It’s official; streaming music is now the number one way the modern listener enjoys music. There’s a good reason for that too, the best music streaming services are more affordable, easier to use, and include greater access to the songs and artists you love than any other music listening option.
We checked out all the most prominent names and niche providers in the streaming music world to put together our little list of the best music streaming services.
Spotify has spent over a decade establishing itself as the premier music streaming service in the world. It offers a little bit of everything and provides features and controls that are easy to use. Members can use it on their phones, computers, and smart devices to create playlists, listen to their favorite artists, and even download music and podcasts to save on data usage.
Why we like it: With close to 300 million active subscribers, it’s the undisputed king of music streaming. Spotify has something for everyone, combining all the latest and greatest releases with a vast catalog of hits from years gone by. It even offers a free ad-supported tier that lets you select the songs you want to stream. When you add in the competitive pricing model, intuitive smartphone and desktop apps, support for basically every device and smart speaker imaginable, and a growing catalog of podcasts and news content, it’s easy to see why Spotify has held onto the top spot.
Flaws: While they offer a lot of tracks, they don’t provide any lossless quality ones. It’s not something the vast majority of users will notice, but if you’re an audiophile with high-end headphones, it bears consideration.
2. Apple Music
Apple has been a cultural force for over a decade, so many people were extremely hyped when they announced their streaming music service. It combines the purchase and play model of the original iTunes with a comprehensive catalog of on-demand songs and all the features you could ask for in a streaming service.
Why we like it: If you’re someone who grew up with iTunes and an iPhone, you’ve probably already got a library of songs built up. Apple Music seamlessly links your owned media up with the streaming attributes to provide a silky smooth user experience. When combined with competitive pricing and a truly vast catalog, it’s easy to see why it’s giving Spotify a run for its money.
Flaws: As good as it is, Apple Music isn’t a one-stop-shop for your media needs. There are no podcasts available, and as an Apple product, it doesn’t work natively with Google Home smart speakers.
TIDAL is a streaming service created to provide only the highest quality music in the highest quality formats. Famous for promotion by owner and artist Jay-Z, it gives the most musically gifted artists a forum to provide lossless quality tracks to their most dedicated fans while giving the highest payout percentage to the artists who actually make the music.
Why we like it: TIDAL is made for audiophiles, by audiophiles. It provides all music in lossless (CD) quality tracks and even has a higher tier option that can offer better than CD quality music on select tracks. It’s especially enticing for fans of hip hop and R & B as it has a robust catalog of exclusive tracks from some of the hottest artists out there.
Flaws: To start with, it’s substantially more expensive for the highest-quality files than comparable services. Then there’s the fact that you’ll only see benefits if you have the right kind of equipment. Think high-end wired head-phones and HiFi stereo systems.
4. YouTube Music Premium/Google Play Music
YouTube Music Premium and Google Play Music are the two premium music streaming services offered by Google. They provide relatively similar services, including an extensive but undisclosed catalog of songs, and have top-quality interfaces that are hard to beat.
Why we like it: It’s a double whammy subscription, giving you both YouTube Music Premium and Google Play Music with a single subscription to either service. They complement each other exceptionally well. YouTube Music Premium offers a wide selection of hit songs and music videos, a perk many music streaming services don’t have. At the same time, Google Play Music gives you one of the best ways to organize your own music within a streaming app.
Flaws: One thing to keep in mind is that Google Play Music is in the process of sunsetting out, with its most popular features integrated into YouTube Music Premium. It shouldn’t be a difficult transition, but it’s still something to keep in mind. The only other real flaw we found was the baffling decision to separate the YouTube Premium and YouTube Music Premium services into different apps. It’s super annoying to have to switch back and forth between them if you have both subscriptions.
5. Amazon Music Unlimited/Prime Music/Amazon Music HD
Amazon really likes to dabble in different industries, so it should come as no surprise that they offer not one, not two, but three different music streaming services. The first, Amazon Prime Music, is actually included free as part of a Prime membership and gives you ad-free access to over 2 million hit songs. Amazon Music Unlimited is a paid service (though discounted for Prime members), that has a 60+ million song catalog and competes favorably with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music. The last level, Amazon Music HD, offers everything included with Music Unlimited plus a growing selection of lossless tracks.
Why we like it: If you’re already an Amazon Prime member (and let’s face it, we all are) there’s a compelling argument to be made for Amazon Music Unlimited. The HD level offers the same quality tracks as artist-focused streaming services like TIDAL yet costs substantially less. The interface isn’t perfect, but it’s continually improving, and the ability to combine all your media fees into one through Amazon is an attractive draw in and of itself.
Flaws: Other than the somewhat complicated pricing model, there’s not a great reason to chose Amazon Music Unlimited if you aren’t already a Prime Member. Other services offer the same features at the same pricing without having to go through Amazon.
6. LiveXLive (Previously known as Slacker)
LiveXLive is a streaming service based on the premise that a lot of people still like listening to the radio. It combines a vast catalog of on-demand tracks with curated radio stations. The key thought process is that a lot of people feel they have too many choices to make, and picking out individual songs or creating playlists shouldn’t have to be one of them. It’s an exciting concept, but one that LiveXLive has executed better than anyone else.
Why we like it: If you’re someone who loves the experience of listening to live music, LiveXLive is the streaming platform of your dreams. It offers carefully curated radio stations plus exclusive access to live streaming shows from some of the world’s biggest artists during their concerts. You can rock out for free with ads or pay a small subscription fee to go ad-free. One level up from the basic package and you have live radio, live events, plus access to a comprehensive library of tracks.
Flaws: While LiveXLive does offer music on-demand, it’s clearly not the focus. Both the app and the website are annoying to navigate for anything but switching on a station and letting the music play.
Idagio is a classical music-focused streaming service designed for those with genuinely refined musical tastes. It provides millions of different classical performances in lossless quality FLAC files for those looking for the ability to find specific and rare classical music on a streaming platform.
Why we like it: For fans of classical music it’s hands down the best app to go with. Major music streaming services like Spotify or Apple Music have plenty of classical music, but they aren’t set up for the true classical music aficionado. Idagio allows you to search for and organize the really granular details of different tracks. You can start broadly with composers or performers, then narrow the details down to individual ensembles, conductors, or even movements within various works.
Flaws: The biggest weakness with Idagio is also its primary feature: It only has classical music. It’s priced at roughly the same level as other streaming services with vastly larger and more varied catalogs. If you aren’t someone looking for very specific classical music you’ll probably see more value from a different service.
SiriusXM was created through the merger of the two most influential names in the satellite radio market, and has expanded their reach to include streaming apps. You can choose between satellite packages that include streaming apps or go with a strictly streaming package.
Why we like it: SiriusXM has some content that you can’t get anywhere else, plus expert-curated stations with outstanding music. If you’re a fan of Howard Stern, NFL Radio, or NASCAR, the only way to listen to them is through SiriusXM.
Flaws: Other than those exclusives we mentioned, there are few reasons to choose SiriusXM over its competitors. It doesn’t offer music on-demand, doesn’t allow you to build playlists, and doesn’t really noticeably improve on the terrestrial radio you can get for free through your car’s radio. Then there’s the customer service…..In a word: Terrible. Getting set up with your subscription of choice is bad enough, but canceling your subscription is a drawn-out process that we wouldn’t wish on our worst enemy.
Primephonic is another tightly focused streaming service that also focuses on classical music. It has a similar catalog and search functionality to Idagio that lets you really dig into your favorite works. Even better, the basic tier is a bit cheaper than their closest competitor Idagio and can be made even more so through annual pricing.
Why we like it: The breadth and depth of its catalog are drool-worthy for the true classical enthusiast. It has a search function explicitly designed around the idiosyncrasies of classical music naming conventions that allows you to find very specific recordings of lesser-known works. More mainstream streaming services will doubtless have a version of the song, but they probably won’t have the much rarer 1983 Prague Orchestra recording of it, or even the search functionality to look for it.
Flaws: The lack of lossless quality tracks on the first pricing tier. You have to pay a premium rate for those, something its biggest competitor Idagio includes in the basic package. It’s not a massive issue if you aren’t using high-end headphones or HiFi stereo systems, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
For a service that pioneered what music streaming could be, Pandora hasn’t held up well against the competition. It kept a radio-centered focus while making the shift to on-demand streaming despite pretty clear evidence consumers weren’t super interested. It’s certainly not a bad service as it has a large catalog and is competitively priced, but it just isn’t as good as its closest rivals.
Why we like it: It’s been around basically forever, and has a lot of legacy users who really enjoy the familiarity of it. The radio-style we mentioned above is popular with some, as it gives them a much more curated listening style that doesn’t require them to create long playlists and make tons of choices about what they want to listen to. You can be rocking and rolling with Pandora minutes after signing up by choosing some of their most popular channels and letting it customize to your taste over time.
Flaws: The basic subscription tier takes the baffling step of prohibiting personal playlists. Your only listening option without buying the next level up is through the Pandora radio stations. The best Pandora has to offer is pretty sub-par when compared to the other top streaming services. There are zero lossless quality tracks available. Even worse for true audiophiles is the artist payout, some of the lowest in the streaming industry.
Who should subscribe to a music streaming service?
We’ve reached a point where it’s pretty obvious that anyone can benefit from a streaming music service. That being said, there are still certain groups that should run, not walk, to sign up for one.
Classical music lovers – If you’re more into Mozart or Rachmaninoff than you are Jay-Z or U2, there’s finally streaming music services for you. All streaming services offer some classical music but there are now specialty ones that let you really dig deep into the details of the music.
Audiophiles – This one’s going to be surprising to a lot of vinyl and CD purists, but the music streaming service now has a place in their headphones. Several top streaming services offer large catalogs of lossless quality tracks from some of the world’s biggest artists.
Instead of dropping a lot of money on several CDs you can listen to the intricate details of your favorite artist’s work whenever and wherever you like, all for one low monthly subscription price.
Commuters – Whether you commute by rail or spend your time cooped up in the car, having your favorite artists there with you makes it a whole lot more enjoyable. A streaming service lets you listen to the news, check in with your favorite podcasts, and queue up a selection of your favorite songs to get you through the trip.
Families – Anyone who’s a parent knows that kids, and especially teens, are really serious (seriously) about their music. Even worse, mom and dad are usually seriously unenthused by their musical tastes.
A streaming service with a family plan allows everyone in the family to listen to whatever they like for one affordable price. It makes road trips that much more bearable too, as the kids can rock out on their headphones in the backseat while mom and dad listen to some ‘real’ music up front.
How we ranked
We used five key metrics to rank the services on our list. These were catalog, stream quality, price, simultaneous streams, and offline support.
Catalog – By far, the most important aspect of a music streaming service is catalog. No matter how reasonable a service’s price, stream quality, and usability is it won’t be the one for you if it doesn’t have the music you want to listen to from the artists you love.
Stream quality – If you’re listening to content through inexpensive earbuds or your phone’s speaker, stream quality isn’t a big deal. If you’re the kind of person with top-of-the-line headphones who wants to hear every tiny variation in the artist’s sound, it’s hugely important.
All streaming services use compression to some degree or another, but some have now specialized in providing true lossless quality tracks from the most prominent artists out there. These are where the real audiophiles should look for their streams.
Price – Price is right there next to catalog in importance for a streaming service. The market is pretty homogeneous in entry-level pricing; it’s the add-ons and higher tiers that really start to differentiate between various services.
Some even offer a very good free tier, though you’ll have fewer customization features and have to deal with frequent ads.
Simultaneous streams – Every streaming service restricts simultaneous streams to some degree or another. At the basic tier, you’re generally only allowed one stream at a time. One tremendously useful feature many music streaming services now offer are family plans.
You can pay a small upcharge on the regular membership and get several additional streams or even separate accounts for whoever you consider family.
Offline support – Streaming music is great, but if you’re out and about it can seriously wipe out your phone’s data allowance. In response to this drawback, many streaming services now allow you to download your favorite songs and podcasts ahead of time to save your data.
Q: What music streaming service has the most songs?
A: Among the top music streaming services there’s considerable overlap in catalog size and content. Most top out at around 60 million tracks, including songs, podcasts, and other content.
Our top pick for the music streaming service with the most songs, also our overall number one pick, is Spotify.
Q: How much do music streaming services pay artists?
A: Artist payout varies from service to service, with some paying really well and others offering underwhelming artist payouts. What may shock some listeners is the degree of difference. The top paying services payout significantly higher than the bottom rung ones. We’re talking four or five times higher per play here.
Q: Are there free music streaming services?
A: Yes! Most of the top music streaming services offer an ad-supported free tier if you don’t want to purchase a subscription. Most limit the functionality somewhat, and of course there’s the ads you’ll have to deal with, but they’re still a great way to listen to music.
Our top pick for free music streaming service, also our overall number one pick, is Spotify.
Q: What music streaming service has the best quality?
A: Until relatively recently almost all music services compared poorly in sound quality to CD and vinyl. Thankfully, that’s changing rapidly. There are now multiple services that offer a selection of lossless quality tracks for audiophiles and others with high-end headphones and speakers.
Our top pick for best quality music streaming service is TIDAL.
Music streaming services are affordable, packed full of hit songs and other media, and give you the flexibility to build your own personalized listening experience. If you’re someone who likes music there’s no reason at all not to subscribe to one.
For Hastings #1 music streaming service recommendation, click here.