Music streaming

How to Listen to Spatial and High Definition Streaming Music, CD / HD, Ultra HD, Dolby Atmos, and 360 Reality Audio

Spatial audio and high definition audio are great ways to listen to high quality music through Amazon Music Unlimited, Deezer, Tidal, and other streaming services, but how can you set up your phone, speakers, your headphones, etc.

I’m going to use Amazon Music Unlimited as an example to illustrate, as this morning Australian subscribers found their audio quality has improved across the board. All Amazon Music streaming tracks are now in minimum HD quality (same as a CD) and sometimes also available in Ultra HD, Dolby Atmos, and 360 Reality Audio.

Spatial / 3D audio is an immersive audio format that turns stereo tracks into a multidimensional audio experience, adding space, clarity and depth.

All songs listened to by Amazon Music Unlimited subscribers are available in HD, just under 10% are available in Ultra HD and an unknown number of songs (rumored to be in the thousands) available in Dolby Atmos / Sony 360 Reality Audio.

As the infographic below explains that standard quality streaming music is compressed, HD audio (CD quality) has twice the musical detail and Ultra HD ten times the musical detail.

Now, just because your streaming service supports higher quality music playback than a CD doesn’t mean you will be able to listen to it.

If you are streaming live music, you need at least 1.5Mbps network speed plus your device, headphones and speakers should support higher quality audio music playback.

Wait there is more. You need to make sure your streaming music service application settings have spatial audio (Dolby Atmos / 360 Reality Audio) enabled and set the audio quality at which you want the songs to be streamed and downloaded.

There are still other settings that can impact your audio quality. IPhones support Dolby Atmos from 11, for Android phones you need to check the sound / audio settings. Besides turning Atmos on or off, you can also change environment and / or equalizer settings.

Unsurprisingly, higher quality audio tracks take up more space on your device, so be careful of the setting you download songs at if you’re streaming in HD and only have a small quota of mobile data or your phone doesn’t. has only a small amount of storage, eg: 32 GB. As shown below, an Ultra HD song can use approximately 17 times as much storage space.

The size of a downloaded song depends on the file’s bit resolution, sample rate, and compression codec used, with higher quality lossless files being larger. Below are sample file sizes for a 3.5-minute song:

  • SD (lossy): 9 MB
  • HD (lossless, 44.1kHz sample rate): 51MB
  • Ultra HD (lossless, max 192 kHz sample rate): 153 MB

Finally, you will notice in the screenshots above that the songs played over Bluetooth are of lower quality than those played over the cable.

Songs played directly from a speaker or home audio system that directly supports Dolby Atmos / 360 Reality Audio and / or Ultra HD will also sound better than if you connect to them via Bluetooth.

Now comes the tricky part. Does a music track that you listen to in Ultra HD, Dolby Atmos or 360 Reality Audio sound better than the track in HD or SD?

There is no wrong or right answer and the answer is unclear because everyone’s ears are different to begin with and as you get older the range of frequencies you can hear decreases.

Sometimes a music track sounds better in the Dolby Atmos or 360 Reality Audio version simply because it has been remastered from the original recording with more noise and added clarity.

Other times you might prefer the HD version of a track just because your brain is used to hearing it that way.

Then there’s the way you listen to a song. Via bluetooth, the sound will be worse than wired or played directly on a speaker / home audio system via broadcast or voice command. Of course, the device you use will also make a difference, listening through the free headphones that came with your phone will sound a lot worse than good headphones like the Sony WH-1000XM4.

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