Back in the day, listening to music was expensive. You’d have to buy music through vinyl, CDs, or cassette tapes. Then, you’d have to buy tons of equipment like players, amps, speakers, and headphones which can get pretty pricey.
While you can still do all that today, it’s not necessary. Most people have phones, which commonly come with free headphones, and you don’t have to buy music album by album anymore. You can just get a music streaming service subscription and access just about all the music in the world.
The most important thing you have to consider when deciding which music service to use is to know the devices you’ll be listening with. Do all your devices support these streaming apps? Do you have hi-fi audio equipment that you want to utilize? And other than that, you might want features like video, lyrics, or enjoyable music effects.
Overall Best Music Streaming App
The very first Music streaming service I’d recommend to anyone is Spotify, it’s perfect for people new to music streaming, no matter what device you use. And the best thing that everyone will love on Spotify is the fact that you can use Spotify for free (with ads of course).
Library and Recommendations
Spotify is one of the best services for discovering music like there’s no tomorrow. And this is even more true if you use the free version where you can’t skip songs all the time forcing you to listen to whatever Spotify brings to your ears.
I used to listen to metal and rock exclusively a few years back, and once I began using Spotify as my first streaming service, it didn’t take long for Spotify to recommend songs from other genres. Now, I don’t think you’ll see a single metal band on my recently played songs. It’s not just me, I’ve seen similar results with people close to me.
I don’t know how Spotify does recommendations so well, but if you choose this service, expect a good song library, and personalized playlists made for you based on the songs and genres you listen to all the time, and on new recommendations from Spotify.
Depending on what country you’re in, you might have extra features like Canvas and Lyrics which honestly makes Spotify significantly more enjoyable to use. And of course, nothing beats Spotify so far when it comes to device support, it’s available with most devices, even on gaming consoles, cars, and TVs.
Sound-wise, Spotify is decent, or even great for most people. If you’re using Spotify for free, you’ll get up to 160kbps on desktop apps, and 96kbps on mobile apps. But as soon as you pay for a monthly subscription, you’ll be able to experience “high-quality” streaming and downloads with a bit rate of up to 320kbps. If you have a good pair of headphones, you can do a lot better than 320kbps.
Overall, even though Spotify doesn’t have the best audio quality, it truly is the most fun to use, and trust me, if you use Spotify to explore music, you’ll get tired, but I don’t think you’ll stop.
- Impressive free version
- Has the best recommendation algorithm
- Now includes podcasts
- Intuitive app design
- Supports the most devices
- You can’t listen to specific songs on the free version
- Doesn’t have lossless music (yet)
Best for Apple Users
As a company that innovated the way we listen to music with the iPod, I expected a lot with Apple Music, and man, they didn’t fail to deliver. If you asked me a few years ago, I’d have said Apple Music is not too different from Spotify. But now, Apple Music is a whole different beast. Of course, if you are in the Apple Ecosystem and all your devices are from Apple, I think it’s a no-brainer for you to get Apple Music.
The very first thing that most people will think about with Apple Music is, “Is it exclusive to Apple Devices?” Fortunately, Apple Music does work on Android and PC. But still, I will only recommend Apple Music to people who use Apple Devices, which is why this is not the overall best.
I think Apple Music’s Library is better than Spotify because of two things. One, there are more songs on Apple Music. And two, if you’re in an Album or Playlist, there’s a bit of background info that you can read, and it’s those little details that made me switch from Spotify to Apple Music since I love to read these things while listening.
When I first tried Apple Music, I was surprised that the sound quality is louder, clearer, and just better overall. After some digging, I found the three main features that made Apple Music sound better:
Spatial Audio is essentially a 3D experience but for your ears. I thought it’s going to be an exclusive for AirPods, but no. Since it’s powered by Dolby Atmos, it works even on my budget headphones, and I kid you not, you’ll notice the difference.
The sound enhancer does what it says. How? It makes your headphones sound like it has a much bigger soundstage making the sound more immersive. It also has a bit of reverb and it boosts the treble making your headphones sound clearer.
Lossless Audio is the main factor behind Apple Music’s better sound quality. For those who don’t know, the most common file formats for music like MP3 are compressed poorly, and that means most of the blank noises in a song are removed from the file to save space. However, that can compromise sound quality.
Lossless file formats use advanced compression techniques that won’t compress and compromise the sound quality of a song.
Apple Music uses their Apple Lossless Audio Codec or ALAC. While this is still not as good as FLAC, considering that Apple Music costs $9.99 per month, this is the most affordable gateway into lossless audio.
- Includes lossless and spatial audio for the least money at $9.99
- Expert curated and great algorithms will give you great recommendations
- Doesn’t have a lot of supported devices
- Not as smooth on Android
Best for Android and Music Video Lovers
If you’re on a tight budget, YouTube Premium bundled with YouTube Music is the best bang for your buck since you’ll also enjoy a no-ad YouTube. It’s only $11.99 as a bundle. I don’t recommend it but you can also purchase YouTube Music as a stand-alone service for $9.99. And like Spotify, you can also use YouTube Music for free!
If you’re a big fan of listening to music through watching music videos, then I think YouTube Music is the best for you. Sure, if you use Apple Music, there are also music videos there. But no! I don’t think any other Music streaming service will beat YouTube Music with the number of videos they have. I mean you name it, Official Music videos, Live performances, Covers, and even karaoke songs, they have it all.
Out of all the streaming services mentioned here, YouTube Music has the least songs with just over 60 million tracks. Although one thing I discovered the first time I used YouTube Music is you can include videos on your playlists. Love it or hate it — and I, personally, hated it — it’s still a clever feature, and that video feature is the reason why YouTube Music is considered best at something. Lastly, YouTube Music has similar discoverability features as Spotify, so if you want to explore music, I think YouTube Music is also a great option.
Among all the streaming services we looked at today, YouTube Music has the worst audio quality. You’ll even notice the difference in audio quality on car speakers or cheap headphones. It’s too compressed, and the best audio resolution you can get on YouTube Music is 256kbps AAC, which is literally the lowest resolution you can get on Apple Music. And considering that the YouTube Premium bundle costs more than Apple Music, I think you’re better off paying Apple for that Lossless audio if you want great audio quality.
- Included with YouTube Premium
- Has a lot of official music videos, live performances, and covers
- Mobile app design is similar to Spotify
- Competitors have a way better audio quality
- Getting to your playlists and liked songs can be a bit confusing
Best for Audiophiles
Out of all the music streaming services out there, I don’t think anyone beats TIDAL when it comes to audio quality. But there are several issues with Tidal that might make you steer away from it. Let’s get on with the good and bad.
It’s not a TIDAL review if we don’t talk about the sound quality first. Essentially, out of all streaming services TIDAL is the only service that can bring you Original Master Recordings, or Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) tracks.
The quality of MQA tracks can go up to 9216kbps or 24 bit/192kHz, and that’s as high as audio fidelity can go on most hi-fi equipment. But the interesting thing about TIDAL’s files is that even an MQA file won’t have a large file. I don’t know how they fit a master track in 20mb-30Mb file sizes, but they did.
Other than that, you can also get Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio tracks from TIDAL. And keep in mind that TIDAL’s hi-fi plan costs the highest at $19.99. The cheaper subscription plan at $9.99 only goes up to 320kbps, which is the same price and quality as Spotify Premium but with a worse recommendation algorithm.
TIDAL also has over 70 million tracks like Apple Music and Spotify, but it doesn’t feel like it. Songs that are recommended to you are often songs that you already know, or from a genre that you already know. Its recommendation algorithm is far inferior when compared to Spotify or YouTube.
If you also use TIDAL’s mobile app or web player, the experience there won’t be as straightforward as any of the services we mentioned today. Depending on your phone, there might be a ton of bugs as well.
- Hi-fi music streams
- Original Master Recordings
- Also has a lot of video content
- Slightly confusing mobile apps and web player
- Has poor recommendation algorithms
- High-res music might need a specialized decoder
There you have it! These are the best audio streaming services as of 2021. There are a bunch of services that came close to getting on this list but for now, Spotify, Apple Music, YouTube Music, and Tidal are the overall best music streaming services.