First, I can confirm your listening impressions:
I’ve noticed that when listening to the same material, the mp3’s sound much better than the Spotify version.
I’ve also found that local files sound better than streaming files. My understanding is that streaming introduces more opportunity for introduction of jitter and other electrical noise that reduces sound quality. BUT, you can get streaming to sound better. More on this below.
I currently have a laptop hardwired via usb to my audio system...Would I get better sound from streaming via ethernet?
Several ways to get better sound via streaming are:
1. Get a dedicated network streamer instead of a laptop. In theory this will provide a cleaner signal with less electrical noise than a general-purpose laptop that is not optimized to produce cleaner audio signals
2. Get a good external DAC
3. Add a electrical jitter filter to the output of your laptop or network streamer. I’ve found that even something as cheap as a $60 Audioquest Jitterbug has a clearly audible sonic benefit. More expensive options are available from Uptone Audio and other companies.
4. USB cables can make a difference
5. Use Ethernet instead of WiFi. This MAY be better. Ethernet reduces the potential electrical noise that comes from transmitting and receiving a signal wirelessly, but also potentially introduces electrical noise due to a long run of Ethernet cable.
6. Qobuz sounds better to me than Spotify Premium (I have both). Though Spotify Premium surprisingly sounds better to me than both Tidal & Amazon HD
7. Other esoteric tweaks include: audiophile network switches (such as the Uptone EtherRegen), better quality power supplies for your streamer & DAC to reduce electrical noise, external clock for reclocking the audio signal
All of these MIGHT help address the added amount of electrical noise added to the music signal via the streaming process.
The real benefit to streaming music instead of playback from local files is the ability to have instant access to an enormous amount of music. Vinyl sounds best to me, then local digital files, and finally streaming music. But I’m finding that I’m listening to a lot of streaming music these days while doing work as the ability to easily change what I’m listening to is very useful. And the sound quality of streaming is definitely more than good enough to be enjoyable.
FWIW, reducing electrical noise has these sonic benefits to my ears:
- More presence to instruments and voices
- More realistic tonal quality
- More 3-dimensional sound
- More precise placement of instruments and voice
Your results may vary.