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Best Streaming Music Service: Spotify vs Rhapsody vs Pandora vs Google Music vs Rdio vs Beats vs Napster

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1st
2nd
Apple Music logo
3rd
Napster

Companies providing audio streaming grow daily, with them the services they are offering are growing as well. With audio streaming you have access to millions of songs, from your PC, from your mobile device or from your home audio system. When you pay a monthly flat fee you have access to millions of tunes. This flat rate often includes additional features such as creating your personal radio, sharing your playlists or reading reviews about newest releases. What is the best music streaming service where you can listen to as many songs as you like for a low flat rate? We have researched some of the most popular streaming services and selected our picks for Best Music Streaming Service.

Terminology and Common Features

Type of Streaming Music Services

There are different types of streaming music services:

  • Music Library: These services offer unlimited access for a flat rate (and partly for free). Generally these will have a library of millions of song titles, which you can browse and listen anytime and anywhere you like. All services offer access via browser or a desktop application and different mobile devices. These services are the subject of our review.
  • Cloud Storage: Services that offer cloud storage for your songs and the possibility to stream your songs anytime you like and anywhere you like.
  • Theme Radio Stations: These offer radio stations that stick to a specific theme that you can stream to your PC, home audio or many mobile devices.

Streaming Music Devices

You can stream and listen your music from every PC, sometimes directly with the browser, sometimes you need a dedicated Windows / iOS Desktop application to browse and play the music. Also you can stream your tunes from mobile devices such as iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad, Android Phones and Tables, Windows or BlackBerry. Not all services cover all mobile devices; check our comparison table for an overview. Since this is fast growing business we recommend also to check the providers website for the latest update of supported devices.

Some services also support home audio systems such as Logitech Squeezebox or Sonos and others.

The number of devices connected to an account is limited, often two or three devices. And, important to know, in most cases you can use only one device at a time. A workaround is to listen to music in the offline-modules, which is possible with iOS and Android Apps. In parallel you can stream live music from another device.

Search for Your Favorite Tunes & Artist Radio Stations

You can search for your tunes by interpreters, titles or albums. Often the streaming services offer additional ways to search and browse for your favorite songs, for example you can create artist radio stations (Rhapsody, Spotify, Xbox). You choose first a song and then create the radio station based on this song. Now the service searches similar songs and plays one after the other. If you like a song, you can press a like button, if you don’t like it, you can jump to the next song.

Editor’s Picks and Reviews

Several services offer also editor picks, reviews of new tunes or recommendations for selected genres.

Sharing Playlists and Social Media

All services have social functions, where you can share your playlists and songs with your friends using the same service, or for example, Facebook. If you connect to a friend with Rdio, you can access even his whole play history. And with Spotify you can make a playlist collaborative, so that you can build the playlist together with a friend.

Sound Quality

The highest quality music streaming services have is a stream of 320 Kilobits per second (Kbps) which is called the bitrate. If you stream music from your mobile device you probably prefer less bandwidth.

Online/Offline Mode

To put it simple, online mode is when you have the ability to connect to the Internet. So when you’re at work or at home you’re most likely online. Offline mode is basically the opposite. With this feature you don’t need to have an Internet connection to playback songs or playlists. It works by downloading and storing a local copy of the songs in your library. This is useful for listening to music when you can’t easily go online like on a plane, in the car, etc. It is also a useful feature to have if you need to conserve data usage for your broadband package or want to minimize bandwidth usage.

Winner: Spotify Review

Spotify logo

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Spotify is the winner of our best music streaming service review. The combination of a large library, good user interface, wide support of devices and great features made it our first choice. You can access Spotify with their own desktop software for Windows and Mac OS as well as mobile devices for iOS, Android and more. The desktop software scans your local folders and imports playlists from iTunes and the Windows Media Player, so that you can play either tunes from the Spotify server or your local ones. Currently over 30 million songs are accessible; you can create a free account to test the service. Best of all, you can now use your Spotify account on all your mobile devices.

Pros

Cons

  • Large library for unlimited music streaming
  • Clean and good user interface
  • Excellent audio quality 320Kbps
  • Compatible with iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and home audio systems
  • Offline mode
  • Great social media tools
  • Free mobile service
  • Podcasts and video clips
  • Taste Rewind feature plays songs from different decades
  • Login either via Mail or Facebook, if you login with both, it can cause troubles with your playlists

Price

  • Spotify free: Listen on your desktop, laptop, tablet, and smartphone to millions of songs, interrupted by ads. Good to get a first impression, but soon you will probably get rid of the ads. Limited to 10 hours per month.
  • Spotify Premium ($9.99/month): For the price of an album every month, you get the full-fledged version. With the premium option you not only can stream unlimited to your desktop, but also to your mobile devices, using offline mode and home audio systems such as Sonos and Squeezebox. Also you get top sound quality with many tracks being provided at 320Kbps.
  • Spotify Trial: Spotify offers a 30-days trial for Spotify Premium.

2nd Place: Apple Music Review

Apple Music logo

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Apple Music was launched June 30, 2015. Even though they’re new to the game, they’ve quickly made it to the top. They are basically the “newer” version of Beats Music, which is now obsolete. Apple came out with their music streaming service because iTunes sales were declining and change had to be made. Perhaps they’ll make their way to the top, but for now it’s too early to say.

Pros

Cons

  • Includes Beats1 live DJ radio
  • Available in 100 countries
  • Sync songs to offline mode
  • More than 30 million songs
  • Apple has a great reputation
  • Comes pre installed on Apple devices
  • No free plan

Price

  • Free 3 month trial
  • $9.99/month
  • $14.99/month Family Plan (up to 6 users)

3rd Place: Naspter Review (formerly Rhapsody)

Napster logo

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Napster (formerly Rhapsody) won 3rd place with its large library, good user interface, good mobile device support and the possibility to buy many songs also as MP3 files. Napster is compatible with a large selection of home audio systems and receivers. You can access Napster via any browser on the desktop, with a windows desktop application or with mobile apps for mobile devices with iOS, Android and more. Currently there are more than 32 million songs available.

Pros

Cons

  • Large library for unlimited music streaming
  • Clean and good user interface
  • Compatible with iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Android, Windows and Blackberry
  • Offline mode
  • Compatible with a wide range of home audio systems and receivers
  • Offers interviews and reviews about new tunes and interesting tips
  • Decent sound quality, 192Kbps (apps for iOS (3.11.1) and Android (4.14.1.247) can stream and download songs with 320kbps)
  • Site isn’t very detailed about Napster’s offerings

Price

  • unRadio ($4.99/month): unlimited skips, live worldwide radio, first 14 days are free
  • Premier ($9.99/month): everything from unRadio, download any song, album or playlist, full control of your music

Music Streaming Service Comparison Table

To help you sort through the music streaming services, we’ve also created a comparison table that highlights the main features for each music streaming service.

Due to the large size of our music streaming comparison table, we are putting it on a separate page so you can reference it more easily. Please visit our music streaming comparison table (or click on the image at left) for feature details on the music streaming services we review in this article. We’ll continue adding music streaming services to the table as we gather data, and update existing ones as they add and support new features.

Best Music Streaming Services

Other music streaming services reviewed in this article:

Beats MusicGoogle Play Music | Myspace Music | Pandora | Rara | Rdio | Slacker | Sony Music Unlimited | Tidal | Xbox Music Pass

Beats Music Review

On November, 30, 2015, Beats Music began phasing out since Apple Music is live.

Google Play Music Review

Google Play Music logo

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Google Play Music has more than 30 million songs to choose from and an unlimited amount of time to stream music users couldn’t be happier. Google Play Music users can also upload music from their own libraries. Another cool feature is that you can store up to 50,000 of your own songs in your online locker. Of course, Google loves itself so you can share with others via Google+.

Pros

Cons

  • Large library for unlimited music streaming
  • Clean and good user interface
  • More than 30 million songs
  • Excellent audio quality, 320Kbps
  • Compatible with Android, iOS, and Windows
  • Store specific songs on your mobile app and listen while offline
  • Share with others
  • Upload your own music from your library (up to 50,000 songs)
  • Sony’s AAC’s are often more clear than Google’s MP3s even though that have the same bitrate

Price

  • Google Play Music Standard Free: Store up to 50,000 of your own songs in your locker, access your music anywhere without syncing, experience music without ads, and buy new music.
  • Google Play Music All Access ($9.99/month): Unlimited listening to millions of songs, create personalized radio from any song or artist, listen to radio with unlimited skips, get smart recommendations based on your tastes PLUS the Standard package perks. The first 30-days are free.
  • Google Play Music Family Plan ($14.99/month): Up to 6 people for up to 10 devices

Myspace Music Review

Myspace Music logo

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We all remember the days when Myspace was what we consider Facebook to be today. If you look at the way Myspace has recreated itself, you will see that it is strictly a music service, period. With more than 53 million songs, it’s easy to say that Myspace has one of the largest libraries. However, Myspace prides itself in supporting new up and coming music artists so many of their songs are from unheard of bands that have yet to be signed.

Pros

Cons

  • Compatible with iOS and Windows
  • Free
  • Great for those who want to discover new music
  • Web player requires you to disable 3rd party cookie blocking in order to play music
  • Doesn’t include some of the top artists today
  • Unknown to many web users because most think of Myspace as the “old version of Facebook”
  • Difficult to navigate
  • Average audio quality of, 96Kbps

Price

  • Free

Pandora Review

Pandora logo

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Pandora is the most widely compatible music streaming service. It does a great job suggesting songs and has great customizable options. It also shows the lyrics to each song. Pandora’s downfall is that it only allows so many skips per hour with the free version and there is no rewind or repeat function.

Pros

Cons

  • Compatible with Mac, PC, iOS, Android, PS3, PSP, PS Vita, Blu-Ray players, and TVs
  • Shows lyrics to each song
  • Rate songs with a thumbs up or down which helps determine future songs recommended
  • Pandora Premiers allows listeners to access albums that haven’t been released from a variety of different artists
  • Decent audio quality, 192Kbps for Pandora One
  • No rewind, repeat function
  • Can only skip so many songs
  • Fewest songs in its library, only 1 million

Price

  • Pandora Free: Unlimited music with advertisements.
  • Pandora One ($54.89/year or $4.99/month): Consists of no advertisements and a desktop application. Also includes a 24-hour free trial.

Rara Review

Rara shut down its services in early 2015.

Rdio Review

Rdio has been acquired by Pandora.

Slacker Radio Review

Slacker Radio logo

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Slacker Radio offers a library of over 12 millions songs, which is low compared to its competitors but is still a good chunk of tunes. Only the premium subscription gives you the possibility to play songs on demand as other services do. One of Slacker’s perks is it offers several ways to discover music: Slacker Stations are genre stations; My Music contains your playlists, custom stations and recently played stations. The interface is nothing special and the audio is decent but there are artist biographies and lyrics for each song, which is pretty neat.

Pros

Cons

  • Free version is good if you just like to listen to radio stations
  • Compatible with iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, Android and Windows Offline mode
  • Decent audio, 320 Kbps
  • Includes artist biographies and lyrics
  • Full access to single songs only with premium subscription, but this offers much less selection than Spotify or MOG
  • Offline use only with Premium subscription
  • User interface average

Price

  • Slacker Free: Stream millions of songs within radio stations and hundreds of expert-programmed stations. You can listen on any device. Financed with advertisement. You can select a song to listen, you can select only a song/artist and based on this artist a radio station is created. You can skip to the next song for a limited number of times.
  • Slacker Radio Plus ($4.99/month): Stream millions of songs within radio stations and hundreds of expert-programmed stations; listen on any device, no ads, unlimited song-skips. Note, that you cannot select a song to listen, you can select only a song/artist and based on this artist a radio station is created. You can skip to the next song played.
  • Slacker Premium ($9.99/month): Stream millions of songs you like to any device, download playlists on mobile, listen offline.

Sony Music Unlimited Review

Sony Music Unlimited is now a part of Spotify.

Tidal Review

Tidal logo

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Tidal is an “artist owned coalition”. The founders are Alicia Keys, Arcade Fire, Beyonce, Calvin Harris, Chris Martin, Daft Punk, Deadmau5, Jack White, Jason Aldean, J. Cole, Kanye West, Madonna, Nicki Minaj, Rihanna, Shawn “JAY Z” Carter and Usher. Since it’s created by artists it also puts the artists’ needs higher. Artists, producers and songwriters get the highest percentage of royalties from Tidal than any other music streaming service. Tidal prides itself in serving lossless 1411kbps sound quality music. They call this high fidelity music streaming, or HiFi for short.

Pros

Cons

  • 30 day free trial
  • Import playlists to Tidal by using Soundiiz.com
  • Ad free
  • Great sound quality at 1411kbps
  • Great FAQ section
  • Highest royalty percentages for artists, songwriters and producers
  • Student discount
  • No Offline Mode on PC/Mac
  • Not available on Windows Phone, but coming soon
  • HiFi is only available at the highest subscription and it’s fairly pricey

Price

  • Tidal Premium $9.99/month (standard sound quality)
  • Tidal HiFi $19.99/month (lossless “HiFi” sound quality)

Xbox Music Pass Review

Xbox Music nobo

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Use Xbox Music Pass to stream on your Xbox 360 or Xbox One. It is also compatible with smartphone and tablet devices including Windows, Android and iOS. Up to four devices can be registered for one account and all of your devices sync up automatically to stay up to date. Xbox Music is now known as Groove and works well with Cortana in your vehicle when you’re using bluetooth.

Pros

Cons

  • 30 day free trial
  • Over 90,000 music videos
  • Apps for Windows Phone, Android and iOS
  • Devices sync automatically
  • Offline listening on PC, tablet and phone
  • Ad-free
  • Create artist based radio stations to find new music
  • Free trial continues onto a paid version so if you don’t want it make sure you cancel it

Price

  • $9.99/month

Kimberly researches everything before she buys. She wants to make sure she is getting the best bang for her buck by purchasing the best product/service, which is why she loves her work. She has a degree in Multimedia Journalism and has been researching and writing professionally since 2013 to help consumers make more educated decisions.
Robert Chandler
Robert Chandler

PlayLists – Why do you think cassette tapes took off 🙂 People love making and sharing personal playlists. But many love radio for the fresh surprise too.

Aaron
Aaron

I just swapped Apple Music for Pandora, but now I read this and will try out Spotify. Apple Music, for a radio, is utter garbage. Their preference-learning algorithms are crap compared to Pandora. I feel like these were derived from Genius, which at one time was good, but has been awful for years now. Also, the radio lacks SO MUCH functionality. You cannot undo a dislike, cannot view radio station history, cannot purposefully add variety to a station, cannot rename or delete a station, and it’s even somewhat difficult to add a station based on an artist – need to do it a backdoor way of finding the artist first, then playing a song, then creating a station.

I don’t find Apple Music to be a very enjoyable program for people who have an eclectic taste in music or anyone who wants good control over what they’re listening to. The program is flat and lacks functionality.

Victor Tabarnack
Victor Tabarnack

In case someone hasn’t mentioned it, Google Music has one additional premium option: Family plan with up to 10 Accounts (10 playlists, 10 libraries) for $5 more than the All-Access subscription.

PJ

Great article, although now YouTube has released YouTube Red it would be great to get that added to the list. YouTube Red comes with free Google Store music.

mjsmit
mjsmit

Curved * ads – How can you listen to Spotify with your family when the music is interrupted with ads like “Do you or your partner suffer from a curved * when erect?” Thanks but no thanks – Back to Pandora

Alvin
Alvin

Yea, you missed SoundCloud.

C.O. Jones
C.O. Jones

Great comments on codecs/bit rates. Off the main topic, but if you want your music to sound good, play a CD or better yet an LP. BTW besides streaming services, vinyl is the only music market that’s growing.

janxspiritt
janxspiritt

No Chromecast support for Apple Music is a massive deal breaker.

vinocat
vinocat

Yeah, I’m pretty happy about Tidal, including its curated content over and above the albums. However, the user interface and device support are still pretty marginal. It’s a business curiosity that at least some of the other major players haven’t figured out they could offer lossless at a premium.

Blanca Perez
Blanca Perez

Tidal with the higher resolution steaming is $19.99 a month. At the $9.99 point Tidal is not competeitive.

Aubrey
Aubrey

What about Amazon music?

iKrontologist
iKrontologist

About as mixed up and with so much Applewellian FUD and misinformation laced into this selection as it gets. But then this writer clouds her prized music list of streaming services, even further with this statement: “Apple came out with their music streaming service because iTunes sales were declining and change had to be made. Perhaps they’ll make their way to the top, but for now it’s too early to say.”

Not that I expected my comment to even be posted or approved here! xD

So tell how a totally new service basically built on iTunes Radio failure, and now actually using very little of the good stuff they got with their $3+ Billion Purchase of Beats Radio fail, add up to push Apple Music ahead of so many more great long established music streaming services. Tell us too, did you actually use all of them for longer than a couple of minutes? Or did you even bother to try anything but the pay for streaming services to fully evaluate them?

I am of course specifically speaking of my choice for best all around value with more fringe benefits than you could shake a stick or your finger at, Google Play Music. Which actually has the best available to it in both music streaming and music video services via YouTube. And what about for us long time Play Music Subscribers with established collections and playlists that can’t simply be transferred to any other comparable service? Now nearly 4 yrs into still paying that $7.95 introductory price for all they’ve got. Which is the largest streaming collection of music choices available on the entire planet.

Which also offers free music streaming choices to go with their pay for subscription plans. Which also include a Family Plan and other vast assortment of niceties none of the others can ever offer. They had offline downloading before any competitor even thought of it. Google Cloud even allowed us to upload 20GB of our own music free for streaming to go with that largest ever collection they offer over any other competitor! Get real and get off the Applewellian back door funded payroll. After all, you don’t really expect them to break that 100 million paying, subscriber goal they set for their first year, do you? When here they are nearly 9 months into it and still haven’t broke 10 million paying subscribers to iTunes Radio rehashed into Beats $3+ Billion purchase, Beats Music wearing an Apple Music disguise, as it’s claim for finally getting at least some success against their greatest competitors in steaming content! 😀

Ronnie Craig
Ronnie Craig

As someone with a new iPod Touch 6th Generation, would it seem best to go with Apple Music? I mean since it’s built into the device, and seems to work great. It has radio stations based on genre, genius playlists based on bands or tracks, curaters from apple maybe other places as well, that make playlists that introduce you to new music while mixing it with music that it’s picked up on you listening to a lot. It has a way to connect with other people. You can follow bands and individual artists sort of like Twitter and meet up with others that follow them and get good ideas for new music. It’s got 30 million songs in its library I think, but no Beatles. But this is the first Apple product I’ve ever owned (the iPod Touch), I’ve had Android tablets since they came out and used Google Play Music since it came out, but I don’t need the 50,000 song locker, and, as I mentioned, since I have the Apple iPod, I thought maybe the Apple Music might be best; especially if they would update the Apple Music app for Android to work on my Galaxy Tab S.
Anybody got any thoughts or tips for me?

disqus_jTbchRrBq0
disqus_jTbchRrBq0

Beware, Spotify’s “Your Music”, which is how they encourage you to bookmark albums you like (as opposed to saving them as playlists), has a 10,000 song limit. Once you hit that the only way to add more songs is to remove some others first. What’s nasty about this is you only stumble across it once you’ve been a heavy user of Spotify. I’m not aware of whether other services have similar limits.

Ronnie Craig
Ronnie Craig

Not sure if my post worked earlier but Apple Music has a 100,000 song limit for adding songs to your ‘My Music Library’ not downloaded, just tagged to be in your Library to stream.

Ronnie Craig
Ronnie Craig

If I’m right, Apple Music has a 100,000 song limit for songs added to your ‘My Music Library’, not downloaded.

Pate Yate
Pate Yate

I don’t know why Live 365 isn’t offered as a choice. It’s been on longer than all these, doesn’t need an “app” as you can play right from a browser and has thousands of stations with a lot these others don’t come close to having (Greek, Church Organ, etc.) I can’t speak for split hair details, but it plays well, that’s all I know. Just wondering.

Jacob
Jacob

With Beats out of the picture now, what would you say would win 2nd?

Greg Counts
Greg Counts

Are there any services that let you rate individual tracks? Rhapsody used to have that feature but it’s being dropped in their most current release.

Ronnie Craig
Ronnie Craig

Apple Music lets you rate individual tracks on a 5 star basis, and a heart you can hit to mark it as a favorite.

Dr. T. Leo
Dr. T. Leo

Yeah, I’m jumping in here because I’m just so sick of this over complicated, “understood” yet not fully grasped issue of file types and compression. First off-this is what I do for a living. I’m a music producer but have been an engineer for what seems to be two lifetimes. I come from the days of tape. (I’m going to add this but not argue, defend or explain it-I really shouldn’t have to). Sonically, we messed up handing our music over to the computer geeks. I have a music degree, teaching degree and GD in recording technology, in “91.” I’ve had to stay current as everything changed. Starting in ’94 I constantly flew all over the country to everything offered to keep on top of it. And this includes all media. It was/is a time of constant change. From the very edge of HD technology, surround philosophy to watching my industry heads scramble to, first maximize a decimated income structure to now where they’re trying to just find an income structure-I’ve been right in the thick of it, usually with my hand out. I came in at the end of high profit and watched two things happen. First the millennials don’t understand that music is not a free item and hate to, or don’t want to, or just don’t buy or pay for music. And second, an all encompassing dumbing down of music knowledge, taste and appreciation, particularly in the US. Now you can throw in the fact that these consolidated labels bring in-not pennies on the dollar, but pennies on tens of thousands of dollars. Ok, got that off my chest. I’m not going to get into the weeds with formats/file types and the exact BR numbers or debate lossless. However, among AAC, wave, mp3 and others there is an understandable difference. Actually there is absolutely a very noticeable difference in compressed file types and non-it’s not just a little, and I don’t care how high the rate is. The issue is what are you using for play back.

Falconsoars
Falconsoars

Good review. It’s really hard to keep a comparison like this accurate and up-to-date because you’ve included so many services and they keep changing their offerings. So thanks more than anything for trying to perform that Herculean effort, and continuing to do it over time, which is quite rare for these kinds of reviews.

This is just a nit, but it gave me a smile. Your pricing on Rdio states:
Rdio Unlimited ($9.99/month): Unlimited music streaming, download
all the music you want on your mobile device, unlimited home audio
listening, no advertising, offline mode. The first 30-days are free,
discounts for quarterly ($13.33/month) or annual ($ 12.50/month)
subscriptions.
I hope this isn’t one of those scam bulk “discounts” for people who can’t do math in their heads like you see in food markets sometimes, like: $3/each, 3 for $10 🙂
According to this, their “discount” very generously allows you to pay them an ADDITIONAL $10 for 3 months in advance and an ADDITIONAL $30, $150 total, for a service that would cost you only $120 if you paid by the month. LOL

Ronnie Craig
Ronnie Craig

Exactly!! I didn’t catch that the first go round. Is that the way it really is or did they just make a typing mistake I wonder.

Edit: Oh, I see Kimberly’s post now…

Trevor Mobbs
Trevor Mobbs

Spotify, a good user interface?

Ugh. No. It might be great if you behave the way they want you to with radio stations and playlists, but as someone who primarily uses streaming services to explore new albums, it’s horrible. In particular, there is a specific bug/”feature” that makes albums stay in your play queue after you’ve already listened. People have been complaining about it for 3-4 years in the forums, and Spotify has done precisely nothing.

After battling this enough times I went searching elsewhere, tried Rdio and breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, a service that lets me decide what is going to play, simply and easily, instead of trying to make me play what it wants.

Richard Klimming
Richard Klimming

Google Music definitely has the best radio out of all of them. Whereas Spotify Premium’s radio will try to play the same 10 songs over and over again, Google Music’s radio is unique and I always find new songs that I like.

Alex O
Alex O

“Google Play Music is great for non-Mac users” I don’t understand the reasoning why it isn’t great for Mac users, can you please explain?
Also Songza integration is killer feature in Google Play Music, so, as far as I see it, Google Play Music dominates in every aspect.

Rodrigo Rajão
Rodrigo Rajão

No mention of Qobuz, and only 1 in the comments sections?? It’s a shame it’s only available in a handful of European countries, but I’d jump on it if I had the chance.

disqus_tDOcS1F4X7
disqus_tDOcS1F4X7

Great review! I’ve been using the ~$10 per month Spotify service for more than a year now and have yet to be disappointed! Spotify has an excellent music selection, and for me, it’s been trouble-free! In case it wasn’t already mentioned, Google music claims to have 30 million songs compared to the “over 18 million” mentioned in your review. Thanks again!

wc0022
wc0022

Great article and follow up discussions. But I don’t see where Google has a free service. The link provided brings you to the pay site with the first 30 days free. But where is the pure free service site?

Chris
Chris

How on earth can you rate Beats above Pandora when there isn’t even a free version of Beats? Paid Pandora has unlimited skips, also, so that point is moot.

Steve
Steve

It wouldn’t matter to most users but for people with large collections, Google Music’s “Upload your own music from your library (up to 20,000 songs)” is actually 50,000 songs now.

James
James

Spotify has a browser option on PC 🙂 It’s how I started using the service, and how I generally use it still, since I don’t use music services frequently. (Thanks to YouTube.)

Also, any plans to include Amazon Prime Music?

Ishtiaqe
Ishtiaqe

Seems like you were clearly biased. I have used all the music services and only Spotify and Google Play Music all access stands out.

dimitri_69
dimitri_69

I’ve tried most of these music services, and Google Play Music is the best, as far as I’m concerned. It’s fully integrated into android devices. “Ok Google… listen to [song, artist, album, genre].” Bam… it starts streaming right away. Also, Google’s streaming service has ample bandwidth that ensures uninterrupted streaming. Plus, you can stream your own personal music collection (and listen to them with the same “Ok Google… ” commands.

dimitri_69
dimitri_69

I’ve tried most of these music services, and Google Play Music is the best, as far as I’m concerned. It’s fully integrated into android devices. “Ok Google… listen to [song, artist, album, genre].” Bam… it starts streaming right away. Also, Google’s streaming service has ample bandwidth that ensures uninterrupted streaming. Plus, you can stream your own personal music collection (and listen to them with the same “Ok Google… ” commands.

Sepia Photographi
Sepia Photographi

The writer needs to do more research. First of all, Rhapsody’s library is up to 34 million songs now. Spotify only has about 30 million, even then, a lot of that 30 million is made up of obscure bands (not that there’s anything wrong with that). Spotify limits your downloads to about 33,000; Rhapsody’s downloads are unlimited even @ 320kbps. Rhapsody has unlimited radio skips. Rhapsody even allows you to point your music to your SD card. I didn’t have any of those features when I tried Spotify. Although Spotify IS good; but it’s not as good as Rhapsody. The only reason why people like Spotify so much is because either they already built up a lot of music and don’t want to change, OR because they offer a limited free version. But even the free version on the mobile is not “on demand,” you can only use it on random play. Why bother using Spotify on your mobile permanently, if you can’t listen off-line, because people are too cheap to buy the service? How you could put Rhapsody on the bottom list is beyond me.

Ventilator
Ventilator

Good article.
I’m surprised that Wimp, Tidal and Deezer is missing.

Wimp and Tidal are maybe the only ones offering FLAC quality.

Personally I switched from Spotify to Google Music this year. It’s hard to tell what’s best, but Google Music gives at least most value for money. Music cloud is great for adding music that doesn’t exist for streaming.
It looks like Google will offer ad-free YouTube to Google Music subscribers later.

purpletempest
purpletempest

Spotify recently removed access to third party apps and made other changes in recent updates that have made some users very unhappy.

Jacob
Jacob

What’s your opinion on Deezer. I’ve had an opportunity to try it out via my Bose promotion. I like it but think it could be better.

Mark R.M. Holmstrand
Mark R.M. Holmstrand

320k is high quality? I’ve personally never listened to MP3s after hearing them when they were first available as a smaller/handier audio file versus wav. They sounded terrible to me (appalling may be a better term.) I kept listening to music at 44.1k/16 bit (CD) and above. Now there are two services that stream flacs that are not less than CD quality: Qubuz and Tidal (was WiMP.) After trying both, I settled on Tidal. I am finally happily listening to streaming music! What a joy.

Ventilator
Ventilator

Tidal wasn’t Wimp. They are co-existing in Norway for example.

StarsoBright
StarsoBright

I wish I would have learned about Spotify offering the same service as Beats Music for free or discounted for college students. I would switch from Beats Music to Spotify, but I’m just too invested into Beats Music now to even think about switching. Plus I heard Spotify is planning to gradually start charging for it’s services in the future.

Kendra
Kendra

Thanks for the article Kimberly :). For those who live outside US and want to access Pandora radio, you can use UnoTelly as I do to get around the geo block.

chris
chris

Spotify has a 10,000 offline song limit per device. That’s approximately 3,333 songs per device. A huge negative compared to other unlimited services (like GPMAA).

ispeakout
ispeakout

Rdio seems like the best bet right now. They provide 320 Kbps AAC for premium members. Moreover, Rdio is perfect for music discovery. You don’t have to be at the mercy of Algorithms.
1) Choose the song/artist/album that you like. E.g. I chose Alek Fin.
2) Check who else has listened to them. For Alek Fin, I found a person who had made a playlist called ‘Design Noises’. Just the kind of thing that I was looking for 🙂
3) Follow them (not just your Facebook, Twitter friends) and get amazing recommendations.

between.the.pages
between.the.pages

Kimberly,
I wanted to say thanks for not only the initial write-up of this article, but the continual updating as well as the preservation and maintenance of the reader commentary. The information here (with big additional thanks to vinocat and Ursula for their break-down of the codecs and compression) helped me make what might have otherwise been a difficult decision. Recently, I found myself unable to overlook the buffering and crashing issues with Tidal HiFi. As much as I want to like them on SQ alone, as well as the constant halt in the streaming and shrinking in the catalog, I couldn’t justify paying that premium price for substandard performance. So, I’ve happily switched to Rdio, and I’ve gotta say, so far, I’m really digging the high quality (at least perceived) and pretty huge library. (The 50% off student discount is a nice bonus, too). Now, I’m just holding on for Deezer Elite to open up their U.S. market…

vinocat
vinocat

@Ursula, while your statement is true about the divergence of qualitative characteristics of codecs as the bit rates are lowered (and correspondingly, the closer you get to the original source bitrate, the closer you can get to replicating the source), “almost none” is an overstatement. 320K is still forcing the codec to decide how to achieve about 4.4:1 compression (vs. an uncompressed standard audio CD). One can get about 2:1 compression on music with lossless compression; beyond that, the codec has to decide what it (i.e., the codec author) thinks the listener will not miss (too much) to achieve higher rates of data compression, be it dynamics, transients, frequency spectrum, etc.

YMMV, but I can clearly hear identifiable qualitative differences between 320K streams from the different services, for the same source material. Granted, it is not just about the bitrate; there are lots of parameters for the encoders that may have been tuned differently, so perfect comparison of identical bitrates is all but impossible.

Ursula
Ursula

True, but 320k is still very high quality. My ears aren’t what they were but my feeling when I studied this some years ago was that mp3 at that rate loses a tiny bit of definition in transients in the super high treble. And all codecs might get very slightly muddy in very complex passages at that rate, but you only notice this on a super high quality stereo, on source material that you’re extremely familiar with played losslessly. At 320, on A/B tests I can hear a tiny bit of encoding noise on the attack from absolute silence to a loud voice, but it is very very quiet noise. I’ve done subtraction tests which reveals the noise (and possible things other than noise like phase shifts)… and the total encoding noise is very quiet.
To my ears, vobis at 500k is as good as lossless on all materials. And of course the encoding noise is low.
I’ve played with all of this from an engineering point of view. If it were up to me, I would do high quality streams differently. I’d use lossless encoding, and I’d apply just enough reversible volume compression along the top half of the a-weight curve to fit within the bit budget. I.E. I’d raise the noise floor only in the high treble and only as much as necessary.
Two reasons:
1) The amount of bandwidth (in bits) a signal takes up is proportional to the frequency range linearly. So, for instance, the top octave takes as much bandwidth as the entire rest of the spectrum despite being barely audible. The next octave down takes half of the remaining bandwidth. The next octave down takes half of the remaining again…
So there’s no good reason to put ANY compression on the midrange where your ears are most sensitive if you have enough bandwidth to send it losslessly – it doesn’t take that much bandwidth. And there’s NEVER any excuse for compressing the base, the base is free in terms of bits.
None of the codecs are well designed for high bitrates. They were all designed for unnecessary masking.
A slightly compressed signal in the high treble (something like dolby A) into a lossless compressor does a better job with less coding noise.

vinocat
vinocat

Indeed, 320k is, as intended, pretty darn good, which is more than good enough for the vast majority of listeners (98+%). I’m also from an engineering/computer science background, with research into both data and audio compression (as a speech recognition researcher, among other things), but I’ve also been a very involved audiophile for almost 40 years (and blessed with ears that still hear past 20kHz!).

The thing is, if we’re talking about the realm of maximum listening quality, the last two octaves really do matter, even though we barely “hear” them. It’s precisely the issues of transient response and phase shift that determine perceived audio “accuracy” and “image”, especially so if any distortions are not coherent across the frequency and/or amplitude spectrums (by now the original author is no doubt wondering why we’re off on such a tangent…).

You’re correct that the ears are most sensitive in the midrange, but the human brain works very hard to make up for the lack of sensitivity in the upper end of the frequency spectrum. With speech, the make-up factor is based on understanding the context, syntax and grammar of what is being said (for example, if 4th-formant frequencies are lost, an “s” sounds like an “f”, but we can still tell the difference from other contextual cues). With music, it’s about differences in timbre, location, amplitude and dynamics. These are all elements that are sacrificed to one degree or another by the codecs — not so much as to kill the experience entirely, but a hardcore audiophile will usually notice something, even if it’s hard to articulate.

BTW, not all codecs were designed without high bitrates in mind. Sony’s ATRAC family (ending with ATRAC3plus) were built from the outset to work at ~320k as their sweet spot, since the minidiscs for which the codec was designed stored about 1/4 of the data of a CD. I’m not sure if any more recent codecs are based on ATRAC, however.

vinocat
vinocat

Oops… correction. The ATRAC codec prior to ATRAC3plus was optimized for ~292k. Not a big difference, but… I should also note for the purists, that while ATRAC had a number of limitations and constraints that sparked plenty of discussion, overall it sounded quite good for what it was.

Nesly Lacroix
Nesly Lacroix

I have used and am still using the major services described above: Spotify, GPMAA, Beats Music, Rhapsody, Rdio, Pandora, Slacker, iTunes Radio, and iHeartRadio both of which you did not mention. So my ratings are as follow: Spotify (1st), GPMAA (2nd, best audio quality, full play queue control), Rhapsody (3rd), Rdio (4th, would be 3rd, but the latest changes killed it.)

Jarred
Jarred

Kimberly – do you have a list of what streaming companies allow artists themselves to pay for their music to be heard? Please let me know.

Thanks!

Bob Boblaw
Bob Boblaw

Hard to tell when this article was written (last updated Dec 2014?), but you seem to have missed the memo in October where Rdio announced that they were increasing all their catalogue to 320 mbps AAC files. That actually trumps the other non FLAC services as they now have the higher quality with smaller file sizes. You can also select lower bit rates for streaming or offline if you prefer. You might want to add this.

Andy
Andy

Just to update some info: Pandora One is now $4.99 mo/ and no longer offers a per year option. Thanks for the article, I was wondering if moving to Google Play from Rhapsody made any sense because of the tight integration for Android products and in looking at your chart it certainly does not for me in my situation. I’ve been with Rhapsody for over 8 years now. Cheers!

tony
tony

What about also rating how each service screws musicians out of decent royalty rates?

musicman
musicman

Ok. So how much do you think the artist receives when their song is played on standard radio?

SloopJB
SloopJB

These services put into the music industry exactly what the RIAA asked for. E.G, Spotify paid out $500M in royalties in 2013. The problem is that the music companies keeps the bulk the money for themselves and don’t pass it on.

Roel
Roel

First of all, the bitrate is not the only factor to consider. The Codec is much more important. MP3 at 320 isn’t gonna sound anywhere near as accurate as AAC in 190. Spotify uses OGG which is generally very good and better than MP3, which is used by Google Play music and I believe beats, even at lower bitrates. However, Rdio just announced that they updated the library to 320 AAC, which is just shy of LOSSLESS. I understand that most people won’t understand that bitrate isn’t the only thing to consider when thinking about a streaming service. However the person writing the article SHOULD. So, he’s either uninformed on the different codecs used by these services, or he is withholding valuable information from readers.

Jacob
Jacob

I would also like to add that the beta website of Rhapsody has an option to change the sound quality.

Alex Schenker
Admin
Alex Schenker

Thanks Adam, article updated with new info.

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