Best Free Music Streaming Services

You'll have to listen to ads, but the bottom line is millions of songs and no fees

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Music fans have a wide variety of streaming options. Depending on what you’re interested in and how much you’re willing to pay, the best music streaming services offer appealing features such as expansive libraries, curated recommendations based on your taste, and high-quality uncompressed files.

But you have free music streaming options as well. Even if you’re already paying for another service (or two), a number of free services provide niche features that could be great additions to your music listening arsenal.

More on Audio

Most music streaming services let you sample their paid options with a free trial, but you can use the platforms on this list indefinitely without ever putting in a credit card number. (Amazon Prime Music is an exception; the tunes are part of what a $119-a-year membership buys.)

Before you invest your time building playlists, you want to be sure you pick the right service. Here’s a rundown of what the best free music streaming services offer.

You have a number of options to choose from, presented here in reverse alphabetical order, partly because Amazon’s “free” music streaming service technically isn’t free. We also have recommendations on headphones and speakers to help the music come alive.

YouTube Music

The free version of YouTube Music works a bit differently from the other services on this list. Whether you’re listening in a web browser or on the app, you can stream any song you want. Most other services restrict you to playlists or radio-style stations, at least when you’re using their app as opposed to the website. Users can also upload up to 100,000 of their own audio files to stream from the cloud, a great option if you have a collection of music that you can’t find on streaming services.

YouTube Music—as the name might suggest—also integrates a ton of videos from the regular YouTube platform. You can go straight from listening to your favorite Radiohead album to watching a video of the group performing at a music festival. As with almost every other free service, you’ll have to put up with ads.

Drawbacks: The free tier of YouTube Music has a major flaw that most other services don’t. You can’t lock your phone screen or switch over to another app or else the music stops. That keeps you from scrolling through Facebook or checking email while listening to music. Even if you just want to listen, having the screen on will drain your battery faster.

However, the problem doesn’t apply if you’re listening to files you’ve uploaded yourself, and it doesn’t happen when you’re listening on a computer.

Who it’s best for: People who want access to a large library or songs and videos on demand and don’t need to do anything else with their phones while they’re listening with the app. It’s also a great option for listening to your own music files on the go.

Spotify

Spotify is a dominant player in the music streaming industry, rivaled only by Apple Music. One thing that sets it ahead: a free tier, which Apple Music lacks. Like most of the services on this list, Spotify makes you put up with ads, but it has an appealing option where you can play a longer ad to get 30 minutes of uninterrupted listening.

The company is famous for its music recommendation engine, and free users can take full advantage of it. The app learns what kind of music you like as you listen and recommends daily and weekly playlists based on your tastes. Spotify invested heavily in podcasts over the past few years as well, so it can work as a hub for both kinds of audio, and you’ll get access to some exclusive content.

If you listen on a computer, you can play individual songs on demand, but the phone app limits you to playlists and stations.

Drawbacks: The biggest difference between the free and paid tiers (aside from the ads) is the fact that you can’t pick individual tracks on the phone app. If you just want to listen to Queen on the go, Spotify’s free service has you covered. But if it has to be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” you’ll need to wait for it to come up on a playlist, and you can skip only six tracks per hour. Free users are also limited to a lower audio quality level and can’t download tracks to listen to offline.

Who it’s best for: People who want recommendations for new music and want to listen to songs on demand on their computers.

Pandora

Pandora was a pioneer in music streaming. When it first launched, it was one of the only services with an algorithmically tailored recommendation engine that would learn what you enjoy and recommend new music in a radio-style stream.

Today, Pandora has a paid tier that lets users listen to songs on demand, but it still operates the same free service that made it famous in the early 2000s. You can create stations based on genres, artists, and songs, and train it to your tastes with thumbs-up and thumbs-down buttons. You’ll need to listen to ads after playing a few songs.

Drawbacks: On the free version of Pandora, you need to sit through an ad if you want to listen to a specific song, skip backward on a radio station, or repeat a track you just listened to. The service also limits how many times you can skip tracks, and free users can’t make or share playlists.

Who it’s best for: People who want a radio-station-style listening experience and want to discover new songs and artists.

Idagio

Idagio is geared purely toward classical music. Other platforms can struggle to organize classical because they ignore factors such as conductors, soloists, and individual movements within a larger piece. Idagio handles all of that with an interface built for classical music from the ground up.

You don’t have to be a Brahms expert to enjoy the service, especially when you can use it free. You can listen to Idagio’s entire library without paying a dime, and access playlists and recommendations curated for different moods and situations.

Idagio recommends music based on your taste as you use it. Classical is a diverse genre that spans centuries, but the service makes it easy to find something you’ll like.

Drawbacks: First, it’s classical music only. Also, the app will let free users listen only to playlists and radio stations, though you can play individual tracks with a free account if you’re using a web browser. Like most services, Idagio users can’t stream high-fidelity audio files on the free tier. And you can’t listen to Idagio on some speakers that stream over WiFi, such as Sonos, unless you sign up for a paid account. There are no restrictions on Bluetooth-connected devices.

Who it’s best for: Classical music fans or anyone who wants to dive deeper into the genre.

Amazon Prime Music

Technically, Amazon Prime Music isn’t free. But it comes with a service millions of Americans are already paying for.

Amazon Prime Music is a full-fledged music service with few of the built-in shortcomings you find in the free versions of other streaming platforms. There are no ads, you can skip as many tracks as you want, and you can download songs to listen to offline. Prime Music has playlists and curated recommendations based on what you listen to. Unlike the free tiers on some other services, such as Spotify, there’s no meaningful difference between listening in the mobile app and listening using the desktop browser.

Drawbacks: Amazon Prime Music gives you access to only 2 million songs. That might sound like a lot, but it’s limited in comparison to the libraries of most other streaming services, including Amazon’s own paid streaming service, Amazon Music Unlimited, which has 75 million. Prime Music might not have all of your favorite tracks, but you should be able to find something you like.

Who it’s best for: Amazon Prime members who don’t mind a somewhat limited music selection.

How to Listen

Whichever service you choose, you’ll have a better time with your music if you play it on equipment that sounds great. Here are a few of the best-rated headphones and speakers from CR’s ratings.


Headshot image of Electronics editor Thomas Germain

Thomas Germain

I want to live in a world where consumers take advantage of technology, not the other way around. Access to reliable information is the way to make that happen, and that's why I spend my time chasing it down. When I'm off the clock, you can find me working my way through an ever-growing list of podcasts. Got a tip? Drop me an email ( thomas.germain@consumer.org) or follow me on Twitter ( @ThomasGermain) for my contact info on Signal.