◎現今主要的音樂串流服務看似千篇一律，但若仔細去分辨仍存在許多差異：例如Spotify沒有Taylor Swift的音樂、Apple Music投入可觀的賭注想用Beats 1來重塑廣播電台。而另一個重點就是音質了，Tidal聞名的是它提供真正的無損音質1.4Mbps的串流服務，其音質為正統CD的規格；Spotify最好的音質為320kbps；Apple Music則採用稍低的256kbps，不過卻也採用的更好的編碼方式AAC，Spotify採用的為Ogg Vorbis。
◎但這些串流媒體細緻的分別在現實生活中究竟代表著什麼呢？我們邀請Vox Media的員工在鏡頭前，針對Spotify、Tidal以及Apple Music的音質進行盲測。
◎測試方法為讓受試者戴著Sony的MDR-7506耳機（選擇這款耳機是因為其品牌知名度、中性的音質以及適中的價格）連接到iPhone 6 Plus手機，以三家音樂串流服務各自的最高音質，連續聆聽同樣三首不同類型且各具不同音質特色之歌曲的某一段落，這三首歌分別為Kendrick Lamar的《Complexion (A Zulu Love) 》、St. Vincent的《Digital Witness》，以及Aaron Copland的《Fanfare for the Common Man》。受試者聆聽完後，請他們說出心目中覺得哪個串流服務聽起來特別好、特別糟糕或者三者差不多。
Sameness pervades all the major streaming music services these days, but there are still many, many differences once you look into the details: take Spotify's lack of Taylor Swift content, for instance, or Apple Music's substantial bet on reinventing the radio station with Beats 1. There's also the matter of audio quality — you might think that all of these services would deliver the exact same digital stream to your ears, but you'd be wrong. Tidal's claim to fame is that it delivers true lossless streams at 1.4Mbps — legitimate CD quality, for all practical purposes — while Spotify tops out at 320kbps. Apple Music runs at a slightly lower 256kbps, but it uses a better encoding scheme, AAC, than Spotify's Ogg Vorbis. (Note that in the video, I misidentify it as MP3, but the two sound very similar, especially at higher bitrates.)
But what does this all actually mean in the real world? We wanted to find out, so we put a bunch of Vox Media staff in front of the camera for a blind test between Spotify, Tidal, and Apple Music.
The methodology was straightforward: subjects listened to the same segment of the same song back-to-back on all three services set to their maximum streaming bitrates. We used Sony's MDR-7506 headphones — selected for their popularity, neutral sound, and non-outrageous price tag — paired to an iPhone 6 Plus. Subjects judged a total of three songs covering a spectrum of genres and audio characteristics: Kendrick Lamar's "Complexion (A Zulu Love)," St. Vincent's "Digital Witness," and Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man" off the Copland Conducts Copland compilation. After listening to each song, we asked them to just say whatever was on their mind — if one service sounded notably better, notably worse, or if all three were about the same.
THE RESULTS WERE VERY, VERY SURPRISING TO ME
The results were very, very surprising to me. It was generally random across the board, though Spotify fared slightly worse than Apple Music and Tidal overall. In roughly 29 percent of the tests, subjects couldn't tell any notable difference at all. Tidal — which wants you to pay more for lossless quality — most definitely didn't take the crown, and in several cases, subjects actually identified it as the worst-sounding of the three.
What are the takeaways? Having been a longtime Tidal subscriber and run blind tests on my laptop between Tidal and Spotify in the past, it seems possible that the difference in quality is particularly irrelevant when you're using your phone — maybe it's one thing to use better components, headphones, and speakers, but a phone's hardware creates a baseline that renders Tidal's advantage totally useless. (That's good news if you mostly listen to streaming music on your phone, since Tidal's lossless service is $10 more per month.)
And, of course, remember that St. Vincent likes crunchy horns.