A reader, Chris, wrote us yesterday with a very good question about streaming music services: "...how do they compare when it comes to data usage? How does Google's compression compare to Pandora, Spotify or the Amazon player? Funky playlists and mood music is all well and good, but how much of my 4g/mo are they going to eat?"
Good question! Burning through your monthly data cap on your smartphone is a pain in the arse, and your music streaming app is probably guilty of some serious damage. But just how much is data is your app using?
The amount of data your service chews up depends on the quality settings. For Beats Music, Spotify and Google Play Music, a high-quality stream maxes out at 320kbps. (Not all tracks are available at that high quality, but most are.)
Pandora is the only big mainstream service we could find that doesn't offer 320kbps streams. In fact, on mobile it maxes out at 64kbps. Lower quality streams obviously use way less data.
So what does that mean in terms of your data plan? 320kbps rate translates to 2.40 MB per minute of audio or 115.2 MB per hour. So if you were to stream music for an entire eight hour work day, you'd burn through nearly 1GB. If you have a 2GB cap like I do, then this is not an advisable splurge!
Here's a breakdown of a number of the most popular services.
Standard quality: 64kbps High quality: 320kbps
Normal quality: 96 kbps High quality: 160kbps Extreme quality: 320kbps
Three quality settings, with a maximum of 320kbps.
Maximum rate is 64kbps (adjusts automatically depending on your connection).
That's not every service (Apple doesn't publish a spec for iTunes Radio, but it gives you an idea for how much data these services chomp: 320kbps at the top end, 64kbps/128kbps at the low end.)