7 Best Apple CarPlay Music Apps For High Quality Audio. Maximize Your Car Audio.

John Smith

Apr 21, 2023

7 Best Apple CarPlay Music Apps For High Quality Audio. Maximize Your Car Audio.

Whether you’re just interested in or already using Apple CarPlay, music is probably one of the things that matter to you most. Compared to the factory iDrive system, it’s far easier to get the music you want playing in your BMW with Apple’s infotainment system. And it’s not just Apple Music; CarPlay allows installing and using a range of music apps.

That’s great news for music lovers and audiophiles, who can pick and choose which apps to use in their vehicles. Their choice might be motivated by more than just the size of the catalogs, though – some apps promise better sound quality than others.

What’s Apple CarPlay Audio Quality Like?

What  it means is the sound quality you’re going to get when listening to music through CarPlay is going to depend (at least in part) on the app you’re using. Just like on your phone, an app that supports high-definition streaming is going to sound a bit better than a lower-quality stream. How important that difference is to you is going to depend on how discerning your ear is ;)

Beyond just the app, there can be some variation in Apple CarPlay audio quality depending on how CarPlay, your phone, and your vehicle work together.

Wireless CarPlay Vs Wired Sound Quality

Take a wired connection between your iPhone and CarPlay, for instance. It’s going to allow lossless transmission of data, preserving the original audio quality. With a wireless connection (as you’ll find in BMWs from the factory or after activating Apple CarPlay in your BMW), some compression of the audio stream may be required.

It’s important to keep in mind, though, that CarPlay uses a WiFi connection, not Bluetooth. WiFi is able to handle very high bitrates – have you ever streamed 4K videos on your home WiFi? In the Bluetooth vs CarPlay audio quality battle, both wired and wireless CarPlay setups have the edge over the alternatives.

The Apple CarPlay sound quality bottleneck is far more likely to be your phone’s cellular connection – either how fast it is or how much data you’re willing to have eaten up (the highest bitrates some of the streaming services offer would use several gigabytes even on a short half-hour drive). That’s the same whether the connection to CarPlay uses a USB cable or the clutter-free wireless approach.

Does Apple CarPlay Use Data for Music?

Cellular connection, you say?! When you’re navigating CarPlay on your BMW’s dashboard display, it’s easy to forget your phone is pulling the strings here. Meaning the music apps you use on the iDrive are going to work just like they do on your phone. 

Streaming new content? That’s going to require a reliable cell signal and will use your mobile data plan. Of course, many apps also let you download content for later offline playback.

When driving in areas with patchy cell coverage, downloading your playlists ahead of time can be a wise decision – particularly if you demand music with the highest possible sound quality.

How to Play Music on Apple CarPlay?

How to Play Music on Apple CarPlay?Apple CarPlay gives you the flexibility to use the apps you want, just the way you want. This translates to your choice of streaming service or downloaded content in supported apps.

Check out our picks for the best Apple CarPlay apps for your BMW.

All you need to do is download the music app on your iPhone – and if it’s a service you know and use, you’ve probably already done that ;) When you connect your iPhone to your BMW’s CarPlay system, available music, podcast, and audiobook apps will show up on the dashboard display.

Just select the one you want to open, select a song or playlist, and you’re good to go. The rest only depends on the app you use and your subscription plan.

So which apps should a music fan be using on Apple CarPlay? Let’s take a look at a few of the most popular.

YouTube Music on Apple CarPlay

YouTube Music on Apple CarPlayThe first app a lot of people look for on CarPlay is YouTube – though that’s more to watch YouTube videos on Apple CarPlay, not its music-focused cousin.

One issue that used to plague YouTube Music was poor audio quality: it launched streaming at only 128kbps! While the situation has improved since then, the service’s reputation for less-than-stellar audio quality hasn’t been shaken off.

YouTube Music Premium users can adjust playback quality in steps from 48kbps up to 256kbps. Those settings can be configured independently for playback on a Wi-Fi network, mobile network or when downloading music for offline playback. That gives fine-grained control when balancing audio quality with data or storage usage.

If you aren’t too picky when it comes to audio quality, YouTube Music can be a reasonable choice.

Spotify on Apple CarPlay

Spotify on Apple CarPlaySpotify is the giant of audio streaming and one way the Spotify Apple CarPlay app distinguishes itself from alternatives like YouTube Music is superior audio quality. While Spotify’s long-awaited HiFi tier has yet to materialize, the 320kbps bitrate available on the current Spotify Premium subscription is a pleasant step up from the 256kbps offered by some other services.

At the other end of the spectrum, the mobile app allows dropping down to only 24kbps, for when you really need to keep on top of data usage. Of course, that’s going to mean giving up a lot of the clarity in your music, but it’s enough for podcasts on long road trips.

To adjust the audio quality:

  1. Open the settings menu (on the mobile app, look for the gear icon).
  2. Select “Audio quality” on the menu.
  3. Choose your preferred playback quality on Wi-Fi and mobile networks.

You can also toggle whether to allow Spotify to autoadjust the quality based on your connection.

When using Apple CarPlay, Spotify will use the same settings you’ve configured through the mobile app.

Apple Music on Apple CarPlay

Apple Music on Apple CarPlayNo discussion of Apple CarPlay music apps for BMW can overlook Apple Music. As Apple’s own service, it’s of course perfectly integrated with CarPlay.

In fact, not using Apple Music can be harder than using it. Not only is it likely to be the default music app (ask Siri to play a song and see which app it reaches for), but your Apple Music playlists might even start playing automatically as soon as you get in your BMW.

To put a stop to this… feature, you might need to rely on a little Shortcuts hack:

  1. Open the Shortcuts app on your iPhone. On the Automation tab, create a new personal automation.
  2. Apple CarPlay for BMW is wireless, so trigger when your phone connects via Bluetooth. You’ll need to select your BMW from the list of devices.
  3. For action, navigation to Media > Play/Pause and add the action to pause playback.

With that done, your iPhone will pause the music as soon as it connects to your BMW wirelessly.


Some third-party units, including BimmerTech’s CarPlay MMI Prime retrofit for BMWs, support a wired connection instead. In their case, the above won’t work (at step 2, just select a CarPlay connection), but it does have its upsides. CD Quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) playback over wired connections is available only with Apple Music lossless – CarPlay included.

Qobuz on CarPlay

Qobuz on CarPlayApple Music isn’t alone on the lossless music streaming bandwagon, though. Services like Qobuz music exist to meet the needs of 24/7 audiophiles who won’t settle for mediocre sound quality.

Qobuz stands out both by letting you outright buy music as well as just stream it, and by offering CD Quality (16-bit/44.1kHz) and Hi-Res Audio (24-bit/192kHz) FLAC options.

The second of those is off-limits for CarPlay; iPhones can’t handle sample rates higher than 48kHz. With more modest audio quality, however, Qobuz’s Apple CarPlay Offline (which plays your downloaded tracks) and Apple CarPlay Online (for streaming straight from Qobuz) offer great audio quality.

That said, although the Qobuz music quality is very good, it’s probably overkill with CarPlay. To make the most of it, you’re forced to use a wired connection, which isn’t offered by BMW from the factory at all. Even with a wired connection, a moving car (with its cramped spaces and background noise) isn’t exactly made for the optimal listening experience.

If you’re already using Qobuz with your home stereo system, though, by all means bring it into your BMW on CarPlay.

Tidal on CarPlay

Tidal on CarPlayIn the interests of balance (because the Qobuz vs Tidal battle doesn’t look like ending any time soon…), we have to say Tidal on CarPlay has a lot of the same benefits as Qobuz. And the same drawbacks, too.

Like Qobuz, Tidal promises some of the best CarPlay audio quality you can get. The company’s HiFi and Master Quality services stream lossless FLAC, meaning you’ll have great sound quality for all your favorite tracks. Once again, though, the actual sound quality you get when playing back through CarPlay is going to be less than you’d get on your home stereo.

One clear advantage Tidal has over Qobuz is availability; while Qobuz only offers subscriptions in a small handful of countries, Tidal is more widely available. Depending on where you live, you might not have a choice of which service to use to improve Apple CarPlay audio quality.

Pandora on CarPlay

Pandora on CarPlayAt the other end of the spectrum is Pandora. Compared to some other services, Pandora Plus is cheap, but you get what you pay for in terms of sound quality. Even the more expensive Pandora Premium service tops out at 192kbps, way below the competition.

That said, Pandora pitches itself as internet radio, rather than a place to buy music. We all know that radio was never as crisp as CD or vinyl, so perhaps it all makes sense. A lower bitrate also means less data use, which could come in handy on long drives when you just want some background sound.

That’s something Pandora has focused on well. Even in older vehicles with BMW Apps, Pandora is available through the iDrive menu. Moving with the times, the Pandora CarPlay app was one of the first available on the platform. If you aren’t too fussy about sound quality and just want something to break the silence on the road, you could do worse than choosing Pandora.

Unfortunately, a lot of people do report Pandora BMW not working, as well as general bugginess on CarPlay. If you take music seriously, you’re probably going to want to spring for one of the other services instead.

Amazon Music on CarPlay

Perhaps a better choice for casual listeners is Amazon Music. In many countries, Amazon Music Prime is bundled with a Prime subscription, which you might already have. Supporting up to 320kbps playback – on par with alternatives like Spotify – Amazon Music on CarPlay is no slouch.

For the audiophiles among us, though, there’s also good reason to look at the Amazon Music CarPlay app. Amazon Music is yet another service that has moved into offering lossless audio formats. That isn’t available through Amazon Prime, but as a standalone subscription. Again, it’s up to you to decide how much that extra sound quality matters to you.

Whichever Amazon Music subscription level you go for, you won’t be left wondering how to play Amazon Music on CarPlay. For this and all the other apps we’ve mentioned, remember that it’s enough to download the app to your iPhone before connecting to CarPlay.

Apple CarPlay Music Not Working – Troubleshooting Tips

It may be easy to get things going, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be little hiccups along the way. There are many reasons why Apple CarPlay stops working the way you want, so let’s take a look at a few of the most common.

Apple CarPlay Music Not Playing

The worst-case scenario is Apple CarPlay music not playing at all. Not what you want before you set out on a road trip…

As CarPlay is based on your phone, the first thing to do is make sure your phone can play music when it isn’t connected to CarPlay. As we covered above, many apps let you configure playback settings separately when you’re on a cellular network, so make sure the app you’re using can use your data. Even if it can, an app with high-quality streaming may not work if your connection is weak.

However, it can also depend on how you’re connecting to CarPlay. If you’re using a third-party unit, you might need to make sure the audio is set up correctly in your BMW.

Find out how BimmerTech’s CarPlay MMI Prime compares to factory CarPlay activation.

Apple CarPlay Music Volume Too Low

If you aren’t hearing your music or it just isn’t loud enough, you may also want to adjust the volume settings. Things can get a little confusing here, because you may have a different volume level for music, calls and navigation.

You can increase the volume from your phone or your BMW’s volume controls. However, if you do that during a call, you’ll probably be changing the call volume. If you notice you’re having trouble adjusting music volume, make sure you’re playing music before you set the volume.

Apple CarPlay Not Showing All Music

Some people are surprised to notice that not all of their music shows up on CarPlay. So why’s it broken? Well… maybe it’s not.

Manufacturers are able to switch CarPlay into a simplified mode when the vehicle is in motion or traveling at high speed. The idea is to prevent the driver from browsing through their playlists instead of focusing on the road. In that mode, instead of seeing your full music library, you might only see the essentials, like your current playlist.

If that isn’t the case, particularly if you’ve recently updated your iOS version, you should try disconnecting from CarPlay and setting up the connection again. That can help get things back in sync.

So, which app do you use on Apple CarPlay? Do you keep it simple with Spotify, enjoy lossless audio quality with Qobuz, or use another app entirely? Let us know down in the comments!


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