Apple Music vs Spotify: Which Is the Best Music Service?

Updated June 18: Apple and Spotify just gained access to the Beyonce and Jay-Z album Everything Is Love, ending a very short Tidal exclusive window.

While Spotify's ubiquity and social media integration made it the established leader in streaming music, Apple Music's cloud locker, live radio and deeper Apple device integration make it a worthy competitor.

Is Apple Music compelling enough to warrant switching over? Is Spotify's gaming console support enough to keep users on Team Green? We've used both, and while the services are quite similar in some ways, each have some benefits over the other.


Apple Music
Spotify
Starting Price
$9.99 per monthFree
Price for offline mode, no ads
$9.99 per month
$9.99 per month
Student Discount
$4.99 per month
$4.99 per month
Family Package
$14.99 per month, 6 accounts
$14.99 per month, 6 accounts
Annual Plan
$99 per year
$99 per year
Exclusives
Works with Siri on the HomePod; Beats 1 Radio; Carpool Karaoke; Cloud music locker
Available on PlayStation 3, PS4 and Xbox One; Showstopper podcast


Music Library

Apple Music and Spotify both feature massive libraries, but Apple claims more, with 45 million tracks against Spotify's "more than 35 million" songs. Still, neither library has any major exclusives. Apple used to offer high-profile albums (such as Chance The Rapper's "Coloring Book" and Taylor Swift's "1984") months before others, but it hasn't provided an exclusive in a while. Recently, Tidal sported an extremely short (36-hour) exclusive on the Beyoncé and Jay-Z album "Everything Is Love," which is now on both Apple and Spotify.

Some criticize exclusives as bad for fans, but Spotify's reluctance to deal in exclusives has meant its users have had to develop some patience over the years. Reports suggest recent contract renegotiations between Spotify and the major record labels will lead to the service putting a paywall around certain new releases, though that has yet to be seen.

Winner: Draw

Music Quality

Apple has not formally announced the bitrates that 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 kbpsand ~320 kbps) all in the Ogg Vorbis format, though the highest caliber is limited to paid Premium subscribers.

Reports suggest Spotify is testing a pricier lossless audio quality format tier, though we've yet to see any confirmation.

Winner: Draw

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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

Browser Playback

If you want to listen to Apple Music, you must install iTunes, the slow, bulky media app that Apple continues to push. Spotify users have things a lot easier, as the service can stream through a web browser.

Yes, Apple laptops come with iTunes preloaded, but what about all the other laptops and desktops? More specifically, what about office computers, where users often don't get the permissions to install new apps?

Winner: Spotify

Availability

Available on almost every device that can play music (including phones, tablets, connected devices, and PlayStation consoles), Spotify has an impressively wide reach. Apple Music can be found on all Apple devices (iPhones, iPads, Macs, the 4th Gen Apple TV and the Apple Watch) as well as on PCs and Android devices, and Macs and PCs, as well as automobiles with Apple CarPlay.

Spotify won't be available on Apple's upcoming Siri-based Homepod speaker, reminding us that Apple's digital assistant can't be used to control any services other than Apple Music. So, if you want Siri to be your DJ, you're limited to Apple Music.

Gamers, though, win big on Spotify, as it can be connected to both PlayStation and Xbox One consoles (no services stream to the Switch). Until recently, Xbox gamers had to rely on Microsoft's Groove Music, but that service will end in December, and Microsoft is helping users move their playlists to Spotify.

Winner: Spotify

Playlists, Curated Content

When it comes to user-curated playlists, Apple and Spotify are slowly reaching parity. Spotify's Discover Weekly and Release Radar playlists collect music you've not listened to (but might like) and newly released tracks that match their tastes. Apple's responded with its Favorites Mix and New Music Mix.

While Spotify's got six Your Daily Mix playlists, Apple Music's offering its Beats 1 online radio station is a destination for artists to debut new music. Those big moments and interviews typically happen on Pharrell Williams' OtherTone show, Q-Tip's Abstract Radio, DJ Zane Lowe's regular programming and Drake's OVO Sound program. Spotify's take on radio stations offers automatically-generated playlists that generate by selecting an artist or song.

Winner: Draw

Social Media

One of Spotify's clearest wins, comes out ahead on social sharing, with its Facebook account integration that allows friends to track each other's listening habits and send links to songs. Apple Music gained some social integration, in iOS 11, allowing you to add friends and have their icons appear next to albums they're listening to, but Spotify's running ticker of your friends' activity can't be beat. Admittedly, this might be too friendly for some, and give them a reason to go to Apple Music.

Winner: Spotify 

Design

Redesigned in iOS 10, Apple Music's bright aesthetic focuses on big pictures and blocky text that's easy to read. Spotify's stayed pat over the years, as many love its now-signature black-and-neon-green aesthetic.

Both apps, though, have so much going on that you need to tap around a lot in order to find certain features, such as curated playlists.

Winner: Draw

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 three months (Spotify offers a similar 3 months for 99 cents trial), but after that, you'll need to subscribe.

Spotify's increasing the advertising shown to its users, though, with a new Sponsored Song feature currently in public testing. This will allow for record labels to pay to feature songs in the space above playlists.

For those who are willing to pay, the field is more balanced. Apple Music and Spotify Premium are both $10 a month for individual accounts (with $15 per month, six-account family plans) or $99 per year with $20 in savings (Spotify's just recently added an annual plan). Both services also off a $4.99 per month plan for students.

Winner: Spotify

Bottom Line

While both services offer a solid set of streaming features, neither does an amazing job of pulling users away from the other. While Apple Music supports those who hoard their music files, Spotify's got stronger appeal for those looking to see what their friends are into, and it's available on practically every kind of device.

Without a free version, though, Apple Music will likely have a hard time breaking the grip that Spotify has on many users.

Scorecard: Apple Music vs Spotify


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

Design
Price
Total58

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  • beingbenjamin
    I have used premium spotify for years but am continually frustrated by ongoing and known issues with syncing my library. Songs are greyest out and unplayable offline in spite of me owning them. Their app support for devices like play station and CarPlay are abysmal. If the free trial goes well, I'll switch and rebuild my playlists.
  • henrytcasey
    Anonymous said:
    I have used premium spotify for years but am continually frustrated by ongoing and known issues with syncing my library. Songs are greyest out and unplayable offline in spite of me owning them. Their app support for devices like play station and CarPlay are abysmal. If the free trial goes well, I'll switch and rebuild my playlists.


    Exactly, beingbenjamin. Spotify has failed routinely to play well with my iTunes library, or vice a versa (I can't tell who to blame), and the prospect of playlists comprised of songs in my library and songs in the Apple Music subscription server is a primary driver of my interest.
  • Per Sjofors
    Full disclosure: My company is America's must trusted advisor to set prices right. Here is a link to a project we did about a month ago on what people are willing to pay for various music streaming services. And yes, I too was very underwhelmed with their presentation.

    https://www.dropbox.com/s/ya0b...

    As you can see if you download the PDF presentation Apple underprice themselves. They had the chance to be a "good citizen" and give more money back to the industry. But decided to launch a me-too service. Sad. Maybe the first true nail in the Apple coffin.

    In the meantime I continue to use Tidal as they are the only service I know that stream full quality (lossless compression) FLAC files.