Best Music Streaming Services

How to choose among Apple Music, Spotify, Pandora, Tidal, and more

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Mature woman listening to music with headphones Photo: Richard Drury/Getty Images

The best music streaming services have a lot in common. A number of them offer about 70 million songs for about $10 per month, and they have similar features. Most music streaming services have an unpaid trial period, and many offer a free tier; check out CR’s guide to free music streaming for details.

One recent change is that high-quality files, once a rarity, are now becoming fairly commonplace. This provides a great example of how competition is good for consumers. After Spotify announced that higher-quality streaming was on the way, Apple revealed that its entire library would be available in lossless high fidelity a few months later. The next day, Amazon made its hi-fi streaming service a free benefit of its basic tier.

More on Music

That’s good news for audiophiles, though regular streaming quality will probably satisfy most listeners. (You need great equipment to hear the differences between high-quality audio and totally uncompressed lossless files. They’re huge files that can eat up your cellphone data, too.)

On the other hand, the music streaming business may be starting to consolidate. SiriusXM bought Pandora in 2019, and Apple just purchased Primephonic, a classical music streaming service we used to recommend.

Apple says it will launch its own classical app next year, and the Primephonic app is shutting down Sept. 7. Current Primephonic subscribers will get a free six-month trial for Apple Music and can expect a refund. For years, consumers have benefited as music streaming companies used perks and new features to fight for the public’s attention, but that trend may slow down if the number of companies competing in the streaming industry continues to shrink.

For now, there are still a lot of options to consider. Here, we’ve laid out what sets each streaming service apart. Scroll through, or click the links below to jump to the details on a particular service.

Amazon Music Unlimited and Amazon Prime Music

Price: Prime Music is included with Amazon Prime, Amazon’s paid subscription service that costs $13 per month or $119 per year. It has a library of 2 million songs.

Amazon Music Unlimited costs $8 per month for Prime members or $10 per month for non-Prime members. There’s a free three-month trial and a discounted family plan. You can also get a special rate of $4 per month if you sign up for the Single Device Plan via an eligible Amazon Echo device.

You can also access free, ad-supported playlists and stations by asking an Alexa smart assistant to play music.

Who it’s best for: Amazon Prime members and anyone looking for a bargain.

Pros: Both are ad-free, on-demand services, and if you already have a Prime subscription, Amazon Music Unlimited is the best deal you can get. Unlimited has over 75 million songs, curated playlists, podcasts, and personalized stations. That entire library can now be streamed in high-definition, and 7 million tracks are available in 24-bit “Ultra HD.” That makes it the cheapest high-definition service right now, with or without a Prime account.

Cons: Amazon Music Unlimited doesn’t seem quite as effective in making recommendations as many of its competitors, Spotify in particular. And while you don’t have to pay for Prime Music, its 2 million songs amount to a thin selection compared with what you get from other streaming services.

Apple Music

Price: Individuals pay $10 per month; the service costs $15 for up to six family members. Apple Music also has a discounted rate of $5 for students. There is no free tier, but you can get a three-month free trial.

Who it’s best for: Consumers who already have large iTunes libraries or who are otherwise committed to the Apple ecosystem.

Pros: Apple Music has a library of 75 million songs that can be accessed on Apple, Windows, and Android devices. After a recent update, that entire library is available in lossless hi-fi at no extra charge. Some content also works with Dolby Atmos surround sound if you have a compatible device. Human curators create a variety of themed playlists that help users discover new music. Unsurprisingly, the Apple Music experience is particularly smooth on iPhones and Mac computers.

Apple just purchased Primephonic, a classical music streaming service built to handle the idiosyncrasies of the genre, such as track titles that don’t work as well in systems designed for contemporary music. Apple plans to bring some of Primephonic’s features to the Apple Music app, which could make it an excellent choice for fans of the genre. Apple says it’s also launching a standalone classical app next year, but it hasn’t revealed any details about the plan.

Cons: The desktop app for Windows computers is a little clunky. However, you can now listen to Apple Music in a browser for a more streamlined experience.

Idagio

Price: Idagio is a classical music streaming service that costs $10 per month. There’s a free two-week trial period so that you can try the service before you commit. Students can get 50 percent off, and Idagio also has a free ad-supported tier.

For $30 per month, you get access to Idagio’s exclusive online concerts, which sometimes feature leading performers.

Confusingly, the price to stream lossless audio quality depends on where you subscribe, either via a web browser, an iPhone, or an Android phone. In some cases it’s a free bonus of the basic tier; in others you have to pay more.

Who it’s best for: Idagio is meant for fans of classical music.

Pros: Idagio is built to suit the idiosyncrasies of the genre. It can be hard to find your favorite recording of a beloved Rachmaninoff concerto on more mainstream services, even though those services might work perfectly well for tracking your favorite Olivia Rodrigo remix. On Idagio, the search tools handle the naming conventions of classical tracks with ease.

Idagio also has a number of browsing tools, such as curated playlists and the option to sort by various instruments. Streaming high-quality audio files is another perk that may be free depending on how you subscribe (see above).

Cons: Idagio doesn’t have music that falls outside the realm of classical music, so you’re out of luck if you like some Springsteen with your Stravinsky.

For now, Idagio is a great choice for the genre, but it might be hard to justify paying for a separate classical music service in the near future. Apple Music just purchased Primephonic, a classical music streaming service that used to be Idagio’s main competitor. Apple plans to launch a standalone classical music service and roll many of Primephonic’s features into the Apple Music app.

LiveXLive

Price: Streaming radio is free with ads or $4 per month without ads. For $10, you also get access to an on-demand music library. There’s a student discount but no trial period for the paid service.

Who it’s best for: LiveXLive—formerly known as Slacker Radio—is similar to Pandora, and best for people who prefer a more laid-back listening experience and aren’t picky about exactly which song comes next. The service also focuses on streaming live performances, so subscribers may get access to streams from concerts where the service is a partner.

Pros: Access to a variety of stations, including ABC News and ESPN Radio, in addition to the usual music genres.

Cons: LiveXLive is geared toward listening to stations, not streaming tracks on demand. The app is a bit difficult to navigate, and the website can be a challenge as well. LiveXLive doesn’t advertise how many songs are in its library, which suggests its offerings may be more limited than those of leading competitors.

Pandora

Price: The streaming radio feature is free with ads. For $5 per month, you listen to streaming radio without ads, or specific songs with ads. The $10-per-month tier gets you access to the entire service ad-free. A $15 family plan is also available. Pandora offers free trial periods for the paid plans, and discounts for students and members of the military.

Who it’s best for: Paid subscribers can stream specific tracks, as they can on any other service, but Pandora works best for those who want tailored recommendations and the kind of hands-off listening experience you get with a live radio station. You don’t need to scroll through lists of songs or do a lot of searches—you just sit back and listen to what the service picks for you.

Pros: It’s easy to get started. Tell Pandora which artist you want to hear and it creates a channel with selections from that artist and others with similar styles; you can tweak the channel to match your tastes.

Cons: Pandora’s maximum audio quality isn’t as high as that of some of its competitors. Pandora doesn’t advertise how many songs are in its library, which suggests its offerings may be more limited than those of leading competitors.

SiriusXM Select and SiriusXM Premier

Price: SiriusXM is best known for its satellite radio service for cars, but it also has cheaper packages that let users listen through an app or a web browser.

The packages SiriusXM offers change so frequently it isn’t worth keeping track of the specifics. For around $11 per month you can get a subscription that will let you listen on your phone, with access to hundreds of channels, including music, comedy, sports, talk radio, on-demand shows, and ad-free music with skippable tracks. Sometimes that price gets you access to the Howard Stern channels (his new content is a SiriusXM exclusive), but sometimes you need to pay more for that.

There’s also an extra charge if you want to stream directly to a car radio (though you could just get the app and use Bluetooth if you have good cell service). Last we checked, that cost a total of $17 per month.

There are free trials, discounted rates for the first year, and family plans.

Who it’s best for: Consumers who like terrestrial radio stations but want more options and a commercial-free experience with the option of skipping tracks. SiriusXM is also the only game in town for Howard Stern fans.

Pros: SiriusXM has a wide variety of offerings that will probably be a significant upgrade over your local radio stations. And if you have good cell service on your commute, plus an unlimited data plan, you could stream to your car stereo from your phone. You’ll get cheaper access to the same content offered in the company’s satellite radio packages.

Cons: You have to call customer service to end your subscription, which was a convoluted, time-consuming process when we tried it. Choosing a package is also surprisingly complicated. When you factor in the satellite radio tiers, new users need to pick from numerous subscription choices with a confusing variety of offerings, optional add-ons, and hidden fees. The packages change constantly and details are hard to find, so you’ll never know for sure if you’re getting the best price. The SiriusXM app and web interface can also be more difficult to navigate than those of most competitors.

Spotify

Price: Users can stream music free with ads via desktop and web apps. The Premium tier, which costs $10 per month for individuals or $15 for up to six family members, grants ad-free on-demand access to Spotify’s library of 70 million tracks and 2.6 million podcasts. Students pay a discounted rate of $5 and get free access to Hulu (with commercials) and Showtime. A 30-day trial period is available.

Who it’s best for: Consumers who want to hear plenty of music on a variety of devices. The free tier is also one of the better options for users who don’t mind ads and want to listen to songs on demand. Spotify is also famous for its effective recommendation algorithm.

Spotify has doubled down on podcasts as well. The service is host to a variety of exclusive content, including shows from the likes of Barack Obama and Joe Rogan.

Pros: Spotify combines a large library of popular songs with a series of robust playlists. These playlists are often geared toward specific activities and genres, helping consumers find music for specific situations, such as the gym or long car trips. Podcasts and other original programming are also available. If you’re a student who also wants a TV streaming service, bundling with Hulu could save you money as well.

Spotify works with a variety of connected devices, including the Sonos One and Google Home Max smart speakers, as well as video game consoles. Desktop apps are available for macOS and Windows, and mobile apps are available for Android and iOS.

Cons: On a smartphone, users can stream playlists and stations free with ads, but on-demand song selection is limited to a small selection of tracks and you can skip only a certain number of songs per hour. You can’t connect Spotify directly from the Apple HomePod, though you can connect your phone to the smart speaker over Bluetooth and play Spotify that way.

Spotify says high-quality audio is coming “later this year,” but it isn’t available yet.

Tidal

Price: Tidal has many tiers. It starts at $10 per month for standard audio quality; $20 per month unlocks high-resolution audio. Discounted plans for families, students, and members of the military are available. The service offers a free one-month trial.

Who it’s best for: Music lovers who want high-quality audio (including high-res audio) and offline listening. The service is also great for hip-hop and R&B fans; its offerings are particularly comprehensive, including some exclusive material.

Pros: Tidal offers CD-quality and high-res audio (via HiFi, its top-tier service). Tidal’s library features 70 million songs and hundreds of thousands of videos.

Cons: The cost of $20 per month is steep, especially when lossless streaming doesn’t cost extra with the Amazon and Apple services. You also might not be able to hear the difference with the high-quality files if you don’t have excellent audio equipment. And even if you feel high-quality audio files are worth the price of admission, they can use up small cellular data plans pretty quickly.

YouTube Music

Price: YouTube Music is free with ads. YouTube Music Premium, which is ad-free, costs $10 per month for an individual or $15 per month for families. A free three-month trial is available. Discounts are available for students. People with a Google smart speaker can access free ad-supported playlists and stations without signing up by asking their device to play music.

Adding some potential confusion, there’s a separate service called YouTube Premium, which costs $12 per month. It includes the same music streaming service plus ad-free videos and some original video content.

Who it’s best for: First and foremost, people with a large collection of their own audio files. It’s the best option for anyone who wants to upload their own library and listen to it on the go without paying a fee. YouTube Music is also a great option if you’re considering paying to get rid of the ads on YouTube, the bundle makes for a nice discount. YouTube Music is also one of the few free options for listening to songs on demand.

Pros: What sets YouTube Music apart is the ability to upload up to 100,000 of your own audio files to stream from the cloud. You don’t have to pay anything to use this feature.

YouTube Music Premium gives you access to a library of 70 million songs, personalized playlists, and music videos. Location-based playlists will even suggest songs—think high-tempo music at the gym—at appropriate times.

Cons: There’s a major flaw to the free tier of YouTube Music. Unless you’re listening to tracks you uploaded yourself, you can’t lock your phone or switch to another app without the music stopping.

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.

Which music streaming services do you use?

Let us know in the comments section below.


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.