First, there was radio. Then people bought records and singles. That evolved into cd’s, with their superior audio quality. In the last decade, we started buying and playing music digitally. Now, we’ve solidly entered the era of streaming music services.
However, the various streaming music options can be confusing. Since I did a little research before making my own choice, I figured I’d share my findings with you. This way, you, too, can make the best choice for a streaming music option that fits your needs. To be fair, I’ve only looked at the most popular ones.
The available streaming music services vary in options, but not as much as you would expect. The devil is in the detail, though, so pay attention to those features that are important to you. Make use of the free trial period available on all options to see if it truly fits your needs. Also, keep in mind that not all artists are available. If you’re a big Beatles fan, however, you’re still out of luck.
Amazon Music (Unlimited)
The first option is Amazon Music, which has a free option for Prime members and a paid option where Prime members get a discount. The free version has about 2 million songs that play ad-free, and a whole bunch of playlists and stations. As you can expect, the options are limited here, but it’s a nice bonus if you’re a Prime member anyways.
Much more interesting is the paid version, which runs at $7.99 a month for Prime members and $9.99 for others. There’s also a family plan for $14.99 per month. If you own an Echo, you can also choose an Echo subscription for $3.99 per month. This is for one Echo only, so if you own more you’re better off with the individual plan. The advantage of the Echo, of course, is that you can use voice commands to play songs. All options have a 30-day free trial.
For this subscription, you get ad-free access to tens of millions of songs (Amazon gives no exact figures about the number of songs), which you can also download for offline listening. Amazon supports pretty much all devices, including a web browser version, which runs reasonably well. Amazon also has the option to add your own songs (called a song locker) and combine this with the streaming music. Their recommendations are pretty basic, using the Amazon algorithm based on what you listened to already. All in all, it’s easy to use and offers what most people will need.
Apple boasts 30 million songs, including some exclusive releases like Adele and Taylor Swift. It combines with your iTunes library (song locker functionality) and allows you to mix these. It uses algorithms to suggest new music based on what you’ve listened to, and what you like. A big plus is the thousands of playlists, covering every topic, style, and mood you can imagine.
One big disadvantage, in my opinion, is the design. I’m a huge Apple fan, but I find the design here confusing and not very user-friendly. Also, Apple Music doesn’t work with older iPods, so be careful to check the compatibility. Offline listening is possible, but only on mobile devices.
Apple Music offers the first three months free, and is $9.99 a month after that. There’s also a family plan, which comes to $14.99. There’s no free version.
In Europe, Spotify was launched well before it was allowed in the US. That’s the reason for this service’s worldwide popularity. Another reason is the free version it offers, though this is not ad-free (in comparison to Amazon’s free version for Prime members, for instance). The free version is robust, however, and offers plenty of choices.
Where Spotify excels is in sharing playlists, more than any other streaming music service. It’s easy to build your own playlists and share these with others. It’s also a great way to discover new artists, since Spotify is known for highlighting new artists. You can also follow artists, and get updates about new releases. I love how user-friendly Spotify is, with a highly intuitive user interface. Offline listening is possible on desktop and mobile.
There are downsides, too, of course. It has a smaller music database than its competitors and offers no exclusive content (on the contrary, some artists have pulled their music, like Taylor Swift). It also doesn’t offer music videos, and there’s no option to add your own music.
Spotify costs $9.99 per month, with an additional $5 per family member on a family plan. You have a 30-day free trial period.
Google Play offers all the features you’d expect, plus some more that make this an interesting option (and this is coming from an avid Apple user, just saying). First of all, it boasts the biggest data library (Apple Music may be bigger, bit doesn’t provide numbers). I’ll get back to that in a bit.
As with the others, you can download songs to play them offline. Google also offers the song locker functionality, up to 50,000 songs. It integrates your personal collection into your music. Instead of playlists, Google Play has well-curated radio stations based on mood, era, type of music (this gets highly specific), and more options. The plus side is that these are endless and are often updated, giving you variability in your music.
Google has done a lot of updates and improvements on Google Play, making it (in my opinion) a lot more user-friendly than, say, Apple Music. It’s clearly a priority for Google, and that is good news for music lovers.
One aspect I noticed is the availability of music in different languages. I’m from The Netherlands originally, and one big downside of iTunes and Apple Music to me is that it’s hard for me to find Dutch artists. With Google Play, all the artists I searched for were available. The same was true for some oldie goldie gospel artists by the way, including some artists I listened to as a teen (Kenny Marks, anyone?).
The browser player works well (definitely less glitch than Amazon Music, for instance), but offline listening is only available on mobile devices.
A subscription runs at $9.99 for an individual and $14.99 for a family of up to 6 people. This also includes a subscription to YouTube Red, the ad-free Youtube Channel. There’s a 30-day free trial period. There’s also a free version, but this is not ad-free and has limited options.
Last but not least, there’s Tidal, the service owned by Jay-Z. This explains why this service has a broad collection of rap and R&B artists, but may lack in other genres. Make sure to check this out.
This service biggest plus is their high-fidelity option, but this does come at a $19.95 a month price (the normal service is $9.95 and there’s no free version). Tidal also offers exclusive content from some premium artists, like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye, and others. If you’re looking for the complete works of Prince and Neil Young, you won’t find them anywhere else but here. Tidal promotes new artists as well, with, again, a focus on rap and R&B.
I haven’t used it personally, but reports say the mobile app is buggy and not the most user-friendly. The hi-fi option is, of course, hard on mobile data, so that’s something to keep in mind. Tidal has no music locker functionality.
As you can see, the streaming music services don’t vary much in options and price—with the exception of the hi-fi service Tidal offers. That makes the choice come down to specific options you’re looking for, like song locker functionality, offline desktop listening, etc. Or you’d have to base it on the availability of specific music you like—something you’ll only find out through a free trial.
My personal preferences are Google Play and Apple Music, but the latter only because I buy all my music through iTunes so integration is easy here. To be fair, Google Play is easier to use and has more of the music I’m looking for.