Music streaming is huge and with good reason. The cost of a single CD is now enough for someone to have access to millions of tracks from across the world on their phone (or device of choice). The sound quality will be great, and it's accessible anywhere with a good data plan. No more waiting for the radio or dealing with nearly as much signal loss. People can even download whatever songs they want. And while some may mourn the bygone days of checking out CDs at the store or making a mixtape, it's hard to say that what we have today isn’t more convenient and allows for more exploration.
And out of the music streaming services that have arisen over the last decade or so, a couple have stood out: Spotify and Apple Music. Both have millions of users and are actively trying to become (or stay as) the market leader for years to come. Both provide excellent service in some respects, but as a listener, you only need one.
Therefore, to help you better understand what your choices are and which you should go with, we want to give you an overview of each, as well as some notes on additional services:
Truly becoming globe-spanning in more recent years, Spotify is the most popular option in the market today, at least when it comes to smartphone use. It feels like the default for Android users because of its free account option, a wide selection of content, and uniquity. It is the option for the average listener, and the Spotify playlist seems to have replaced the mixtape in many people’s eyes. It is social, sharable, and has everything, so what’s not to like?
Yet let’s look a bit deeper. Does it hold up and more importantly how does it compare to Apple Music? Have their efforts to stay on the top of the pack and expand been successful?
Spotify, being the biggest market for artists and record companies, has a lot of bargaining power, and a strong desire to have practically everything on their platform. And with a few exceptions, they’ve succeeded in this goal. There are over 70 million songs to pick from, with a constantly expanding library.
Yet if you don’t believe us or want to see for yourself just what the selection is like, check for yourself! A quick search of your favorite artists will tell you everything you need to know. There might be special exceptions for when an artist specifically doesn’t want to work with Spotify for personal or rare business reasons, but these are few and far between.
According to our ears and other audiophiles, Spotify certainly has no severe problems, but it does not have some of the Hi-res audio options that other streaming services have. True audiophiles might want to look at another streaming service or go for high-quality physical media. That being said, the hi-res recordings and files must exist in the first place. Newer music might have the option, but earlier recordings will not. Even if it wanted to, Spotify cannot deliver what does not exist. There are plans for Spotify to release a much-anticipated Hi-Fi service, but as of this writing, this has not occurred yet.
Of course, sound quality is something that is partially determined by your sound system as well, so unless you have top-tier headphones or speakers, then you should not weigh this facet as much as others. Quality will be good for most normal users. If you’re playing directly from your smartphone speakers, don’t worry. If you want the best, though, you’ll find Spotify lacking.
Unlike Apple Music, Spotify has a free option for users, making it almost the default choice if you only want to listen to something specific or don’t mind ads. However, many people do and many people want more options, and the free option will often force people to listen to albums or playlists in shuffle mode. To those who want to listen to what they want to when they want to, free Spotify might be stifling. And the ads can interrupt the flow of a listening experience. Finally, the audio quality will be limited to 160Kbps.
A subscription of $9.99 per month will provide you with most of the benefits on offer. Students may be able to secure a subscription for only $4.99 a month. There may also be other deals, plans, and discounts available to those who are timely and look out for them. A Spotify Family Plan is a good option for up to 6 people for $14.99 a month and a Spotify Duo Plan is great for two people at $12.99 a month.
Spotify is available on practically every device that runs android and can play music (either out of its speakers or through a connection). There is a desktop app as well, and it can even be installed on some other devices. Connecting your device with whatever sound system or device you’d like is easy and can usually be done with a few clicks or taps.
In short, no service beats Spotify when it comes to device availability and quick access to tracks. If this is your key point of judging, then Spotify Premium should go to the top of your list.
There are several UIs to talk about, but it all comes down to a simple question: is Spotify easy to use? The answer in our opinion is yes.
For the most part, all you need to do is type in the name of the song or artist you’re interested in and it will come right up, together with related songs or the artist’s most popular albums and tracks. And if you’re specific, you can find even the most obscure songs on the platform. Plating and controlling the music is easy, and there are even some special options such as crossfading tracks and creating a group session for listening parties.
Special features are easy to find, though conversely, we never felt as though the UI was overly cluttered or confusing. No unnecessary buttons make for a more focused experience, and an overall better one.
For desktop and web apps, most of the features are there, but some have noted the lack of lyric options found on the mobile versions. This “behind the lyric” function due to a partnership with Genius has become one of Spotify’s key features, and it’s a shame for it to be missing from Desktop applications. Hopefully, this changes soon, for the benefit of users and Spotify alike. Furthermore, there may be some differences to get used to between them, but these are minor concerns at best.
There have been relatively few times Spotify has gone down or had issues in its history. This is in some ways a subjective and complex metric, given that all services have these issues, they may be confined to some devices. Overall, though, Spotify does not have a reputation for getting caught up in such issues and is ultimately reliable for its users. You may need to update the app from time to time or at worst reinstall the app, but these are often issues on the side of the user (fair or not they may be). You can expect Spotify to be there for you every morning for your commute, walk, or wake-up routine.
When you just want something to listen to or want to discover new music, there is a great appeal of using Spotify like a radio (without the incessant ads and same songs playing every hour). There are tons of playlists created by other users and by professional curators ready for you, and you will never have a shortage of options to explore. If you never wanted to pick out a specific artist again as long as you use the service, you’d still have a great time. And whether you’re looking for popular or obscure artists, there are still options for you.
And if you’re interested in a true radio experience, there are artist radio options that you can fine-tune over time. It might not be as extensive as live radio subscription services, but it is an alternative if you’re mostly going to be using playlists and more selective listening.
To people who are interested in listening to podcasts, Spotify is known just as much for podcasts as it is for music. In fact, many people use Spotify exclusively for podcasts and choose to get their music elsewhere. Any podcast worth its salt is on Spotify (unless they made a deliberate choice not to), and episodes are quick to load on a good connection.
Interestingly, Spotify has been trying to gain more podcast listeners recently with some exclusive podcasts. This at the very least gets people in the ecosystem, and the podcasts are top quality according to listeners. There will be nothing lacking for podcast fans, and there is a dedicated effort to constantly improve the experience for the podcast listener.
Overall, it is an interesting thing to measure. While podcasts should have good sound quality, in truth discoverability and easy management of preferences are far more important here. Spotify does a great job with this, allowing for listeners to find something on practically any topic and encourage further listening.
Finally, Spotify has also gotten into audio dramas as well as audiobooks. It might not be as extensive a collection as what one would find on Audible or dedicated service, it is a nice perk for one’s subscription and might save listeners a few dollars when the chance comes up.
You’re likely fully aware of iTunes, which is all but retired as of some years ago. Yet where did that effort and infrastructure go? It would be foolish of Apple to just abandon one of their biggest sources of support and income (even outside of normal Apple fans). And in truth they didn’t, they simply expanded into several different services and options, one of which is Apple Music. A music streaming service like all the rest, Apple Music boasts some great technical achievements, great music quality, and a host of additional features.
After spending some time with it and looking deeper, here’s what we found:
If there is a song or track you want to listen to, chances are it is on Apple Music. You can take a look for yourself, but Apple Music is known for having the best catalog on the market, with 75 million songs and counting. You can easily check for yourself what is available, and new releases come regularly. It will be quite difficult to find a major artist not on the platform, and even most minor artists are there.
Yet there is an additional clear advantage for Apple Music: you can include the songs you already own in the library, making for a more seamless experience and a better catalog on your end. While in the age of immediate access and unlimited streaming this doesn’t feel like a huge deal, it allows you to add your personal touch to the app and your experience with it.
When it comes to sound quality, Apple Music is fantastic. It has HiFi sound quality and is known for lossless audio, which is a distinct advantage over Spotify. You will notice the difference with many tracks if you opt in to the better streaming quality options and have sound equipment that can provide the boost. The sound quality reaches a maximum of 24-bit/192kHz, but this is more than enough for most people. This is all reliant on high-quality recordings being available in the first place, but if they’re available, they tend to be on Apple Music.
There are still other options that might provide better audio for the true audiophiles out there, but most people will not need them or notice the difference.
There is no free option for Apple Music, but if you’re prepared to pay for your service then this isn’t necessarily a negative. However, you may want to rely on a free trial to test it out if you have the opportunity, and there are plenty of opportunities for it. It costs $9.99 a month, though you may be able to get it in a bundle or deal with other Apple services for a total discount, which makes for a great value if you use these services.
In terms of other options, there is a family plan (for up to 6 people) that is only $15 a month. You may also be able to get a free period with the purchase of other services.
Apple Music is available on Apple devices, including iPhones of various versions and other music devices. However, not being limited to just this, an app is available for a wide range of devices as well.
When it comes to other devices, Apple Music is generally available, if not as well-integrated. You can easily connect it with most other devices in your household, albeit with a few extra steps. Spotify might be the choice for most people when it comes to this, though it's more complicated. More devices are allowing Apple Music regularly, and it should be available on your system of choice.
Apple products are known for their ease of use, and what comes with Apple Music is no different. While everyone’s personal experience may vary, Apple Music is easy to use, well organized and clarified, and has all the options you need. Some may need time to get used to the shortcuts, but this would be the case for any app. Nonetheless, icons are large by default, and everything is easy to see.
You can also use Siri to control playback, making Apple Music great for the car, the kitchen, or other times when your hands are full. This might be a must-have feature to some people, as flawed as voice controls can be at times (though massively improved since their inception).
Additionally, lyrics are available for the curious or those who want to sing along without mumbling through the verses. It’s a very friendly system for anyone who wants to use it, and accurate in most cases.
Like any service, there is the occasional server problem, but for the most part, Apple Music remains reliable at all hours of the day on whatever platform you like, with no interruptions to ruin your flow. There have been a few high-profile cases of service interruption, but this might be part of a greater internet outage, a greater problem at Apple in its entirety, or a fluke. Most problems will be device-specific and can be easily fixed, and the base app and technology itself are solid.
On top of the standard selection of music, how good is the curation if you’re looking to find something new? It is excellent, and on par with Spotify depending on what you are looking for. There are playlists based on what you’d listened to before, playlists for various genres and moods, and more. It might not have as many of the social features Spotify is known for, but it makes up for this well enough.
There are plenty of Apple Music Radio stations and channels to choose from, including those best for working out and those for people who love Disney. You can also listen to one of the stations they have with a live DJ, giving you what is essentially a better radio experience than what’s on the radio. It’s a great choice for those looking to blend the old and the new, and music-lovers of all kinds will be pleased.
While iTunes was the king of podcasts for its lifetime, Apple Music is a bit different. Unlike Spotify, Apple Music doesn’t have podcasts built into the app or the infrastructure. Instead, you will want to check out Apple Podcasts, which is usually a separate app that requires a separate setup. While most everything is free on it (with some premium options), there is some inconvenience to this, and Spotify has additional options and exclusives Apple Music can’t claim.
The same can be said with other content and audiobooks. It’s not that Apple doesn’t provide or pay attention to such content, it's just that it is outside the purview of Apple Music and its subscription. It is much more of a strictly music service, with some comedy albums available, and whether this is fine is up to you.
If you consider music videos other media, however, then Apple Music has you covered. There’s a huge library of videos available for streaming and a full section of the app to explore, including playlists and music video radio stations. It might be one of the best platforms for music videos, and aficionados will be pleased.
So which one should you pick? You rarely need more than one service, and it’d be confusing to work with more than one anyway. Yet there is no one-size-fits-all recommendation we’d give to everyone. Instead, we welcome people to review and go by the following:
Sometimes the choice will be easy, while other times you will feel a more weighty decision, especially if you are getting a family plan for your household (you have to keep everyone happy). In some cases, you might need to get more than one service, though this is rare.
You are not locked in. If you find yourself regretting your choice or your circumstances changing, switch. No one is going to stop you, and you will be happier for it.
While the focus of the article is on these two services, the truth is they don’t exist in a vacuum. You don’t have to pick one or the other. There are other services you can pick from, albeit perhaps not as well known as the others. While we cannot go into full detail on all of them, here are the keynotes for the major players:
Amazon Music Unlimited: While there is Amazon Music that is available for free, this version is somewhat limited (only 2 million songs, which isn’t nearly so large a selection all things considered). There are variations in services that relate to audio quality, music selection, and more, but we recommend Amazon Music Unlimited for most users and the higher tier options for true audiophiles who will use it for hours each day. However, these users may just want to invest in another service instead, especially if they aren’t plugged into the Amazon infrastructure and user experience already.
In terms of other features and options, Amazon has its other services for Audiobooks and other media, and the UI is acceptable for users, though nothing groundbreaking. There is a discount for Amazon Prime subscribers, however, which might be the tipping point for most users.
YouTube Music: A more interesting choice, perhaps birthed out of the use of many people to use YouTube videos to watch and play music. It can easily be argued that YouTube is the most popular music streaming platform like it is the most popular platform for many other topics. On it, you can find tons of music videos and some playlists and exploration options, but after spending time with it we found it not nearly as easy to navigate or find what you want comparing to other services. It is a good choice perhaps if you sincerely adore music videos and use YouTube for your music selections, but otherwise best avoided. There are better options.
Tidal HiFi: You might remember Tidal from its relatively high-profile launch. Certainly a more niche service than the others, Tidal HiFi boasts amazing audio quality and more exclusive releases and videos. It is truly the choice for audiophiles who want to listen to the masters without any loss in audio quality. It might not be as popular as some other options, but it is picking up tracking and offering more options to listeners, including trials and free options.
Originally somewhat more limited in its artist selection, it has become much more accessible to everyday users and can be used as an all-purpose platform, especially if you aren’t as interested in podcasts. For pure music, it might be the way to go. It also might be a bit more expensive, at $19.99 a month for its top plan.
Pandora: Pandora has an interesting history, evolving from an online radio station to something more of a combination of its past self and a premium music streaming service. However, in many ways, it simply doesn’t have as much to attract users as it used to. There are tons of playlists and stations with practically any other app, and it feels like Pandora’s time in the sun has passed. Great for curiosity or something of a backup, but overall not worth your money instead of another option here.
Qobuz: More of a competitor to Tidal than anything else, Qobuz boasts amazing sound quality and the ability to either download or stream these tracks. It is an amazing choice for audiophiles and music lovers, but it is still a limited option in some regards. It doesn’t have many of the extra features boasted by the largest services, and the library, while massive, has some gaps in it according to listeners. This has improved over time, and the library will likely soon match its competitors. It might not suffice on its own as a service, but select listeners will want to check it out.
There’s so much to talk about regarding streaming services that there are some things that might have slipped through the cracks in our normal comparison. Some things might help you make a choice that we haven’t mentioned yet. Here are all of them, listed below:
In truth, while can give you a general conclusion and some notes to draw upon, there is no singular answer to the question. Spotify will be the obvious choice for many, while Apple Music will work better with some people already in that ecosystem. And for other people, one of the many other music streaming services will be the way to go. The good news is that you can take all the time you like to choose and that you can switch as you feel the need. Putting together playlists and setting up apps again can be a pain, but the options are always available to you. May the choice come easy to you, and may you enjoy whatever you want to listen to today!