Which Music Streaming Service Is Best for You?
Spotify may have gotten there first, but there's now a fleet of on-demand music streaming options all vying for your $9.99 per month. Every service seems to have its particular advantage: Spotify with its vibrant social network of users and playlists; Tidal with consistent exclusivity on hot new albums; and Apple Music with, well, Apple. And those aren't your only listening options either: SoundCloud, Google Play Music, and Amazon Prime all offer music streaming services, and France's Deezer enters the mix this week.
With an abundance of choices for all-you-can stream music libraries that you can enjoy on mobile devices or offline, you want to get the one that's right for you. Here's what you need to know.
Price: $9.99/month for one user; $14.99 for a family plan of up to six people
Pros: The first major player on the scene, Spotify is still the giant of on-demand music streaming. With 30 million paid subscribers, there's a good chance your friends are on it, augmenting its social-media-like component of collaborative playlists and the ability to "follow" people to see what's coming through their ears. Additionally, the Swedish-based company's product is very easy to use and benefits from really, really good recommendation software, having purchased a music tech company that can analyze songs based on mood and content to tailor recommendations. As such, the machine-learned curation is impressive. Besides standard recommendations, the service's algorithms make you a personalized playlist every Monday.
Cons: Spotify offers comparatively fewer high-profile exclusives, like the new Beyoncé, Kanye, or Taylor Swift records, which is how competitors entice people to make the switch or do a free trial of their services.
Subscribers: 30 million (March 2016)
Best for: People who want to share music with their friends.
Price: $9.99/month for one user; $14.99 for a family plan of up to six
Pros: Apple Music offers users a similar experience to Spotify. But the big advantage for many people is that its catalogue has a few things Spotify and Tidal don't, including Taylor Swift's 1989. (Spotify only has Ryan Adams's good-but-not-a-substitute cover album, because the musician pulled her music from the service in 2014.) Apple also has some music videos and a popular radio station, "Beats 1," run by Zane Lowe, a prominent DJ from New Zealand formerly of the BBC. You can also upload 25,000 songs from your iTunes library to the cloud.
Cons: Much of the criticism leveled against Apple Music has been about app design and recommendations—both very subjective points that come down to personal taste. But because it has a smaller base of users, Apple probably has fewer user-generated playlists and potentially not as many friends to follow.
Subscribers: 13 million (April 2016)
Best for: Apple fans, design fans, Taylor Swift fans
Price: $9.99/month for one user, additional $4.99 per user up to four. The price drops to $8.49/month if you prepay six months. $19.99/mo for "lossless compression" audio quality.
Pros: The lossless option means better sound, provided you have equipment that can render it. The service has big-name exclusivity going for it: Beyoncé's Lemonade and Kanye West's The Life of Pablo both dropped on Tidal. It also boasts a large selection of HD music videos and playlist recommendations from music writers.
Cons: TechRadar found that the search function isn't very smart (i.e., it doesn't offer "did you mean" suggestions if you misspell an artist or album name) and reported gaps in the music library. The user base is even smaller than Apple's, which mean you might only have one "80s Prom" playlist instead of nine to choose from.
Subscribers: 4.2 million (May 2016)
Best for: People who love exclusives, music videos, and ultra-high fidelity
Price: $9.99/month, family plan of up to six for $14.99/month
Pros: Like the others, Google's music service offers a buffet of popular songs, offline playback, and Pandora-like internet radio built on the characteristics of a track of your choosing. Where Google Play differs, however, is including YouTube Red—an ad-free version of the video streaming platform—free of charge. While the app may not have the mainstream power of the "big three" services, its proponents say it essentially stands step for step with the others. Additionally it has the useful feature of letting users upload 50,000 songs to the cloud for personal use, potentially filling the cracks in its catalog.
Cons: Despite being a Google product, it doesn't seem nearly as big as Spotify and Apple Music, so it's probably not the best choice for people who want lots of sharing and user-generated playlists.
Best for: People who watch a lot of YouTube, since they can get both on-demand music and an ad-free YouTube experience
Pros: Soundcloud, known for its ability to let users upload their own content, is prime for people who are really into discovering new music, because many artists on the service are unsigned. Besides the user-generated material, there's also plenty of the professional-grade stuff that you'd expect from the likes of Spotify—though not as much. But some pros use the platform like amateurs. Kanye West, for example, has been known to treat it like an open sketchbook of sorts and release snippets in advance of new albums.
Cons: Wired noted that the service's organization and search features are lacking, likening it to browsing music on YouTube. For the people focusing on discovery, this may be an advantage, but it's probably a drawback for most listeners. To that point, while there are more than 100 million songs on the service, only 15 million are the kind of licensed, premium content that you get on Spotify and its analogs, so the depth is somewhat misleading, as the Verge noted in its review.
Subscribers: Not reported
Best for: People who want the stuff no one knows yet
Price: $4.99/month for ad-free radio, $9.99/month for on-demand streaming; $14.99 for a family plan for five accounts
Pros: This Napster is of course different from the piracy site of the '90s; now it's a Spotify competitor that was called "Rhapsody" for a spell. It has the standard features you'd expect from a music subscription service, such as ad-free listening, personalized radio, and offline usage. The cheaper version still has offline radio.
Cons: No real advantage besides its nostalgic name, a more limited social component than Spotify and Apple Music, and less exclusive content than Tidal.
Subscribers: 3.5 million (December 2015)
Best for: Someone who wants a cheap way to listen to music offline
Price: $10.99/mo or $99/year
Pros: If you already have Amazon Prime, streaming music is included with your subscription
Cons: It has an extremely small catalog of only about a million songs, which is way less than its competitors' 30 million standard. The interface still feels like a shopping website.
Subscribers: Tens of millions Prime members; music users not reported separately
Best for: Someone who already has Prime and doesn't listen to that much music.