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HolidayBuyer's Guide
Software

Best music and audio apps for iOS

Whether you're itching to hear a specific song or you want to sit back and let the app do the programming, we've got the music and audio apps for you.

Slacker Radio
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Slacker Radio (free)
This is a great option for listening to streaming radio, with an intuitive interface that makes it easy to find what you want quickly. To use Slacker you must sign up for an account or log in with your Facebook credentials.

You can search for artists using a field at the top; check out the Music Guide curated by Slacker; or search by genres, stations you've previously listened to, specialty stations, or news, talk, and sports stations. Each selection on the first screen leads to another list where you can swipe to browse selections to find the stations, genres, and music you want to listen to.

Slacker Radio is a solid choice for streaming music with an enormous music library, and even with just the free app, you can create and listen to radio stations of your favorite genres of music.

iHeartRadio
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

iHeartRadio (free)
iHeartRadio lets you stream radio from more than 1,500 live radio stations or create custom stations based on a song or artist. It also offers features not found in competing streaming-radio apps. The best thing about it, though, is that your custom stations are completely ad-free.

Just pick a song or artist and iHeartRadio assembles a playlist from a library of more than 15 million songs and 400,000 artists. When you're listening to a song, the app has a feature called the Discovery Tuner that lets you set how much lesser-known music is included in your station. There's also a skip button (with no limitations) so you can move on to the next song whenever you want.

iHeartRadio is not new to the App Store, but what started out as a strong streaming-radio app has only gotten better over time. If you want an excellent streaming-radio app and don't mind not being able to pick songs directly, iHeartRadio is a great choice.

Pandora
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Pandora Radio (free)
Though certainly not a new addition to the App Store, Pandora Radio for iOS shows off a sleek, updated user interface and still manages to be a great way to discover new music. Not only does it look better than past versions, the app feels more responsive, with quick navigation between its various menus.

Just like the Web-based version of Pandora, the app lets you tap into an incredible library of music to create stations of similar artists and songs using an algorithm based on the Music Genome Project. You can browse through genre-based stations, or fire up a QuickMix.

One drawback is that if you're not a Pandora One subscriber, you'll need to be prepared for a lot of display ads. Some are pop-ups that almost completely cover the album art while others take up the whole screen for a full 30-second commercial with audio -- obviously very distracting.

Still, the Pandora app for iOS offers a huge library of music to listen to, as well as enough features for sharing and controlling your stations. The ads can get pretty distracting, especially when interacting with the app, but for continuous listening it's a still a solid music discovery tool.

TuneIn Radio
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

TuneIn Radio (free)
Though it's not a custom radio station tool like others in this collection, TuneIn Radio lets you listen to actual radio stations and makes it a snap to listen while you're on the move. It offers more than 50,000 stations and 120,000 shows from around the globe, plus, with the help of your iPhone's GPS, it can even serve up all of your local favorites.

Upon launch, TuneIn lets you drill down to exactly what you want to listen to. You can browse local radio, recommended stations, stations for different languages, and even podcasts. You can also choose from categories like sports or talk radio. Once you find a few stations you like, you can easily add them to your preset list for easy access.

With an easy-to-use interface, a huge catalog of stations, and the option to record live broadcasts (with the $4.99 upgrade to Pro), TuneIn Radio is definitely a solid streaming-radio app. If you want to listen to live local or national radio, this is one of the best free apps for the job.

Songza
Screenshot by Jason Parker/CNET

Songza (free)
Songza is a popular streaming-music app that offers a different take on the type of programmed radio experience that Pandora and other apps in this collection made popular.

Rather than generate playlists based on specific songs or artists, Songza tries to offer up the right selection of tunes for specific activities you might be engaged in. Whether you're looking for mellow tracks to help you unwind on your commute home or high-octane drumbeats for powerlifting at the gym, Songza should have the playlist for you.

One of the best things about Songza is that it is completely free of commercials. This is a major selling point, considering the frequency of audio and video ads on Spotify, Slacker Radio, and Pandora. There are, however, small display ads on the app, but these can be ignored easily enough.

If you like the idea of picking your music based on activities or even just the time of day, Songza serves up a unique offering to get you the streaming audio that fits your current mood.