What To Listen to On a Whole House Audio System
We Spotlight the Top Music Streaming Services
Sometimes we don’t think about it, but the way we listen to music has changed markedly over the past 20 years. Gone — or almost gone — are stacks of physical media like CDs. Yet some people are still buying vinyl records, or are enjoying their collections from the past 40 years. While vinyl is still alive and well because of that tangible music experience it delivers, the predominant way to listen is now music streaming.
The digital transformation for music began with the CD in the 1980s. CDs brought higher dynamic range for audio in a format that lasts much longer than vinyl records and doesn’t degrade over time. From the CD the next step was in audio compression (codecs like MP3) that enabled the Apple slogan for the iconic iPod of 30,000 songs in your pocket. It was only a matter of time before cloud technology, fast data transmission, and a smartphone in every pocket would give way to streaming 40 or 50 million songs from the cloud — for a small monthly fee. No more ”owning” music like a record or CD, you have access to almost any recorded music anywhere via streaming.
Of course, most of us are familiar with music streaming services like Pandora, Spotify, Apple Music, and others. Are they all the same? They offer similar functionality overall and have access to (mostly) the same music, but some differences could steer you to use one over the other. The good news is that if you are considering investing in whole house audio for your Houston, TX home, all of these are available through various systems. It all comes down to your preferences.
Ready to learn more about your streaming choices? Just keep reading.
Pandora is the originator of music streaming, starting on the web before the smartphone era. In an age of subscriptions, it still offers a free tier, but you would have to listen to a fair amount of ads. Pandora uses the radio station model where you can enter an artist, song, or album and it starts playing music as a customized station. The paid Plus tier removes ads, allows unlimited song skips, and increases the bit rate for higher quality streaming. The Premium tier is geared to compete with services like Spotify, offering a more extensive music library, offline capability, custom playlists, and importantly, the ability to listen to any song or album on demand. Besides its simplicity, another Pandora strength is ubiquity. It's integrated with everything from car infotainment systems to AV receivers to (of course) whole house audio products like those from our partners Crestron and Sonos.
Apple has a long history in music, which even predates the iPod as the Macintosh computer system was a longtime favorite of music creators. They became the dominant force in digital music distribution through the success of first the iPod, then the iPhone, and the iTunes music store. They were not early entrants into music streaming, but they are catching up fast. Since launching in 2015, Apple Music now counts more than 50 million paying subscribers. While the best Apple Music experience is on Apple devices, it does have an app for Android smartphones. The service offers curated playlists, the Beats1 radio station, and the ability to play over 40 million tracks on demand. Many whole home systems have licensed Apple's Airplay technology, which makes it very easy to play any audio — not just from Apple Music — on your whole home system. Apple Music is part of the Music app on iPhones and iPads and part of iTunes Mac, so if you're all in on Apple devices, this could be the right service for you.
Amazon Music is an easy choice for anyone that subscribes to Amazon Prime shopping, as there's no additional cost for the basic tier. The base tier of Amazon Music had a good and broad selection of music choices without any ads. As a step up, the Unlimited option increases the available library to tens of millions of tracks and adds better features for playlists, offline listening, and more. One nice feature of Amazon Music is its integration with Alexa. You can use voice commands to play a song, album, or artist radio, and even ask details about the track. However, we should note that Alexa also integrates with services like Apple Music, Pandora, and Spotify, so you can use it to have voice control over those services as well. If you are interested in voice control for whole house audio and other smart home features, we can integrate that for you for a variety of music sources.
Spotify is currently the biggest streaming service, boasting over 90 million subscribers around the world. It can be enjoyed for free with ads, but the experience is designed for paying subscribers. Spotify has invested heavily in a broad and deep music library, excellent recommendation and discovery algorithms, and integration with a wide variety of devices and audio systems. Their Spotify Connect feature is unique in that it allows one device to tell another what to play and act as a remote control, or you can easily switch back to the smartphone or tablet being used for control. Unlike Bluetooth or even Airplay, the audio is not streaming through the controlling device. This feature is handy if you are listening at home on your whole house system, but then want to take it with you in the car when you leave.
Tidal is one of the newer services on the music streaming block and is staking out a claim to appeal to audiophiles and enthusiasts with better audio quality. Tidal can stream CD-quality lossless audio, which takes up a little more data bandwidth but you can hear the difference with the right equipment. It has a library almost as extensive as Apple and Spotify, but the app experience — including music recommendations and discovery — is not quite at the level of those more mature services. Tidal is also uniquely adopting MQA technology, which is an innovative technology that can efficiently stream high-resolution audio. If you are an audiophile and care about lossless and high-resolution audio, Tidal might be the service for you. Tidal is also being integrated into a variety of high-end and whole home audio systems as well.
While there are more choices than even these for streaming, the good news is that most whole house audio systems are compatible with all of these. Refined Systems can design and install the right setup for your Houston, TX home for seamless audio everywhere. To learn more, just use the chat below to connect with one of our experts, or contact us today!