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

Forget about vinyl, forget CDs and even cassettes. Streaming is the future of listening to music. It's cheap – or even free – and is more convenient than any physical format. The sound quality is also a barrier: in some cases, these services sound indistinguishable from a CD.

Most promote catalogs with over 40 million songs, but that's the least interesting thing these days. Everyone has unique pros and cons besides the number of songs you will not hear. This guide describes the top music streaming options – Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora, and Tidal – as well as Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, so it's easier for you to decide what your money is worth.

  01 Spotify Headphones

Sarah Tew / CNET

Our First Choice: Spotify is Best for Most People

Let's go hunting. While it's a close race between Spotify and Apple Music, Spotify wins our vote with an entertaining, easy-to-use interface, extensive catalog, and best-in-class device compatibility. Its Freemium offering is also the best option at no cost, especially after a series of recent usability upgrades .

Apple Music is a close second however, in part because it is the only one of the "big four" that stores its own songs with a digital locker. And if you own an Apple HomePod ($ 349 at Walmart) you need this service if you want to call music with your voice.

In third place follows 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 . Even if they were not on our list, they are a good choice for users with specific needs or requirements. For example, if the YouTube Red ad-free service is important to you, Google Play Music will be available for free. And Amazon offers a discounted echo-only version of its service that could balance if you already have an Alexa-heavy budget.

"Free" Starter Pandora Brings the Heck but it's on – Demand Service is still in its infancy.

Before we go into the "why," a brief reference to exclusive releases. They may seem like a big deal, but neither record labels nor consumers like them. If you are not a big fan of, say, Jay-Z or Beyonce there is no real reason to switch here and there to another service for an exclusive release. For example, get a Spotify subscription and buy the album in MP3 or even FLAC if needed.

And remember, these plans all offer free trial periods, and the standard signups are "no contract options." So you can come and go as much as you like. Do not be afraid to try the waters of a competitive service if you are not completely satisfied.

Let's imagine the six most important music streaming services presented in alphabetical order. It's worth noting that all these services work on the main platforms: Android, iOS, PC and Mac.

Amazon is a newcomer in the streaming scene.

Screenshot of Xiomara Blanco / CNET

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited is the "adult" version of Amazon Prime Music which receives Prime subscribers for "free". It offers a greatly expanded catalog for an additional expense per month. Instead of focusing on the latest in music, the service offers recommended playlists and radio stations that group around artists you've already heard.

The Good

The Bad

  • Artist profiles have no biographies
  • Officially advertised as "tens of millions" of tracks heavily, it is unclear if the catalog is quite large the competitors listed here (see table below).
  • Music Loose Functionality Diminishes

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

  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

Apple Music

While Apple initially suffered from teething Apple Music evolved into one of most popular streaming services . It offers many features and a variety of discount options for families and students. There are also a lot of playlists, many of which are handmade by musicians and palette makers, but still lack the robust sharing options built into Spotify .

The Good

  • Combines your iTunes library with music that you do not own and adds to what you can play.
  • A combination of human music experts and algorithms helps you find music Listen based on what you play.
  • You can control what you hear or search for new music with Siri on iOS devices.
  • Has Music Cabinet Over iTunes Match ($ 24.95, £ 21.99, AU $ 34.99 (19659022) Currently the only choice for Apple HomePod users who have voice control

The Bad

Suitable for: Those who would like to listen to albums and tracks that they have added to iTunes Anyone with the latest, hottest music from the biggest

Google Play Music

Google Play Music works as a streaming music service and as a music store, allowing you to store and manage your entire music library to stream (up to 50,000 songs), as well as to stream one of the 30 million songs in its catalog, instead of playlists, well-stocked radio stations are the outstanding feature of Play Music, unlike playlists that are finite and contain certain tracks Radio stations are endless and often updated.

The Good

  • This hybrid service seamlessly integrates your personal collection into the streaming catalog.
  • The monthly fee includes a subscription to YouTube Red : free streaming on YouTube and YouTube Music
  • Offers Free Music Locker Service

The Bad

  • It's not great, new Releases because it highlights channels and recommended music.

Optimal for: Google fans who like the music they've bought with streaming selections.

  pandora "height =" 0 "width =" 270 "daten-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, now a full-fledged streaming service with additional premium and non-plus a la carte titles, also offers one of the most popular radio services in the US. This gives the company more flexibility than most competitors, although it has some backlogs in terms of total catalog size and low number of premium subscribers (1 million users).

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 make better suggestions

The Bad

  • The size of the catalog is not above the level of its competition.
  • One of the lowest available audio qualities, even in Premium Subscription (192Kbps)
  • It does not really provide enough incentive to upgrade compared to the others.
  • Not available outside the US.

Suitable for: Pandora Premium is of particular interest to existing Pandora users who want to be able to pick exactly what they hear, but almost no one else.

Spotify is all about playlists.

Screenshot / Xiomara Blanco


Spotify is the pioneer of music streaming and arguably the best known. It offers a variety of music discovery services, including its Discover Weekly Playlist and is constantly experimenting with new ones such as Australia-only Stations . The (now optional) Facebook integration of the service makes sharing music easier than competing with the ability to send a track or album, work with friends on playlists, or see what your Facebook friends are listening to.

The good

  • Free version is impressively robust.
  • It's easy to create your own playlists and sync them for offline listening.
  • User-friendly apps that are updated frequently and have sufficient features are overwhelming.
  • Here you can follow artists and be notified when they are releasing new music or announcing an upcoming broadcast.
  • Very personalized custom playlists
  • Spotify Connect simplifies the connection to wireless speakers and AV receivers

The Poor

  • advertising in the free service can be intrusive.

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

Love Beyonce? Try Tidal

Screenshot / Xiomara Blanco


Owned by hip-hop mogul Jay Z, Tidal is the only "big" streaming music service that offers lossless streaming with sound quality that is virtually identical to – or better than – CD. Like Apple Music, Tidal also offers exclusive content, though it is usually from one of its superstar co-owners : e.g. Beyonce's album "Lemonade" or Kanye West's "The Life of Pablo". Be aware that it goes both ways, and as Darko.Audio found out, albums are sometimes inexplicably missing. For example, we found Tidal missing almost every Metallica album ( though with good reason ), as well as Reason to Believe by Pennywise and Boards of Canada's groundbreaking music has the right to children. However, if you're an audiophile, a fan of R & B or hip-hop, or a mix of both, then Tidal might like you.

The Good

  • High Fidelity Music Streams
  • Lots of video content, including concert livestreams
  • Exclusive songs and playlists by big names like Beyonce, Kanye West and Jay Z. [19659022] Provides Occasional advance ticket sales.
  • Great concentration on under-the-radar artists (mostly hip-hop artists)
  • Profiles and reviews on each page

The Bad

  • The mobile apps and web players are not as easy as others.
  • The catalog is not as extensive as Spotify's.

Best for: Musically inclined purists who value sound quality and discover new, emerging products. Upcoming artists.

Comparison of Music Streaming Services

Amazon Music Unlimited Apple music Google Play Music Pandora Spotify tide
Monthly fee Prime Members: $ 7.99, £ 7.99, N / A; Non-prime members: $ 9.99, £ 9.99, AU $ 11.99; Echo-only service: $ 3.99, £ 3.99, AU $ 4.99 $ 9.99, £ 9.99, AU $ 11.99 $ 9.99, £ 9.99, AU $ 11.99 Plus: $ 4.99; Premium: $ 9.99 $ 9.99, £ 9.99, AU $ 11.99, $ 12.99 with Hulu Premium: $ 9.99, $ 9.99, $ 14.99; HiFi: $ 19.99, £ 19.99, $ 23.99
Free option? No No Yes Yes, with advertising Yes, with advertising No
Free trial period 30 days 3 months 4 months 60 days 30 days 3 months
Announced music library size Ten million 45 million Over 40 million million Over 30 million 50 million
Maximum bitrate 256 Kbps 256 kbps 320 kbps 192 Kbps 320 kbps 1,411 Kbps
Share family? Yes, $ 14.99, £ 14.99, AU $ 17.99 for up to 6 users Yes, $ 14.99, £ 14.99, AU $ 17.99 for up to 6 users Yes, $ 14.99, £ 14.99, AU $ 17.99 per month for up to 6 users No Yes, $ 5, £ 5, AU $ 6 per month for each additional user, up to 5 Yes, 50% on each additional account, up to 4
student discount No Yes, the price varies by country No No $ 4.99 (USA only) Premium: $ 4.99, HiFi: $ 9.99 (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 (after April 30, 2018) Yes Yes No No No

What else do you need to know?

Streaming music services, unlike streaming radio, offer a la carte listening.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Streaming Radio versus On-Demand

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 has excluded Pandora, but now that the company also offers a premium level it is included here. Slacker Radio TuneIn and iHeartRadio are meanwhile services that play music stations by theme or artist without you explicitly selecting tracks.

Music Lockers: Your MP3s in the Cloud

Amazon was one of the first services to upload your MP3 collection to the cloud, but this will be officially discontinued on April 30, 2018 . However, with the Apple and Google services listed above, you can still 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 subscription services listed below, but also work with them for the subscribers of both.

Comparing Music Catalog Sizes

The number of songs offered by a music service used to be one of the main distinguishing features, but most now offer 30 million songs or more. 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 inclined to constantly chasing after your new favorite band, a streaming service like Spotify or Tidal might be more on your side. Users who are less ambitious about expanding their taste in music will be pleased with the smaller catalogs offered by Amazon Music Unlimited and Google Play Music. Apple Music is somewhere in the middle and offers a healthy mix of mainstream tunes and underground unknowns.

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Look at this:

Transfer songs between streaming services


Originally posted on April 13
Update, June 25 : Information on missing albums has been added to the Tidal section

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