YouTube Music vs. YouTube Premium

YouTube introduced its music streaming service YouTube Music back in 2015 to little fanfare. Just recently, Google revved up YouTube Music by making the default player on Android devices. YouTube Music ended 2019 with 77 million subscribers — a huge leap from 15 million earlier that year. 

Looking to compete with the likes of Spotify, Google issued a two-tiered response: YouTube Music and YouTube Music Premium. YouTube Music is the basic, ad-supported free plan you can use with your YouTube account. YouTube Music Premium lets you listen to music free of ads and includes additional features music discovery tools and the ability to downloading content for offline listening. 

YouTube Premium, formerly known as YouTube Red, includes YouTube Music Premium in its package, and it also allows you to watch videos without ads. 

Compare YouTube music streaming plans

You can upgrade to YouTube Premium’s $11.99/mo. plan to enjoy all YouTube has to offer ad-free. The YouTube Premium plan also gives you a two month trial period. 

YouTube MusicYouTube Premium
Monthly priceFree$11.99/mo.
Free trial None2 months
Student planFree$6.99/mo.
Family planFree$17.99/mo.
Number of songs30 million+30 million+

Which streaming service is right for you? 

YouTube Music is a great option for casual listeners who aren’t keen on opening their wallets. Like the Pandora and Spotify free versions, you’re able to listen to songs and playlists at your leisure. However, unlike Spotify Free, I was able to navigate to The Head and the Heart’s artist page on my mobile app and select Rivers and Roads. While YouTube Music Premium will make anyone who despises ads happy, YouTube Premium goes even further by playing videos without ad breaks. 

User experience

The YouTube Music app is available across all major devices, including Android and iOS phones and tablets, Chromecast, Fire TV, PlayStation 4, Roku, smart TVs and Xbox One. 

The desktop and mobile apps for YouTube Music are nearly identical. The only difference is that the menu bar is at the top of the desktop app, whereas it’s at the bottom of the mobile interface. The home page is stacked with horizontal scrolling categories, such as Your Favorites, New Releases, Mixed for You and Recommended for You. The service’s artists’ pages are especially useful. At the top of the page, you’ll find two buttons: Shuffle and Radio. Under that lies a list of top songs, and if you keep scrolling down, you can access albums, singles, music videos and a host of listening suggestions.

One of YouTube Music’s standout features is the ability to choose and play any song directly. This feature is only available to Spotify Free subscribers on the desktop app. 

Personalization

Upon first logging into YouTube Music, you’re advised to select as many of your favorite artists as you like. This, in turn, helps YouTube formulate a profile wholly unique to you. Since YouTube is owned by Google, your prior search results may play a factor in how YouTube’s algorithm shapes your profile. This is also the case if you create an account with your YouTube profile. 

Like your favorite songs to add them to a dedicated playlist with all your other favorite tunes. Creating playlists is as simple as navigating to your library, selecting playlists and clicking on the New playlist icon. With the family plan, five members of your household can listen with their own accounts. 

Extras 

Both YouTube Music Premium and YouTube Premium allow you to easily find music. Don’t know the name of the song or artist? No problem. Search options include lyrics, song type, instruments used and singing style. Music discovery seems to be a significant part of YouTube’s models. The service also suggests music based on your listening history. You can also keep track of new music by following what’s trending. 

YouTube’s premium accounts have a nifty Smart Downloads tool. YouTube will automatically download 500 songs for you to listen to when you’re offline. This means that you’ll always have something to listen to, even if you’re unexpectedly without Wi-Fi. 

Disadvantages

Sound quality tends to be an issue with all of these YouTube offerings. Normal streaming quality will give you 128 kbps, whereas high quality is 256 kbps. By comparison, Spotify Free puts out 160 kbps and its premium model is 320 kbps. Services like Tidal offer a superior lossless CD-quality. 

YouTube Music lacks several features you may have come to expect, like offline and ad-free listening. YouTube Music Premium doesn’t provide concrete information about the number of songs in its library. 

The takeaway

YouTube Music is a great alternative if you’re sick of dealing with Spotify Free’s forced shuffles when you’re listening on the go. If you’re happy with YouTube Music ‘s user experience, but don’t want to sit through commercial breaks, consider upgrading to YouTube Music Premium. YouTube Premium is the only way to go if you’re interested in watching music videos. 

Zack Kulm

Zack Kulm is a writer and contributor of soda.com. He covers a variety of topics from entertainment and gaming technologies to pop culture commentary. Kulm received a degree in English from Penn State University and Film Studies from Pittsburgh Filmmakers Institute. He also produces award-winning documentaries.