The number of streaming music apps has metastasized over the last five years. Pandora, iHeartRadio, Tidal, Apple Music, Slacker Radio, 8Tracks, Microsoft Groove, Amazon Music Unlimited, Google Play Music, Spotify, and many, many more. Although many doubted that music fans would rather lease music than own it, the streaming services have caught on. They represent an economical way to have access to tons of great music.
Home stereo systems like Sonos have made streaming music easy to enjoy throughout the home. The only problem with streaming services is that there are so many of them, and fans are not excited about paying for multiple services. Which streaming music service offers the best value for you? Here are our ratings as we head into a new year.
Jay-Z’s Tidal is a major player in streaming services, with many big-name artists opting to give the service an exclusive. It has flexible pricing, with $9.99 option for people who don’t need Hi-Res audio. Those who want the best sound must cough up $19.99 a month. We’re not cool with the site’s pricing level, since withholding superior sound from any subscribers seems like a weird choice for a service which ostensibly caters to artists.
Tidal does feature offline listening, and it’s great for people who want Jay-Z’s entire catalogue, plus plenty of rap and R&B. Compared with the other services, however, the catalogue is just not nearly as comprehensive. Yes, it has 46 million songs, but it centers on a narrow range of musical styles.
If you are a sound-snob who enjoys streaming music throughout the house, then Tidal is for you.
At $4.99, iHeart Radio is a budget-friendly option that focuses mostly on delivering good, live radio stations. The dashboard for the radio options is a bit dated, but those who want access to radio stations from everywhere will love this option. iHeart Radio is also offering a music catalogue of some 15 million songs. The premium, $9.99 version allows users to create playlists, listen offline, and record live tracks as they appear on the radio. This is a feature that mimics the old way we used to record music, by waiting for a song to appear on the radio and then hitting record on a tape-deck. iHeart Radio also incorporates some of the functions of the much-missed Songza by allowing you to choose music for your mood.
The bottom line is that iHeart Radio is best for people who still love radio, including talk and sports. Although its catalogue is more limited than its peers’, if you miss Songza it is worth a look.
Amazon Prime Music
Amazon Prime Music comes as part of the package with Amazon Prime, which you can buy for $99 a year, or $10.99 a month. That’s good value for people who already subscribe to Prime. Music Unlimited costs an additional $7.99 for Prime members (and $9.99 for non-members). A 99 cent free trial is available for three months.
So what does Amazon Prime include? The services are ad-free and on-demand, with millions of songs, thousands of playlist and plenty of personalized radio stations. Those who already use Alexa will enjoy using it to prompt songs and make playlists, especially since you can upload songs from your personal library. You can also download files to listen later.
The biggest issue with Amazon Prime Music is its limited catalogue. It only has 2 million songs, and while that sounds like a lot, it pales in comparison to the variety offered by other services.
Apple fans love Apple Music, with its 40 million titles and easy integration with their other Apple devices. It’s available for $9.99 or $14.99 for families (allowing up to 6 people to listen – great for families with teens). It also comes with a sweet three-month free trial. Apple Music is also available for Android devices, which demonstrates that Apple wants to reach everyone with its services. It has substantial human-curated playlists and often nabs exclusives. It also supports Siri voice commands and syncs to Apple Watch.
Although there is a substantial catalogue, Apple Music does not include the entire catalogue that is available on iTunes, which seems counterintuitive. Those who like Apple already will be fine with Apple music. Its navigation interface leaves something to be desired for non-Apple fans, however.
As usual, Microsoft was a late entrant into the game, with its Microsoft Groove app. Although it offers a library of 40 million songs, there is no free version, making you fork over $9.99 a month. It lacks a family plan, which automatically makes it inferior to Apple Music and Spotify, which let up to six members use the plan for $14.99. Groove doesn’t list musical genres and its curated lists focus on things like “Top Hits.”
Groove is not really a good option for anyone who loves music and wants intuitive navigation.
Google Play Music + YouTube Red
YouTube is now part of Google and that makes for a rather confusing setup between these two services. Essentially it breaks down this way: if you subscribe to one, you get access to the other. That’s a pretty big bonus, despite the lack of integration (currently) between the services. There is a free tier that includes artist radio stations and songs you can upload to Google cloud, but this is still a cumbersome way to enjoy music.
The $9.99 version gets us somewhere – to a library of over 40 million songs and ad-free YouTube videos, thanks to YouTube Red. This service is probably best for people who already integrate Google into their internet usage, and people who love YouTube. If you don’t watch many videos, then this is not the best service for you. Remember, you’ll need two separate apps to enjoy these services, so if you’re running out of space on your mobile devices, this may not be for you.
Pandora is free with adds, but also offers two paid tiers: $5 a month for Pandora Plus and $10 a month for Pandora Premium. Pandora is the best service for finding new artists. Pandora excels at helping listeners identify new songs and artists matching the styles and sounds they love. The library consists over 40 million titles. The biggest drawback to Pandora is you can’t upload your own songs.
Slacker Radio was PC Mag’s choice for best premium streaming service. There’s a free version and two tiers, at $4 a month and $10 a month. It has a huge library and lets experts curate stations for you. There are already 300 expert-curated stations. At the higher price, the premium plans let you supplement the music with your own playlists, as well as offline listening. You can create your own stations with a very simple interface.
The free version of Slacker is probably not worth your time however, since you don’t have the same say in the selection of songs.
Spotify is free with ads, but for $9.99 a month you can listen ad-free. The paid service is also more mobile. There are plans for students and families and the three-month premium trial offers great value, at just 99 cents! Spotify has finally added a family plan, letting up to six people share a $14.99 plan.
There are more than 30 million songs on Spotify, encompassing many genres. Spotify is also adding original podcasts and videos to its repertoire. It also lets you create and share playlists. Spotify is ramping up its non-musical offerings – including famous speeches, dramas, comedy, audiobooks and even poetry. Spotify is also competing with iHeartRadio by offering some popular radio stations, such as ESPN.