Apple confirms that Apple Music will stream at 256kbps

“Apple has confirmed Apple Music’s streaming bitrate is 256kbps,” Nate Swanner reports for TNW. “That’s Apple’s standard playback rate for existing iTunes tracks, but below some of the competition.”

“It’s even below Beats Music’s threshold of 320kbps — the company Apple purchased last year,” Swanner reports. “Spotify, Google Play Music and Tidal all stream at ‘up to’ 320kbps, too.”

“Higher bitrate streaming leads to more data consumption,” Swanner reports. “There’s been no lavish outcry for better iTunes playback quality, suggesting users either can’t tell the difference between 256kbps and 320kbps — or just don’t care.”

Read more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: 256kbps will sound fine and, importantly, keep cellular data consumption in check. We still do not know if it will be AAC vs. the inferior MP3 (Beats Music uses) or what the format/bitrate will be for Apple Music or Connect content that Apple Music members save for offline listening.


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Something about Apple Music betraying Apple’s brilliance by ignoring ‘The Harry Potter Theory of Marketing’ or some such nonsense – June 9, 2015
Bob Lefsetz on Apple Music: What team is Jimmy Iovine on? – June 9, 2015
Apple Music’s huge advantage over Spotify – June 9, 2015
Apple Music is a major mess and it won’t beat Spotify or something – June 9, 2015
When Apple Music arrives, what happens to iTunes Match? – June 9, 2015
What Apple Music says about how Apple views musicians – June 8, 2015
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Apple unveils revolutionary Apple Music service – June 8, 2015


  1. AAC is a more modern and efficient codec than MP3, and 256 AAC is probably higher quality than 320 MP3.

    The whole idea that users would hear an advantage either way is ridiculous, and would quickly be dispelled by A-B testing.

    1. You are mistaking file size with data content. Efficient packing does not make up for lack of data points. The more samples per second, the more accurate your music. Granted, you don’t tell much difference with the huge distortion that cheap speakers offer, but if you listen to reasonably good home audio equipment, even the average listener can tell the difference. Listen to an SACD compared to any other format and you will be shocked at how bad compressed music is.

  2. Bitrate is only one factor in sound quality.

    In my experience, 256 Kbps AAC sounds fine. There is no reason to stream at a higher rate, although I suppose that Apple could offer that option for customers with large or unlimited data plans.

    1. The best part of the T-Mobile plan!

      It has been more than a year since T-Mobile started this and no other carrier has noticed. In addition to getting a generous 2GB LTE throttling threshold, many music streaming services (Spotify, iHeartRadio, Pandora, Rhapsody, iTunesRadio and many others) do NOT count towards this 2GB limit. I stream music on my bus commute every day (that’s more than an hour of daily streming), in addition to many other times when outdoors with a phone in my pocket.

      Once Apple’s music steaming goes live, the T-Mobile free music streaming service will be worth its weight in gold.

  3. Do I have this right or am I off by a factor of 8 or more? 256kbps is 109 megabytes per hour. If you stream 1 hour a day, you’ll blow through over 3Gigabtyes per month of cellular data.

    If true, a bunch of people are going to be surprised at their first cell phone bill during their 90 day free trial of Apple Music. Also, if you are doing this on an iPhone at home thinking you are on wifi and it “falls off” you home network and connects without you knowing it to the cellular data network, you are going to be in for a rude awaking.

    I’m using 1.5 to 2 gigs per month using web surfing, maps, mail, sports and the weather. No downloads.

    1. My numbers apparently are correct.

      Warning: Verizon’s online data usage calculator understates this by 50%. AT&T’s online data usage calculator understates this but 66%.

  4. Oh great, now a bunch of clueless bloggers are running with this fallacy. Headlines abound…Apple to stream lower quality vs >insert competitor here with 320kbs vs Apple 256kbs< versions. Stupidity running amuck on the internet.

  5. Even 256kbs is overkill for 95% of listening situations, and simply a complete waste of your data plan (when listening via cellular data). I hope Apple was smart enough to have the stream automatically downscale to 128kbps when you’re not on WiFi, but I doubt it. A CD at 128kbps will run you around 60-70Mb…same CD at 256kbps is 120-140MB.

    And for all those about to fire up their keyboards to whine about “lousy quality” of 128kbps or even 256kbps, please answer this first:

    Where do you usually listen? Headphones that cost under $250 (Beats Audio don’t count, either)? In the car? At the gym? Through your work computer? Typical home theater system?

    For most people, those are the typical situations, where the quality of the “sound system” and the ambient noise in your environment will ***FAR*** outweigh the comparatively negligible difference in 320kbps vs 256kbs vs 160 or even vs 128kbps.

    And even if you’re an audiophile nut and have a $10K or more sound system…guess what? You’re probably not listening to MP3s or AAC-compressed files on it, anyway. You’re listening to audiophile-grade virgin vinyl or the original CDs, so again, it’s irrelevant.

    How good something sounds essentially boils down to the lowest common denominator, or essentially the “worst-quality” thing in the path from the music itself (as it’s being recorded), all the way to your ears. In nearly all cases, your own speakers, headphones, amplifier/receiver, or even your own ears will be a more restrictive quality limiter than “low bit rate” arguments. And if you’re over 35, your hearing isn’t what it used to be, and the older you get, the worse it gets, so that “bit rate” difference gets more and more irrelevant with age….

    I’ve had this discussion with experienced studio sound engineers, and while they’re “high bit rate” advocates for their own high-dollar systems and discerning ears, they did agree with everything I said above….your environment is usually the limit.

    It’s like the idiotic megapixel wars in digital cameras…20MP vs 10MP, for example, is completely irrelevant unless you’re going to either be (a) cropping the living crap out of it (in which case you should have used a higher zoom), or (b) printing something bigger than a 20″x30″ print. Even then, the quality of your camera and/or lenses is probably more of a limit.

    I have a gorgeous 20″x30″ print of the Grand Tetons that I shot in 2007 while skiing…with an old 5MP Kodak point-and-shoot. Admittedly, it’s slightly pixelated if you look closely, but from more than 2′ away it looks amazing. A 10MP would have been flawless…20MP would be complete overkill….and that’s for a 20″x30″, which most people will never, ever print.

    So, I find it ironic that Apple has thus far resisted the megapixel war with the iPhone’s camera, yet has given in on the equally silly “bit rate” war for audio files.

    1. How the heck is Apple giving on on the bitrate wars by streaming at 256kbps. It’s what most people want and what most people can agree upon sounds good.
      Even 192kbps is easily distinguishable from 128kbps even on crappy speakers and I don’t need an entire book written to try to convince me otherwise thank you.
      Im sure you will be able to lower the bitstream and I’m sure Apple will allow you to set a preference based on a WiFi or cellular signal.

      1. As I said, the sound quality at different bit rates IS audible, but not on the typical system or in the typical listening environment.

        Delude yourself all you want, though…doesn’t matter to me. 🙂

  6. To those who have never really experimented with sound quality: Try a comparison of a song (s) you know well on Spotify and Tidal and you will hear the difference between a flac file and an mp3.

    I am not saying Tidal is good, just that sound quality differences can be heard through ok speakers, especially the compact bring along versions, without much trouble. Better spread, better dept.

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