Music is the heartbeat of our lives. It amps us up before a big test or a cardio workout. It soothes us through grief and loss. It lulls us to sleep at night, and it wakes us back up in the morning. Music is fundamental, and it is still one of the core functions of our phones, our smart speakers like Google Home, and our computers. And because we expect our music to follow us from device to device, from home to car to work to cafe, having a music streaming service that fits your life and your lifestyle is important.
We're here to help you make sure that the music service you give your money to is the best one for you.
There are several music streaming services out there, but we're going to focus on the five music streaming services that are available to much of the world. Because YouTube Music may replace Google Play Music down the line, it has been included so that we can measure the service and its features against the rest of the pack as it continues to develop and roll out to more regions, and its availability has expanded to almost 80 different countries.
Deezer and Apple Music may be the only choices in your country, as they are available in over 100 countries while Spotify, Google Play Music, and Tidal are available in less than 80 countries. This is why even though Apple Music offers a substandard experience on Android compared to Apple devices, it is being included here.
Best overall: Spotify
Spotify has been offering up its streaming music magic for almost a decade now, and it's without a doubt the most popular subscription on the market today, and rightfully so. Its selection is vast, its settings are easy to understand, and its algorithms ensure that users keep finding new and awesome music to add to their libraries. Spotify's Discover Weekly and Made for You mixes are often imitated, but the only platform to even come close to its prowess is the buggy, beta-stage YouTube Music. Thanks to Spotify Connect and the many, many platforms Spotify makes dedicated apps for — from Android TV to Wear OS and everywhere in between — you'll be able to listen to your library just about anywhere.
Spotify has grown a loyal user base out of its Student subscription, which was the first of its kind among music streaming subscriptions and remains one of the best deals in streaming today. It also offers family plans, as well as subscription bundles through some wireless carriers and with Hulu. The service isn't without a few thorns, but they shouldn't be a problem for most users: you can only add 10,000 songs to My Library, there's a limit of five devices, 10,000 songs for offline content, and queue management on Spotify is a bit of an oddity. Playlist management is also a bit lackluster on the web client and Chromebooks, but it's good enough to get by.
The best of the best for music streaming wherever you are
Spotify is the king of the castle, especially with its Discover Weekly and Made for You playlists. These aim to give you the best music experience, while curating new music, along with re-kindling love for a song from your childhood.
|Spotify||Google Play Music||YouTube Music||Deezer||Tidal||Apple Music|
|Wear OS app||x||x||x|
|Android TV app||x||x||YouTube app||x||x|
|Android Auto compatibility||x||x||x||x||x|
|Desktop client||x||Download/Upload only||x||x||x|
|Chromecast compatibility||x||x||Varies by plan, currently unstable||Varies by plan||x|
|Google Assistant compatibility||x||x||x||x|
|Max audio quality||320 kbps||320 kbps||128 kbps||320 kbps (Premium), 1411 kbps (Hi-Fi)||1411 kbps||256 kbps|
|Device limit||Offline only: 5 devices||10 devices||Unlimited||3 devices||Unlimited||10 devices|
|Songs available||40 million+||40 million+||Unknown||53 million+ (Premium), 36 million+ (Hi-Fi)||50 million+||40 million+|
|Library limit||10,000 songs||Unlimited subscription music, 50,000 song uploads||Unknown||2,000 songs on desktop, 1,000 on mobile apps||10,000 songs, 10,000 albums||100,000 songs|
|Playlist size limit||10,000 songs||1,000 songs||5,000 songs||2,000 songs on desktop, 1,000 on mobile apps||Unknown||varies by platform|
|Offline limits||5 devices, 10,000 songs||10 devices (4 manual de-authorization limit/year)||10 devices (4 automatic de-authorization limit/year)||1,000 songs||3 devices, 10,000 songs||10 devices|
|Algorithm-based mixes and radio stations||x||x||x||x||x||x|
|Music videos||x||(via YouTube)||x||x||x|
|Music documentaries / behind the scenes / Original Video series||x||x||x||x||x|
|Gapless playback||Crossfade only (not available when using Spotify Connect)||Device-dependent||Crossfade only (not available on Android)||Device-dependent||Device-dependent|
|Song lyrics||Limited (via Genius)||Limited (only accessible via Google Search)||Limited (via YouTube lyric videos)||Limited||Limited|
|Stable performance on Android||x||x||x||x||x|
|Ad-supported||Audio ads||Banner ads on Free radio||Audio ads||Audio ads|
|Skip limit||6/hour||6/hour on Free radio, no limit on uploaded music||Unlimited||6/hour|
|Forced shuffle||x||Shuffle on Free radio, no restrictions on uploaded music||Unrestricted||x|
|Repeat/repeat one available||x||x||Limited (get replays via ad engagement)|
|Offline listening||Uploaded music only|
|Paid subscriptions (per month)||Spotify||Google Play Music||YouTube Music||Deezer||Tidal||Apple Music|
|Individual Subscription||$9.99||$9.99 (includes YouTube Music)||$9.99 (does not include Google Play Music)||$9.99||$9.99 (Premium), $19.99 (Hi-Fi Premium)||$9.99|
|Family Subscription||$14.99||$14.99 (includes YouTube Music)||$14.99 (does not include Google Play Music)||$14.99||$14.99 (Family Premium), $29.99 (Family Hi-Fi)||$14.99|
|Student pricing||$4.99 (includes basic Hulu and SHOWTIME)||$4.99 (Student Premium)||$4.99 (Deezer Student)||$4.99 (Student Premium), $9.99 (Student Hi-Fi)||$4.99 (Includes Apple TV+)|
|Other bundles/discounts)||$11.99 (YouTube Premium), $17.99 (YouTube Premium family), $6.99 (YouTube Premium Student)||$11.99 (YouTube Premium), $17.99 (YouTube Premium family)||$99.90 (Deezer Annual), $14.99 (Deezer HiFi)||$5.99 (Military Premium), $11.99 (Military Hi-Fi)||$99.99 annual subscription ($20 discount)|
Best for Students: Spotify
If you're a college student looking to make your dollar go further for streaming, it's damn near impossible to beat the $4.99/month bundle of Spotify Premium for Students and basic (commercial-supported) Hulu. Spotify is also easy to pull up on school computers via its web client, so that you can listen while you're coding in the lab or pretending to get an essay done in the library.
Best for Students
The best of the best for music streaming wherever you are
Spotify is the king of the castle, especially with its Discover Weekly and Made for You playlists. With Student Pricing, you'll get arguably the best music streaming service, but also basic access to Hulu for your TV and movie needs.
Best for music hoarders: Google Play Music
Google Play Music's subscription library might not be quite as big as Deezer or Tidal, but Google Play Music doesn't have a limit on how many songs from the subscription library you can add to your library. It also has a pocket ace in its music locker service: Google Play Music allows users to upload up to 50,000 songs and stream their songs back anywhere they can access their Google account for free.
Whether you've ripped that out-of-print, impossible-to-find concert album that beats the pants off the pale studio version offered in the subscription catalogs, remixed your own music, or gotten ahold of music that's not available commercially, the music locker on Google Play Music is invaluable. This is especially true for subscription users that can mix that uploaded music with subscription catalog songs and albums.
Google Play Music comes with YouTube Music for $9.99/month, but do yourself a favor and upgrade to YouTube Premium. For $11.99/month, you get Google Play Music, and premium features on YouTube Music, YouTube, YouTube Kids, YouTube Gaming, and YouTube VR.
Best for music hoarders
The best if you have a huge library
Google Play Music is great for those who have a huge library of their own music that has been collected over the years. The service makes it easy to upload music, while taking advantage of its own library to match songs from your own.
Best audio quality: Tidal
Tidal may seem a bit pretentious or downright snobby at times, but when it comes to quality music in a quality experience, Tidal's the service for you. It doesn't try to overload its service with bells and whistles, but that means the app is slimmer, smoother, and simpler.
Tidal having two tiers of premium service can be a little confusing for a service based around extreme audio quality, but it also offers the largest selection of discounts and is the only service to offer a military discount.
Best Audio Quality
Highest quality music streaming you can get on the go
If you're someone who enjoys quality music, then you can't go wrong with Tidal for your music streaming needs. The service offers over 60 million tracks, while offering quite a few exclusive tracks and music videos.
Best for device-hoppers: Spotify
Spotify Connect may have a more clean handoff system between devices so that you can keep and manage a single queue while hopping from platform to platform, and it also allows you to easily play Spotify back on thousands of different connected devices and platforms using the same simple UI.
Spotify offers an easy-to-use web client that doesn't require any downloads or installations for you to easily use on a managed computer at work or school, but there's also a desktop client available for more intense library management and offline playback. While Spotify also doesn't have a device limit for streaming, its 5-device, 10,000-song limit on offline content can spell trouble for those who download massive playlists and/or their entire library for offline listening.
Best for device-hoppers
Perfect if you switch between multiple devices
It can be tough finding the right streaming service if you use multiple platforms, as each service has its downfalls. Spotify excels as it has been cross-platform for quite some time and makes it easy to access your favorite songs anywhere.
Best value: YouTube Premium
Twelve bucks a month for a robust, stable music player with a built-in music locker service (Google Play Music), the best experience on the most popular video platform in the world (YouTube), and a brand-new but little bit buggy music service built atop the biggest music catalog in the world, including fan content and non-commercially-available music (YouTube Music)? Yeah, sign me up. YouTube Premium is a video subscription that removes ads and unlocks premium features in six apps: Google Play Music, YouTube, YouTube Music, YouTube Kids, YouTube Gaming, And YouTube VR. Name another video subscription with that kind of value. No, really, I'll wait.
Once upon a time, you could subscribe to YouTube, YouTube Music, or Google Play Music and get access to premium service on all of them, but recent changes to Google's pricing policies have changed things. Pay for YouTube Music, and you just get YouTube Music. Pay for Google Play Music, you get Google Play Music and YouTube Music. Pay for YouTube Premium, and you still get everything.
What's your favorite?
Let us know what your favorite streaming music service is, and why!
Updated September 2018: This guide has been updated with updated availabilty and changes to Spotify's offline limits.
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