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 has replaced Google Play Music, 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. We've done the same in this comparison with GPM and Amazon Music. Amazon's music streaming service has continued to grow over the past few years and is now third behind Spotify and Apple Music in terms of registered users.
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 Music Streaming Service 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 services 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 — 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 — but those shouldn't be a problem for most users. Playlist management is also a bit lackluster on the web client and Chromebooks, but it's good enough to get by.
The streaming giant has even recognized the desire from its consumers for a higher-quality playback option. Spotify HiFi is coming later in 2021, and aims to bring music "in CD-quality, lossless audio format". There are a few bits of information still unknown about Spotify HiFi, notably the pricing and the actual audio quality. But regardless of how you look at it, Spotify is catering to its customers, even if it's fallen behind the 8-ball in a few aspects.
|Spotify||Amazon Music||YouTube Music||Deezer||Tidal||Apple Music|
|Wear OS app||x||x|
|Android TV app||x||x||YouTube app||x||x|
|Android Auto compatibility||x||x||x||x||x|
|Chromecast compatibility||x||x||Varies by plan, currently unstable||Varies by plan||x|
|Google Assistant compatibility||x||Limited||x||x|
|Max audio quality||320 kbps||3730 kbps (Ultra HD)||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+||50 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||500 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||One device at a time||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 documentaries / behind the scenes /||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||Limited (via YouTube lyric videos)||Limited||Limited|
|Stable performance on Android||x||x||x||x||x|
|Ad-supported||Audio ads||Audio ads||Audio ads||Audio ads|
|Repeat/repeat one available||x||Limited (get replays via ad engagement)|
|Paid subscriptions (per month)||Spotify||Amazon Music||YouTube Music||Deezer||Tidal||Apple Music|
|Individual Subscription||$9.99||$7.99 (Individual), $14.99 (Family)||$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||$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 Unlimited)||$4.99 (Deezer Student)||$4.99 (Student Premium), $9.99 (Student Hi-Fi)||$4.99 (Includes Apple TV+)|
|Other bundles/discounts)||$4.99 (Single Device), $4.99 (Student Unlimited), $14.99 (Family), $79 (Individual Yearly), $149 (Family Yearly)||$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 Music Streaming Service 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.
If you're a student and you aren't already subscribed to Spotify, there really aren't too many options available that can match up. Spotify's Discover Weekly helps you find new "bangers" to listen to, or you can sit back and enjoy your favorite podcast. There's even a new feature that adds filters to your Liked Songs, so you can simply pull up the list and tap a genre at the top, depending on what mood you're in.
There's a good reason why Spotify is the best music streaming service for everyone, and that includes students who need to save some dough but want to listen to their favorite songs.
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 Music Streaming Service for Audio Quality: Tidal
Tidal was one of the first music services to provide high-quality lossless audio over streaming, even though it launched with a rather bare selection of artists and songs. Since its inception, Tidal has continued to grow its catalog, and has even added some extra goodies including high-definition music videos. In addition to the high-quality music available, the company offers more than its fair share of artist exclusive releases, and was even live-streaming concerts before it was cool.
The feature-set for Tidal is also rather robust since it's avaialble on just about every platform, including its desktop application for Mac and Windows, along with a usable web client. There's smart assistant integration with both Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant, along with the ability to create your own karaoke night with on-device lyrics. Tidal has the unique distinction of being one the few music streaming services to offer both a military and first-responder discount, priced at just $6 for the basic streaming service, down from the $10 for everyone else.
More recently, Tidal was acquired by Square in a deal worth $297 million, which brings Jay-Z to the Square board of directors. For the time being, it seems that Tidal will operate automonously from Square, but we aren't exactly sure if that will change in the future. From the onset of the acquisition, it would appear that nothing will change for subscribers, but in an ever-evolving world, new changes could be coming down the pipeline.
Best Versatile Music Streaming Service: Amazon Music
For the last few years, Amazon has been building up its own music streaming service in an effort to combat the Spotifys and Apple Musics of the world. There are actually two different versions of streaming services for you to pick from, and it all comes down to how much music you want to listen to.
Amazon Prime Music is available for Prime subscribers, and is included with your monthly or yearly subscription. There are a few limitations, the biggest of which is that the number of available songs to stream or listen to is limited to just two million. However, it's available on all of your potential devices, and you'll still find many of the top hits. If you want some deep tracks, you might want to look into Amazon Music Unlimited.
Music Unlimited has all of the features one would expect to find when searching for the best music streaming services. There's a free, ad-supported, version that allows you to browse an array of playlists of stations. You can also get onboard with the Music Unlimited Individual Plan for around $8 per month, but Amazon offers a 30-day free trial for you to get your feet wet.
Best Versatile Music Streaming Service
Perfect for Amazon adopters or those looking for something different
Amazon Music has grown into one of the best music streaming services, regardless of whether you use Amazon's Alexa services or Echo devices. With plenty of plans to choose from, you're sure to find the best option for your music streaming needs.
Best Music Streaming Service 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 five-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 for Play Music Converts: YouTube Music
Now that Google Play Music is gone, it's been replaced by Google's next music venture, YouTube Music. Keeping with the family for streaming content, Google has branded it to YouTube, considering the popularity of the platform. YouTube Music features a library of more than 40 million songs, and, as you would expect, includes many music videos to sit back and enjoy.
If you're the type who wants to download their favorite playlists to listen back to later on, you won't run into any issues. YouTube Music Premium subscribers can download songs, albums, or playlists right to their phone so even if you don't have a stable internet connection, you can still listen to your favorites. The Premium subscription starts at $10 per month for individuals, or $15 per month for families. Students can get in on the fun for just $5 per month, but there's even a free tier available if you're willing to put up with some ads. You can also sign up for YouTube Premium for the same $10 per month and get an ad-free experience across YouTube and YouTube Music.
One of the big reasons why Spotify continues to be a fan favorite has everything to do with the algorithms used to provide generated playlists. YouTube Music has a few algorithms of its own, but when pitting YouTube Music vs. Spotify, we noticed some improvement over the last year with playlists such as My Supermix, Discover Mix, and others. But as is the case with any music streaming service, the more you listen, the better the playlists will get.
Best for Play Music Converts
The Play Music replacement
Whether you sign up for YouTube Premium, or just YouTube Music, this is the de-facto solution for those looking to move on now that Play Music is gone. The company has been improving the algorithms for generated playlists, and you'll be able to enjoy radio stations or offline playlists.
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 slightly 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 happened to Google Play Music?
The writing was on the wall for quite awhile, but for some reason Google continued to delay the inevitable. Late in 2020, Google finally pulled the plug on Play Music, as the company had been steadily increasing development on YouTube Music as this was set to be the replacement for our beloved GPM.
It's tough to put into words what Google Play Music meant to so many, so I'll leave that to our very own Ara:
"Despite all the ups and downs, the digs and the death knells, Play Music will always hold a special place in my heart. It was a music service that fit my library and my tastes quite well, and I'll miss having one place to keep all my uploaded and catalog music together while still being able to instantly buy and import any music that somehow escaped Google's catalog offerings.
You were weird, you were wonderful, and I'll always regret that I didn't fight harder for you. And I will never, ever forget you."
Google provided some tools in order for you to download your library and import it into YouTube Music. But those days have passed and so has the torch been passed from Google Play Music to this next venture.
What's your favorite?
Let us know what your favorite streaming music service is, and why!
Updated March 2021: This guide has been updated with updated availabilty and removal of Google Play Music
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