Battle of Band..width

It seems we’re constantly streaming today. If we’re not binging on Mr. Bassett, we’re bustin’ beats with the Beatles.


Streaming is the number one use of bandwidth for all internet providers. Every Internet Service Provider has been forced to adapt to keep customers happy–or otherwise lose them to companies that will.


And American’s don’t seem to care much about price either. A recent study about Grocery E-Commerce found that people were more interested in the benefits and service than the price–and that translates across purchasing platforms.


Not only is media our modern day escapism, it’s truly a currency of its own. It’s how we bid and barter with others around us. We judge and determine characters, friendships, and values based on whether others around us watch, play, and listen to the same content we do.


So while we’re a little reckless with our spending–could we perhaps be too reckless? If we just want to watch videos, are we paying needlessly for things we don’t need and streaming more than we realize? Does Youtube Music or Spotify use more data? We need answers people!

The Sing Stream

For starters, audio uses less data than video. Period.


Now–which music streaming service is better? When people think of music streaming, they turn to Spotify (or Apple Music, but that’s a whole different blog post). And Spotify’s numbers reflect that.


Spotify dwarfs Youtube Music in their subscription base 5:1. Spotify’s 155 million active premium users also enjoy a higher streaming quality than Youtube Music’s measly 30 million (not including their 5M free trial members). But does that instantly mean they’re better?


Pandora’s Box

The real battle should be between Spotify and Pandora. Pandora is the highest-grossing music app in the Apple App Store–generating over $15 Million in revenue every month. But Pandora and Spotify are inherently different platforms. At its core Pandora doesn’t allow you select the individual song you want to listen to, and playlists compiled are from “Radio Stations” that you tune into.


Pandora was built from, and continues to expound on, the “Music Genome Project”–which aims to undertake, “the most comprehensive analysis of music ever.” Since they’re not really similar in platform, getting into this debate is like opening Pandora’s Box (whomp, whomp!). So we’ll tip our hats to Pandora and move on.


So Tell Me Whatcha Want–What You Really, Really Want!

Deciding the winner depends a great deal on your data usage and internet speed–but comes down to preference ultimately.


Audio quality changes depending on the “bitrate” available. Bitrate is determined by the quality it was released in, and your bandwidth. Lower bitrates use less data, but sound pixelated–like everything you heard in AOL days.


Both Spotify and Youtube Music offer different quality options (and even automatically choose them to make streaming as seamless as possible) but which performs better over the other?


Oh My Ogg

Spotify offers a special format called Ogg Vorbis–and premium subscribers are able to switch to a higher fidelity at midrange bitrates.


AAC on the other hand requires patent coding (meaning people can’t illegally download or rip off the music anymore–r.i.p Limewire). AAC replaced MP3’s as it essentially was the same format, but streamed as a lower bitrate, with higher quality.


For reference, here’s all audio streaming bids on the market, and how they stream.


Amazon Music HD 24bit /192kHz FLAC
Google Play Music 320kbps AAC, ALAC, FLAC, MP3, Ogg Vorbis, WMA
Spotify Premium 320kbps AAC, Ogg Vorbis
Apple Music 256kbps AAC
YouTube Music Premium 256kbps AAC
SoundCloud Go+ 256kbps AAC
Pandora 192kbps AAC
Spotify Free 160kbps AAC


So Spotify streams multiple files at a better bitrate than Youtube. But unless you’ve got super high fidelity headphones or speakers, those added ranges won’t make much of a difference for what you’re doing.


Another quick look shows us the advantage OGG has over AAC.

Bit Rate Results
64k AAC > OGG
96k AAC > OGG
128k OGG > AAC
192k OGG > AAC
224k OGG > AAC
256k OGG > AAC
320k OGG = AAC
>320k Both OGG and AAC are almost lossless*


We already know that lower bitrates mean poorer quality–and that’s about the only advantage AAC has over OGG.


When streaming at higher bitrates, it requires a great deal more bandwidth from your internet service provider. For most home internet services, your WiFi doesn’t have a data cap, and is typically giving you faster than 5 Mbps (Megabits per second).


When streaming mobile, high download speeds can eat up a lot of data. So it’s less about Youtube bandwidth and Spotify bandwidth–and little more about audio fidelity and the quality you want to listen to.


*Lossless is an audio format that means no information is lost when it’s exported. Lossy means excess information is left out. Spotify 4K bandwidth isn’t really a requirement since audio streams different files and frequencies than video.

And The Winner Is?

Typically Spotify. Youtube Music does a better job at surfacing a greater variety of music (kinda like Pandora), but overall Spotify adapts better all around to your situations.


Youtube Music does offer live streams (Spotify hasn’t quite caught up with them yet), but only for Youtube Premium subscribers. Again, check Youtube’s bandwidth requirements for live streams–it might not be worth it as Spotify’s bandwidth usage is probably 5-6x less. Spotify bandwidth requirements are generally lower as they advertise directly to those on the go.


Which Streaming Service Uses the Most Bandwidth?

In general, more users turn to YouTube gives its users a wider array of overall viewing experiences when compared to Netflix. 


YouTube videos are streamed in resolutions from 240p all the way to full HD: 1080p. Youtube as of February 2021, now offers 4K streaming for a whopping $65 a month. Youtube’s 4K bandwidth however eats about 16 Gb (gigabytes) per hour–making youtube’s data usage extremely counter-intuitive for mobile streamers. 


Compared to Netflix’s $17.99 a month for Ultra HD (same as 4K), it makes sense why Youtube Premium is still treading water at 30 M subscribers against Netflix’s 208. 


However, Youtube just released new streaming quality settings to be data friendly and get themselves back in the game. Youtube’s bandwidth usage now looks like this:


Most users don’t know and don’t care about the exact bitrates they stream at. Now they can break it down to “Quality vs Data” depending on whether you’re watching mobile, or at home on WiFi.

Does Youtube or Netflix Use More Bandwidth?


Netflix 4K Bandwidth only eats about 6.5-11.5 gigs of data an hour, but fewer people are likely to stream Netflix on the go compared to Youtube. Regardless, Netflix bandwidth requirements are lower, but offer comparable if not better qualities than Youtube. Both require you to have minimum speeds of 25 mbps to stream 4K.


Overall Netflix bandwidth usage can be broken down into 4 tiers:

  • Low – 0.3 GB per hour per device
  • Medium – SD: 0.7 GB per hour per device
  • High – Best video quality, up to 3 GB per hour per device for HD streaming, and 7 GB (on average) per hour per device for Ultra HD.
  • Auto – Adjusts automatically to deliver the highest possible quality, based on your current internet connection speed

Summing Up

Netflix streams all around better for less than Youtube. Youtube offers the benefit of a larger library and live events (including TV packages), but doesn’t hold a candle to Spotify’s quality. Again, it brings up a better selection, but doesn’t curate as well.


All in all, it depends on what you’re looking for, where you’re going, and the quality of the equipment you’re using ultimately. Don’t feel like you have to commit for life–if you don’t like an option after a month or two, switch. But most of all, enjoy.

Not sure if your internet can handle all the streaming? Find out which service you’re most compatible with today.


Paul Williams
Paul Williams

Paul Williams brings a wide range of experiences to his writing. He worked extensively in technology, as a software engineer, technical writer, and now a technology writer. Known as the leader of one of the top American Spacerock bands, his forward-looking music continues to be heard all over the world.