Music streaming services are a welcome modern marvel; long gone are the days of lugging around CD cases or spending an entire paycheck buying CDs or individual songs. And while having so many streaming options to choose from can feel overwhelming, we’ve compared them all, found the best picks, and shared a bit about what makes each great.
Update, 4/6/22: Verified all content and links are still good. Updated pricing for Amazon Music Unlimited.
What to Look for in a Music Streaming Service
What About High-Quality Streaming Services?
A Note About Specialized Music Streaming Services
Spotify: The Best for Most People
Apple Music: For Apple Enthusiasts
YouTube Music: Audio and Video Come Together
Pandora Premium: The Internet's Best AI-Generated Playlists
Deezer: 360 Reality Audio and Other Unique Features
Amazon Music Unlimited: Alexa-Integration and a Massive Catalog
Each streaming service certainly has its own strengths, but choosing one ultimately comes down to the devices you like to listen to music on and whether you value convenience over price or sound quality. Here’s a little more on each important feature:
- Pricing & Plans: Surprisingly, pricing and plans are nearly identical for each service. Most offer a super-basic free plan, discounted plans for students, standard individual plans, and multi-person family plans. A few even distinguish themselves by offering a discounted plan for military and emergency responders, or with a slightly less expensive plan for two people living together.
- Catalogs & Playlists: Most streaming services boast at least 50 or 60 million songs, and some differentiate themselves by offering extras like audiobooks, podcasts, or videos. The best music streaming services also offer extensive tools for exploring music and checking out popular songs on charts. We favor services that offer personalized playlist recommendations and have options for playlist sharing and collaboration.
- Audio Quality: Services focused on audio quality pride themselves on offering 24-bit 320 kbps playback and using lossless FLAC file types (or at least higher-quality lossy file types, like AAC). However, lower-quality file types, like WAV and MP3, are more common and work just fine for casual listeners. Keep in mind that higher-quality audio files use up more data and take up more space on your device when you download them and that some services, like Spotify, give you control over streaming and download quality.
- Wide Platform Support: Luckily, most streaming services have wide device compatibility and even support cross-device listening. We love services that have desktop and mobile apps, web players, and integration with smart devices, wearables, and car media systems, so you can access your tunes wherever you are.
While most people are content with an inexpensive music streaming service that has a decent catalog, we know there are dedicated audiophiles out there for whom audio quality matters more than anything. You know the type—the guys who have invested hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in obtaining the best speakers and premier headphones available and who have no patience for lackluster MP3 files.
Services like Tidal and Qobuz both offer plans with lossless streaming audio, but their catalogs are far more limited than the popular services. Amazon Music HD also has terrific HD music and a larger catalog than those two, but it varies between 16-bit and 24-bit audio (a higher bitrate is more desirable) depending on the song, so it isn’t fully lossless. But unless you’re spending at least $300 on your headphones or speaker system, none of these services are worth spending money on as your speakers won’t be able to properly handle them. It’d be like watching an 8K video on an old computer monitor.
Although streaming services for specific music tastes are popular, we focused on more general and well-known options that would appeal to a wider audience. However, we still want to acknowledge a few of our favorite niche picks, as they’re still worth checking out. For live music, LivexLive offers the best access to a variety of live concerts and festivals, and it also features original shows and podcasts. We also like both Idagio and Primephonic when we’re in the mood to listen to really good classical music.
Spotify (Free, with paid plans starting at $4.99 per month) is hands-down the best streaming service for the vast majority of people. Its deep catalog, robust playlist curation, expansive device compatibility, and paid plan options will work well for most folks. It’s also the most common streaming service, so it’s easy to share playlists or songs with friends even if they don’t use it.
Besides its basic free plan, Spotify offers four other plan options. There’s the Student plan ($4.99 per month, with verification), the Individual plan ($9.99 per month), the Duo plan ($12.99 per month, for two people living together), and the Family plan ($15.99 per month for up to six users). Each of these plans gives you access to over 50 million songs (along with podcasts and audiobooks) and unlocks all other features, including on-demand playback, song downloading, offline listening, and more. The Family plan even lets parents block songs with explicit lyrics.
Spotify lets you add collaborators to playlists, and has tons of personalized playlist options based on what you listen to. The Discover Weekly playlist updates every week to give you a new round of curated recommendations. There are also the Daily Mix playlists, which are each based around the different genres you most frequently listen to like trance music or black metal. Some artist pages even show upcoming tour info, thanks to Songkick’s integration, as well as available band merch.
The service offers decent audio quality at 320 kbps via MP3, M4P, and MP4 files, but it is not the one to choose if you want high-quality audio. It does use AAC-encoded files on its web player, however. Spotify is available as a web player, desktop app, iOS app, and Android app, as well as on certain game consoles, speakers, wearables, TVs, smart displays, and certain vehicle media systems. With its robust playlists and features, wide device compatibility, and versatile plan options, Spotify is not only the best music streaming service overall, it’s the one that’s the best value for your dollar.
Apple Music (starts at $4.99 per month) is a divine choice for those already integrated into Apple’s ecosystem, though it’s available on select non-Apple devices as well. The service’s catalog encompasses 60 million songs, making it one of the largest. It also has options for listening to live global radio stations and enjoying exclusive and original content.
The service offers music charts from around the world and makes it easy to explore and find human-curated playlists for any type of mood or occasion simply by asking Siri. Its extensive lyric database lets you search for songs based on their lyrics or see them while a song is playing so you can sing along. Apple uses lossy AAC files, which aren’t perfectly lossless, but still make for great-sounding listening sessions.
Apple offers four simple plans for its music service. The Voice plan ($4.99 per month), Student plan ($4.99 per month) and the Individual plan ($9.99 per month) all get you ad-free access to the Apple Music database, while the latter two also let you access your existing music library and let you listen offline across all of your devices. Both plans also let you download songs to your library, see what your friends are listening to, listen to Beats 1 radio shows, and access original content and exclusives. The Family plan ($14.99 per month) gets you all of that plus personal accounts for up to six family members and streaming and library music sharing.
Apple Music does a great job of playing all of your favorite songs on all of your Apple devices, like iPhones, iPads, Apple TV, Apple Watch, HomePods, Macs, and even CarPlay. It’s also available for PCs on iTunes, and as an iOS and Android mobile app.
Because YouTube is already where most of us end up every day, it makes sense that Google would create a music streaming service from it. YouTube Music (Free, with paid plans starting at $4.99) offers millions of songs to listen to but with a unique twist: You can switch between an audio track and its corresponding video. And as you’d expect from the internet’s repository for all things video and audio, it also excels at being the place where you can find deep cuts and even rare international tracks.
YouTube Music does have a free ad-supported version, but if you want to get the most out of the app—like no ads and its playlist features—you’ll need to snag a YouTube Music Premium plan or opt to pay for YouTube Premium (which includes YouTube Music Premium). The Student plan is $6.99 per month, while the standard Individual plan is $11.99 per month and the Family plan is $17.99 per month (for up to five users).
The service is widely compatible with Google devices and anything that has Google Assistant integration. It works on Apple CarPlay, Sonos Wireless speakers, game consoles, and has an iOS and Android app. It also offers decent audio quality at 256kbps with AAC files, though it lacks a lossless audio option.
Google recently rolled out collaborative playlists and artist-curated playlists for the service, plus you can help it bring you better-tailored music picks by telling it which artists you just can’t live without. You can also explore songs and playlists based on things like moods, genres, and popular charts, and search for songs by lyrics. Premium users can also download songs for offline listening, upload their own audio, and enjoy location-based music suggestions.
While its interface is fairly underwhelming, YouTube Music has dedicated pages for exploring music and viewing your library, as well as a search function. In fact, the only measurably annoying thing about YouTube Music is that it’s a separate app from YouTube. Otherwise, YouTube Music’s staggeringly wide and deep library—along with its decent playlist options and access to music videos—makes it the best music service for those who already spend lots of time watching videos on YouTube.
Look, we get it. Sometimes you just want to open your music app, tap on a song, and start listening without having to navigate through endless tabs, playlists, suggestions, or other clutter. Fortunately, Pandora Premium (free, with paid plans starting at $4.99 per month) excels at making music easy to access and listen to, and cuts out most of the frills.
Pandora Premium offers personalized recommendations from its large catalog of songs and podcasts, and lets you make playlists and listen to full albums. There are dedicated pages for browsing artists and playlists, and you can even search for new music by activity, genre, or mood. That said, it’s still the ideal service for those wanting a hands-off experience where they can have new music they like playing in the background. When you first sign up, you’ll briefly tell Pandora the artists you like, and it’ll create a personalized channel similar to the radio. You can tweak this anytime, of course, and its algorithm will automatically adjust.
Pandora Premium encompasses four plans. There are the discounted plans for students ($4.99 per month) and military or emergency responders ($7.99 per month), the standard single-user Premium plan ($9.99 per month), and a Family plan ($14.99 per month, for up to 6 accounts). Upgrading to a Premium plan from the free plan gets rid of ads, gives you personalized music and recommendations, unlimited offline listening, and the ability to make playlists and share them with your friends.
You also have the option to upgrade to the less expensive Pandora Plus ($4.99 per month), which offers ad-free personalized stations, access to podcasts and offline listening, unlimited skips, and an ad-supported ability to search and play music you like. No matter which plan you choose, though, Pandora is available as an iOS app, Android app, and web player.
Deezer (free, with paid plans starting at $4.99 per month) has all of the features you’d expect from a music streaming service, and a little something special: it supports 360 Reality Audio. If you’ve got a pair of compatible Sony headphones, you can experience spatial immersion when listening to your favorite songs by using the companion 360 by Deezer iOS and Android app. There’s also a Deezer HiFi plan you can upgrade to ($14.99 per month) with lossless FLAC audio and access to HiFi 360 Reality Audio tracks if you want to literally lose yourself in the music (…the moment, you own it, you better never let it go…).
Outside of 360 Reality Audio, Deezer offers other cool features like Flow. This is where all of your music lives, and where you’ll find new song recommendations or revisit ones you already love. The cool thing about Flow is that it offers an infinite stream of songs for you at the press of a button, and it automatically tailors to your likes and dislikes as you note them.
Deezer has a basic free play, which connects you with 56 million tracks, and the ability to shuffle them but only on mobile. It also has a Student plan ($4.99 per month) with unlimited ad-free music, a Premium plan ($9.99 per month) that gives a single user access to everything, and a Family plan ($14.99 per month) that is the same as the Premium plan but contains six individual accounts for everyone in your family.
The service has an impressive catalog of over 56 million tracks. It offers a dedicated place to discover hand-curated mixes and browse things like Top 40 charts, sports, podcasts, and unsigned acts. Deezer supports song downloading for offline listening, has an on-screen lyrics tool, and lets you import your own MP3s and playlists.
Deezer has solid compatibility across a variety of devices and is available as a web player, desktop app, iOS app, and Android app. It is also compatible with wearables, speakers, voice assistants, TVs and gaming devices, and cars. Although Deezer doesn’t necessarily have any standout features beyond support for 360 Reality Audio, it’s still a well-rounded streaming service with all the basic features you could want.
Amazon Music Unlimited (starts at $8.99) is compatible with Alexa and puts over 60 million songs at your fingertips. it isn’t to be confused with Amazon’s other two music services, however—Amazon Music HD, which is its HD streaming service, and Amazon Music Prime, which is its free option.
Music Unlimited is $8.99 per month if you’re an Amazon Prime member, and $9.99 if you’re not. Although a Prime subscription already includes Amazon Music Prime, its small catalog (just 2 million songs) pales in comparison with Music Unlimited’s 60 million. If you’re serious about finding a dedicated music streaming service, Unlimited is definitely worth upgrading to and paying a few bucks extra for.
Unlimited offers four paid plans. Its student-aimed plan actually has you join Prime Student ($8.99 per month), which isn’t a dedicated music plan itself, but that gives you access to Amazon Prime Unlimited for just 99 cents per month, among other features. Amazon Music Unlimited also offers a Single Device plan ($4.99 per month), but you can only listen to music on a single device (any Amazon Echo device), as the plan name suggests. Of course, there’s also the standard Individual plan ($7.99 per month) with all of the features, and a Family plan ($14.99 per month) for up to six people.
The service is integrated with Alexa, so you can enjoy hands-off listening with Alexa commands. It’s also available as a web player, desktop app, iOS app, and Android app, and can be used on Fire tablets, TVs, Amazon Echo, Sonos speakers, and some in-car systems. Unlimited’s interface is noticeably simple but efficient and easy to use, with dedicated pages for stations, playlists, charts, new releases, albums, artists, genres, songs, and more.
Amazon Music Unlimited streams at a max of 256 kbps, which is decent enough quality for the vast majority of listeners. However, if higher-quality audio is your thing, consider Amazon Music HD instead. Music Unlimited’s lower price, expansive catalog, and Alexa integration make it a solid choice for music enthusiasts on a budget, as well as for those who love listening to music on their Amazon devices.Get Amazon Music Unlimited/buy]