While streaming services have worked hard to improve their video quality over the years, audio quality tends to be an afterthought. Now Netflix is rectifying the matter with much higher audio bitrates, at least if you have surround sound and some bandwidth to spare.
For users with Dolby Digital 5.1 systems, Netflix will now stream audio at up to 640 kbps, versus 192 kbps previously, and Dolby Atmos users will get bitrates up to 768 kbps. At these compression rates, Netflix says the sound quality is “indistinguishable” from a 24-bit studio master recording. (Some audiophiles may disagree, but presumably most people wouldn’t be able to perceive a difference.)
To prevent buffering, Netflix will also encode lower-quality audio streams, and will adjust sound quality on the fly by predicting each user’s network conditions. The approach is similar to the way Netflix adapts video quality using predictive algorithms. And while Netflix isn’t adjusting audio compression on a scene-by-scene basis like it does with video, it sounds like that could change in the future. “We expect these bitrates to evolve over time as we get more efficient with our encoding techniques,” the company says.
Netflix is rolling out the improved audio streams today, and eligible users will start receiving them automatically.