Can You Improve Streaming Audio Quality?
If you’ve ever compared the disc version of a movie to the streaming version, one of the biggest differences will be the audio quality. There will nearly always be more bass with the disc version. Often the mix will be completely different. Of course, you can’t own every movie or TV show on disc. You’ll eventually have to stream something. Is there a way to improve the quality of the streaming audio? Let’s discuss!
Generally – No
All things being equal, you can’t improve the audio quality you get from streaming services. Because content streamed over the Internet must be compressed (the size of the file needs to be as small as possible), the audio is often limited. Your Blu-ray and UHD discs have much more bandwidth available allowing for uncompressed audio. Streaming sources don’t have the ability or desire to provide such data-intensive streams. Plus, you wouldn’t want them anyhow. Your movies would have to buffer and would be much more susceptible to interruptions with any drops or hiccups in your Internet connection.
What You Can Do
While you can’t really make the streaming audio any better than its maximum, you can make sure you are getting the best audio available.
The first thing you want to ensure if you are worried about the quality of your streaming audio is to ensure that you have enough bandwidth. Each service will have recommendations for minimum bandwidth that you can look up. Netflix, for example, recommends a 15Mbps connection for their highest tier of streaming service. If you don’t have at least that (and preferably higher), then you should look into upgrading.
Once you know you are getting all the quality you can from the services, you need to make sure your system is set up for maximum fidelity. Double-check your speaker placement and settings for optimal performance. We’ve got a few thoughts on the matter though there are plenty of guides out there. If you aren’t getting an immersive sound experience and you are getting the best audio, it might be your speaker placement.
If you have your speakers placed correctly and you have enough bandwidth, it’s time to look at your room. As we’ve explained (over and over) your room makes a huge difference in what you hear. Having a problem understanding dialogue? It’s probably your room. Don’t like how your subwoofer sounds? Yep, it’s your room.
Lastly, if you’ve made any changes to your room or system placement, you’ll want to re-run your room correction program. Room correction can make a big difference in what you hear (especially if you’ve already treated your room). If you don’t have an AV receiver with room correction, maybe it’s time to upgrade.
What Won’t Work
When people run into a problem they often think the first and best solution is to throw money at it. Sometimes that works, but it likely won’t here. The limiting factor in the quality of streaming audio isn’t your equipment but the quality of the compression. Upgrading your speaker or cables isn’t going to make an audible improvement. This is also the case for the type of Internet provider you use. Yes, the fiber services will claim that they are the best but what they mean is that they can offer more bandwidth. If you already have enough bandwidth for the best audio from your streaming service, then getting more bandwidth isn’t going to make a difference.
One thing that can make a difference is changing your streaming service provider. Some services (specifically music streaming services) tout better audio. They provide music that has higher bitrates. This requires you to have a higher bandwidth Internet connection but, in general, this isn’t a problem for audio-only applications. Where it does make a difference is in movie streaming services. Services like Kaleidescape will allow you to download the full movie including the lossless audio. It is expensive and requires a large amount of bandwidth (usually, you download the entire movie first rather than simply stream it).
To answer the question as written, there really isn’t any way to increase the audio quality of streaming services. If you really want the best audio, you’ll want to buy the disc.