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Best music streaming app: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon and Google Play in comparison

  01 Spotify Headphones

Sarah Tew / CNET

Despite the recent revival of vinyl, streaming is the future of listening to music. Music streaming is cheap ̵

1; or in the case of Pandora or Spotify even free – and more practical than any physical format. The sound quality is also a lock: in some cases, these services do not sound distinguishable from a CD or even better than these.

Most services advertise catalogs with over 40 million titles, but each offers unique advantages and disadvantages, apart from how many titles you will not hear. This guide will help you learn about the key on-demand music streaming options – Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and Tidal – as well as Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, so you can decide which option is worth your money. We have deliberately omitted services that only play music in a radio format.

Please note that CNET may receive part of the revenue from the sale of services featured on this page.

Our first choice: Spotify is the best for most people.

Let's get down to business. While it's a close race between Spotify and Apple Music Spotify wins our vote with an entertaining, user-friendly interface, an extensive catalog and the best device compatibility. The free level of Spotify has recently been improved making it the best free option.

Apple Music is a close second in part because it's the only one of the "Big Four" with a digital locker where your own songs can be stored. And if you own an Apple HomePod ($ 299 at Walmart) you will need this service if you want to summon music with your voice. It's also the ideal companion for a new iPod Touch, which is amazingly one thing .

Third is Tidal which is also worth a look if you are interested in the best audio quality.

Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited are in the game . Although not high on our list, they are always a good choice for users with specific needs or requirements. For example, if you care about the YouTube Red ad-free service, Google Play Music will be available for free. And Amazon offers a discounted echo-only version of its service that can make the difference if you already have an Alexa-heavy budget.

While Pandora's free service is excellent, the on-demand service remains behind in catalog width.

Worth mentioning is also Qobuz, which was launched in the US this year . It's too early to call, but at first glance, this Tidal competitor offers a clean interface, high-resolution streams, and the ability to buy lossless music. However, the catalog is not quite up to Tidal or Spotify's level.

And remember: These plans all offer free trial periods, and the standard applications are options without a contract. So you can come and go as you wish. Do not be afraid to try the water of a competitive service if you are not completely satisfied.

Here are the six best music streaming services offered in alphabetical order. It's worth noting that all these services will work on the main platforms: Android, iOS, PC and Mac.


Spotify is the pioneer of music streaming and arguably the best known. It offers a variety of music discovery services, including the Discover Weekly Playlist and is constantly experimenting with new ones such as the Australia-only stations . The (now optional) Facebook integration of the service makes it easy to share music with competitors and offers the ability to send a song or album, work on playlists with friends, or take a look at what your Facebook friends are listening to.

The Good

  • The free version is impressively robust.
  • It's easy to create your own playlists and sync them for offline viewing.
  • User-friendly apps that are updated frequently and have enough features to be overwhelming.
  • Allows you to follow artists and be notified when they post new music or announce an upcoming show.
  • Highly personalized custom playlists.
  • Spotify Connect makes it easy to connect to wireless speakers and AV receivers.

The Bad

  • Advertising in free service can be intrusive.

Suitable for: People who want solid all-round service, and especially those who love to surf and share playlists for every scenario.

Apple Music

  Album View Apple Music "Height =" 0 "Width =" 270 "Data Original =" https://cnet2.cbsistatic.com/img/l-CB65SiQ7pGe1z2aS3BajCjjlE=/270x0/ 2018/04/12 / af2642ac-1674-40e5-858f-90f3de18a272 / apple-music.png


While initially suffered from teething troubles Apple Music has become one of most popular streaming services . It offers many features and a wealth of discount options for families and students. There are also a lot of playlists many crafted by musicians and taste buds, but lacks the robust sharing options built into Spotify .

The Good

  • It combines your iTunes library with music you do not own and completes your listening experience.
  • A combination of human music experts and algorithms helps to find the music you are looking for based on what you are playing.
  • Siri lets you control what you hear or search for new music.
  • Using Music Locker via iTunes Match ($ 25, £ 22 or $ 35)
  • Currently the only choice for Apple HomePod users who want to use voice control.

The Bad

  • As expected, the Android app and experience is not as fluid as the iOS.
  • Does not work with old iPods (except iPod Touch) .

Suitable for: People who want to listen to albums and tracks are added to iTunes or use an Apple HomePod.


Tidal belongs to hip-hop mogul Jay Z and is the only "big" streaming music service that offers lossless streaming with a sound quality that is virtually identical or better to CD. Tidal has in the past offered exclusive content from its Superstar co-owners – Beyonce's album "Lemonade" or Kanye West's "The Life of Pablo" – but this trend has gratefully abated. However, sometimes inexplicably, albums are missing, including any Metallica album ( exclusive to Spotify ) or Boards of Canada's groundbreaking music has the right to children. If you're an audiophile, a fan of R & B or hip-hop, or a mix of both, Tidal could appeal to you.

The Good

  • High Fidelity Music Streams.
  • Lots of video content, including concert livestreams.
  • Offers occasional ticket presale.
  • Great focus on under-the-radar (predominantly hip-hop) artists.
  • Profiles and reviews on each page.

The bad

  • The mobile apps and the web player are not as easy as some others.
  • The catalog is not that easy. As comprehensive as Spotify's.

Suitable for: Purists with musical inclinations who care about the sound quality and who discover new, emerging artists.

Google Play Music

Although will soon be replaced by YouTube Music Google Play Music will function as a streaming music service and music locker. It lets you save and stream your entire music library (up to 50,000 songs) and stream all 30 million songs in your catalog. Instead of playlists, well-curated radio stations are the outstanding feature of Play Music. Unlike playlists, which are finite and contain certain songs, radio stations play endlessly and are frequently updated.

The Good

  • This hybrid service seamlessly integrates your personal collection into the streaming catalog.
  • The monthly fee includes subscriptions to YouTube Music: commercial free streaming on YouTube and YouTube Music.
  • Provides music Free Locker Service.

The Bad

  • The lack of a timeline for sharing is frustrating.
  • The user interface is less fun than the competition, especially on the desktop.

Suitable for: Google fans want to mix the purchased music with a streaming selection.

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon is a freshman in the streaming music scene.

Screenshot of Xiomara Blanco / CNET

Amazon Music Unlimited is the "adult" version of Amazon Prime Music which received Prime subscribers for free. It offers a greatly expanded catalog for an additional cost per month. Unlike others, the service does not focus on the latest genre of music, but offers recommended playlists and radio stations grouped by artists you've already heard.

The Good

The Bad

  • Artist profiles have no biographies.
  • Officially advertised as "tens of millions" of titles, it is unclear whether the catalog is strong is quite as big as the competitors listed here (see table below).
  • The service contains no more music locker .

Fits: Amazon Prime members who want to save a few bucks for a decent music catalog.

  pandora "height =" 0 "width =" 270 "data-original =" https://cnet2.cbsistatic.com/img/vSrpelEglxaIazwTNkFF3Z8sAUw=/270x0/2018/04/09/d1420d73-3545-44c1-aa32 -bbc79377d33f / pandora.png

Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Pandora Premium

Pandora is now a full-fledged streaming service offering one of the most popular radio services in the US, in addition to Premium and No-Ads Plus tiers. As a result, the company offers more flexibility than most competitors and wins out to subscribers, albeit lagging behind in terms of overall catalog size.

The Good

  • The service enjoys one of the largest user bases thanks to its free version.
  • Pandora's "Music Genome Project" analyzes each track for 450 different attributes to give better suggestions.

The Bad

  • The size of the catalog does not match that of the competition (last estimated at 2 million).
  • Audio quality is among the lowest Also available in the premium subscription (192 kbps).
  • It does not have enough incentive to upgrade compared to the others here.
  • Not available outside the US.

Suitable for: Pandora Premium is most interesting for existing Pandora users who want to choose exactly what they hear, but for almost anyone.

Comparison of Music Streaming Services

Amazon Music Unlimited Apple Music Google Play Music Pandora Spotify Tidal
Monthly fee Main Members: $ 7.99, £ 7.99, N / A; Non-prime members: 9.99 USD, 9.99 GBP, 11.99 AU $; Alexa Service only: Free $ 9.99, $ 9.99, $ 11.99 $ 9.99, $ 9.99, $ 11.99 Plus: $ 4.99; Premium: $ 9.99 9.99 USD, 9.99 GBP, 11.99 AU $, 12.99 USD with Hulu Premium: $ 9.99, $ 9.99, $ 14.99; HiFi: $ 19.99, £ 19.99, AU $ 23.99
Free option? Yes, with advertising No. Yes Yes, with advertising Yes, with advertising No.
Free trial 30 days 3 months 30 days 60 days 30 days 3 months
Size of the music library.
Music library size 50 million 50 million Over 40 million million 50 million 50 million
Maximum bitrate 256 kbps 256 kbps 320 kbps 192 Kbps 320 kbps 1.411 Kbps
Share with the family? Yes, $ 14.99, $ 14.99, $ 17.99 for up to 6 users Yes, $ 14.99, $ 14.99, $ 17.99 for up to 6 users Yes, $ 14.99, £ 14.99, $ 17.99 per month for up to 6 users No. Yes, 5 USD, 5 GBP, 6 AU $ per month and additional user, up to 5 USD Yes, 50% off each additional account, up to 4
student discount No. Yes, the price varies by country No. No. 4.99 dollars Premium: 4.99 USD, HiFi: 9.99 USD (US only)
US military discount No. No. No. No. No. Yes
Listen offline Mobile and desktop Mobile only Mobile only Mobile only Mobile and desktop Mobile only
radio stations Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No.
Podcasts No. No. Yes No. Yes Yes
Music Videos No. Yes No. No. Yes Yes
Music Locker functionality No. Yes Yes No. No. No.

What else do you need to know?

Unlike the streaming radio, streaming music services offer listening à la carte.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Radio Streaming or On-Demand Streaming

This guide covers on-demand music streaming services. For this reason, we have purposely omitted services that only play music in radio format. Until last year, this list excluded Pandora, but now that the company also offers a premium level it is included here. Slacker Radio TuneIn and iHeartRadio are services that play music stations that relate to a theme or an artist without explicitly selecting tracks.

Music Lockers: Your MP3s in the Cloud

Amazon was one of the first vendors to upload your MP3 collection to the cloud. However, this was officially discontinued in 2018 . With the Apple and Google services listed above, you can continue to combine your personal music collection with the streaming catalog. So, if you've invested money in digital music over the years, that money will not be wasted. These so-called "music lockers" are available independently from the following subscription services, but also work for subscribers of both services.

Comparing Music Catalog Sizes

In the past, the number of songs offered by a music service was one of the main distinguishing features, but today most of them offer at least 30 million songs. However, depending on your favorite genre, some of them have a more robust catalog that includes many under-the-radar, indie, or hip-hop artists. If you are musically interested and constantly looking for your new favorite band, then a streaming service like Spotify or Tidal might be better for you. Users less ambitious to enhance their musical tastes will be pleased with the smaller Amazon Music Unlimited and Google Play Music catalogs. Apple Music is somewhere in the middle and offers a healthy mix of mainstream music and underground unknowns.

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