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.
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.
More: How to get Amazon Music free on your Echo
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.
Henry is a managing editor at Tom’s Guide covering streaming media, laptops and all things Apple, reviewing devices and services for the past seven years. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. He's also covered the wild world of professional wrestling for Cageside Seats, interviewing athletes and other industry veterans.
I got three streaming services amazon prime spotify and pandora.. I got pandora playing now, I use spotify once or twice a day.. amazon is limited service even tho I have bought most of my cd's from them.. tho half were were purchased through sub partners with amazon which aren't included with amazons own library. I had pandora for + ten years used the free service first and then became a subscriber..Reply
19858598 said:I got three streaming services amazon prime spotify and pandora.. I got pandora playing now, I use spotify once or twice a day.. amazon is limited service even tho I have bought most of my cd's from them.. tho half were were purchased through sub partners with amazon which aren't included with amazons own library. I had pandora for + ten years used the free service first and then became a subscriber..
That's interesting, about how the best one is the one you actually use.
Pandora has been molded over the years into my main music streaming service.. Spotify.. they are quick learners.. seems to be hard branch away from one type and style of music and or sound, but we are getting closer. Amazon prime is different..yes I have purchased many of my cd's from them and some on file with there service. The thing is they want to sell more that just play, they rarely introduce new stuff. But prime also streams movies and tv shows.. along with there huge online department store.. its good and bad..Reply
Why no mention of Napster? I really it's steaming service. The apps for Windows 10 and iOS are far from perfect but they do the job with relative ease and pricing is comparable to the other services($9.99/mo)Reply
I emailed Pandora about this and got a BS no-response answer. I understand why some songs began as unavailable, it is based off of the contract they had as a radio station. Everything they've ever posted spoke to that slowly going away. At no point did they ever note that it was going to go the other way.Reply
This morning I woke to find an artist I like (Enter the Haggis) went from playable to radio only. When I emailed Pandora they completely game me some BS PR non answer crap. Did they loose some contract or contracts? Why would this happen. Also a extra day or two is nice... I've been waiting for 3 months and counting for another album that every other service already has. I'm ready to give up on them, but I keep holding on because they have the lowest bandwidth stream.
You forgot about Slacker Radio. Slacker Plus is $3.99/mo for commercial free, or $24.99/yr if you pay in one installment.Reply
20436575 said:You forgot about Slacker Radio. Slacker Plus is $3.99/mo for commercial free, or $24.99/yr if you pay in one installment.
Sorry, I wasn't slacking when I left Slacker off. As I say in the intro, though, this round-up doesn't include service plans without on-demand listening, which disqualifies the 3.99/24.99 price plan from Slacker.
Slacker's $9.99 plan didn't catch our eye before because we can't see anything in it that distinguishes it from competitors. Hand-crafted and custom stations? They're everywhere. Ad-free and high quality (320k is what they max out according to them) audio? Also available everywhere.
Is there something about it that makes it stand out? We didn't want to include every single service here, only those from major players or those who do something to stand out.
I listen on Spotify now and again. I used to listen on Tidido, but apparently it was an illegal site (at least in the U.S.) and has been taken down.Reply