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Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which is the best music app?

Apple Music vs. Spotify
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple Music or Spotify? The question of which is the best music streaming app used to be easier to answer: Apple’s cloud locker feature and deep Apple device integration was appealing, but Spotify’s bigger library and extensive social media integration made it a deserved category leader.

Now, though, it’s not so clear. Apple has made big strides in improving its library and feature set, and the recent news of Apple Music adding both spatial audio and lossless audio in June looks set to overshadow the rival Spotify HiFi launch. This Apple Music vs. Spotify face-off will compare both services as they currently stand, to find out if Spotify remains king or if Apple Music deserves your subscription instead.

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Price

The pricing for each Spotify and Apple Music is very similar, with one big difference: the former offers a free starting tier. However, Spotify's free option will interrupt your listening with recorded ads, as well as ads within the app, while paying for the Premium tier will get rid of both. Check out our Spotify Free vs. Premium comparison for the full rundown of differences.

Spotify also offers a Premium Duo package, aimed at 2-person households. It includes the Duo Mix playlist, an automatically produced set of tunes based on the users' listening habits.

Note that signing up the Apple Music annual plan is a bit of an arcane process: you first need to sign up to a monthly plan, then switch to annual billing in the app or through your Apple device's account settings. You can find full instructions for this on the Apple support site.

Apple Music vs Spotify: At a glance


Apple Music
Spotify
Starting Price
$9.99 per monthFree
Price for offline mode, no ads
$9.99 per month
$9.99 per month
Student Price$4.99 per month
$4.99 per month
'Duo' Household-$12.99 per month, 2 accounts
Family Package$14.99 per month, 6 accounts
$15.99 per month, 6 accounts
Annual Plan
$99 per year
$99 per year
Exclusives
Works with Siri on the HomePod/HomePod mini; Apple Music 1 Radio; Cloud music locker; spatial audio (from June 2021)Available on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X, Xbox Series S and Xbox One; Spotify Studios podcasts

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Music library

Apple Music and Spotify both feature massive libraries, but Apple claims the advantage with "over 75 million" songs to Spotify's "over 70 million." The latter also includes around 2.6 million podcast titles, whereas there's an entirely separate Apple Podcasts service; Apple Music therefore definitely has more pure music tracks in total.

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Spotify is everywhere

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

However, Apple Music has also moved away from its initial focus on exclusive (or timed-exclusive) album launches, with then-Apple executive Jimmy Iovine admitting in 2017 that "The labels don’t seem to like it." Likewise, Spotify's exclusive content is mainly limited to podcasts, so there's immense overlap between the two services on music content.

Technically this is a win for Apple on sheer numbers, but unless you’ve got particularly eclectic tastes, you’re extremely like to to find the artists you want on either platform.

Winner: Apple Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Music quality

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Lossless Apple Music

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple has not formally announced the bitrates its songs stream at, but locally-saved files are 256 kbps AAC files, the same format as tracks purchased from iTunes. Spotify streams songs at three different rates (~96 kbps, ~160 kbps and ~320 kbps) all in the Ogg Vorbis format, though the highest caliber is limited to paid Premium subscribers.

This could change once both platforms launch their lossless audio services. Spotify HiFi has neither a release date nor any available specs, but but Apple Music will provide several options ranging from “CD-quality” 16-bit/44.1kHz up to 24-bit/192kHz, or true Hi-Res Audio. 

For now though, your headphones or speakers will have more of a difference on sound quality than Apple or Spotify’s file types. And that's especially true when not all headphones will support Apple Music's lossless option, as Apple's wireless AirPods, even the AirPods Max, won't. Spotify HiFi will also likely require wired headphones for the best benefit, though Spotify notes that Spotify Connect-enabled speakers will support it. Check out our picks of the best headphones, best Bluetooth speakers and best computer speakers to make sure you’re getting the best experience.

Winner: Draw

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Cloud locker

Apple Music's biggest special feature is the iCloud Music Library, which allows MP3 collectors to access their libraries of rare tracks wherever they go. While the service's original rollout was hampered by collection-distorting bugs, it's currently a useful feature that helps the service stand out from the pack.

Spotify is supposed to allow you to listen to your MP3s within the app itself, but this has never worked that smoothly, and definitely doesn't allow you to upload tracks.

Winner: Apple Music

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Browser playback

Thankfully, Apple no longer demands you install iTunes, and currently lets you listen in a browser just as Spotify does. Both browser versions let you browse their respective libraries, access your playlists and play “Made for you” content, just like their app counterparts.

Winner: Draw

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Availability

Both services have worked on widening their availability in recent years. In addition to the expected devices like phones, tablets, PCs and Macs, Spotify content can be played via your games consoles. That goes for the most recent PS5, Xbox Series X and Xbox Series S, as well as older consoles like the Xbox One series and the PS4. Early in 2021 Spotify also launched the Car Thing, a small touchscreen device you can install in any car to play music and podcasts from.

Apple Music vs. Spotify: HomePod Mini

(Image credit: Apple)

Apple Music has its own automative solution in Apple CarPlay, though this needs to be built-in to the car itself; you can’t just add CarPlay to any old clunker. Still, Apple Music also claims an impressive breadth of supportive devices, from the Apple HomePod and HomePod mini to the Apple TV 4K and Apple Watch.

Spotify also works on smartwatches ranging from Fitbit and Garmin models to more fashion-minded Samsung and Google Wear OS wearables. It’s getting better in this regard too, as Spotify is getting offline listening on Wear OS devices as well as the Apple Watch.

Either way you’re spoiled for choice, through thanks to its bonus games console support, Spotify edges this one.

Winner: Spotify

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Playlists and curated content

When it comes to user-curated playlists, Apple and Spotify are essentially on parity. Both will present you with personalized playlists, like Spotify’s Daily Mix lists and Apple Music’s Get Up! And Chill mixes. Both services will also recommend songs and artists you haven’t listened to yet, but might like based on your listening preferences.

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Podcasts

(Image credit: Spotify)

The Apple Music 1 (previously known as Beats 1) radio station also serves as a potential source of new music, though since it functions like a traditional radio station — fronted by veteran DJs like Zane Lowe and Ebro Darden — its content is curated for the Apple Music subscriber base as a whole. Spotify’s version of “radio” is essentially just playlists, curated for certain genres, topics and tastes.

Winner: Draw

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Social media

One of Spotify's clearest wins is its wealth of social sharing features. You can easily share Spotify content as Instagram and Facebook stories, post album art on Snapchat (which then links friends and followers to the song) or create links and scannable, QR-like Spotify Codes to share music and playlists on any messaging platform.

Apple Music lets you share playlists with other registered users over AirDrop, or create content links to post wherever you want, but its social media integration is much more basic than Spotify’s. If you’re not overly keen with sharing your listening habits with the world, that might not be an issue, but it’s all optional on both platforms.

Winner: Spotify 

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Design

Apple Music vs. Spotify design

(Image credit: Apple Music / Spotify)

Ever since Apple Music’s big redesign for iOS 10, it's design is close to Spotify in a lot of respects. Both employ large images in an almost tile-like UI, with a navigation bar the bottom of the screen for quick access to your music library or the respective search function.

Honestly, the main difference here is purely aesthetic. Apple Music favors a light, bright and white look with high-contrast text, while Spotify has long stuck to its darker black/grey color scheme with flashes of neon green.

Winner: Draw

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Value

If you don’t want to pay for streaming music and you’re OK with ads, Apple’s insistence on not having a free plan will keep you using Spotify. New users can try Apple Music for free for 3 months, which is more generous than Spotify Premium’s 1-month free trial, but after than you’ll need to subscribe.

For those who are willing to pay, the field is currently more balanced. Apple Music and Spotify Premium are both $9.99 a month for individual accounts, and while Spotify’s Family plan is more expensive, it’s only by a single dollar per month. Both services also offer a $.99 monthly subscription for students.

However, keep in mind that the balance could tip, depending on what Spotify does with HiFi service. Because Apple is planning to make both lossless audio and spatial audio available to all its existing subscribers, at no extra charge, it’s set to simply offer more than Spotify Premium does at the same price. If Spotify HiFi was folded into the existing Spotify Premium tier that would keep things somewhat even, but Apple Music will still have the spatial audio advantage. And, if Spotify HiFi is a separate, more expensive, tier, Apple Music will simply be more cost-effective for those that want higher-quality tunes.

Winner: Draw (for now)

Apple Music vs Spotify: Which is the better music app?

Apple Music vs. Spotify: What's right for you?

We first ran an Apple Music vs. Spotify comparison a few years ago, and Spotify comfortably won, on the back of its curated content, value for money and wealth of supported hardware.

Credit to Apple Music, then, for closing the gap. It’s behind on social features, and lacks native support for games consoles, but changing its approach from consumer-unfriendly exclusives to more thoughtfully curated content streams has paid off. It’s also wisely gained a browser version and remains the better choice for those who like to hoard their music files.

Unfortunately for anyone hoping for a clear winner, Apple Music’s improvements ultimately put it on level terms with Spotify, rather than blowing past it. The good news is this just means you have two equally good choices, but if there’s really only room in your life for the absolute best music app, stay tuned. Both platforms are launching their lossless services soon, and this could be the deciding factor.

Apple Music vs. Spotify: Scorecard


Apple MusicSpotify
Music Library
Music Quality (bitrate)
Cloud Locker
Browser Playback
Supported Hardware
Playlists
Social Integration

Design
Price
Total77