(Credit: Screenshot: Tom McNamara/Download.com)

2018 has been an interesting year for music streaming services, with major players like Apple Music coming to big platforms like the Amazon Echo, and Sirius XM buying Pandora for $3.5 billion. But the biggest story of all is arguably YouTube Music, which Google has fashioned as the next step in an evolution beyond Play Music.

YouTube Music launched in the spring as a competitor to Spotify (Android, iOS). Like Spotify, there's a free version where you can listen to curated or auto-generated playlists with ads, and a premium version that removes ads and lets you download tracks for offline listening. However, YouTube Music at launch was missing a few features that music streamers had become accustomed to, such as being able to adjust the audio quality of their tunes.

SEE: Is YouTube transitioning away from subscription-based original content?

Today, however, 9to5Google spotted a new setting in the web app version of YouTube Music. That's the version that you access via a web browser instead of the mobile app (Android, iOS). When you click your profile picture in the upper right, then select Settings, then click Audio, there's now a drop-down menu labeled Audio Quality. From here, you can select three levels: Low, Normal, and High.

This feature has been available in the mobile app since September. When we spoke to a Google representative at the time, they said that "Low" was 48 kilobits per second HE-AAC, "Normal" was 128kbps AAC, and "High" was 256kbps AAC. (AAC stands for Advanced Audio Coding, similar to an MP3 file but with a documented reputation for producing better quality at the same bit rate. Perhaps unsurprisingly, an AAC of the same bit rate as an MP3 will have a slightly larger file size, but that's not as big of an issue for streaming as it is for downloading.)

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With most internet connections measured in megabits these days, kilobits just don't threaten to use up your whole pipe, whether you're at home or on the go (though it can end up eating several gigabytes a month if you're a heavy listener). Either way, one could reasonably infer that the web app version of YouTube Music has inherited these quality levels.

However, a YouTube representative told us that Low for the web is 64kbps OPUS. That's similar to an MP3, but without the royalty or licensing fees, and it's also used by SoundCloud. Its audio quality is supposed to scale better at lower bit rates.

Either way, be aware that using the High setting requires a subscription to YouTube Music Premium at $9.99 a month, or YouTube Premium at $11.99. The latter removes ads from regular YouTube, lets you download videos and watch the Originals shows like Cobra Kai and Origin, and it can stream it all in the background.

Takeaways

  • The web browser version of YouTube Music now has three audio quality settings: Low, Normal, and High. They range from 64kbps OPUS to 256kbps AAC.
  • AAC is supposed to have slightly better audio quality than a comparable MP3 file.

Also see

Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.