Which is the best music streaming service in the UK? Apple Music vs Spotify vs Rdio and more
As long as there have been digital music files there has been digital music piracy, with services like Napster becoming massive around a decade ago simply because the music industry couldn't keep up with the illegal distribution of its content.
However, thanks to cheap(ish) alternatives to illegal download services and the rise in online music streaming as a viable option, the music industry seems to have taken a firm hold on piracy in a way that movie studios are now replicating. The all-you-can-eat nature of streaming services is easy and accessible to all, thereby making torrent downloading and the like seem more of a fuss.
The most famous of the legal streaming options is Spotify, which has the likes of Oasis and Led Zeppelin on its virtual books. But there are plenty of others out there with different prices, catalogues, music quality and accessibility.
And thanks to the competition we're starting to see prices change and listening limits come off as everyone battles it out. The only problem is picking a service.
We've dug down into the music streaming services out there to help you find the best one for you.
In a nutshell: Apple Music is an upcoming service with access to over 30 million songs. Through the Connect feature, you'll also be able to access artist-uploaded content that isn't in iTunes yet (it's kind of like SoundCloud actually). The app has the folowing five tabs/features: For You, New, Radio, Connect, and My Music.
The new “For You” tab of Apple Music serves up a new mix of albums, new releases, and playlists. Apple hired music experts to create the perfect playlists based on your preferences. As for the "New" tab, it shows new albums and artists, as well as top charts. Another tab/feature in Apple Music is called Beats Connect.
It lets unsigned artists connect with fans and allows them to upload whatever they want. Siri has also been programmed to work with Apple Music. So, ask Siri to play the best songs from 1994... and she will do just that. If you want to discover more music, Apple Music has a 24-hour live radio station called Beats One.
You can access Beats One from the Radio tab in the app. It's led by DJs like Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga. Although Beats One is free, Apple Music's Radio tab, which gives you expertly-created stations created by radio DJs, requires a membership in order for you to skip as many songs as you like.
Another feature is Beats Connect; it lets unsigned artists connect with fans and allows them to upload what they want. Also, when using the app, you'll see all content displayed in two panes called the "All" tab (where the artist's entire library on iTunes is available) and "My Music" (where locally stored and owned content is displayed).
Price: Apple Music costs £9.99 a month per user. Apple has also made it possible for an entire family of six to have one account subscription for £14.99 a month. You can also get the first three months free via a trial.
Devices: Apple Music will be available for iOS, Mac, and PC devices in over 100 countries from 30 June. An Android version is also coming this autumn.
Conclusion: We expect Apple Music to shake up the music-streaming market. It is a single app that combines a streaming service with a worldwide live radio station. It also puts the iTunes catalogue at your fingertips, as well as your own ripped CDs. And everything lives in one place, so you can stream anything choose. You can even let Apple Music choose.
In a nutshell: This is the big guy in the music streaming world. Spotify has more than 20 million users and content deals with Sony, EMI, Warner and Universal - all since launching in 2008. Spotify comes in paid-for and ad-supported versions - both of which are available in app form. Spotify recently launched in Canada so it's still growing even now.
Spotify also offers Facebook integration so you can follow your friends to see what they're listening to. There's also a host of apps including Pitchfork, Rolling Stone and NME for discovering new music and reading up on the latest releases. Although the company has announced that these will be getting shut down as it transitions into its own offerings rather than third-party apps.
The latest iPad app offers Your Music cover flow style album collections of your saved music allowing you to save, organise and browse your collection.
Spotify also learns as you listen and through assocaitions can make recommendations based on your tastes. It has recently added a band merchandise store front for easy access to your favourite band's T-shirt, for example.
Price: Only six million of the total 20 million Spotify users actually pay for the service. It's available free on mobile, tablet and computer but comes with adverts. Paying subscribers are charged £10 a month but then can use Spotify anywhere, including offline on mobile devices, and don't have to listen to adverts. Previously Spotify limited the free trail perod and capped listening time, but it's done away with this as competition grows fiercer.
It is also soon to introduce Spotify Family which, for a discounted one-off fee yet to be officially revealed (but thought to be £20) one account holder can sign up a further three family members, so that all four of them have full Spotify Premium access and their own profiles. Additional members can be added at £5 a go too.
Devices: At the moment Spotify is available on, deep breath: Android, BlackBerry, Boxee, iOS, Linux, MeeGo, Microsoft Windows, Openpandora OS X, Roku, S60 (Symbian), Samsung Smart TV, Sonos, Squeezebox, Telia Digital-tv, TiVo, WD TV, webOS, Windows Mobile and Windows Phones. Home entertainment systems and even cars can also access Spotify.
The company has also announced a partnership with Sony to replace its Music Unlimited service with a Spotify-powered PlayStation Music service to launch in spring. It will initially be available on PS4, PS3 and Sony Xperia devices.
Conclusion: This is the most widely available music streaming platform that still offers a huge range of songs at a reasonable price. It's hard to see why anyone would want to shift. But with a streaming top end of 320kbit/s some might want even higher quality. That's where services like Qobuz come in.
In a nutshell: A French company that offers high-quality music streaming to the discerning audiophile. It delivers True CD quality at 16 bit/44.1kHz which can also be downloaded, and Studio Masters at 24 bit/192kHz. The service, which has been around since 2008, offers 28,000 labels and producers, serves 110,000 users, and has deals with EMI, Sony, Universal and Warner.
To clarify, Spotify goes up to 320kbit/s with its Extreme Quality stream. The basic level for Qobuz is at the equivalent of 1411.2kbit/s, while its Studio Master is at a whopping 2116.8kbit/s.
Price: For the same quality as Spotify it will cost £10 a month (or £100 for the year) - but there is a cheaper £5 a month option for Mac and PC only, without app access. For the premium quality service with True CD quality FLAC it will set you back £20 a month (or £200 for the year).
Devices: Qobuz will work on Mac and PC, offering FLAC, Apple Lossless or Windows Media files. Qobuz works with Sonos sound systems offering high-quality audio even in 5.1 surround. It is also available in app form for iOS and Android devices. Samsung has added functionality for its Wireless Audio Multiroom System.
Conclusion: If quality is of great importance to you, especially if you own a Sonos system, this is the service for you. It also represents a potential saving over Spotify if you pay annually.
In a nutshell: Deezer is another French company, this one started in 2007 and has 16 million monthly active users, five million of whom pay. Deezer boasts a whopping 35 million tracks in its library which are available in more than 182 countries. A new side bar allows one-click access to music library and Flow like and dislike helps refine recommendations to better suit. It also offers Deezer Elite for high-quality FLAC streaming of over 35 millions tracks in 150 countries. Deezer also offers over 20,000 news and entertainment shows after buying Stitcher and its radio programming.
Price: Deezer offers a free unlimited ad-supported service and, if you fancy trying out what the full paid subscription has to offer you can start with a one month free trial. This includes a radio service that streams tailored playlists but only allows six track skips per hour when used for free. Then it costs £10 a month for unlimited listening including mobile access, or £5 a month for computer access only.
It is currently offering a deal of £5 a month for the fist six months before reverting to the usual £10 a month - allowing you unlimited mobile access. There are also deals for Orange and EE customers. Deezer is currently offering a year's free service when you buy a Sonos speaker system.
A Deezer Elite service which gives access to 16-bit/44.1kHz CD-quality audio tracks costs: £14.99 per month for 12 months, £9.99 per month for 1 year (£120 paid upfront), £9.99 per month for 2 years (£240 paid upfront). It is a free upgrade for Sonos users with a Deezer Premium+ account.
Devices: Deezer works on PC and Mac but can also be found in app form for iOS, Android, BlackBerry and Logitech and Sonos home entertainment systems. It also works on many smart TVs like LG and Samsing, Xbox 360 and even BMW cars and Parrot systems.
Conclusion: With Beats Music out in the US now Deezer has that great half-price offer on right to compete. With a wide range of devices and huge song catalogue this is a very appealing service right now.
In a nutshell: Rdio has 20 million songs on offer and, like Spotify, has just made its free ad-supported service unlimited to users. It also offers deep Facebook integration so users can follow friends and find out what they're listening to.
Rdio refuses to publish bit rates but it's generally thought you can expect it to top out around the 192kbit/s.
Price: The usual £10 a month will get you unlimited access across your devices. There is now also the free ad-supported service if you can put up with that. For family and friends money can be saved with 20 per cent off for two subscribers, then 50 per cent for the third, fourth and fifth.
Devices: Rdio is available on Mac, PC, iOS, Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry, Sonos, Roku, and the Bose Jambox.
Conclusion: With 20 million songs in the library, a good number of devices compatible, and decent pricing options this is a very tempting option.
In a nutshell: The original peer-to-peer music sharing client that started all the furore about digital rights. It's had a rough ride, being shut down and restarted, but it's back. It offers over 20 millions songs and is available in 16 European countries including the UK.
Despite its age Napster still doesn't offer a bit rate above 192kbit/s. But Napster hopes the smoother streaming and quality of its app layout will win over fans anyway.
Price: Napster can be trialled for a free 30 days. After that point you can opt for the online only Napster Unlimited for £5 a month or the app compatible Napster Unlimited plus mobile for £10 a month.
Devices: The online only version works on Mac and PC. The app is available on up to three phones, your home entertainment system and your computer. The app works on iOS, Android and Windows Phone.
Conclusion: Despite being the first of its kind to make it big Napster offers the same as everyone else at this stage. It's pretty well spread about Europe but has no killer function that makes it special over Spotify, for example, other than its name.
Google Play Music All Access
In a nutshell: While Google Play Music All Access has 18 million songs, making it fewer than Spotify, it crucially allows you to add your own. Storage for up to 50,000 tracks is available so all your locally stored music can be uploaded and streamed to your device anywhere. It's even able to curate radio stations from artists of your choosing or make recommendations based on your tastes. And of course there is also the option for offline listening which also works for radio stations. Google has also added free, ad-supported, curated playlists.
At the moment there is no option to expand your personal collection above the 50,000 mark. Google+ is built in so you can share your music choices with others and see what your friends are listening to for recommendations.
While you will have to take a cut in quality compared to any CDs you may have, the 320kbit/s top end is as good as it gets for most.
Price: As usual you get a 30-day free trail. After that point you can continue to use the online locker for your 50,000 tracks for free. For the full streaming of 30 million other songs, the personalised recommendations and radio you'll need to pay £10 a month.
Devices: Android devices are obviously supported, as well as computers, but it's also on iOS - making it a real threat to Spotify.
Conclusion: This sounds like one of the best services out there. It's affordable, it has a large library, allows sharing, radio and smart suggestions. And you can keep your own music library backed up and easily accessible.
In a nutshell: Xbox Music has an impressive library of over 30 million tracks for you to stream across all your devices. It also allows for offline listening and there's an ad-supported version for those who don't want to shell out.
Price: You can stream everything for free on your Windows 8 devices or any browser window from Mac and older PCs. The full version is free for 30 days then it's £9 for a one month pass or £89.90 for the year (£7.50 per month).
Devices: Not only does Xbox Music work on Microsoft devices like Xbox, Windows 8 devices, and Windows Phones, but it's also available on iOS and Android.
Conclusion: This is a really huge library of songs, it'll truly work on most platforms, streams at 256kbit/s and works offline. Plus there's a free version. It's an attractive music service that, when paid for annually, is cheaper than the competition.
In a nutshell: Previously belonging to Nokia then Microsoft, MixRadio is now part of the Line Corporation's line-up, which is why it's now available on more platforms.
The service randomly picks tracks for you to listen to totally free, without adverts. As you listen you can rate tracks with a thumb up or down and it will learn your tastes, offering more finely tuned selections in the future. You can also download up to four mixes to take with you in offline mode. Mixes can be shared online so you can find those of friends and vice versa.
MixRadio now exclusively provides music updates for HTC’s BlinkFeed, tailored to the users’ music tastes.
Price: Free. No adverts. Simple. But for a monthly fee of $4 you get unlimited track-skipping, unlimited offline mixes, high-quality audio over Wi-Fi (256kbit/s) and more.
Devices: Windows Phone 8, Asha, iOS and Android devices can now all access the service.
Conclusion: It's the best totally free music service for shuffle play. It's simple and smart and learns your tastes. The extended offerings cost little more and offer plenty. It's the equivalent of buying a Shuffle over an iPod - but smarter.
Sony Music Unlimited/PlayStation Music
In a nutshell: Sony has announced that it will be closing Music Unlimited on 19 March and instead will be launching a new music streaming service that it is running in partnership with Spotify. PlayStation Music will launch sometime in the spring and from 28 February Music Unlimited subscribers will get access to their existing platform for free for a month.
Until then, the service boasts more than 30 million songs. And it'll all play in offline mode too.
Price: There's a 30-day free trial then it will cost you the usual £10 a month subscription fee. However, the service will be free to subscribers from 28 February for the last month before it shuts down. The replacement PlayStation Music service will require a Spotify Premium account.
Devices: Music Unlimited is available on iOS, Android, PS3, PS4 and PS Vita as well as Sony Bravia TVs and Blu-ray players and home theatre systems. PlayStation Music, on the hand, will initially only be available on PS4, PS3 and Sony's Xperia devices. It will allow PlayStation 4 owners to listed to Spotify streamed tracks over gameplay, however.
Conclusion: At present, there's a good number of songs on offer, streams stretch to 320kbit/s, it's easy for PlayStation users and Sony home entertainment device owners. As for after the cut-off date, it'll be heavily reliant on Spotify, which you can read about above.
In a nutshell: UK-founded website Last.fm has been around since 2002 and offers totally free music that's personalised to your tastes. It uses a Scrobbler plug-in to learn your tastes across devices and recommends the best tracks for you based on that ever-improving profile. Music from the 12 million-song library is streamed as MP3s at 128 kbit/s 44.1 kHz.
Price: Free to those living in the UK, US or Germany - 3 euros a month after a 50-track free trial for others.
Devices: Last.fm is primarily a website-focused player but also works on iOS, Android, Windows Phone, Sonos systems, Xbox and many more.
Conclusion: This is one of the oldest and most-intelligent systems for learning what you like and playing recommendations to you. It's also free and streams at a decent quality. Apart from playing blind lists there's little else to fault on this streaming resource.
It has also recently announced a collaboration with Spotify to allow subscribers to that music streaming service to access their libraries through Last.fm too. That means the whole of Spotify's library is available through the Last.fm service.
In a nutshell: Described on its own site as "the first music streaming service that combines the best High Fidelity sound quality, High Definition music videos and expertly Curated Editorial." The company was recently bought by Jay-Z's company. Led Zeppelin's back catalogue is now available in lossless audio from Tidal. Taylor Swift, who refuses to stream with Spotify, is on Tidal.
Price: There is a free trial which lasts for 7 days and then it costs £20 per month for unlimited use.
Devices: Apart from PC and Mac Tidal also works on iOS and Android devices.
Conclusion: With the backing of Jay-Z and a library that should continue to grow this could become the leader in high fidelity audio streaming.
In a nutshell: Rara doesn't aim to compete with other streaming music platforms but rather wishes to share music with as many people as possible worldwide. It doesn't offer ad-based subscriptions as it wants to offer the most royalties to musicians. Rara has over 22 million songs which it streams using the Dolby Pulse codec for near CD quality. You can also favourite tracks to find them easily later. There is an offline mode for premium subscribers which works across devices.
Price: Rara is £5 a month for online streaming only or £10 a month across mobiles and tablets which also includes offline mode. There is a three-month trial period though which you can save 20 per cent from your overall subscription.
Devices: Apart from PC and Mac Rara also works on iOS and Android devices, Windows 8 PCs and even BMWs.
Conclusion: That CD quality sound is a great touch at a price that undercuts Qobuz. And the use of the Dolby Pulse codec means it'll be an option for everyone, even those with poorer web connections.
In a nutshell: Blinkbox Music was owned by Tesco until recently, but has since been sold to rival service Guvera. At present it is still running as usual, but that could change in the future.
The current service has over 12 million tracks to choose from with personalised music stations as well as pre-populated themed stations. There have been over 1.5 million downloads of the Blinkbox Music app since it was released a year ago.
Price: The service is free online for anyone to listen to curated stations instantly. The app, which allows users 1000 downloaded tracks at a time with unlimited swaps and no ads, is £1 per week.
Devices: iOS and Android phones and tablets as well as browser based playing.
Conclusion: This is a really low cost option. The selection of tracks might be fewer than some services but with 100 stored locally it's ideal for those commuting or those who don't want to be charged for data streaming.
In a nutshell: Shuffler is an internet radio platform that selects the best music sites and blogs worldwide and pulls the top tracks in for users to listen to all in one place.
Shuffler uses music curators to offer the best selections including Pitchfork, Fact, The Fader and Boiler Room. These all update daily charts. Users can also subscribe to sites and artists or create personal Radar and Shuffler scans to find the latest tunes best suited to them. Playing by genre is also an option, much like listening to a real radio station.
Price: Free to use as it's an online platform.
Devices: Shuffler is now also available on Sonos speakers. It is also available on iPhone, iPad, as well as within Spotify and Deezer.
Conclusion: Shuffler is a free service that offers a curated way of finding new songs and artists to listen to. It's available as an app on iOS but could be more widely accessible. Since that's the only negative we find with the service, it's pretty impressive.
In a nutshell: MixCloud is an online radio platform that combines DJ mixes, podcasts and radio shows. MixCloud was funded by its founders and is still owned by them as it grows. Anyone registered can upload their mix which will get shared and rated, presuming it's good enough to be enjoyed.
Price: Free to use as it's an online platform.
Devices: Web browser access allows for instant playback for anyone. The app is also free to download.
Conclusion: As a way of listening to music and mixes that have been crowd-sourced by other users this is a great platform and community. Since it's free all the music must be accredited in order to maintain intellectual property rights - this likely limits some artists who don't play nice with shared free music.
If you know of any other UK service you think we should include, please let us know in the comments below. This feature is designed to be updated as and when there are changes to the streaming services featured or new ones appear.