When you're stuck at home, music can provide a sense of order amid the Spotify) and outpaces any physical format when it comes to ease and convenience. Sure, may be making a resurgence among audiophiles, but if you're concerned about sound quality, then streaming still has a lot to offer. In some cases, subscription services can sound indistinguishable from, or even better than, a .chaos. Streaming is cheap or even free (in the case of and
We've checked out the leading on-demand music streaming apps and options -- services such as Spotify, Pandora Premium, Apple Music and -- as well as and to see how each platform stacks up for your subscription buck. While most boast music catalogs of more than 50 million songs, each has its own unique pros and cons. We've also left out services that only play music in a radio format and don't offer a la carte listening.
Read on to find an in-depth look at each of the services and a feature comparison. Most of the services start from $9.99 (£9.99, AU$11.99), but there's a full price breakdown in the chart at the bottom of the page. If you want the TL;DR, these are the top three:
It's a close race between Spotify Premium and Apple Music but Spotify wins thanks to a fun, easy-to-use interface, an extensive catalog and the best device compatibility. Spotify also offers our favorite free tier. Without paying a dime you can still stream over Spotify Connect to numerous devices and you don't even need to provide a credit card. Read our Spotify review.
Apple Music is a close second and it's the only one of our top three with a digital locker to store your own library of songs (YouTube Music, below, is the other music locker option). If you own an Apple HomePod, you'll need this subscription service to summon music with your voice. It also makes the ideal companion for an iPod Touch, which, amazingly, is still a thing. Read our Apple Music review.
In third place is Tidal, which offers a wide selection of music beyond its most eye-catching urban names. Its higher-priced options are especially suited to people seeking the best audio quality. Currently it's a great deal too, offering four months of music for $4. Read more.
Music streaming services compared in-depth
So here's what we think of the the top six music-streaming services. It's worth noting that all of these services will work on the major platforms -- Android, iOS, PC and Mac. Actual device compatibility varies widely, particularly on smart speakers such as the Amazon Echo and Google Home.
Spotify is the pioneer in the music-streaming space, and it's arguably the best known. It offers a number of curated music discovery services, including its Facebook integration makes sharing music on Spotify easier than competitors. Spotify allows you to send a track or album, collaborate on playlists with friends or peek at what your Facebook friends are listening to. Also newly announced is , which enables more than one user to add to playlists on the fly -- great for parties; anyone remember those?, and is constantly implementing new ones, such as . The service's (now optional)
- Free version is impressively robust.
- It's easy to build your own playlists and sync them for offline listening.
- User-friendly apps that are updated frequently and have enough features without being overwhelming.
- Allows you to follow artists and to be alerted when they release new music or announce an upcoming show.
- Highly personalized custom playlists.
- AV receivers, and it works on both the Premium and the free tier. simplifies connecting to wireless speakers and
- Advertisements in the free service can be intrusive.
- You can't listen to specific songs in the free tier, just a mix based on the requested music
Best for: People who want a solid all-around service, and especially for people who love to make, browse and share playlists for any scenario.
Over time, Apple Music has grown to become one of the. It offers plenty of features and a wealth of discount options for families and students. There's also ton of curated playlists, many hand-crafted by musicians and tastemakers, but it still built into Spotify.
- It combines your iTunes library with music you don't own, rounding out what you can play.
- A combination of human music experts and algorithms help find music you'll want to hear based on what you play.
- You can control what you hear or search for new music using Siri on iOS devices or Apple HomePod.
- Has a music locker via ($25, £22 or AU$35 a year).
- It's currently the only choice for owners who want to request songs by voice.
- As you'd expect, the Android app and experience isn't as smooth as the iOS one.
- Doesn't work with old iPods (except the .
Best for: Those who want to listen to albums and songs they've added to iTunes or use an Apple HomePod.
Part-owned by hip-hop mogul Jay Z, Tidal is the only "major" streaming music service that offers lossless audio streaming with sound quality that is virtually identical to -- or better than -- CD. Tidal has offered exclusive content in the past from its, including Beyonce's album Lemonade or Kanye West's The Life of Pablo, but this trend has thankfully subsided. Tidal says its catalog now exceeds 60 million tracks, but it may not always have everything you're looking for: as an example, Metallica is still a . If you're an audiophile, a fan of R&B or hip-hop, or a mix of both, then Tidal should appeal to you.
- High-fidelity music streams.
- Lots of video content, including concert livestreams.
- Offers occasional ticket presales.
- Big focus on under-the-radar (predominantly hip-hop) artists.
- Profiles and record reviews on every page.
- The mobile apps and web player aren't as straightforward as some others.
- The catalog isn't as exhaustive as Spotify's, especially Spotify Premium.
- High-res music uses
Best for: Musically inclined purists who care deeply about sound quality and discovering new, up-and-coming artists.
YouTube Music is the successor to, and if you sign up for the ad-free you get YouTube Music thrown in for free. The good news is that YouTube Music is a mostly impressive service, and Google has retained the predecessor's music locker system. That means that existing Google Play Music users can (the logistics of which were just detailed in May 2020). And it's not just legacy content: YouTube Music allows users to upload new tracks to its online music locker, too.
In even better news, YouTube Music offers a cleaner interface than Google Play Music. Instead of playlists, YouTube Music offers well-curated radio stations, which are the standout features. Unlike playlists, which are finite and contain specific tracks, radio stations play endlessly and are updated often.
In fact, the biggest "drawback" of YouTube Music just remains confusion, because Google Play Music continues to coexist alongside it for the time being. But once GPM is dead and buried, we'll be taking another look at this service to see how it compares to our top 3, above.
- Monthly fee includes subscription to YouTube Music: commercial-free streaming on YouTube and YouTube Music.
- Over 40 million tracks
- Retains Google Play Music's music locker system: You can transfer existing songs from the old service, plus upload new ones in YouTube Music.
- The continued existence of Google Play Music is confusing for existing users.
Best for: Heavy YouTube users and Android users
Amazon Music Unlimited
Amazon Music Unlimited is the "grown-up" version of, which get for "free." It offers a greatly expanded catalog for an extra outlay per month. Rather than focusing on the cutting edge of music as some others here do, the Amazon music service features recommended playlists and radio stations that are grouped around artists you've already listened to.
- Cheapest per month -- if you're an member.
- Lyrics automatically pop up on the "now playing" screen.
- Offers Echo Dot and Amazon Tap (includes ads). ,
- Step-up ($12.99 for Prime members) includes high-res and
- Artist profiles don't have biographies.
- Officially advertised as "tens of millions" of tracks strong, it's unclear if the catalog is quite as large as its competitors listed here (see chart below).
- The service no longer includes a .
Best for: Amazon Prime members who want to save a few bucks on a decent music catalog.
Now a fully fledged streaming service with the addition of the a la carte Premium and no-ads Plus tiers, Pandora also offers one of the most popular radio services in the US. As a result, the company offers more flexibility than most competitors and is gaining in subscribers, even if it's behind in terms of overall catalog size.
- The service enjoys one of the largest user bases, thanks to its free version.
- Pandora's Music Genome Project analyzes each track according to 450 different attributes in order to give better suggestions.
- Its audio quality is among the lowest available, even on the Premium subscription (192Kbps).
- It doesn't really offer enough of an incentive for an upgrade compared to the others here.
- Not available outside the US.
Best for: Pandora Premium is of most interest to people who already use Pandora and want to be able to pick exactly what they listen to. We'd recommend it to almost no one else.
- launched in the US in February 2019 with a clean interface, hi-res audio streams (which don't need an MQA decoder) and the ability to buy lossless music. We've found its catalog isn't quite at the level of Tidal or Spotify but it is improving.
- French stalwart has been operating in the States since 2016, and it has a lot to offer including a free tier (mobile only) and 56 million tracks. It doesn't have quite the subscriber count or the advanced features of the bigger services, however.
Music streaming services compared
||Amazon Music Unlimited||Apple Music||YouTube Music||Pandora||Spotify||Tidal|
|Monthly fee||Prime members: $7.99, £7.99, N/A; Non-Prime members: $9.99, £9.99, AU$11.99; Alexa-only service: Free||$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, AU$14.99; HiFi: $19.99, £19.99, AU$23.99|
|Free option?||Yes, with ads||No||No||Yes, with ads||Yes, with ads||No|
|Free trial period||30 days||3 months||30 days||60 days||30 days||3 months|
|Music library size||60 million||60 million||Over 40 million||Tens of millions||50 million||60 million|
|Family sharing?||Yes, $14.99, £14.99, AU$17.99 for up to 6 people||Yes, $14.99, £14.99, AU$17.99 for up to 6 people||Yes, $14.99, £14.99, AU$17.99 per month for up to 6 people||Yes, $14.99 for up to 6 people||Yes, $5, £5, AU$6 per month per additional member, up to 5||Yes, 50% off each additional account, up to 4|
|Student discount||No||Yes, Price varies by country||No||$4.99 (Premium)||$4.99 (US only)||Premium: $4.99, HiFi: $9.99 (US only)|
|US military discount||No||No||No||Yes||No||Yes|
|Offline listening||Mobile and desktop||Mobile only||Mobile only||Mobile only||Mobile and desktop||Mobile only|
|Music locker functionality||No||Yes||Yes||No||No||No|
What else do you need to know?
Streaming radio vs. on-demand
This guide covers on-demand music streaming services, and for that reason, we've purposefully left out services that only play music in a radio format. Until recently this list excluded Pandora, but now that the company also offers a, it's included here. , and , meanwhile, are services that play music stations based around a theme or artist, without you explicitly picking tracks.
Music lockers: Your MP3s in the cloud
Amazon was one of the first services to offer uploading your MP3 collection into the cloud, but this was Apple and Google services listed either allow you to combine your personal music collection with the streaming catalog, though tagging and organization can be a time-consuming challenge (your myriad live Phish tracks won't organize themselves). Still, if you've invested money in digital music over the years, those two services offer a patch to continue enjoying that music online.. Meanwhile, the
Music catalog sizes compared
The number of songs offered by a music service used to be one of the main differentiators, but most now offer 50 million songs or more. However, depending on your favored genre, some of them have a more robust catalog that include many under-the-radar, indie or hip-hop artists. If you're musically inclined, constantly on the hunt for your favorite new band, a streaming service like Spotify or Tidal may be more up your alley. Users who are less ambitious about expanding their musical taste will be satisfied with the smaller catalogs Amazon Music Unlimited and Pandora offer. Apple Music is somewhere in the middle, offering a healthy mix of mainstream tunes and underground unknowns.
Note that a version of this story was originally published years ago, but it's periodically updated to keep our recommendations current.