Sound quality comparisons (subjective)

It dawned on me the other day that my music listening habit has become more complicated in the past few years. Reason: using multiple platforms. Roon at home for the amazing sound quality, DSP features, library management etc. Spotify on the move and for music discovery. Apple Music and airplay 2 from iOS devices for when I need smart playlists and library management on them move. It is also great for easy multiroom playback when Roon is somehow not available.

I would like to simplify, meaning using Roon exclusively but that is not currently possible. The only other option is to ditch Spotify or AM / airplay 2 playback. This is what prompted me to test them against each other for SQ. Silly perhaps but why not :slight_smile:

I used my Sennheiser HD660s (driven by dragonfly red) but also a Bluesound Soundbar 2i. I used AIFF / FLAC lossless tracks so no high resolution. Airplay 2 can work with these so comparisons were possible.

Roon (RAAT) resulted in the best SQ by far (both for the Soundbar 2i and of course the headphones). Music felt alive, dynamic, punchy, clear and smooth at the same time. The headphones sounded fantastic but the Bluesound Sondbar 2i was fine too. Not as resolving and dynamic as the headphones but fun indeed.

Roon Airplay to the Bluesound soundbar 2i was a step back in dynamics and liveliness. The bass felt less fun, sort of more diffuse and indistinct. Clarity was fine but again not as good as using RAAT.

Spotify Connect to the Bluesound soundbar and the Sennheiser HD660s (so no Roon at all) was actually pretty great fun. Quite dynamic sound, punchy and a bit forward but not in a bad way. Less good than Roon RAAT but definitely more alive and dynamic than airplay.

I then tried Airplay 2 directly from my phone /Mac. I tried playing the same AIFF track which is downloaded in my iTunes library. Definitely less dynamic sound than the Spotify version and for sure less dynamic than when using Roon RAAT to stream to the soundbar. The headphones showed this gap even more. Somehow, using Airplay or Airplay 2 made me feel the music was less lively, less punchy and a bit boring. Spotify was better surprisingly and of course Roon was waaaay better sounding.

In summary: Airplay 2 / Apple Music < Spotify < Roon RAAT

To my ears of course.

I am not surprised that Roon RAAT sounded better. I am however surprised that to my ears, both Airplay and Airplay 2 sounded lifeless compared to Spotify.

I wonder if Airplay / Airplay 2 has a detrimental influence. Most online forums indicate that Airplay 2 / Apple Music is slightly better sounding than Spotify but I found the opposite.

What is your experience on this?

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