CNET también está disponible en español.

Ir a español

Don't show this again

Christmas Gift Guide
Digital Media

Choose the best music streaming service for your family

If you're willing to spend $15 per month, everyone in your house can enjoy Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Google Play Music or Spotify. But which one offers the most bang for the family buck?

James Martin/CNET

Once upon a time, yours truly flat-out refused to even consider a streaming music service. Pay a monthly fee? For life? No way.

Then a few things changed. First, I grew disenchanted with the huge hassle of maintaining a library of MP3s, ripped CDs and countless song and album downloads. Second, my kids got older and started to want their own music libraries.

Finally, I realized that the price of a streaming service was, all things considered, pretty low. I pay a lot more for internet, cell service and cable TV. And I'll be doing so for pretty much the rest of my life. Is another $10 per month going to break me? Especially considering what I get in return?

What I get in return is a massive library of unlimited on-demand music. No storage to deal with, no backups to worry about, no syncing or copying or ripping. My phone? Bam, all the music of the world. My tablet? Same. Laptop? Same. I'm in it as much for the convenience as for the catalog.

The benefits seem even larger when you add a family into the mix, which is why I'm here to talk about which streaming service is best for a household. The candidates: Amazon Music Unlimited, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Spotify.

What about Rhapsody and Tidal?

Why isn't Rhapsody included in the roundup? Simple: It's not competitively priced. Family plans start at $14.99 per month, which nets you just two user accounts. And each additional user adds $5 to the subscription charge, so a family of four would be on the hook for $25 monthly.

Apple Music has finally made its way to Android, but is it the best option for families?

Nate Ralph/CNET

Amortize that out over a year and you're looking at $300, versus $180 for one of the other three services. Is the added expense justified? Rhapsody does boast a library of some 35 million songs, versus 30 million from the others. But I don't think that's worth an extra $10 per month.

Why no Tidal? At the risk of offending fans of the service, it doesn't strike me as particularly family-oriented. Rather, it's all about high-fidelity streaming, with a pricing model identical to Rhapsody's. In fact, if you were to choose the Hi-Fi option, Tidal would cost you $19.99 per month and $9.99 per additional user -- so $50 for the family.

I'm not saying you should rule out any of these three streamers, merely that there are better and/or less expensive options. In fact, recently Spotify dropped its family-plan price to $15, putting it in a four-way price tie with Amazon, Apple and Google. So let's take a closer look and see if there's any compelling reason to choose one over the other.

Amazon Music Unlimited vs. Apple Music vs. Google Play Music vs. Spotify

I'm going to make this simple: All four services charge $14.99 per month for up to six users, a truly excellent value for any family. Only one offers any kind of discount, however, and that's Amazon: Pay for an entire year and your cost is $149, which works out to $12.42 per month. Thankfully, you don't also need to have an Amazon Prime subscription to join Amazon Music Unlimited.

Three of the four services boast catalogs of at least 30 million tracks -- more than enough music for a family's diverse tastes. (Amazon claims "tens of millions," which suggests the total might be a little shy of 30 million.) And all four have apps available for Android and iOS, each with support for offline listening if you want to reduce your mobile data consumption.

If you're a Spotify Premium subscriber, you'll be able to use the service on Echo, and ask Alexa to play your favorite tracks and playlists.

Chris Monroe/CNET

However, Apple Music won't play in a browser, though you can get dedicated desktop apps for Windows and Mac. Google Play Music, conversely, can run in a browser, but has no desktop apps. Spotify wins the accessibility contest by offering desktop, browser and mobile options.

Ultimately, however, I decided on Spotify for a different reason: It's platform-agnostic. It's not an Apple, Amazon or Google product. Thus, it's widely supported by third-party devices and services, including the Amazon Echo, a popular product in my house. (Of course, Amazon's new Music Unlimited supports Echoes as well.)

Spotify also plays on Roku streamers; the others do not. Alas, Taylor Swift is never, ever getting back together with Spotify, but that's not the real issue for any parents considering the service. Rather, Spotify offers no way to filter songs that have explicit lyrics. What the @#$!, Spotify? If that's an important consideration, I'd recommend Google Play Music, which does include the option of blocking explicit songs.

That said, I suspect you and your family would be happy with any of these options. If you've already chosen one of them, hit the comments and tell me what you like and/or don't like.

In the meantime, be sure to visit CNET's music download and streaming directory, which offers details on these and other services.