Music streaming services have matured to the point of offering mostly the same basic features: offline storage, curated radio stations / playlists, music discovery, and exclusive content.
The choice comes down to the music you can’t live without, and all-around experience. While each service’s music catalog has about the same number of songs, the actual licensed artists, albums, and tracks vary — especially with artist exclusives becoming more popular. There were already many options for consumers to choose from, and that was before Apple Music was announced at Monday’s WWDC keynote. It appears to be another winner for Apple. But is it enough of a winner for you to switch from whichever service you currently belong to? And if you’re just entering the world of streaming, which service should you join? Here’s a scorecard.
The tagline is “All The Ways You Love Music. All In One Place.” This means the app will show your own ripped MP3s alongside the iTunes Store catalog.
Apple is extremely big on the 24-hour Beats 1 live radio station, which will be available in over 100 countries and curated by three international DJs: Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga. The service also maintains the human curation emphasized in Beats Music, in a separate For You section in the app. There’s also the Drake-introduced Apple Music Connect, a social network for artists to share lyrics, photos, videos, and release exclusives.
Oh, and family pricing is $14.99 for up to six people. Sounds like a lot of people will be sharing their subscriptions.
Bottom line: Spotify has been put on notice, and Jay Z’s probably dumping his shares in Tidal right now. As usual, Apple didn’t do it first or necessarily best, but with integration directly into the iPhone Music app and Android availability, Apple Music looks to be the clear winner — assuming it lives up to the hype.
Jay Z’s latest acquisition aims high. With no free tier, it’s betting users are willing to pay $19.99 / month for lossless (CD quality) audio or $9.99 for high-quality streaming. To differentiate itself from other services, Tidal focuses on music and concert exclusives, as well as music videos. It’s already live-streamed Hova’s own B-Sides concerts, Prince’s Rally 4 Peace, Jack White’s final acoustic performance, and Hot 97 Summer Jam (with technical difficulties) — with a Lil Wayne Tidal X performance coming soon. It’s also debuted a bunch of music videos: Beyonce’s “Die With You”, Rihanna’s “American Oxygen”, and Jay Z’s “Glory”. However, as our own Gotty pointed out, content doesn’t stay exclusive for long — as soon as it’s published, someone will find a way to make it available for the public.
With that said, the other thing setting Tidal apart from its competition is the quality of its audio. Audiophiles with high-end earbuds, headphones, and stereos will notice the difference, but most people who use cheap earbuds for listening to music will have the same results with the $9.99 tier.
Bottom line: Tidal is for audiophiles, concert lovers, and/or people who don’t want to wait for its exclusives to leak. Or perhaps Jay Z and his friends have them convinced them Tidal will save the music industry.
Of all the major services, Spotify is the most well-known and the most versatile. It’s also been around a long time — it launched in Europe in 2008 before arriving in the US in 2011 — so its mobile and desktop apps have had the time to iron out most of their kinks.
The main reason for its popularity, however, is Spotify Free. Desktop and tablet users can listen to any song they like, but with ads and at lower quality than Premium. On mobile, users are limited to Shuffle Play, which automatically creates a playlist allowing six skips. Paying $9.99 for Premium removes all limitations: there are no ads, the audio is better quality, and you can listen offline.
Another killer feature is the ability for users to fill the gaps of its catalog with their own music files, making it possible to add unavailable tracks to playlists. Truthfully, though, Google Play Music does the same thing in a less janky way.
Recently, Spotify has stepped it up with new additions, including podcasts and video, better curation, fitness app integration, and a new Spotify Running feature.
Bottom line: Spotify is great all-around, and it’s always evolving with new features. It’s the safe bet.
Google Play Music All Access
Google Play Music doesn’t have a desktop app and technically doesn’t have a free tier, but it still has a lot to offer for non-paying users. There’s the option to upload up to 50,000 songs, which are upgraded to high-quality audio files if they match any music in Google Play’s music catalog, and the service is always giving away albums. Purchases made from the Google Play Music store are also added to the user’s library. Even better, all of these songs can still be saved for offline play in the iOS and Android apps.
Upgrading to All Access seamlessly combines uploaded music with songs available through subscription. It also gives instant access to YouTube Music Key beta, which allows users to play music ad-free from YouTube in the background and store it offline.
Bottom line: Google Play Music is a smart pick for users with large MP3 collections or those who listen to most of their music on YouTube.
Rdio stands out because of its clean, simple user interface and competitive pricing. Like Spotify, students and additional family members get 50% off the $9.99 Unlimited tier. It also features free ad-supported streaming on desktop, and personalized radio stations based on a user’s listening history.
Full disclosure: I’ve personally subscribed to Rdio for years.
Bottom line: Rdio has always been the underdog, and it may not be around much longer. That being said, it’s good for the user who doesn’t want too many bells and whistles.
In case you still can’t decide, we’ve made this trusty chart as a quick reference guide.