A woman on a sofa wearing headphones to listen to music streaming.

There are a lot of music streaming services to choose from, and most of them have more similarities than differences, giving you access to a wide variety of songs for around $10 per month. But some options appeal more to people with specific interests, and companies continually roll out new features to fight for consumers’ attention.

For instance, Google and Amazon have both launched free versions of their services, and Amazon’s latest update offers a high-quality tier, called Amazon Music HD, that competes with Tidal’s audiophile niche.

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Meanwhile, older players such as SiriusXM have revamped their services, and our list includes two platforms for fans of classical music.

Most music streaming services offer an unpaid trial period. Many also offer a free tier; check out Consumer Reports' guide to free music streaming for details.

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 HD
• Amazon Music Unlimited & Prime Music
• Apple Music
• Idagio
• LiveXLive
• Pandora
• Primephonic
• SiriusXM
• Spotify
• Tidal
• YouTube Music

Amazon Music HD

Price: The new Amazon Music HD is an optional upgrade to the company’s main streaming service.

It costs $15 per month ($13 for Prime members) for individuals, with family plans running $20. New customers can take a free 90-day test drive. You can also score a discount if you pay for an annual plan.

In addition to the library of tracks you get with Amazon Music Unlimited, Music HD provides the option to stream files at a higher bit rate, which can make for better sound quality.

However, we’ve found that the difference in sound with higher-quality files is perceptible only on great audio equipment. Think speakers and headphones that earn an Excellent score in our ratings. It’s worth noting that some devices might not support HD streaming, though most new devices should do fine. (See Amazon’s FAQ for details.) 

Who it’s best for: Those who want to stream audiophile-quality sound. 

Pros: You get access to 60 million files that can be streamed at up to 850 kilobits per second (Kbps), more than double the maximum you find on most other services. The real prize is the selection of “millions” of tracks that can be streamed in uncompressed, 24-bit lossless FLAC (Free Lossless Audio Codec) files. 

Amazon Music HD is cheaper than Tidal’s high-res plan, which costs $20 per month. 

Cons: Files compressed at a higher bit rate can sound better, but the differences are subtle once you go higher than about 320 Kbps. The streaming quality you’ll find on basic services will probably satisfy most listeners.

And, of course, high-quality files can burn through your data. Stick to WiFi or read carefully if your phone plan isn’t unlimited.


Amazon Music Unlimited & Prime Music

Price: Prime Music is included with Amazon Prime, Amazon’s paid subscription service that costs $13 per month or $119 per year.

Amazon Music Unlimited costs $8 per month for Prime members, $10 per month for non-Prime members. In addition to a free three-month trial and a family plan for the service, you can receive a special rate of $4 per month if you sign up via an eligible Amazon Echo device.

The one caveat: You can use Music Unlimited only on that single device.

Alexa voice assistant users without a Prime account can also access free, ad-supported playlists and stations by asking Alexa to play music.

Who it’s best for: Amazon Prime members.

Pros: Both are ad-free, on-demand services. Amazon Music Unlimited gives you access to 60 million songs, thousands of hand-curated playlists, and personalized stations. If you have an Amazon speaker, you can summon songs using Alexa and get some additional content, such as commentary from selected artists.

Cons: The dual music plans can be confusing. Prime Music has more than 2 million songs, but that’s still a thinner selection than what other streaming services offer.


Apple Music

Price: Individuals pay $10 per month; it 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 60 million songs that can be accessed on devices running macOS, Windows, iOS, or Android. Human curators create a variety of themed playlists that help users discover new music.

Apple Music sometimes has exclusive early releases of new music from popular artists. For now, Apple Music is the only service that will stream directly from a HomePod (Apple’s smart speaker) without needing to connect your phone. It also has a novel feature that lets you search for songs using lyrics, which is useful if you can’t remember the title.

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.

If you have a Google Home smart speaker, you won’t be able to listen to Apple Music directly from the speaker. However, you can set up Apple Music on a smartphone or computer and stream music to the speaker over Bluetooth.


Idagio

Price: Idagio costs $10 per month and comes with a free two-week trial period so that you can try the service before you commit. Students can get 50 percent off, and there’s also a free tier.

Who it’s best for: Like Primephonic, described below, Idagio is meant for fans of classical music.

Pros: Idagio makes it easy to dig up your favorite classical tracks, whether you want to search by composer, performers, or other factors, such as recording date. Services such as Apple Music and Spotify have plenty of classical music, but it’s much harder to find a specific track.

Idagio also has a number of browsing tools, such as curated playlists and the option to sort by various instruments. Idagio lets you choose to stream high-quality audio files at no extra charge.

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


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—the new name for the service previously 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.


Pandora

Price: The streaming radio feature is free with ads or $5 per month without ads. For $10 per month, you get ad-free streaming radio and access to an on-demand library. 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, which you can then tweak to match your tastes. Apps are available for most major platforms, including web browsers, Android and iOS smartphones, and most smart speakers.

Cons: Pandora’s maximum audio quality isn’t as high as that of some of its competitors.


Primephonic

Price: Primephonic charges two different rates, depending on audio quality: $10 per month for lower-quality files (320-Kbps MP3s) or $15 per month for higher-quality files (lossless 24-bit FLACs). The service offers a free 14-day trial.

Who it’s best for: Classical music die-hards. Like Idagio, listed above, Primephonic is designed to suit the idiosyncrasies of the genre. It can be hard to find your favorite recording of a beloved Rachmaninov concerto on more mainstream services, even though they might work perfectly well for tracking down that fifth official remix of “Old Town Road.” On Primephonic, the search tools handle the naming conventions of classical tracks with ease.

Pros: Primephonic is simple and intuitive. New albums are added frequently, and there’s a variety of playlists, some curated by well-known artists. Primephonic puts a particular focus on new releases and more obscure artists and labels, which is a nice bonus for listeners who are always hunting for something new. The optional high-quality streaming package will be attractive to many users as well.

Cons: Primephonic might not work as your only source for music streaming because it has only classical music. The service has apps for mobile devices, but there’s no desktop app, so you’ll need to open a web browser to listen on a computer. And audiophiles may be put off by the extra money required to access Primephonic’s lossless audio streaming when its chief competitor Idagio doesn’t charge for it. The sound quality of the basic package should be more than enough for most users, however.


SiriusXM Essential and SiriusXM Premier

Price: SiriusXM has recently launched “Outside the Car” packages that let users without satellite radios listen using an app or a web browser.

The Essential package costs $8 per month and gives you access to hundreds of channels, including comedy, sports, talk radio, on-demand shows, and commercial-free music with skippable tracks. For $22, you can upgrade to All Access, which adds two dedicated Howard Stern channels and play-by-play sports, which are missing from the Essential package, as well as stream to a satellite radio in a car.

There’s no free trial, but there are discounted rates for the first few months of either package.

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 options that will almost certainly 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 choose from a total of 10 subscription options with a confusing variety of offerings, optional add-ons, and hidden fees. The SiriusXM app and web interface are also 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 60 million tracks. Students pay a discounted rate of $5 and get free access to Hulu (with commercials). 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 making a bid for the podcasting market as well, and hosts some exclusive shows such as podcasts from Michelle 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 the Sony PlayStation 4 game console. 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.


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 60 million songs and 250,000 videos.

Cons: $20 per month is steep, especially when Prime Members can get Amazon Music HD for $13. You 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. Also, though Tidal has a wide selection of tracks that will stream at CD quality, the entire library isn’t available in high resolution. You also can’t upload your own songs.


YouTube Music

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

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

Who it’s best for: Heavy Google users, particularly those who spend a lot of time listening to music or watching videos on YouTube. And like Spotify, the free version of YouTube Music is one of the few options for users who want to listen to songs on demand.

Pros: What sets YouTube Music apart is users’ ability to upload up to 100,000 of their own audio files to stream from the cloud, free of charge. With the demise of Google Play Music, YouTube Music would be the best option for people with a collection of tracks that you can’t find on streaming services.

Like other services, YouTube music also grants access to a large library of songs, personalized playlists, and music videos available via mobile and desktop apps. Location-based playlists will even suggest songs—think high-tempo music at the gym—at appropriate times. The premium tier offers extras, such as the ability to download music and videos for offline use.  

Cons: On the free tier of YouTube Music, you can’t lock your phone screen or switch over to another app or the music stops, unless you’re listening to music you uploaded yourself. YouTube Music and YouTube Premium are also accessed via separate apps, which could be cumbersome for some users.

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.

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1MORE E1001 Triple Driver

Price: $70

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Marshall Monitor Bluetooth

Price: $250

Sound quality
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Edifier S1000DB

Price: $350

Sound quality
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JBL Flip 4

Price: $80

Sound quality
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