Despite the recentof listening to music. Music streaming is cheap ̵
Most services advertise catalogs of more than 40 million songs, but each has unique advantages and disadvantages in addition to the number of songs that you will not listen to. This guide describes the best on-demand music streaming options – Spotify, Apple Music, Pandora and Tidal – as well as Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, to help you decide what your money is worth. We have deliberately omitted services that only play music in a radio format. They all offer a kind of family plan that allows you to share your service for a fee with others, and listen offline via mobile devices, although not all are available on your desktop.
Note: CNET may derive a portion of the revenue from the sale of services on this page.
Our top choice: Spotify is the best for most people
Let's get started. Although it is a tight race between Spotify and Apple Music Spotify wins our vote with a nice, easy-to-use interface, an extensive catalog and the best device compatibility.making it the best free option.
Apple Music is a close second partly because it is the only one of the "big four" with a digital safe to store your own songs. And if you own an Apple HomePod ($ 299 at Walmart) you need this service if you want to recall music with your voice. It is also the ideal companion for a .
Tidal is in third place, 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 . Although they were not at the top of our list, they are all worthy options for users with specific needs or requirements. For example, if you think the YouTube-free ad-free service is important, Google Play Music will be used for free. And Amazon offers a reduced Echo-only version of its service, which can set the tone if you already have an Alexa-heavy household.
While Pandora & # 39; s free service is excellent, the on-demand service still lags behind the others in catalog width.
It is also worth mentioning. It is still too early to call, but in the first instance this Tidal competitor blushes a clean interface, hi-res audio streams and the possibility to buy music without loss. However, the catalog is not entirely at the Tidal or Spotify level.
And don't forget: these plans all offer free trial periods and the standard registrations are "no contract" options. So you are largely free to come and go as you please. Do not be afraid to try the water of a rival service if you are not completely satisfied.
So here is what we think of the six best music streaming services, presented in alphabetical order. It is worth noting that all these services work on the most important platforms: Android, iOS, PC and Mac.
Spotify is the pioneer in the field of music streaming and is perhaps the best known. It offers a number of different music discovery services, including theand is constantly experimenting with new ones, such as the . The (now optional) Facebook integration of the service makes sharing music on Spotify easier than that of competitors, and offers the possibility to send a song or album, collaborate on playlists with friends or look at where your Facebook friends listen to.
- Free version is impressively robust.
- It is easy to create your own playlists and synchronize them for offline listening.
- User-friendly apps that are regularly updated and that have sufficient functions without being overwhelming.
- Allows you to follow artists and be notified when they release new music or announce an upcoming show.
- Very personalized custom playlists.
- simplifies connection to wireless speakers and AV receivers.
- Ads in the free service can be intrusive.
Best for: People who want a solid all-round service, and especially for people who like to create, browse and share playlists for each scenario.
AlthoughApple Music has become one of the . It offers numerous functions and a wealth of discount options for families and students. There is also a lot of playlists, many hand-made by musicians and tastemakers, but the robust sharing options built into Spotify are still lacking.
- It combines your iTunes library with music that you do not own, which completes what you can play.
- A combination of human music experts and algorithms helps you find music that you want to hear based on what you play.
- You can control what you hear or search for new music with Siri on iOS devices.
- Has music locker through ($ 25, £ 22 or AU $ 35 a year).
- Currently the only choice for users who want to use voice control.
- As you would expect, the Android app and experience is not as smooth as the iOS.
- Does not work with old iPods (except .
Best for: Those who want to listen to albums and songs they have added to iTunes or use an Apple HomePod.
Owned by hip hop mogul Jay Z, Tidal is the only "large" streaming music service that offers lossless audio streaming with sound quality that is almost identical to – or better than – CD. Tidal has in the past offered exclusive content from his– Beyonce's "Lemonade" or Kanye West's "The Life of Pablo" – but this trend has happily declined . However, sometimes albums are inexplicably missing and these include any album from Metallica ( ) or Boards of Canada & # 39; s groundbreaking music has the right to children. If you are an audiophile, an R&B or hip hop fan, or a mix of both, then Tidal might be for you.
- Hifi music streams.
- Lots of video content, including concert live streams.
- Offers occasional ticket presale.
- Great focus on under the radar (mostly hip hop) artists.
- Profiles and record reviews on every page.
- The mobile apps and web player are not as simple as some others.
- The catalog is not & # 39; t as exhausting as that of Spotify.
The best for: Musically minded purists who place great value on sound quality and discover new, emerging artists.
Google Play Music
Although theGoogle Play Music works as a streaming music service and a music cabinet. This allows you to store and stream your entire music library (up to 50,000 songs), as well as any of the 30 million songs in the catalog. Instead of playlists, well-composed radio stations are the striking feature of Play Music. Unlike playlists, which are finite and contain specific songs, radio stations play endlessly and are often updated.
- This hybrid service seamlessly integrates your personal collection with the streaming catalog.
- Monthly rate includes subscription to YouTube Music: commercial free streaming on YouTube and YouTube Music.
- Offers music locker service for free.
- The lack of a timeline for its replacement is frustrating.
- The interface is less fun than competitors, especially on desktop.
Best for: Google fans who want to combine the music they have purchased with streaming selections.
Amazon Music Unlimited
Amazon Music Unlimited is the "adult" version ofwhich receive for free. It offers a greatly expanded catalog for an additional monthly release. Instead of focusing on the newest music as some others do here, the service offers recommended playlists and radio stations that are grouped around artists you've already listened to.
- Artist profiles do not have biographies.
- Officially advertised as "tens of millions" of numbers strong, it is unclear whether the catalog is just as large as its competitors listed here (see table below).
- The service no longer includes a .
Best for: Amazon Prime members who want to save a few dollars on a decent music catalog.
Now a full-fledged streaming service with the addition of a la carte Premium and no-ads Plus levels, 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 gains subscribers, even if it lags behind in terms of total catalog size.
- Thanks to the free version, the service has one of the largest user files.
- Pandora & # 39; s "Music Genome Project" analyzes each song on 450 different characteristics to give better suggestions.
- The size of the catalog is no larger than that of the competition (last estimated at 2 million).
- The audio quality is one of the lowest available, even on the Premium subscription (192 Kbps).
- It does not really provide an incentive for an upgrade compared to the others here.
- Not available outside of the US.
Best for: Pandora Premium is especially interesting for existing Pandora users who want to be able to choose exactly what they listen to, but almost no one else.
Compared to Music Streaming Services
|Amazon Music Unlimited||Apple Music||Google Play Music||Pandora||Spotify||tide|
|Monthly allowance||Prime members: $ 7.99, £ 7.99, na; Non-Prime members: $ 9.99, £ 9.99, AU $ 11.99; Alexa service only: 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
Yes, with advertisements
|Yes||Yes, with advertisements||
Yes, with advertisements
|Free trial period||30 days||3 months||30 days||60 days||30 days||3 months|
|Size of music library||50 million||50 million||
More than 40 million
Maximum bit rate
|Sharing 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||Yes, $ 14.99 for up to 6 users||Yes, $ 5, £ 5, AU $ 6 per month per additional user, up to 5||Yes, 50% discount on each additional account, up to 4|
Yes, price varies by country
|$ 4.99 (Premium)||$ 4.99 (US only)||Premium: $ 4.99, HiFi: $ 9.99 (US only)|
American military discount|
|Listen offline||Mobile and desktop||Mobile only||Mobile only||Mobile only||Mobile and desktop||Mobile only|
Music video & # 39; s|
Music locker functionality|
What else do you need to know?
Streaming radio versus on-demand
This guide covers on-demand music streaming services and for that reason we have deliberately omitted services that only play music in a radio format. Pandora excluded this list until last year, but now that the company also offers ait has been included here. and are now services that play music stations based on a theme or artist, without explicitly choosing tracks.
Music cases: your MP3's in the cloud
Amazon was one of the first services to offer uploading your MP3 collection in the cloud, but this was. In the meantime, with the Apple and Google services listed above, you can still combine your personal music collection with the streaming catalog, so if you have invested money in digital music over the years, that money will not be wasted. These so-called "music boxes" are available independently of the subscription services below, but also work with them for subscribers of both.
Size of music catalog compared
The number of songs offered by a music service was one of the most important distinguishing factors, but most now offer 30 million songs or more. However, depending on your favorite genre, some of them have a more robust catalog with many artists under the radar, indie or hip hop. If you are musically minded and constantly looking for your favorite new band, a streaming service such as Spotify or Tidal might be for you. Users who are less ambitious in expanding their musical taste will be satisfied with the smaller catalogs Amazon Music Unlimited and Google Play Music. Apple Music is somewhere in the middle and offers a healthy mix of regular songs and underground strangers.
: Top choices of the CNET audio expert.
Originally published a few years ago, this list is regularly updated.