Over the past decade, music streaming services have become perhaps the most popular way of listening to music. Streaming offers a convenient and cost-effective way to enjoy tunes and podcasts. Rather than spending big bucks on albums, you have millions of songs at your disposal for a monthly fee. And forget about clunky hardware, it’s super simple to stream music from a variety of connected devices. Over 611 million people around the world are currently signed up for some sort of music streaming service. Americans blaze the trail when it comes to the phenomenon, streaming 1.15 trillion songs in 2019.
There are over 30 music streaming services on the market. Spotify leads the pack with 113 million paid subscribers and 248 million users worldwide. Apple Music has the largest US base with 28 million subscribers.
Ways to start streaming music
Music streaming services are largely compatible with most Android/iOS mobile devices, smart TVs and smart speakers. Some services, such as Tidal, require you to use a third-party account like Plex to listen on select devices.
Mobile devices consist of smartphones and tablets. Apple Music and YouTube Music come as the default music apps on iPhones and Android phones, respectively. Choosing another music streaming service is simple — it’s a matter of a simple download from the App or Google Play Store.
The major streaming services have apps designed for desktops and laptops alike. Spotify and Pandora, two of the most popular options, have online media players. Desktop interfaces sometimes come with more features than their mobile counterparts. Spotify’s free version, for instance, doesn’t let you fast forward or select specific songs to listen to — the desktop interface, on the other hand, does. If you have an iMac Pro or other Apple computer, it makes sense for you to gravitate towards Apple Music.
Coming in the form of audio streamers, smart speakers and wearables, smart devices give you additional ways to listen to music. Amazon took note and developed a range of devices to facilitate its music app. Amazon Music Unlimited has a symbiotic relationship with the Alexa personal assistant and Echo smart speakers.
Top music streaming services
|Spotify||Apple Music||Amazon Music Unlimited||Tidal||Pandora|
|Monthly price||$8.99/mo.||$8.99/mo.||$7.99 Prime or $9.99 non-Prime||$9.99, $19.99 HiFi plan||$4.99, $9.99 for Premium|
|Family plan||$14.99/mo.||$14.99/mo.||$14.99/mo.||$14.99/mo., 29.99/mo. HiFi plan||$14.99/mo.|
|Student plan||$4.99/mo.||$4.99/mo.||$0.99/mo.||$4.99/mo., $9.99/mo. HiFi plan||$4.99/mo.|
|Free streaming option||Yes||No||No||No||Yes|
|Free trial length||3 months||3 months||30 days||60 days||60 days|
|Number of songs||50+ million||60+ million||5+ million||60 million+||30 million+|
|Number of subscribers||113 million||60 million||55 million||3 million||6 million|
Free music streaming services
Dozens of music streaming services and internet radio players have flooded the market in recent years. Free music streaming apps such as Jango or iHeartRadio function essentially as online radio stations. But there’s one aspect nearly every free service has in common — they’re all supported by ads.
Some serve as gateways to premium subscriptions such as Spotify, Pandora and YouTube Music. Others like SoundCloud allow you to listen to and share of music, free of charge. Older services like Deezer give you free listening in much the same way as Pandora, but you won’t be able to skip songs unless you upgrade to a paid membership.
What to consider when selecting a music streaming service
What kind of listener are you? If you’re a casual listener who enjoys radio, one of the many free options may do just fine. But if you’re a huge fan of music, need great lossless CD-quality audio or want access to new hits as they drop, a premium streaming plan like Spotify or Apple Music might be more appropriate. Some services offer discounted family and student plans.
Best value: Spotify
Spotify has earned major points with its free streaming platform. You’ll have to sit through, ads but if you aren’t throwing a massive party (or a huge music fan), Spotify free is a perfectly good option. Spotify also has a fantastic app featuring cross-compatibility across a wide range of devices.
Spotify doesn’t offer a plan that competes with sound quality you can find on Amazon Music HD or Tidal HiFi.
Spotify is compatible with most devices, including Android and iOS, game consoles and smart speakers, among others.
Best for Apple device owners: Apple Music
Apple Music plays well with Apple devices. If you have an Apple ID, you can store up to 100,000 songs in the iCloud, which matches local songs in your library with iTunes. If the song isn’t in iTunes, it will upload the original song.
Apple Music doesn’t offer a free version, which makes it more difficult to get started with the service.
Apple Music is compatible with various devices, most notably Android and iOS phones and tablets. You won’t be able to stream Apple Music from your PlayStation 4.
Best for Amazon Prime members: Amazon Music Unlimited
Amazon Music Unlimited excels when connected to Amazon devices like Echo smart speakers. Amazon’s HD music tier also elevates the brand among music aficionados.
Amazon Music Unlimited’s has a tragically bland interface, at least when compared to what Spotify and Apple Music have going on. And you need an Amazon Prime membership to make it truly worth your while.
Amazon’s app works across Android and iOS mobile devices, smart TVs and web browsers. The service shines when paired with Amazon Alexa or Echo.
Best sound quality: Tidal
Owned and operated by artists like Jay-Z, Tidal offers an extensive library of 60 million songs and provides a superior listening experience with Master Quality Authenticated HD sound quality. The company champions artists’ rights, paying musicians more for their music compared than competitors.
Tidal is designed to encourage you to become an active participant in searching for and discovering new music. This can make it difficult to discover music outside of your comfort zone.
You can listen to tidal on most Android and iOS smartphones and tablets. It also works with Roku products, smart speakers and smart TVs. Tidal is also supported by high end brands like Astell&Kern. To stream on game consoles, you need an account with Plex.
Best for music discovering new music: Pandora
Pandora’s Music Genome Project is an exceptional tool for discovering new music. Its detailed algorithm suggests music based on your previously likes.
Pandora’s social features, like song sharing song, leave a bit to be desired — the service essentially subs non-premium users. Its free version plays more like an internet radio and hardly stands up to Spotify or YouTube Music.
When it comes to listening from your Google Home, Roku or Xbox One, Pandora’s got it covered. Travelers will have issues streaming outside the US.
With plenty of music streaming services on the market, there are plenty of options to choose from. If you’re an Amazon Prime member with an Alexa, Amazon Music Unlimited is a great place to start. And Apple lovers will probably feel right home with Apple Music. But if you’re new to music streaming, try cutting your teeth with a free service from Spotify or YouTube Music.