Audio quality. I’m a firm believer that convenience will always win out in this argument. Let me explain. I’ve chased high quality audio my entire career in music recording and mixing. I appreciate it. But in the streaming music ecosystem, most people (me included) would rather listen without a dropout or buffering, than listen to high quality audio that stops and starts. As technology has evolved and internet connections have gotten faster for the consumer, audio quality has gotten better in all arenas.
After-all, iTunes started selling music with a bitrate of 128kbps – we all understand now that this is not high enough. At this point, most streaming services are offering 320kbps bitrate, either straight-up or as a premium offering. Beats Music, Spotify, Google Play, Deezer, YouTube – these links explain their audio quality offering. Rdio currently says they offer 192kbps, but their recent blog post says they are upgrading soon to 320kbps.
The lean back “radio services” currently offer less quality. Pandora has a maximum bitrate of 192kbps for paying subscribers. iTunes radio does not say at what bitrate they stream, but the general consensus is probably 256kbps (the same as their download offering).
There are some people trying to push the quality even higher. They call it lossless. Basically, this means it is at least CD quality (16bit, 44.1khz), if not higher. Artist Neil Young recently raised over $6M with a Kickstarter campaign for his high quality audio player called Pono. And Wimp music is also trying to direct their business into a high quality offering.
We can be assured the streaming services will offer higher and higher quality audio as technology and bandwidth allow. 320kbps is currently the standard offering. Unfortunately, history shows us convenience will always take precedent over quality for the standard consumer when it comes to audio.