Which music streaming service is right for you? The best music streaming services have a lot in common. They generally offer mostly identical libraries of songs for about $10 per month, and they all provide a lot of the same features. Most music streaming services have an unpaid trial period, and many offer a free tier as well.
Music streaming is one of the rare corners of the tech industry where there are multiple companies offering near-identical products. That has forced the streaming giants into a constant race to one-up each other and match competitors’ perks in order to hold on to subscribers. Listeners get to enjoy the benefits of services that just keep getting better.
There are a few differences. A few have unique features. Some have catalogs of exclusive content, including certain podcasts. You’ll also find a few gaps, where some platforms are missing particular artists and albums, though these are generally exceptions to the rule.
Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music
Price: Prime Music is included free with Amazon Prime, Amazon’s paid subscription service that costs $13 per month or $119 per year. (That price will soon rise to $139.) It has a library of 2 million songs.
Amazon Music Unlimited costs $8 per month for Prime members or $10 per month for non-Prime members. There’s a free three-month trial and a discounted family plan. You can also get a special rate of $4 per month if you sign up for the Single Device Plan via an eligible Amazon Echo device.
You can also access free, ad-supported playlists and stations by asking an Alexa smart assistant to play music.
Who it’s best for: Amazon Prime members and anyone looking for a bargain.
Pros: Both are ad-free, on-demand services, and if you already have a Prime subscription, Amazon Music Unlimited is the best deal you can get. Unlimited has over 75 million songs, curated playlists, podcasts, and personalized stations. That entire library can now be streamed in high definition, and over 7 million tracks are available in 24-bit “Ultra HD.”
Cons: Amazon Music Unlimited doesn’t seem as effective in making recommendations as many of its competitors, Spotify in particular. And while you don’t have to pay for Prime Music, its 2 million songs amount to a thin selection compared with what you get from other streaming services.
Price: Individuals pay $10.99 per month; the service costs $16.99 for up to six family members. Apple Music also has a discounted rate of $5 for students. There is no free tier, but you can get a three-month free trial.
Who it’s best for: People who already have large iTunes libraries or who are otherwise committed to the Apple ecosystem.
Pros: Apple Music has a library of 90 million songs that can be accessed on Apple, Windows, and Android devices. After a recent update, 20 million songs are available in lossless hi-fi at no extra charge, and Apple says the full library will be available in lossless hi-fi by the end of the year. Human curators create a variety of themed playlists that help users discover new music. Unsurprisingly, the Apple Music experience is particularly smooth on iPhones and Mac computers.
Last year Apple purchased Primephonic, a classical music streaming service built to handle the idiosyncrasies of the genre, such as track titles that don’t work as well in systems designed for contemporary music. Apple plans to bring some of Primephonic’s features to the Apple Music app, which could make it an excellent choice for fans of the genre. Apple says it’s also launching a standalone classical app this year, but it hasn’t revealed any details about the plan.
Cons: The desktop app for Windows computers is a little clunky. However, you can listen to Apple Music in a browser for a more streamlined experience.
Price: Users can stream music free with ads via desktop and web apps. The Premium tier, which costs $10 per month for individuals or $15 for up to six family members, grants ad-free on-demand access to Spotify’s library of 82 million tracks and 3.6 million podcast titles. Students pay a discounted rate of $5 and get free access to Hulu (with commercials) and Showtime. A 30-day trial period is available.
Who it’s best for: People who want to hear plenty of music on a variety of devices. The free tier is also one of the better options for users who don’t mind ads and want to listen to songs on demand. Spotify is also famous for its effective recommendation algorithm.
Spotify has doubled down on podcasts as well. The service is host to a variety of exclusive content, particularly in the realm of podcasts.
Pros: Spotify combines a large library of popular songs with a series of robust playlists. These playlists are often geared toward specific activities and genres, helping people find music for specific situations, such as the gym or long car trips. Podcasts and other original programming are also available. If you’re a student who also wants a TV streaming service, bundling with Hulu could save you money as well.
Spotify works with a variety of connected devices, including the Sonos One and Google Home Max smart speakers, as well as video game consoles. Desktop apps are available for macOS and Windows, and mobile apps are available for Android and iOS.
Cons: On a smartphone, users can stream playlists and stations free with ads, but on-demand song selection is limited to a small selection of tracks and you can skip only a certain number of songs per hour. You can’t connect Spotify directly from the Apple HomePod, though you can connect your phone to the smart speaker over Bluetooth and play Spotify that way.
Spotify says high-quality audio is coming “later this year,” but it isn’t available yet.
Price: Tidal has many tiers. It starts at $10 per month for hi-res audio quality; $20 per month unlocks even higher fidelity “master quality” audio. Discounted plans for families, students, and members of the military are available. The service offers a free, ad-supported tier with lower audio quality, and a one-month trial of its paid services.
Who it’s best for: Music lovers who want high-quality audio (including high-res audio) and offline listening. The service is also great for hip-hop and R&B fans; its offerings are particularly comprehensive, including some exclusive material.
Pros: Tidal offers CD-quality and high-res audio (via HiFi, its top-tier service). Tidal’s library features over 80 million songs and hundreds of thousands of videos.
Cons: The cost of $20 per month is steep, especially when lossless streaming doesn’t cost extra with the Amazon and Apple services.
Price: YouTube Music is free with ads. YouTube Music Premium, which is ad-free, costs $10 per month for an individual or $15 per month for families. A free three-month trial is available. Discounts are available for students. People with a Google smart speaker can access free ad-supported playlists and stations without signing up by asking their device to play music.
Adding some potential confusion, there’s a separate service called YouTube Premium, which costs $12 per month. It includes the same music streaming service plus ad-free videos and some original video content.
Who it’s best for: First and foremost, people with a large collection of their own audio files. It’s the best option for anyone who wants to upload their own library and listen to it on the go without paying a fee. YouTube Music is also a great option if you’re considering paying to get rid of the ads on YouTube; the bundle makes for a nice discount. YouTube Music is also one of the few free options for listening to specific songs on demand.
Pros: What sets YouTube Music apart is the ability to upload up to 100,000 of your own audio files to stream from the cloud. You don’t have to pay anything to use this feature.
YouTube Music Premium gives you access to a library of 70 million songs, personalized playlists, and music videos. Location-based playlists will even suggest songs—think high-tempo music at the gym—at appropriate times.
Cons: There’s a major flaw to the free tier of YouTube Music. Unless you’re listening to tracks you uploaded yourself, you can’t lock your phone or switch to another app without the music stopping.
Which Music Streaming Service did you choose? Stay tuned to MusicOnTheRox.com for all your music news and reviews.
Jerrett Franklin grew up in a small town. He moved to Nashville to pursue a music career. After writing for a few different artists in the area, he decided to branch out and give local music the spotlight. That is where the idea for Music On The Rox originated from. We are dedicated to shining a light on local music and giving a voice to those who aren’t being heard.