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Sound quality: give me details

JD (wuputah) Aug 10, 2011 12:10PM PDT

This has been asked before (on the old help site) but without any definitive answer. In short, I'd like some details to the sound quality being provided by Rdio: what codec do you use and what bitrate?

I never listen to the "low quality" streams, I'm either on the desktop clients (both OS X and Windows), the web client, or playing songs offline from my phone. You can safely assume I have infinite bandwidth on all devices.

I use audiophile quality headphones and without knowing the quality of the source material I simply don't know whether using Rdio is sufficient for my needs. I'd rather know this ahead of time instead of diving into A/B tests off CDs and such.

Thank you.

Community Responses

Up -48 rated Down
Madelyn T. Rdio Employee Aug 10, 2011 04:52PM PDT

Hi JD,

We're not currently providing specific bitrate or codec information. We experiment with different rates and encoding formats in an effort to provide the best possible listening and user-experience, and stream CD-quality audio over the web and wifi (for mobile devices), and only stream a lower bitrate if you’re on a 3G connection.

We realize that is not be as much detail as you’d like, and we apologize for this — if you have feedback about Rdio’s sound quality as you're listening, please do let us know.

All the best,
Madelyn

Up 30 rated Down
JD (wuputah) Aug 10, 2011 05:00PM PDT

Okay, I guess I will cancel my subscription. Until you can provide this information, I will use a competitor or go back to buying CDs. Without knowing the details, I simply cannot know whether what I'm hearing is as it was intended.

Thank you.

Up -17 rated Down
Jim Barraud Aug 11, 2011 09:37AM PDT

@JD If you can't tell the quality from listening, why does it matter? You could easily create a 320kbps MP3 that sounds like crap.

Up -2 rated Down
Frank Arroyo Aug 11, 2011 11:19AM PDT

Not sure if serious or just trolling.....

Up 37 rated Down
JD (wuputah) Aug 11, 2011 08:28PM PDT

To me, the purpose of a product like this is not just convenience, it's not having to buy CDs anymore. If I am not getting actual CD quality music, however, this is a deal-breaker for me.

In Madelyn's reply, the most detail we're offered is "CD quality". I've heard 128kbps MP3s be called "CD Quality" in the past. Well, I would never rip anything under 192kbps MP3 and would prefer 256kbps MP3, but my favorite for trading space for quality is 192kbps AAC.

As for whether I can hear a difference in quality: that would require me buying the CD and comparing the two side by side. Sure, I can go do this with my music I already own on CD, but this defeats the purpose of Rdio for me. I don't want to think: hm, does this sound weird because it was a bad recording, or because of my music service?

I'm afraid in this day in age, I can't use -- and more importantly, pay for -- a service that hides behind a secret technology and won't reveal what I'm actually buying. I need more transparency than that. If the service was free then they can do whatever they want. As a paying customer, I feel I have a right to know what I'm getting.

Cheers.

Up 18 rated Down
Steve Long Aug 12, 2011 09:59AM PDT

I tend to agree with JD. Since we are paying for the service it would seem fair that we know what we are getting. Is it really that much of a trade secret to reveal bitrate? Honestly it just makes Rdio seem shady, like they are trying to pull a fast one on the customer. I'm not saying that's what is happening; however, it gives that appearance. I for one feel that Spotify has better sound quality. I'm waffling between Spotify and Rdio right now. With Rdio I like the social networking aspect and iPad applicatoin; hwoever, I still want great quality sound and I feel I get an incredible sound through Spotify which claims 320kps.

Up 20 rated Down
Sergei Mutovkin Aug 12, 2011 01:25PM PDT

RDIO is the only service of this kind that does not disclose their bitrates simply because there is nothing to brag about :(
I did a few AB tests with content that I own on CDs. Desktop client quality is somewhat better than 128kbps (may be they just apply heavy equalization), but not even close to 192kbps VBR MP3s or AAC files. Also somewhere in the FAQ they say that they sell 256kbps files since that's the highest bitrate they have access to. So it means they are doing transcoding from a lossy source and get even worse quality than what I would get from encoding directly from lossless source (one psycho model on top of the other). Also, I'm 100% sure that RDIO applies some sort of equalization in their software which makes sound more "punchy" compared to more flat versions that are on CD. This at times is annoying and I wish there was an option to disable this feature.

I love RDIO since they are the only service available in Canada. However, I can't wait for MOG to come to our market. Alternatively RDIO has to switch to better bitrates, but I don't think this will happen, I would assume they have to pay less to the studios because they stream in lower bitrate.

@Steve Long - Spotify claims they use Ogg Vorbis 320Kbps Quality Setting 9. In my experience, this is something I can call "CD Quality" since I can't AB easily (when I tested encoding my own Ogg Vorbis encodes).

Up 29 rated Down
Wilson Miner Aug 12, 2011 02:38PM PDT

It's a tough question to answer because the simple answers can be misleading. If you see any streaming service advertise a blanket bitrate, you can be sure at this point that not all of their catalog is streaming at that rate. In some cases, it might be a lot less than you think.

Rdio varies the streaming bitrate on the mobile clients depending on your connection. On the web and desktop, we stream up to 320kbps based on what is available to us.

Bandwidth and storage aren't the material costs related to streaming, so there's no benefit for Rdio to scale back quality on our end.

If you're listening and something doesn't sound right, let us know and we'll look into it.

Up 4 rated Down
Ken Francis Aug 15, 2011 07:32PM PDT

This is a very important thing for me too. It is not an issue if it is a recording I already know well - if it sounds good compared to the original, it sounds good. I know that I've heard low bitrate or transcoded versions of songs and hated them, only to later hear them in higher quality and adore them. I think this is the toss-up that JD is encountering. It's all very well for me to stream Dark Side of the Moon and know how it stacks up against MP3 V0 or a 192kbps, but when I'm listening to NEW music with Rdio I need to know that it represents it accurately.

I'm currently on a trial after Googling whether Spotify is available in Canada yet. As Rdio holds the monopoly on the Canadian market, you are at quite an advantage. I'm currently listening to Adele - 21 and it all sounds fine through my harmon/kardon computer speakers. I'd love to know that I could eliminate other formats of music and solely use Rdio for my music consumption, particularly when I upgrade my listening equipment in the near future. In a market where music can come freely (albeit illegally) at little to no effort, paying $5 a month towards SOME of my music consumption seems a little redundant if we have no guarantees.

All that said, I am really enjoying what I'm gaining from the experience at the moment. The design is sleek and sexy, everything's damn easy to use and it seems as though you have all the right integrations in all the right places. A nice solution would just be something that the user could set in their profile to give a simple warning if the stream drops below a certain codec. This way the user could choose not to listen on Rdio for fear of misrepresenting the original recording, or could go ahead and listen with fair warning that this may not be the best the music could sound. For example, I'd really like if a little box popped up and simply said "The music you are listening to may drop below 192kbps." Of course, most users would not care about this at all, but the ones that did would really appreciate the option.

Thanks for reading.
@kfrncs

Up -14 rated Down
Steven Hubert Aug 25, 2011 07:31AM PDT

To the OP why don't you just compare a CD you already own with a track on Rdio and determine if the quality is good enough for you vs purchasing a new one? Seems like you are just trying to ruffle feathers.

I to listen to music on my laptop at work on $500 Sennheiser noise-canceling headphones and have 3 other pairs of $200-300 headphones and I can say I have NEVER been disappointed by Rdio's sound quality.

Up 6 rated Down
JD (wuputah) Aug 27, 2011 12:54AM PDT

This seems appropriate again, but I guess I'll bite.
> Not sure if serious or just trolling...

If you want to have a serious discussion, put your dollar signs away. I'm honestly surprised you've never heard any artifacts on PXC-450s or HD-595s. But the issue here is not whether you've heard something questionable - it's *how do you know* if something you hear is:

* Your equipment (headphones, amp, DAC, etc)
* Your audio source (rdio)

Now surely, you should test your equipment against something dependable, like a CD you know well. But on Rdio, I want to forget about CDs. But without knowing the quality of the source, without a doubt in my mind, it simply breaks the whole concept. Once the doubt was planted in my mind, I couldn't escape it.

I'm not saying other competitors are doing this better - Spotify advertises 320kbps on Premium, but as Wilson pointed out, this is not going to be available for every song. The problem thus continues - when am I getting 320 vs 160 vs ???.

I was a paying customer, and I felt I had a right to know the answer to this question. I was not looking to "ruffle feathers" here. I didn't even look at competitors until I got the response from Madelyn. However, I was not satisfied with the non-answer and did what any consumer should: voted with my wallet. I am, however, glad to see Wilson's response and may rejoin Rdio after my month is up with Spotify.

On the other hand, Spotify has a native Linux client... but that's another story. :)

Up 3 rated Down
Sergei Mutovkin Aug 30, 2011 01:00PM PDT

I believe sound quality increased recently. Whether or not this is subjective I don't know. I might have gotten used to the artifacts or just don't pay as much attention (listening via Sennheiser HD-497 and Denon AH-D2000 headphones). Back when I started I could AB much easier than I can do right now.

Anyway, I would love to know precisely what I'm listening to. A simple indicator with three digits would let me figure out if it the recording that is crap or just a function of encoding. As I understand RDIO does not encode music itself but gets it already encoded by studios (or some third party). Do you guys know which encoder is used? For example, a lot of built-in software use Fraunhofer encoder - which depending on the version is quite poor.

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