I have experimented extensively with lossless audio and the Groove Music service. Then I got curious, how does the streaming audio compare between both services?
Normally, to compare streaming audio quality in a scientifically valid manner the streaming audio files would need to be compared using identical equipment – except that type of experiment contains an inherent fallacy when it comes to music streaming.
These days when you purchase a service or a piece of equipment you are buying into a digital ecosystem. Usually, when combining services and devices, there are benefits (both tangible and intangible) to being monogamous to one ecosystem. Have an android phone? Then google Music will work more smoothly than other music providers. The same goes for Apple and Microsoft.
So I did my audio test in my home theater and compared the audio quality of Groove Music playing though the XBOX One vs Apple Music playing on an Apple TV 3.
All other equipment stayed the same – reasonably high end equipment, nothing too crazy expensive – after all running a free blog where you discuss electronics and rant against gun owners isn’t very lucrative! (Boston Acoustics Tower Speakers, Onkyo Receiver, Golden Ear Force Field subwoofer). In both cases the devices were streaming uncompressed HDMI and the sound settings on the amplifier were identical.
It was no contest. The Apple TV streaming from Apple Music’s sound quality blew away the Xbox One streaming from Groove Music. It wasn’t even close. Heck – even Mrs. Mindcrime could tell the difference and described the sound of the music from Groove on the Xbox One as “muffled and muddy”.
This is by no means a scientific test, however if you are considering shelling out for Groove Music – and as a Microsoft fanboy I hate to say this – you should probably give Apple Music a listen first.
I’ve just started to play with the Xbox One game – Elite: Dangerous. So far, my impressions are pretty favorable! The game is complicated, but the dog-fighting with star fighters is pretty fun stuff. The game’s combat mechanics remind me a lot of X-Wing from back in the 1990s. When learning the controls, I couldn’t find a clear schematic for the default control layout in English. There is a similar one online to this, but the controls are mislabeled. This .jpg was created by playing the game using the game streaming feature in Windows 10 and then taking a screen shot. Enjoy!
As a result of my frustrations with figuring out how to make a lossless/ HD Audio setup work, I began to wonder:
Is all this extra expense and trouble worth it?
I have been researching the data on lossless and HD audio blind tests and the evidence is pretty clear that no it is not. (I found this article pretty compelling.) However, I did notice one common thread amongst the experiments. They all do their blind tests using headphones.
I can see why. Generally headphones provide a top-rate listening environment. However, advocates of HD Audio argue that the music “feels” better. Speakers move air to create sound. I wonder if the “feel” that many audio enthusiasts appreciate from HD Audio comes from the movement of air in the room? I can’t seem to find where anyone has done a blind comparison using top-notch speakers in a good listening environment instead of headphones. When I do my “blind” tests using my home theater speakers my friends can spot the better audio file 75% of the time. (I use a quality MP3 and an HD Audio 24-bit FLAC file to compare.)
If anyone finds a fairly credible study using speakers instead of headphones, please be sure to let me know using the comments section.
UPDATE 8/9/18: I did some side -by-side comparisons of an mp3 vs. a 24-bit FLAC file on some seriously high-end gear. (Golden Ear Triton One Towers and McIntosh amp…nice stuff!) and none of us could tell the difference. Sample size was only 3 people…and no-one was an audiophile listener (despite owning nice gear).