Sound Quality vs. Streaming

SOUND QUALITY VS. STREAMING

 

June 2020
by Dominik Züger, product development

We, at PIEGA, are frequently asked about our opinion on music streaming and usually counter with a more vital question: What is your way of listening to music and what is the device of your choice? Do you prefer putting on a record or would you rather listen to music simply and quickly by using an app?

This is entirely your decision. But at the same time it’s important to us to raise awareness for the subject of sound quality in general. In order to judge the quality of streaming we first have to take a few steps back and take a closer look at those three components, that have a significant impact on the quality of sound reproduction:

The influence of Mastering

The final mastering of the different types of audio carriers, e.g. CD’s or stream is never the same. The mastering of a record for example is very different from that of a CD. Meaning that the exact same music will sound ever so slightly different depending on the media of choice. Not because of the medium, but because of how the music title was produced.

Roger Waters’ song “Amused to Death, Perfect Sense, Pt. I” is a perfect example. This recording purposefully uses phase shifts to achieve a music stage that goes far beyond the speaker positioning. In other words: Some sounds don’t seem to emerge from the speakers, but rather from somewhere along its sides.

We have successfully demonstrated this effect many times in our own showroom, but limited to the use of CD’s. Streaming only gives a hint of what we’d like the audience to perceive. Again, this has nothing to do with a higher or lower playback quality, it is simply due to the fact that the mastering was different.

The role of electronics

The electronics, i.e. the conversion from data carrier to amplified signal, will yet again vary. The range of hi-fi devices is huge and their pros and cons could be discussed at length.
You are able to choose from a large variety, including expensive high-quality electronics, for each desired medium. And your choice will contribute to the sound quality – but then again, even the best equipment is entirely at the mercy of the third and final component: room acoustics.

The relevance of acoustics

Room acoustics may well have the greatest influence on the sound reproduction. Even the best system will sound lousy when set up in an acoustically unfavourable room. But some minor, and not necessarily costly, changes are often enough to improve the sound quality tremendously. The positioning of the loudspeakers in a room for example has a huge impact on its reproduction quality. There are also various professional solutions for acoustic elements in all colours and shapes.

Of course, your loudspeaker plays an essential role and you can influence the sound quality enormously according to the model and preferences. The acoustic tuning of a loudspeaker is also of great importance as it determines the way sounds are perceived. Practice shows that if we switch back and forth between minimally different tunings (on the same loudspeaker) practically anyone can hear the difference.

But if we compare streaming and SACD it becomes difficult, even for trained ears, to tell the difference.

What I’m getting at is …

… that in order to judge the sound quality, other factors play a more important role than bits, frequencies, data rates etc. In my opinion streaming is much more about usability than about technical parameters. And even Bluetooth, which is still frowned upon in high-end circles, can sound surprisingly good.

That’s why to me streaming is no longer a limiting factor, even if you’re heading for a high-end music experience. For music performances in our own showroom, we mostly access streaming platforms in order to create a number of testing playlists for customers, for example on Tidal or Spotify.

By the way, here you can find an overview of all PIEGA playlists created over the years which you can stream via Tidal and Spotify:

 

PIEGA Playlists

Test tracks for Premium Wireless speaker:

Summer Mood:

Winter Mood:

Meet Dominik!

Dominik joined PIEGA in mid of 2017 and quickly became an important part of the PIEGA family. By joining us, Dominik brought extensive experience and know-how within electronic design and development. Dominik has been a key player in the whole development phase of the new generation PIEGA speakers. Even though Dominik is rather new to the PIEGA family, he is actually an old fan of the house and has had PIEGA speakers at home long before he joined the company. He likes to refer to himself as “a true PIEGA enthusiast”!