Music streaming is by far the most popular way for us to consume music. Where once we had to import and rip CDs to our computers, or download songs (legally we hope), we now access to the music from all over the world through our smartphones.
There's fierce competition between music streaming services too, but out of all the services available, there are four that can be considered the "big players": Spotify, Apple Music, Google Play Music and Amazon Music Unlimited.
While all four offer access to similarly large catalogues of music, each have their own unique features to help differentiate. Which means picking the service that is right for you can be tricky. Fortunately, we're here to help run down the services available and what they offer.
Apple Music is an ideal service if you rely heavily on iTunes and have an iPhone. It combines your iTunes library on your computer, with any songs you add from Apple Music's cloud servers. The catalogue is extensive, it gives you access to music videos, along with some exclusive content from select artists. It also has the 24 hour Beats 1 radio station, which is a great place to discover new music.
Spotify is the current King of music streaming, with over 70 million paying subscribers. You can add your own music to your Spotify library, but it's not as simple and straightforward as Apple's offering. Spotify can be accessed on a wide range of speakers, soundbars and other home entertainment equipment via Spotify Connect.
Google Play Music will let you add up to 50,000 of your own songs to your online library, which you can then download for offline listening across devices, providing you pay for the Unlimited tier. It has an instant sharing platform through Google+ and is available on a wide range of devices.
Amazon Music Unlimited is the most recent service to the streaming party but has arrived with a few party tricks. It has different pricing tiers for exactly the same content, depending on if you're a Prime subscriber or if you just want to use it through an Echo device.
What is it?: Apple Music is a service with access to tens of millions of songs. It has been designed to combine music you have bought with music you've saved from Apple's cloud services in the Apple Music library. The app has five tabs/features comprising Library, For You, Browse, Radio, and Search.
The For You tab serves up a mix of handpicked albums and playlists based on the music you like, while the Browse tab presents the week's newest tracks, videos and playlists that have been selected by Apple Music editors. The Radio tab is where you'll find Beats 1, which is a 24-hour live global station led by DJs such as Zane Lowe, Ebro Darden, and Julie Adenuga, as well as other expertly-curated stations created by radio DJs.
Library is where you'll find all your music, whether it be songs you've imported from your computer, songs you've bought from iTunes or songs you've added from Apple Music's servers. And finally, Search is where you, well, search for any music you want.
Siri has been programmed to work with Apple Music so you can ask her to play the best songs from 1994... and she will do just that. Once you've started playing a song, you can swipe up to reveal the next songs in the playing queue or lyrics to the song that is currently playing (you'll only get these features if you have iOS 10 or later installed).
If the song you're listening to isn't in your library, you can add it, add it to a playlist, create a station of songs based around the one playing or share it with friends.
- £9.99/month per user
- £14.99/month for a family of six
- £99.99/year - save £19.89 over monthly membership
- £4.99/month for Student Membership
- Free to listen to Beats 1 without subscription
Conclusion: Apple Music is a single app that combines your music, a streaming service and a worldwide live radio station. Everything lives in one place, so you can stream anything choose or you can let Apple Music choose for you.
What is it?: Spotify boasts nearly 160 million users, 71 million of which pay for the service. The rest subscribe to Spotify's free tier, which limits music quality and plays adverts every few songs. The free tier also excludes users from using other features such as being able to use it with Sonos and Spotify Connect.
You'll be able to add your purchased music into Spotify using your computer, but you'll have to add them manually. You will be able to listen to tracks offline if you pay for the Premium version, but you can't download songs with the free tier.
Spotify gives you access to millions of tracks and ready-made playlists, along with Spotify radio. It will learn as you listen and through associations, will make recommendations based on your tastes. There is also a band merchandise store front that will give you easy access to your favourite band's T-shirt, for example. Spotify also offers Facebook integration so you can follow your friends to see what they're listening to.
Additionally, Spotify teamed up with Google to offer Chromecast and Chromecast Audio support allowing anyone to turn any speakers into smart connected players and Spotify Connect allows you to play the service through compatible speakers.
- Free tier with adverts.
- £9.99/month for Premium tier
- 50 per cent off Premium with Unidays or NUS Extra for student
- £15/month for a family of five
- Microsoft Windows
- Openpandora OS X
- Samsung Smart TV
- Telia Digital-tv
- WD TV
- Withings Aura
- Home entertainment systems and cars via Spotify Connect
Conclusion: Spotify is the most widely available music streaming platform that offers a huge range of songs at a reasonable price.
Google Play Music
What is it?: Google Play Music All Access has 35 million songs in its library, but also allows you to add up to 50,000 of your own locally stored tracks, to stream to your device and download it for offline playback with the Unlimited tier.
It's able to curate radio stations from artists of your choosing if you pay for the Unlimited package, but you'll get recommendations based on your tastes within the free subscription.
At the moment there is no option to expand your personal collection above the 50,000 mark but Google+ is built in so you can share your music choices with others and see what your friends are listening to for recommendations.
Conclusion: Google Play Music is affordable, has a large library, allows sharing, radio and smart suggestions, plus you can keep your own music library backed up and easily accessible.
Amazon Music Unlimited
What is it?: Amazon Music Unlimited is Amazon's own fully-fledged music streaming service. It runs separate to Prime Music, which is only accessible for Prime subscribers. Prime Music has a much smaller catalogue of music.
Music Unlimited has access to "tens of millions" of songs from the major labels which can be accessed via the Amazon Music app, available for a range of devices.
Music Unlimited has just one tier, but different pricing options depending on whether you're a Prime subscriber or if you want to use it solely through one of the company's Echo devices.
- £9.99/month for non-Prime subscribers
- £7.99/month or £79/year for Prime subscribers
- £3.99/month when used through a single Echo device
- £14.99/month or £149/year for up to six family members
- Web Player
- Amazon Fire devices
- Select home entertainment systems and cars
Conclusion: Amazon Music Unlimited has some ground to make up on its competitors, but with a number of pricing options that undercut them, it could certainly be a force to be reckoned with.