The best ways to stream
Picking a streaming music service isn't exactly easy, as most offer similar sets of features, and while some are dying (RIP Groove Music) and some are eliminating features (Amazon's Music Storage is going bye-bye) some are gaining new payment plans. So while most offer millions of songs, playlists made just for you and the option to save music for offline listening, what makes each truly unique? We'll get you familiar with the reasons why you'd like a service (and why you might not like it), as well as the price of entry.
Latest News & Updates: We've got details on a Prime Music Unlimited discount for Prime Student members.
MORE: Best Streaming Services
Best for most folks: Spotify
With more than 232 million active users (and more than 108 million pay), Spotify is the most popular music service. As long as your tech can play music, it’s likely it supports Spotify. Native Spotify support is built into so many devices that Spotify made a website to index them all. Also, Spotify's recent acquisitions of Anchor and Gimlet Media show that Big Green wants to be the king of all audio forms by betting big on podcasts.
Price: Free with ads and limits, $9.99 per month (or $99 per year) for Spotify Premium, $14.99 for families (six accounts) and $4.99 for students.
The Catch: Apple's upcoming HomePod speaker does not support it, and Spotify customers have long stood in the shadows while artists have released music as exclusives to other platforms such as Apple Music and Tidal.
Best for Apple users: Apple Music
Users firmly set in the Apple hardware world have a fine built-in option, and 60 million of them are currently paying for the services, though that pales to the 108 million giving Spotify a monthly payment. It’s the default music app on an iPhone, and Apple TV and Apple Watch don't have apps for Spotify, Tidal, Amazon Music Unlimited or Google Play. Also, it's the only music service that you can command via Siri, when your hands are busy cooking a meal or handling another task. And if you've collected a lot of rare tunes (such as bootleg live recordings), you can upload them via iCloud Music Library, one of the two remaining cloud locker features from the major services.
Price: $9.99 per month, $14.99 for families (six accounts) and $4.99 for students; $99 for a year.
The Catch: There's no free version, and you'll have to use iTunes on a Mac or PC if you want to use it on the desktop, as there's no web-browser version.
Best for audiophiles: Tidal
If you connect your laptop or smartphone to high-end headphones or speakers, Tidal is the only service you need to consider. Sure, it also attracts those who can't wait for exclusivity deals to end on albums such as Beyoncé's "Lemonade" and Jay-Z's "4:44," but it's not the only service that lords albums over its competition.
Price: $9.99 per month ($4.99 per month for students and $14.99 per month for five-account family plans); $19.99 per month for Hi-Fi lossless ($9.99 per month for students and $29.99 per month for five-account family plans).
The Catch: Lossless streaming costs $19.99 per month, twice as much as every other service. Also, you might get burned if you expect Tidal exclusives to last forever. A Billboard report claims that co-owner Jay-Z's recent album "4:44" will arrive on other services, including Apple Music, one week after its release.
Best for YouTube addicts: Google Play Music
Google Play Music's best weapon is its most secret: free access to the ad-free YouTube Red experience. Yes, the service first lured me with its included cloud-storage option for my library of MP3s, but that's also offered by Apple Music. Another neat perk: It uses time of day and location to suggest tunes. And now that Amazon's dropping its Music Storage feature, Google Play is one of two remaining major services that allow users to store their own tunes in the cloud, as Apple's iCloud Music Library still works in tandem with Apple Music.
Also, expect Google Play Music to merge with YouTube Red in the near or not-too-distant future. While answering a question about increasing YouTube Red's popularity, Lyor Cohen -- Google's head of music -- told audiences at a conference in New York that "The important thing is combining YouTube Red and Google Play Music, and having one offering."
Price: Free with ads, $9.99 per month, $14.99 for families (six accounts)
The Catch: Support on connected devices is limited, as it's mostly for PCs, Macs, iOS and Android.
Best for Prime households: Amazon Music Unlimited
If you already subscribe to Amazon Prime, you can get the best deal for an ad-free on-demand streaming service from Amazon Music Unlimited, which gets bumped down to $7.99 per month, or $79 per year. That's $2 less per month than Spotify Premium, and $20 less than Apple's annual plan. And if you don't want to pay extra, Amazon Prime subscribers have free access to the 2-million-song library in Prime Music. Alexa owners will also love this service, as you can search through the service by talking in natural language. Amazon Music Unlimited boasts "more than 50 million songs."
Price: Free limited library with Prime, $7.99 per month with Prime, $9.99 per month for non-Prime members, $79 per year with Prime, $14.99 per month for six family members or $149 per year for six family members. Also, its $3.99 per month Single Device plan provides unlimited access to Amazon's 50 million track library on one eligible Echo or Fire TV device. A new deal for Prime Student members nets college students the Prime Music Unlimited package for just $0.99 more per month.
The Catch: Amazon killed off its cloud-based Music Storage service. Users can no longer upload songs, and Amazon disabled the streaming or downloading of uploaded tracks.
Best for laid-back listeners: Pandora Premium
The most recent entry to the streaming music market, Pandora Premium takes the service's proactive recommendation engine and applies it to the same library of tunes you'll find anywhere else. Except it works a little harder to make sure you see only the tunes that it thinks you want to. Also, it really wants you to be listening to music as fast as possible, and often will automatically play the song you were last listening to when you open up the app.
Price: $9.99 per month, $109.89 per year; Family pricing: $14.99 per month or $164.89 per year, 6 accounts
The Catch: Pandora sometimes takes a day or two extra to get new releases online, as it's trying to apply its Music Genome Project first.
Dead: Groove Music Pass
On Oct. 2, Microsoft announced that December 31st will be the day that its Groove Music died. The streaming service lost any significant unique features once Microsoft allowed Spotify onto the Xbox app store. Microsoft says it will provide tools to make it easy for Groove users to export their playlists to Spotify.
Best for FM radio fans: iHeartRadio All Access
For those that want the perks of a streaming service combined with all their favorite FM radio stations (or at least those owned by iHeartRadio, formerly ClearChannel), there's iHeartRadio All Access. It is available in two flavors: the fully featured $9.99 All Access, and the $4.99 Plus version, which doesn't offer offline listening, and features a smaller library.
Price: $4.99 for Plus, $9.99 per month for All Access
The Catch: Even with a premium account, those radio station streams are peppered with all the ads you'd hear if you listened normally. When testing the service out, I heard a string of 10 ads in a row before hearing a single song.