CD Quality Versus Streaming Quality

I realize this will be a contentious subject, and far be it from me to challenge any of the many expert opinions on this forum, but if I may offer my feedback vis-a-vis what I am hearing, and gain some knowledge in the process.

i will begin saying that my digital front end setup is not state of the art, but i have had the good fortune to listen to a number of really high-end systems. I guess the number one deficit in my digital front end is a streamer server, and no question about it that will improve the sound.

My CD player is a universal player; Pioneer BDP-09fd. It uses Wolfson DACs. It has been modified to a degree. I have bought and sold other players, but kept this one, because it has a beautiful sound that serves the music well.

Recently, i ventured over to my son’s place and we hooked up my player (he doesn’t have one and rely’s on streaming only) We compared tracks / albums of CD quality and master quality streamed on Tidal with ‘redbook’ CDs I have. For example, some Lee Ritenaur CDs and some Indian classical and the wonderful Mozart and Chopin.
His system is highly resolving.

we were both very surprised to find the CDs played on the player to be the better sound. And not just by a little. The sound was clearly superior, with higher resolution and definition, spatial ques, much better and clearer imaging. Very surprising indeed. Shouldn’t there be no difference? This would suggest the streaming service is throttling the bandwidth or compressing the signal?

i am most interested to hear others’ observations, and suggestions as to why this might be? I do love the convenience aspect of streaming, but it IS expensive for a chap like me of fairly modest means. The Tidal HiFi topline service is $30 per month I believe, something the good lady is not too thrilled about. God forbid I should suggest Roon on top of that I may likely get my walking papers. I jest, but only partially LoL. My point is, if I pay this sort of money, isn’t it fair to expect sound to equal the digital stream from the CD player and silver disc?


It is not the technology, it is the mastering of the music.  Even with CDs, you can find early CDs that sound MUCH better than later CDs because of the change in mastering.  A lot of more recent material is, as others mentioned above, very highly compressed.  This is actual desirable for those who listen casually, listen with earbuds while in high noise environments, listen in the car, etc., but it sucks for those who want higher quality sound.  It is really not the fault of the music industry; it is the public that actually favors compressed music.  If you want the best digital source material, you have to actually seek particular CD issues or download files from sources offering high quality material.


You have opened up a can of worms :-) I see same old folks, hopping from one thread to another cascading their stale biases.

BTW, if you invest time and efforts in a good streaming setup, you will be rewarded with sound that equals or better than CD’s. And you can have high resolution streaming (Qobuz) for as low as $12.49 per month.
As far as I can tell, you were using 2 different DAC's and therefore hard to do a direct comparison.

A better example might have been to use the Pioneer's digital outputs to the same DAC that was doing the streaming.


A couple of issues to consider in your listening test with your son’s system.

1. From my experience, Tidal is the worst sounding of all of the major streaming services. My impressions of the sound quality of streaming services is:
1. Qobuz
2. Primephonic
3. Spotify Premium (320 kbps Ogg Vorbis which is not lossless)
5. Amazon HD
6 Tidal

2. Analog noise in the form of EMI and RFI has a major impact on the sound of digital. What source did he use for streaming? If it was a PC or Mac that could be a reason why streaming sounds much worse.

Now I will admit that I replay digital music from both local files and streamed through Qobuz (and some Spotify Premium). Local files DO still sound better to me presumably because local files attached to my streamer have a shorter signal path to my amplifier than files streamed via the Internet going through Comcast’s cables through my WiFi router, etc. BUT, I found that these changes that I’ve made to my streaming signal path all have made a noticeable improvement in sound quality to a degree that streaming music is quite enjoyable.
1. Switching from WiFi on my streamer to Ethernet via a TP-Link RE230 WiFi extender
2. Switching from an AmazonBasics Cat 6 cable to a Supra Cat 8 Ethernet cable (~$70)
3. Adding an Audioquest Jitterbug noise filter onto the USB output from my streamer
4. Using a Stordiau Lush USB cable (~$200)
5. Using a Shunyata Venom power cable ($135) on my DAC
6. Linear power supply instead of a switch mode power supply for a streamer. I haven’t tried this yet because my Pro-ject streamer is supposed to benefit less from this change.

The reason why all of these changes have improved the sound is because they help block EMI/RFI from getting into the signal path. As I heard, Darren Myers, analog engineer at PS Audio, say on his Hi Fi Podcast just this morning: Getting digital audio to sound good requires more than just plug-and-play. Every component in the digital signal path can matter and setting up digital audio for good sound is as complex as setting up a turntable and cartridge.

My perspective is that even if you can’t get streaming to sound quite as good as CDs, the ability to hear all sorts of new music is really fantastic.
CD vs streaming quality 

CDs use land and pit to read the impressions (grooves) made by a laser as 0s and 1s. 

Streaming with Wi-Fi is pretty good. New iterations of Bluetooth 5.0 that include other codecs above 320kbps may sound identical to CD quality for the average person.

A good CD player can match or best many DACs out there. CD players don't have the same latency problems/EMI that DACs have. If your CD player is really good, you should be able to seek (go forward or backwards) instantaneously; where the track dial is very fast.

With CDs, there is no additional software, cables, or programs to worry about. Anything within this chain could change sound quality for better or worse.

A good example - foobar vs Jriver. They don't sound alike when configured (options) at all.