Online music services sound quality: MOG, RDIO, Amazon Cloud Player

I will try to make this a short post today.

I’ve made a discovery all of them sound bad until…

About the test

I’m on a quest to select an online music service that will provide me with the best sound quality. I’m RDIO subscriber and started MOG trial this week since they promise 320kbps MP3 for all their content. I’m using my old, but very trusty ultra-clear Sennheiser HD497 headphones (my Denon AH-D2000 don’t have clarity that HD497 offers, so they are not as good for comparing sound quality).

I mainly concentrated on a few albums and songs: Jean Michel Jarre’s Téo & Téa (all songs have something to hear), Michal Jackson’s remastered Bad (the first song on the album) and Kraftwerk – Man Machine (the last song on the album). I’ve selected all of them since I have original CDs that I have recently encoded with AAC TrueVBR Q110 (using an outstanding XLD application) to upload to Amazon Cloud Player.

Finally all tests were performed with Google Chrome browser version 13.0.782.112 as well as RDIO Desktop client version 1.16.

The test results
I’ve listend a few times and each time each song from each of the services (except Amazon Cloud Player since it was not in the scope of my test) and was comparing them to the AAC version that I’ve played through iTunes. Each time I would hear great detail in iTunes, but RDIO and MOG versions would sound with major detail loss. I could not understand how MOG can claim they are using 320kbps MP3 and for files to sound so bad. MOG was definitely clearer than RDIO (Edit 2011-08-17: today I absolutely can’t tell the difference between the sound quality of the two services), but nowhere near AAC version in iTunes. Frustrated I decided to have a sanity check and started listening to my uploaded files in Amazon Cloud Player. That’s where I’ve made a discovery…

The Discovery
Even though Amazon Cloud Player was playing the same file I had in iTunes, it sounded with the same loss of detail that I heard in MOG. That got me concerned, as you might imagine. A short look all all these websites and I found out that all of them play back music using the piece of software that Apple can’t stop fighting with – Adobe Flash. I wonder, if it is possible that Flash just does not decode compressed audio properly? I don’t know answer – but iTunes 10.4 in OSX Lion definitely sounds MUCH better (at least to me).

More discoveries
So I decided to experiment a bit more. I’ve played Man Machine in VLC and MplayerX, while both sound better than Flash player they did not sound as clear and as punchy as iTunes version. After these discoveries iTunes 10.4 is now a king of audio players for me. I can easily with this single track hear how much better it decodes music (and I assume all CoreAudio/QuickTime based players).

My strong advise for both MOG (before they finished their desktop software) and for RDIO to modify their software to use QuickTime/Core audio on Mac OSX, instead of Flash that they currently use. Yes, even desktop version of RDIO uses Flash to play back music.

Enjoy iTunes… (the post ended up longer than I wanted).