Getting Your Music From Point A To Point B
Music streaming is all the rage these days, and chances are, you already do it. But are you getting the most out of your streaming music? That's the question we are here to answer today. We're also going to answer a few other questions about music streaming because everyone does it a little differently - and that's a good thing. We all like different kinds of music, we have different ergonomic scenarios, different budgets, different hearing, etc. But I think we can all agree that there's always room for improvement, and if you want the very best for your music and your ears then right now might be the best time to see if you're doing just that.
So let’s take a deeper look into not only figuring out what music streaming is but also the plethora of ways to get your music sounding the best it can be by streaming it from anywhere and any way you want.
- Clean setup with little to no cables
- Great sound quality
- Remote access via phone
- Connection with other devices for a complete home multi-room solution
- Wholly dependent on network connection speeds
- Can be finicky with multiple access points
- Sound quality can vary based on connection
Table of Contents
What is Music Streaming?
So, what is streaming? Streaming refers to any media content – live or recorded – delivered to computers, mobile devices, and more via the internet and played back in real-time. Podcasts, webcasts, movies, TV shows, and music videos are common forms of streaming content. It’s the technology of transmitting audio and/or video files in a continuous flow over a wired or wireless internet connection. This can be on a cellular device like a phone or via a computer or tablet on a home network. It can be wireless or wired. There can be just a singular device involved or multiple devices. It can be streaming via a service you pay for or it can be data you personally downloaded and own.
How does streaming work? There are 2 ways to look at this: paid services or media that you personally own. The media files are transmitted in sequential packets of data so they can be streamed instantaneously. And unlike traditional downloads that are stored on your device, media files are automatically deleted once you play them. That is if it is a streaming service like Spotify for example. But if you own the files or you are doing what is called Offline Content downloading, then in this case it is not deleted after use. All you need to stream is a reliable and fast high-speed internet connection, access or subscription to a streaming service or app, and a compatible device.
What are some examples of paid Streaming services? Spotify, Netflix, Prime Video, Qobuz, and more. This is only scratching the surface of streaming services. What are some examples of free Streaming options? Well, the biggest could be Youtube. But you could also consider the CD library you ripped and placed on a NAS on your home network - you can access it both at home and abroad and that can also be considered a streaming source.
The thing that makes it so complicated is that technically there is no right or wrong way to stream, and there are a million ways to do it. For the instances of this series, from here on out we’ll be talking about music streaming only unless otherwise clarified. Compatibility with gear is something we’ll talk about more in the last question because certain streaming services play nicer with certain gear.
But, streaming isn’t that cut and dry. Streaming could refer to connecting an external hard drive to a server, which is then used to stream the music to a set of connecting speakers or headphones. Streaming could refer to simply using wireless headphones with your phone and playing music from the phone - by “streaming” the music to the headphones, rather than from a music service. There are a lot of nuances you have to pay attention to when using the term, so be sure to pay attention to those things whenever it comes up. So from that point of view, streaming is done anytime there is a wireless connection made in your system, since the data or audio is transmitted, or streamed, to another device to help complete the signal from source to receiver.
Streaming could simply refer to the application you’re using to listen to music. As we spoke about before, if you do not physically have the data or files on your source device, like your phone or computer, then you will receive those files via a wireless connection, thus resulting in being able to listen to music that is not stored on your device. The application, therefore, serves as the medium for streaming music. Spotify, Pandora, Internet Radio, Qobuz, Tidal, Deezer, SoundCloud, SiriusXM, Amazon, and Apple Music - there are tons of options out there, and we’ll get into more details later when we talk about where you can stream music.
But for the sake of this guide, to keep it simple, music streaming refers to a variety of ways to get your music from point A to point B, whatever they may be. Bottom line is that you don't have that music locally on the receiving end - whether it be a set of speakers, wireless headphones, your phone, or whatever. If you’re playing music on something where you don’t have the music stored locally, then you are effectively transmitting it, or streaming it, from elsewhere.
Streaming refers to any media content – live or recorded – delivered to computers, mobile devices, and more via the internet and played back in real-time. It’s the technology of transmitting audio and/or video files in a continuous flow over a wired or wireless internet connection.
Why Stream Music?
Let’s face it, storage space on portable devices like phones isn’t cheap. If you’re into high-resolution audio, then each song takes up that much more space due to more data being in the file. More data per file means less music you can store locally. The easiest way to fix this is to not worry about storage at all and just stream your favorite music via the plethora of streaming services available out there. Not all streaming services are created equal, but we’ll get to that in a bit. Many services not only have access to thousands of albums, but some offer varying degrees of resolution, which should pique the interest of audiophiles and music enthusiasts. Not every streaming service offers high-resolution music, but we have the lowdown on what each service offers in our Digital Music Guide which we’ll link to below.
High-resolution audio is only a recent thing too - due to the fact that internet and cellular speeds and data transmission could only recently efficiently send high-volume data to your device. This is good news all around, as it gets us away from lossy, compressed MP3s and provides closer, more accurate representations of the music we know and love.
Know that no two streaming services are the same, so we break it down to help you figure out the right one for you. Like Netflix, Hulu, HBO, Prime Video, Tubi, and Pluto (video streaming services) - you have choices, and depending on your preferences and what you are looking for in your music and streaming preferences, what gear you are using, and compatibility, some will be better than others for your usage case. This leads us to our next question…
The music industry has changed drastically over the past couple of decades, and physical media libraries are going by the wayside, not entirely mind you, but there are two things that music streaming provides that physical media cannot: convenience and accessibility to a humongous library of thousands upon thousands of songs and albums readily available at the tap of the finger.
Where Do I Stream Music?
So if we’re talking about playing music from a source that is not directly connected to our receiver, then your music can be streamed from a number of different places (and services for that matter). The first answer is music streaming platform. For a monthly subscription, you can access thousands of songs and albums on your phone, tablet, computer, and more. It's easy, it's convenient, and it's affordable. Your typical services include Spotify, Pandora, Amazon, and Apple Music, also a host of others that offer true high-resolution files like Tidal and Qobuz which we’re big fans of here at Moon Audio. There are a ton of options to choose from, and setup is as simple as downloading the app on your phone and pressing play.
The good news is that there are lots of choices when it comes to music streaming services. We’ll go over some of the more popular streaming services here:
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Amazon has changed its streaming options for users recently. The good news is that if you're already an Amazon Prime member, then you get the full benefits of having a large library to choose from, including no ads, streaming to multiple devices, and unlimited song skips. This new revamp puts Amazon in a much better status than previously when compared to other popular streaming services like Spotify. With Amazon Prime Music, you get:
- Access to 2+ million songs
- Must be a Prime member/subscriber
- Thousands of playlists hand-curated by Amazon's "music experts"
- Personalized streaming stations, podcasts, and more content
- Music is available on demand and ad-free, with unlimited plays
- Titles change frequently, with many being added and removed on a rotational basis.
Paid Subscribers - Amazon Music Unlimited ($8.99/month, or $79/yr)
Supported Audio File Formats:MP3 and @ 320 kbit/s VBR
Amazon Music Unlimited still offers incredible value for what you spend, especially if you already have Amazon Prime. A larger, well-organized library (expanded to 100 million songs) makes for a good experience. Unlimited offers various HD and Ultra-HD resolution options for songs as well, making it a great competitor with hi-res streaming services like Tidal and Qobuz. Be aware that the catalog changes from month to month, so some saved selections might not be available for a time until they are cycled back in. Another plus is that new releases are available the moment they are released. Amazon Unlimited also offers various price plans for students, families, and multiple device playback options.
- Pros: Basic plan is free for Prime members, large library, lyrics, integration with the Amazon ecosystem, podcasts
- Cons: One device at a time for an individual-plan subscription, no free version for non-Prime members, catalog cycles
Apple has been the king of digital music since the inception of the iPod and had a helping hand in revolutionizing the industry. Here are some of the features you’ll get:
- Over 100 Million song catalog
- Save tracks locally to listen offline
- Define themselves as the "best way to organize and enjoy the music, movies, and tv shows you already have and shop for the ones you want to buy"
- Free streaming radio stations with iTunes Radio, over 30K playlists
- Compatible and integrated into all iOS devices
- DJ-curated and genre-specific stations
Paid Subscribers - Apple Music: (Starting at $4.99/month)
Supported Audio File Formats: iTunes can currently read, write and convert between MP3, AIFF, WAV, MPEG-4, AAC, and Apple Lossless (.m4a). iTunes can also play any audio files that QuickTime can play (as well as some video formats), including Protected AAC files from the iTunes Store and Audible audiobooks. The subscription plans start at $4.99 a month for the Voice Plan, $5.99 for students, $10.99 for the Individual Plan, and $16.99 for the Family Plan.
Apple has always had a great UI and catalog. The long trial is nice too. It’s a good option if you are already well integrated into their ecosystem, though the iCloud integration can be a nuisance if you are an Android user, as many of the app’s features are buggy on non-Apple operating systems.
- Pros: Seamless integration with the Apple ecosystem, large library size, great organization, lyric support, free 3-month trial, student discount, iCloud integration.
- Cons: Android version of the app has issues, one device at a time for standard subscriptions, and is pricey by comparison
Pandora was originally touted as a radio service before competing with other music streaming services (especially Spotify). Like Spotify, it’s great at tailoring its playlists to your listening preferences.
- Aims to provide people with “music and comedy they love anytime, anywhere through connected devices.”
- Personalized stations (defined by a favorite artist, song, or genre). More than 1 million tracks.
- Powered by the “Music Genome Project®”, which "captures the essence of music at the most fundamental level" and uses over 450 attributes to describe songs and a complex mathematical algorithm to organize them.
- 5 sub-genomes: Pop/Rock, Hip-Hop/Electronica, Jazz, World Music, and Classical.
- Taxonomy is built by using music DNA and listener feedback to craft personalized stations.
Paid Subscribers: Pandora Plus ($4.99/mo) - 192kbps AAC+; Pandora Premium ($9.99/mo) - 192kbps AAC+; (Free Version 64k)
The organic exposure to NEW music by Pandora is phenomenal. A lot of music lovers and especially audiophiles tend to stick to their jazz, blues, rock & roll, or electronica. While this is truly enjoyable, new music really opens up our minds and exposes us to new techniques, new artists, new influences, and even new genres.
- Pros: Ad-free for Premium subscribers, lyric support, personalization, rating system
- Cons: No live content, can't browse by category
Qobuz is relatively new on the market but is fairly competitive with rival Tidal. Qobuz has a lot of curated content despite missing some key artists in their library.
- 50 million tracks
- Exclusive editorial content
- Thousands of digital booklet
- Offline mode - download for offline listening
- Store - Hi-Res purchases at reduced prices
- Premium ($9.99/mo) - 320kbps MP3
- HiFi ($19.99/mo) - 16bit/44.1kHz FLAC (CD Quality Streaming)
- Studio/Studio Premier ($14.99/mo - limited time promo - usually $24.99/mo) - 24bit/192kHz FLAC (High-Resolution Quality Streaming)
- Sublime+ ($299.99/year) - High-Resolution Quality Streaming + purchasing advantages/HiRes downloads at reduced prices
Supported Audio File Formats: WAV, AIFF(uncompressed); FLAC, ALAC, WMA (lossless) Currently over 185,000 albums in high-resolution audio quality. New music is added regularly. Documentation quality: albums are commentated on and enriched, as Qobuz supplies documentation on their history. They also offer you the opportunity to browse through the millions of digital booklets in all applications. A great option for high-resolution streaming. A bit pricier than its mainstream counterparts, but for audiophile-quality streaming, there are not a lot of other options on the market at this time. Looking through the digital booklets is a nice touch and has a nostalgic quality to it. The opportunity to enjoy albums as they were meant in their full entirety - the music and art together - is a rarity today.
- Pros: Support for high-resolution audio, curated content, digital booklets, offline listening
- Cons: Pricey, limited library as competitors
Soundcloud started as a file upload site for just about everyone to be able to host their music. Today it still focuses on that accessibility and is a popular choice for artists trying to get their music available to the masses.
- Define themselves as the "world's leading social sound platform where anyone can create sounds and share them everywhere."
- Recording and uploading sounds to SoundCloud lets artists easily share them privately or publicly wtih friends, blogs, sites, & social networks
- Share on Twitter, Tumblr, Facebook, and Foursquare.
-can be accessed anywhere using the official iPhone and Android apps, and hundreds of apps built on the SoundCloud platform.
- They don’t modify original audio files for download but they are converted to MP3 joint stereo for STREAMING due to a bandwidth issue.
- SoundCloud Go ($4.99/mo) - 64kbps Opus
- SoundCloud Go+ ($9.99/mo) - 256kbps AAC (Higher Quality Audio + full catalog, ad-free)
- Free Version - 64kbps streaming (large underground selection)
Supported Audio File Formats: AIFF, WAVE (WAV), FLAC, ALAC, OGG, MP2, MP3, AAC, AMR, and WMR files. Max file size is 5GB.
SoundCloud's search options like Exploring Trending Music & Trending Audio is a real treat. You can search SoundCloud by genre on the left navigation or by Music icon on the center navigation with a picture, banner, and description. You can use social icons to promote your sound preferences here with: icons such as like, share, add to playlist, repost and even comment. It's a very interactive tool for music lovers to share their opinions, artists, genres, and more.
- Pros: Premiere service for emerging artists, and extensive library/catalog.
- Cons: Missing several big-name artists, no sort-music feature on Go, poor organization, low-quality audio.
Like Pandora, Spotify also has a playlist system that you can tailor to your listening preferences. They are also more integrated into social media in that you can share your listening history with others. Many more features are below:
- Define themselves as “Everything you want from music, completely free”
- Listener-curated playlists
- Customization and organization
- Available on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac
- New music suggestions for every mood and genre
- Free Version (with ads) - 128-160kbps Ogg Vorbis (Ogg Vorbis formats, ~96 kbps Normal quality on mobile or ~160 kbps high-quality on mobile and standard quality on desktop)
- Student ($4.99/mo) - adds offline playback and Hulu video streaming
- Individual (no ads) ($9.99/mo) - 256-320kbps Ogg Vorbis, ad-free, offline and on-demand playback
- Duo ($12.99/mo) - 2 accounts, ad-free music, offline and on-demand playback.
- Family ($15.99/mo) - 6 accounts, parental controls, ad-free, offline, on-demand playback, and Spotify Kids access
Supported Audio File Formats: OGG, FLAC
- Pros: Collaborative playlists, feature-rich free service, a wide variety of content, personalization
- Cons: Default stream is 160 kbps, no more lyric support
Tidal has become a popular choice lately among consumers due to its MQA accessibility and large library. Other features include:
- Cultivated playlists
- Download songs and playlists on up to three mobile devices
- Simultaneous play of downloaded mobile content and one desktop app
- Unlimited play
- Available on iOS, Android, PC, and Mac
Supported Audio File Formats: FLAC, MQA (Note: with MQA you need software to decode the compressed stream to 24/96 and then hardware to 24/192 resolution).
- Free Version - Tidal just added a free version to their streaming service, offering their entire music library at up to 160kbps. Ads are included with "limited interruptions."
- HiFi ($9.99/mo) - Up to 1411kbps (90M+ songs and 450K+ videos, create playlists and download for offline listening, ad-free, unlimited skips)
- HiFi Plus ($19.99/mo) - Up to 9216kbps/MQA (All Premium content plus lossless, CD and MQA quality streaming, Dolby Atmos, Sony 360, and HiFi. Tidal also gives up to 10% of your subscription fee to your favorite artists)
Another great option for high-resolution music streaming. MQA availability is nice and the overall experience is pleasant. Good value.
- Pros: MQA availability, audio quality, intuitive service, discount pricing for students, families, and military
- Cons: Limited device compatibility for MQA, smaller catalog compared to other services
Youtube music also has a streaming service that allows you to stream music and videos at a higher quality than some competitors. You’re already on YouTube half the day anyway looking at cat videos, right?
- Listen in the background - even when the phone is locked (the official free YouTube app doesn't allow you to do this)
- No ads
- Option to download
- Very large library
- Access to videos and official audio from the artist
Paid Subscribers: Premium ($9.99/mo) - 256kbps AAC
- Pros: large library, background listening, videos
- Cons: Not available in some countries, the free version is taxing with ads, poor library management, and higher-resolution streaming options out there
What Are The Best Music Streaming Services?
Needless to say, this is only a fraction of the total number of streaming services available right now. Each service offers its own selection of price points, libraries, and other features, so you'll need to consider which one is best for you. As you can see below, there are plenty of streaming services to choose from:
- Amazon Music
- Apple Music
- Google Play Music
- Line Music
- Music Choice
- MyTuner Radio
- NetEase Cloud Music
- Stingray Music
- Youtube Music
The next option is using a standalone device like a music streamer. Crazy right? Where can I stream music? Hey - try a music streamer. Thanks for coming to our Ted talk. Just kidding, but seriously - Music streamers are essentially the next step in music streaming from just playing songs off of your phone. They come in portable and desktop varieties and offer a much better music-listening experience due to their high-end components and internals. DACs, amps, and higher-processing power result in some quality high-resolution and streaming playback and is by far the preferred method of streaming for those who want to maintain a high level of sound reproduction. There are a variety of sizes, prices, features, and more, and we’ll go into more detail about specific gear, what they do and how they work in our next section.
Well, what if you don’t want to pay a monthly subscription to a streaming service but you have a ton of music on a hard drive? Cool. Hook it up with a server or even configure it as external storage on your music streamer. There are lots of ways to stream music without a streaming service, per se, and many ways to even integrate your existing library with your streaming library if you wanted to with additional software. The possibilities are endless. The only remaining question is…how do I do it?
How Do I Stream Music?
The good news is that there's no shortage of ways to stream your favorite music. The easiest way is using what's already in your pocket most of the day: your phone. Streaming music through an application on your phone is the first place to start for everyone because you already have access to various streaming services that have free options. So, if you've never streamed music, this is the place to start. Download an app and listen away. It's a great way to familiarize yourself with layout, function, and what's available to you in regards to a library of songs and albums. The only downside is that once you are hooked on music streaming, your phone hardly does the music justice. We suggest better gear because your ears deserve better too.
Let's say you're already a streaming aficionado. You might even already have a streaming subscription and frequent it regularly on your daily commute, at work, or during a workout. Your AirPods or wireless headphones from Best Buy just aren't cutting it for you anymore, and you're looking to up your listening game with a couple of baby steps? Great.
The logical next step in your music streaming journey should be to take a look at DAPs if you're interested in keeping your streaming portable. DAP stands for Portable Audio Player and are essentially like iPods on steroids. They're made with premium components, high-end DACs, amplifier circuits, and can handle hi-res local and streaming files and formats with ease. More power, better sound, and having a device solely designated to making your music sound the best it can result in huge gains in fidelity over your smartphone. DAPs can range a lot in price as well, and they can range from around $500 for an older or less powerful model to $3,000 and up. Some of the best brands that we recommend are Astell&Kern, iBasso, and Sony.
The great thing about digital audio players is that they can handle high-resolution audio streams with efficiency. Playing hi-res files on your iPhone with some Airpods is quite frankly ridiculous because the technology of those Apple products will not yield quality results for high-resolution audio. They do however work in much the same way as a smartphone, so likewise, you'll need to download your streaming apps (or in some cases, they come preinstalled) and press play. An audiophile-quality DAP paired with a nicer pair of headphones will provide a better listening experience all around. DAPs can also act as an access point for an external library. For example, Astell&Kern DAPs have what they call BT Sink - "BT" stands for Bluetooth - and can essentially connect to a device like your phone where you have a music library stored locally, connect via Bluetooth, and stream it through the much better internals of the music player. Why do this? Well if you don't have the storage space on your DAP or want to supplement your existing library with an external one, then BT Sink is a great option to give you access to even more music. In the end, DAPs are a great first step in upgrading your music from your phone. It's time to get your music back to a standalone playback device like an iPod, just something a little (okay, a LOT) better than your phone.
Astell&Kern BT Sink Tutorial & Review | Moon Audio
Available on Astell&Kern's newest DAPs, BT Sink allows you to play music and control your player from another device. But what's the real use case here? Watch more to find out!
Portable Music Streamers
So, let's say that being portable isn't necessarily important to you. Let's check out some music streamers that fit best for desktop scenarios. The best starting point would be the standalone music streamer like the Zen Stream from ifi Audio or the Bluesound Node. These devices are simple to set up, requiring only an app to control the device as well as integrate with your streaming apps all in one place. You can control the device from the app on your smartphone or tablet, or hook it up to a computer via USB and have it stream to your connected Bluetooth device for audio output. It's a great way to get into standalone music streaming with a desktop setup because the streamers themselves are small and affordable, with two great options mentioned here for under $500. Don't be fooled that they're not capable hi-res devices at this price either, because they can easily integrate into much more expensive systems while doing all the heavy lifting of the streaming process directly.
Going a little further and you can get all-in-one units that take on all the roles of your hi-res sound system. All you'll need to do is plug in some speakers or headphones. Typically, these streamers have integrated preamps, amplifier sections, high-end DACs, and high processing power with filters and more to make your streaming music sound the very best it can. Streamers like the Naim Uniti Atom and the Element X2 from Matrix Audio make some of the best all-in-one streaming solutions, with great designs and user experiences. You can set up and access your entire local and streaming music library from one device, and apart from the sheer convenience of doing that, the high-end components in each of these streamers will impress even the most seasoned audiophiles out there. Apart from the noticeable price increase, you'll also have a greater number of inputs and outputs, that in turn increase the compatibility and functionality of the streamer.
You can connect external hard drives with music via USB ports, access network drives via a home NAS system, and use software that integrates your streaming subscriptions with your local music all in one place - there are lots of ways to configure your system depending on where your music comes from. If you have a lot of local storage then a device like a music server or a streamer would be a great option to access your local library remotely. A NAS, or network-attached-storage, works similarly, allowing you to access music files on a hard drive that is configured and connected to your home network. There are even devices like the CD Ripper from Astell&Kern that will take your CDs and rip them directly to your device - DAP or computer - so in theory, you could even set it up to rip your CDs directly to a hard drive which is set up on your home network, allowing you to instantly stream it to your system the moment it's finished ripping. The possibilities are endless.
Desktop Music Streamers
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Silver Dragon Sound Signature: The Silver Dragon is the original cable. Silver strands clarify instrument separation, increase the soundstage, and find previously lost high and mid-frequency sounds. Transients appear more cohesive and the bass is tighter for a more controlled sound. The detail and clarity of the Silver Dragon make it a perfect match for classical music and other genres with many nuanced instruments.
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At the end of the day, there are a million and one ways to set up your high-fidelity music streaming system, and the trick is figuring out the best way for your music listening style and what best integrates into your system. Streaming is just a way to get your music from point A to point B, and whether or not you like to stream music from an app or have your music stored locally to stream to a device in your home, there is no right or wrong way to do it. Every music lover's library and ergonomic scenario is different, and so should their music streaming solution. Portable, desktop, NAS, all-in-one device, standalone, streaming apps, external storage - you can configure your system in whatever way makes the best sense to you.
If you have any questions about how to set up your music streaming system or want to get more from your music in general, feel free to Contact Us, and we'll be more than happy to help create a custom music streaming solution for you!