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Best music streaming service for 2020: Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, Tidal and YouTube

When you're stuck at home, music can create a sense of order amid the chaos of coronavirus . Streaming music is cheap or even free (in the case of Pandora and Spotify) and surpasses any physical format when it comes to ease and convenience. Sure, vinyl may be a resurgence among audiophiles, but if you're concerned about sound quality, streaming still has a lot to offer. In some cases, subscription services may be indistinguishable from, or even better than, a CD .

We reviewed the leading on-demand music streaming apps and options ̵

1; services such as Spotify, Pandora Premium, Apple Music and Tidal – as well as Amazon Music Unlimited and YouTube Music to see how each platform fares for your subscription money. While most music catalogs contain over 50 million songs, each has their own unique pros and cons. We also omitted services that only play music in radio format and do not offer à la carte listening.

  01 Spotify Headphones

Sarah Tew / CNET

Read on for an in-depth look at each of the services and a feature comparison. Most services start from $ 9.99 (£ 9.99, AU $ 11.99), but there is a full price breakdown in the chart at the bottom of the page. If you have the TL; DR like, these are the top three:

Angela Lang / CNET

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 penny, you can still stream to numerous devices via Spotify Connect and you don't even have to provide a credit card.

Read our Spotify review.

Read More: Best Noise Canceling Headphones of 2020

Ty Pendlebury / CNET

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 need this subscription service to access music with your voice. It's also the ideal companion for an iPod Touch, which is amazingly still something.

Read our Apple Music review.

Third is Tidal, which offers a wide selection of music that goes beyond the most eye-catching urban names. The more expensive options are especially suitable for people who are looking for the best sound quality. Currently, it's a great deal too, with four months of music for $ 4.

Read more.

Music streaming services compared in detail

So this is what we think of the top six music streaming services. It is worth noting that all these services will work on the major platforms – Android, iOS, PC and Mac. Actual device compatibility varies widely, especially with smart speakers like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.


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Angela Lang / CNET

Spotify is the pioneer of music streaming and it is perhaps the best known. It provides a number of curated music discovery services, including the Discover Weekly Playlist and is constantly implementing new ones, such as Stations . The (now optional) Facebook integration of the service makes music sharing on Spotify easier than that of competitors. With Spotify, you can send a song or album, collaborate on playlists with friends, or see what your Facebook friends are listening to. Also newly announced is Group Session that allows more than one user to instantly add playlists – great for parties; does anyone remember?

The Good

  • Free version is impressively robust.
  • It's easy to put together your own playlists and sync them for offline listening.
  • User-friendly apps that are regularly updated and have enough features without being overwhelming.
  • Allows you to follow artists and be notified when they release new music or announce an upcoming show.
  • Highly personalized custom playlists.
  • Spotify Connect simplifies connecting to wireless speakers and AV receivers, and it works on both the Premium and the free tier.

The Bad

  • Ads in the free service can be intrusive.
  • You can't listen to specific songs in the free layer, just a mix based on the requested music

Best suited for: People who want a solid all-round service, and especially people who like to make playlists, browse and share for each scenario.

Apple Music

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Over time, Apple Music has become one of the most popular streaming services . It offers many functions and a wealth of discount options for families and students. There are also numerous curated playlists, many hand-crafted by musicians and tastemakers, but still lacks the robust options for parts built into Spotify.

The Good

  • It combines your iTunes library with music you don't own and rounds out what you can play.
  • A combination of human music experts and algorithms helps you find music 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 or Apple HomePod.
  • Has a music box via iTunes Match ($ 25, £ 22 or AU $ 35 per year).
  • It is currently the only choice for owners of Apple HomePod who wish to request songs by voice.

The Bad

  • As you would expect, the Android app and experience is not as smooth as iOS.
  • Does not work with old iPods (except the iPod Touch) .

Best Suited For: Those who want to listen to albums and songs they have added to iTunes or use an Apple HomePod.


Tidal is the sole property of hip hop tycoon Jay Z and is the only "major" streaming music service that offers lossless audio streaming with sound quality almost identical to – or better than – CD. Tidal has previously offered exclusive content from its co-owners of superstars including Beyonce's album Lemonade or Kanye West's The Life of Pablo, but fortunately this trend has disappeared. Tidal says the catalog now contains over 60 million songs, but it may not always have everything you're looking for: as an example, Metallica is still a Spotify exclusive . If you are an audiophile, a fan of R&B or hip hop, or a mix of both, then Tidal should appeal to you.

The Good

  • High-fidelity music streams.
  • Lots of video content, including live streams from concerts.
  • Offers occasional presale of tickets.
  • Great focus on under-the-radar (mostly hip hop artists.
  • Include profiles and reviews on every page.

The Bad

Best suited for: Musically inclined purists who attach great importance to sound quality and new, up-and-coming artists.

YouTube Music

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury / CNET

YouTube Music is the successor to Google Play Music and if you sign up for the ad-free YouTube Premium you get free YouTube Music. The good news is that YouTube Music is a mostly impressive service and Google has retained its predecessor's music vault system. This means that existing Google Play Music users can transfer their libraries from Google Play Music (the logistics of which were only detailed in May 2020). And it's not just outdated content: YouTube Music also allows users to upload new songs to the online music vault.

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Move your Google Play Music data to YouTube Music


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 often updated.

In fact, the biggest & # 39; drawback & # 39; of YouTube Music just confusion, because Google Play Music will continue to exist next to it. But once GPM is dead and buried, we'll revisit this service to see how it compares to our top 3 above.

The Good

  • Monthly fee includes subscription to YouTube Music: commercial free streaming on YouTube and YouTube Music.
  • More than 40 million songs
  • Retains the music lock system of Google Play Music: you can transfer existing songs from the old service and upload new ones to YouTube Music.

The Bad

  • The survival of Google Play Music is confusing for existing users.

Best suited for: Heavy YouTube users and Android users

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon is a newcomer to the streaming music scene.

Screenshot by Xiomara Blanco / CNET

Amazon Music Unlimited is the "adult" version of Amazon Prime Music that Prime subscribers get "for free". It offers a very extensive catalog for an extra monthly edition. Rather than focusing on the very latest music like some others here, the Amazon music service offers recommended playlists and radio stations grouped around artists you've already listened to.

The Good

The Bad

  • Artist profiles have no biographies.
  • Officially Advertised as & # 39; Tens of Millions & # 39; numbers strong, it is unclear if the catalog is as large as its competitors listed here (see table below)
  • The service no longer includes a music locker .

Best Suited For: Amazon Prime members looking to save a few bucks on a decent music catalog.

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Screenshot: Ty Pendlebury / CNET

Pandora Premium

Now a full-fledged streaming service with the addition of the a la carte Premium and no-ads Plus layers, 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 overall catalog size.

The Good

  • The service enjoys one of the largest user bases, thanks to the free version.
  • Pandora's Music Genome Project analyzes each song based on 450 different attributes to provide better suggestions.

The Bad

  • The sound quality is one of the lowest available even on the Premium plan (192 Kbps).
  • It doesn't really offer enough incentives for an upgrade compared to the others here.
  • Not available outside the US.

Best Suited For: Pandora Premium is most interesting for people who already use Pandora and want to be able to choose exactly what they are listening to. We wouldn't recommend it to anyone else.

The rest

  • Qobuz was launched in the US in February 2019 with a clean interface, hi-res audio streams (which do not require an MQA decoder) and the ability to purchase lossless music. We found that the catalog is not quite at the level of Tidal or Spotify, but it improves.
  • French stalwart Deezer has been operating in the United States since 2016 and has a lot to offer including a toll-free (mobile only) and 56 million songs. However, it doesn't quite have the number of subscribers or the advanced features of the larger services.

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 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
Free option? Yes, with advertisements No. No. Yes, with advertisements Yes, with advertisements No.
Free trial period 30 days 3 months 30 days 60 days 30 days 3 months
Music library size 60 million 60 million More than 40 million Tens of millions 50 million 60 million
Maximum bit rate 256 Kbps 256 Kbps 320 Kbps 192 Kbps 320 Kbps 1,411 Kbps
Share with family? 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, maximum 5 Yes, 50% discount on each additional account, maximum 4
Student discount No. Yes, price differs per 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
Listening Offline Mobile and desktop Mobile only Mobile only Mobile only Mobile and desktop Mobile only
Radio Stations Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes No.
Podcasts No. No. Yes Yes Yes Yes
Music Videos No. Yes No. No. Yes Yes
Functionality of music safe No. Yes Yes No. No. No.

What else do you need to know?

Streaming music services offer a la carte listening, unlike streaming radio.

Sarah Tew / CNET

Radio streaming vs. on-demand

This guide covers on-demand music streaming services, so we deliberately omitted services that only play music in a radio format. Until recently, this Pandora list was excluded, but now that the company also offers a Premium tier it is included here. Slacker Radio TuneIn and iHeartRadio are meanwhile services that play music stations around a theme or artist, without explicitly choosing songs.

Music Lockers: Your MP3s in the Cloud

Amazon was one of the first services to offer uploading your MP3 collection to the cloud, but this was officially discontinued in 2018 . Meanwhile, the listed Apple and Google services allow you to combine your personal music collection with the streaming catalog, although tagging and organizing can be a time-consuming challenge (your myriad live Phish tracks don't organize themselves). But if you've invested money in digital music over the years, those two services provide a patch to keep enjoying that music online.

Music Catalog Sizes Compared

In the past, the number of songs offered by a music service was one of the main distinguishing factors, but most now offer 50 million songs or more. However, some of them have, depending on your favorite genre, a more robust catalog with much 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 might be for you. Users less ambitious to expand their musical tastes will be satisfied with the smaller catalogs that Amazon Music Unlimited and Pandora offer. Apple Music is somewhere in the middle and offers a healthy mix of mainstream tunes and underground unknowns.

Note that a version of this story was originally published years ago, but it is updated periodically to keep our recommendations current.

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