YouTube has introduced YouTube Music to the UK - but is it the best streaming music service? Or does that crown still belong to Spotify or the newer Apple Music or Amazon Music Unlimited?
Let's compare the new YouTube Music service against its most popular rivals.
Design and unique features
The new YouTube Music app is remarkably simple in layout and ease of use. Its home screen is tailored towards your personal artist choices - which you select during your first visit - and is clearly laid out so you can find recommended playlists and videos instantly. The main unique feature is that because its tracks are gleaned from the entire gamut of content available on YouTube, there are thousands of performances you cannot get anywhere else. And they are all available to view as video too.
Spotify has a very similar home screen to YouTube Music in look and use, although its worth remembering that it was available first. However, there are more options across the entire app and, while complex, the menu systems give you many ways to find and discover music. It is the only service to allow streaming to a vast array of devices that support Spotify Connect (more on that below).
Apple Music opens to your Library first and foremost, and is much brighter and cheerier than its rivals as it offers a white background rather than black. If you use it on an iPhone, it is fully integrated with the music library on your own device, in the same way iTunes was before. It is your default music player, in that sense, even if you don't subscribe to streaming. It's number one unique aspect is an integration with Siri for voice control.
Amazon Music Unlimited has, debatably, the best looking interface with a picture lead style and similar dark background to all bar Apple Music. It is perhaps a little overloaded with tabs, both top and bottom, but is still simple to use. It is the only music service to support Alexa voice control in app with an Alexa button in the UK and speak to play support in the US.
Tracks and quality
All of the services have millions of tracks available to stream or download, but they can vary in choice depending on what you are after.
Mainstream music is ably covered by all of them, especially since Taylor Swift and other artists resolved their issues with Spotify, but you might find some gaps in what is available when searching for something more obscure.
Compilation albums are tricky across all the platforms, for example, although there are work arounds. You might not see Now That's What I Call Music 99 under albums on any of the services, or a Ministry of Sound compilation, but if you search under playlists it is often that another user has compiled the same songs in order.
YouTube Music is somewhat unique in that, as many of its tracks are based on official and sometimes user submitted videos, you can find such gems as the Future Islands' performance on the David Letterman show in the States. That will then be available to watch as a video or streamed as just an audio file.
Where the services differ more is in streaming quality. Spotify can hit up to 320kbps when set to high quality, which is not lossless but still very good. Apple Music tops out at 256kbps, as does Amazon Music Unlimited, so slightly lower in bitrate.
YouTube Music is adaptive, which means it can change depending on your internet connection, and offers a maximum of 128kbps without an option to change to a higher quality. You will hear the difference between it and Spotify's highest setting, for example.
All four services offer offline listening, with downloads available across their vast libraries. YouTube Music interestingly will download the audio track of any of its videos, so you can listen to entire gigs and performances on TV shows, etc.
You will need a subscription to each of the services for their respective downloading options, but Amazon Music Unlimited is slightly different in that, if you don't subscribe to the Unlimited version of the service, you can still download the MP3s of any music you have bought through Amazon.
YouTube Music also offers a Mixtape download service, which regularly compiles and downloads a curated playlist of tracks based on your artists preferences. This can be turned on or off and can contain up to 100 tracks. One less welcome caveat of YouTube Music is you currently cannot download an entire album at once (unlike with the rest of the services). You have to download each track separately.
Apple Music offers music videos as part of its service, including video playlists, as does Spotify. However, considering the source material, YouTube Music's video offering is unsurpassed.
Everything that is available as a video on YouTube is available to view through the app - that's a heck of a lot of video content.
Amazon Music Unlimited doesn't currently offer music videos.
Casting and devices
As well as the smartphone/tablet apps, each service is able to stream music to external speakers and devices. However, they can vary in support.
They can all connect to Bluetooth devices through the phone's own Bluetooth connectivity, but some use proprietary systems for better, higher quality streaming.
Spotify uses its own Spotify Connect platform to stream to hundreds of compatible third-party systems and devices. Since the iOS 11.4 update, Apple now uses AirPlay 2 for similar connectivity, although there are only a handful of devices that support it at present. It will, however, stream using the original AirPlay to many others. This is effectively lossless, so whatever format is available on Apple Music will play without further compression.
Amazon Music Unlimited uses AirPlay on iOS and Google Cast on Android, so you can send the tracks to any respective compatible device.
Being the new kid on the block and, effectively, made by Google, YouTube Music only supports Google Cast at present, even on an iPhone.
Unlike the others, it is not available on Sonos yet either.
When it comes to pricing, the services are much of a muchness.
Apple Music costs £9.99 a month for a subscription, or £14.99 for a family plan that gives you access for up to six people.
A Spotify Premium subscription is almost exactly the same. Expect to pay £9.99 a month for full access, while a family plan will cost you £14.99 a month. The only difference is it is limited to five family members.
Amazon Music Unlimited is the same if you are not an Amazon Prime member, at £9.99 a month and £14.99 for a family of up to six members. However, if you do subscribe to Amazon Prime, which includes all manner of other benefits for a yearly fee, it will cost you just £7.99 a month (or £79 for a year if you pay up front). You can also get Music Unlimited for just one nominated Amazon Echo device for £3.99 a month.
YouTube Music Premium again costs £9.99 a month (with a three-month free trial period currently available). Its family plan is also £14.99. You can also opt for a YouTube Premium subscription for £11.99 a month, which includes Music Premium and the ability to watch exclusive shows on YouTube and remove ads online.
YouTube Music definitely has some missing gaps when compared to its more established peers, but we feel it is a simpler, easier to use offering that has a more diverse selection of material to choose from.
iPhone owners will likely want to stick with Apple Music considering it is hardbaked into their phone's operating system, while those with an Amazon Echo or two might prefer Amazon's Music Unlimited service.
However, Spotify is the oldest among these streaming giants and you can tell. Its device support is the widest and, we believe, its offline listening capabilities are the best. It also offers the highest quality bitrates of the four and that could be important to you.
At least there is choice for everyone and that's never a bad thing.
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