “Normalise volume” from the options.
If you’re a Premium subscriber, or you’re using the desktop app, you’ll see “Volume level” options below the audio normalisation setting: “Loud,” which adjusts the sound levels for loud environments, “Normal,” which assumes you’re in average sound conditions, and “Quiet,” which adjusts the volume for quiet environments. Spotify claims there’s no effect on audio quality when the volume level is set to Normal or Quiet, only when Loud is turned on, but I’m not so sure. Any additional filter is going to affect the overall sound, and I’m not interested in that when I’m looking for the highest quality experience possible.
Even as a Free subscriber, I hear a difference when disabling this setting.
Other settings to check
If you’re still not happy with your Spotify sound quality, check if the Equaliser is enabled under this same Playback menu. The Equaliser can be helpful for boosting or reducing certain sound elements, but it often gets in the way of the intended sound. I’d recommend turning it off if you don’t have a specific goal with it.
Under Audio Quality, make sure your sound quality is as high as possible, meaning “Very high” for Premium and “High” for free. That goes for both “WiFi streaming,” “Cellular streaming,” and “Download,” to make sure your sound quality is the best it can be no matter what the situation. Note that increasing the cellular streaming quality will use more cellular data. Finally, disable “Auto adjust quality” on this settings page to stop Spotify from lowering sound quality when it detects poor internet speeds.