The competition between streaming music services continued unabated in 2017, buoyed by the proliferation of smart speakers like the Sonos One, Google Home, and the upcoming Apple HomePod that make it easier to listen to music throughout the home. Expect these speakers to play an even bigger role in how we listen to music in 2018.

More on Listening to Music and Streaming

While Spotify and Apple Music tend to dominate today's streaming music headlines, expect to see a renewed push from Google next year: A recent Bloomberg report suggested that a new, YouTube-branded streaming music service is in development, with a March release date planned. Google already offers paid streaming services—more on that in a minute—but the new service reportedly will have a new name and probably some new features.

Which streaming music service is best for you largely depends on what tech giant’s ecosystem you’re most comfortable with: Longtime Mac users will appreciate Apple Music’s seamless integration of their past iTunes purchases, while a family that finds itself using Amazon for everything else might have a hard time saying no to Amazon Music Unlimited, which neatly hooks into the company’s Alexa virtual assistant.

Whatever service you choose, you’re bound to find more music than you could possibly know what to do with, which can only be considered a good thing.

Amazon Music Unlimited & Prime Music

Prime Music is included with Amazon Prime, which costs $10.99 per month or $99 per year. Amazon Music Unlimited costs $7.99 per month for Prime members or $9.99 per month for non-Prime members. A three-month trial of Music Unlimited costs 99 cents. A family plan is also available.

Who it’s best for: Amazon Prime members.

Pros: Both are ad-free, on-demand services. Amazon Music Unlimited gives you access to tens of millions of songs, thousands of hand-curated playlists, and personalized stations. If you have an Amazon speaker, you can summon songs using Alexa and also get some added content, such as commentary from selected artists. Amazon music plans let you upload songs from your personal library using the Amazon Cloud Player. And you can download files for offline listening.

Cons: Dual music plans can be confusing; Prime Music has more than 2 million songs, but that's still a thinner selection than other services offer.

Apple Music

Apple Music costs $9.99 per month for individuals or $14.99 per month for a family plan for up to six people. A student-only plan is also available. And you can get a three-month free trial.

Who it’s best for: Dedicated Apple fans and people with substantial iTunes libraries.

Pros: Apple Music, with 40 million titles, is available for iOS, macOS, and Android devices. It has human-curated playlists. And Apple Music frequently gets first dibs on music from artists, including Drake. The service supports Siri voice commands. Beats 1, a free online radio station curated by real DJs, is another highlight.

Cons: The navigation tools may be somewhat less intuitive for many consumers than those from competing services.

Google Play Music/YouTube Red

The relationship between Google Play Music and YouTube Red is somewhat confusing, but it boils down to this: Subscribing to one grants access to the other—and that's why we're listing them together. Whichever service you choose, there's a free tier that includes artist radio stations and songs you've uploaded to Google's cloud. And $9.99 per month gives on-demand access to a library of 40-plus million songs and ad-free YouTube videos (via the YouTube Red app).

Who it’s best for: Heavy Google users, especially people who spend a lot of time on YouTube.

Pros: The additional YouTube functionality that's included with a premium subscription, including the removal of ads from YouTube videos and the ability to save videos for offline viewing.

Cons: The services are accessed using separate apps, which means you need both apps on your smartphone if you want access to all the content that comes with your subscription.


Free with ads, $5/month ad-free (Pandora Plus) or $10/month on-demand service (Pandora Premium).

Who it’s best for: Almost any music fan, especially those interested in discovering new artists.

Pros: It's like having a personal DJ. Tell Pandora who you want to hear and it creates a channel with selections from that artist and others with similar styles. Pandora has a vast, 40-million-title library.

Cons: You can't upload your own songs.


Price: There's a free version, plus two paid tiers: the $4/month (Plus) and the $10/month (Premium).

Who it’s best for: Listeners looking for both curated and on-demand music.

Pros: The extensive library and easy-to-use interface let you create tailor-made stations. You can also choose among more than 300 expert-curated stations devoted to specific musical genres, sports, news, and weather. The pricier plan adds offline listening and personal playlists.

Cons: The free version of the service gives you limited say in the selection of songs. But you can skip past the duds a limited number of times.


Free with ads and somewhat limited mobile functionality. For $9.99 per month, Spotify removes ads and the mobile limitations. Plans for families and students are also available. A three-month premium trial costs 99 cents.

Who it’s best for: Anyone looking for a versatile service with a large catalog of titles.

Pros: With a library of more than 30 million songs and easy access via most digital platforms, Spotify is popular for good reason. It's a great place to find favorite artists, create and share playlists, and enjoy exclusive live sessions. You can get enhanced sound quality if you choose the paid plan. Podcasts and original videos are recent added benefits.

Cons: Syncing music you already own to your Spotify library can be confusing.


Tidal has many tiers. It starts at $9.99 per month for standard audio quality; $19.99 per month unlocks Hi-Res audio. Plans for families, students, and members of the military are also available. And you can get a free one-month trial.

Who it’s best for: Music lovers who want high-quality audio (including Hi-Res audio) and offline listening. It's also good for Jay-Z fans. You get his full back catalog (he owns the service).

Pros: Tidal can offer CD-quality and Hi-Res-audio sound (via HiFi, its top-tier service). The very large library has 46 million songs and includes 190,000 videos.

Cons: $20 per month is steep even for most audio snobs, and high-quality audio files can quickly devour small cellular data plans. Though the rap and R&B offerings are comprehensive, the rest of Tidal's catalog is spotty compared with some competitors'.

Editor's Note: A version of this article originally appeared in Consumer Reports magazine. The article gets updated periodically to reflect new offerings.