There are almost as many streaming music services as there are Jay-Z songs. (OK, not quite yet.) But it is getting harder to distinguish the differences amongst them. Many streaming music services now offer comparable features, such as extensive music catalogues and curated playlists. For the most part, they’re also competitively priced.

The key differences really come down to music quality — with only a couple offering high fidelity sound — and original content, such as recommendations from discographers.

This year, we wanted to help you find the best way to connect with the music you love in 2019.

Overview Of Top Streaming Music Options:

Apple Music Amazon Music Qobuz Spotify TIDAL Pandora
Price
per mo.
$9.99 $7.99
Prime

$9.99 for
non-Prime

$9.99
(MP3 quality)

$19.99
(CD quality);

$24.99
(Hi-Res)

$9.99 $9.99
(MP3 quality)

$19.99
(CD quality+
MQA

$4.99
no ads

$9.99
no ads
+ higher
quality
audio

Family Plan
per mo.
Yes,
up to 6 people
($14.99)
Yes,
up to 6 people
($14.99)
No, but it’s
in the works
Yes,
up to 6 people
($14.99)
Yes,
up to 6 people
($29.99)
Yes,
up to 6 people
($14.99)
No. of songs ~50
million
“tens of millions” ~40
million
~40+
million
~40
million
~30
million
Sound quality 256 kbps AAC Not disclosed,
but comparable
to Spotify
320 kbps
(Premium);

FLAC 16-bit /
44.1 kHz
(Hi-Fi);

Up to 192 kHz
(Sublime+)

Up to 320
kbit/s
(Ogg Vorbis
format)
1411 kbps 64k AAC+
(free);192 kbps
(premium)
Free version No
(free trial)
No
(free trial)
No
(free trial)
Yes
with ads
No
(free trial)
Yes
with ads
Definitive Rating 2 2 5 3 4 1

Our Review Of Each Streaming Music Option:

Apple Music

Apple Music

Like variety? Then you’ll love Apple Music, which has 50 million songs to choose from. There’s something for everyone, including the indecisive. If you don’t have a song in mind, simply ask your faithful friend, Siri, to choose a genre based on your mood. It responds to voice commands, such as “Hey Siri, play something chill.” You can also access your entire iTunes library, allowing you to relive that Macklemore stage you went through a few years back.

Apple Music is streamed at 256 kilobytes per second (kbps) in Advanced Audio Coding (AAC). For comparison, 128 kbps is about what you’d hear on the radio.

Give it a test run for three months, free of charge. After that, it’s $9.99 for individuals and $14.99 for families.

Hits: Apple makes it easy for you to discover new music. Subscribe to push notifications to find out the moment your favorite artists release new music. It also has a cool feature called “New Music Mix,” which is a playlist of new music Apple creates just for you, refreshed every Friday.

You can also stream Apple Music to your Apple TV or AirPlay-enabled speakers in the living room or bedroom.

Although there’s no free option for streaming, it does offer a separate station called Beats 1 Radio. The music is curated by DJs, who host shows like a traditional radio station.

Misses: It doesn’t have a lossless sound quality option.

Our rating: 2/5

Amazon Streaming Music

Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon has taken over the marketplace — from grocery pickup and delivery to cloud computing services. Now, it’s also making waves in the world of streaming music. Prime Music is included with Amazon Prime, making it perfect for those who already subscribe.

There’s also Amazon Music Unlimited, which costs $7.99 per month for Prime members or $9.99 per month for non-Prime members. That gives you access to millions of songs, curated playlists, and personalized stations. Best of all, both options are ad-free.

Hits: Own an Amazon or Sonos One speaker? You can tell Alexa to play your favorite song, while you continue cook dinner. It also gives you access to bonus content, such as commentary from certain artists.

Misses: If you opt for Prime Music, the music selection is a little thinner (roughly 2 million songs) than other options.

Our rating: 2/5

Qobuz Streaming music web

Qobuz

This is a streaming service designed for audiophiles, by audiophiles. Qobuz goes against the all-MP3 approach by curating a catalogue of music that also includes CD-quality and high-res files. There are three available formats: MP3 320 kbps (Qobuz Premium at $9.99 per month), FLAC 16-bit / 44.1 kHz (Qobuz Hi-Fi: CD Quality at $19.99 per month), and up to 192 kHz (Qobuz Sublime+ at $24.99 per month). Their goal is to offer music in a format that’s as close as possible to the original recording.

You can also import your playlists and libraries created on other streaming platforms, using the Soundiiz tool.

A typical concern with hi-res music is accessibility. But there are actually a number of ways to listen to Qobuz, from your iOS 7+ or Android 4.1+ to standard web browsers (Internet Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, Safari, etc.) and GoogleCast.

Hits: Qobuz wants to help people grow musically, suggesting other artists you might like, based on your listening preferences. They also offer original recommendations written by discographers, aimed to help you re-discover your favorite albums.

Misses: Its expansive library, CD-quality streams, and wide device support set it apart from the competition. That quality, however, inevitably comes at a higher cost, which may not be affordable for everyone.

Our rating: 5/5

Spotify streaming music

Spotify

One of the few streaming services with a free tier, Spotify delivers on its brand promise, “Music for everyone.” Naturally, the free option is supported by ads. But if you don’t mind the occasional commercial, it’s a great option for those on a budget. Through Spotify, you can also access podcasts and audiobooks, even from the free version.

There are a number of different ways to listen, with varying degrees of quality.

For example, Spotify uses Ogg Vorbis format. If you’re on a mobile device, you can choose what bitrate to stream, up to 320 kbit/s. That is especially useful for those wanting to conserve their mobile data. Desktop users can choose playback at 160 kbit/s or 320 kbit/s (premium users). Or, if you’re listening via Spotify’s web player or Chromecast, it streams in AAC at 128 kbit/s for free listeners and 256 kbit/s for paid.

Hits: Spotify is compatible with a number of smart home devices, such as Amazon Alexa speakers and Google smart speakers. Also, if a device is certified as “Spotify Connect Compatible,” you can use the Spotify app as a remote to control playback. You can even use it on an Xbox and PlayStation

Misses: No option for lossless streaming

Our rating: 3/5

TIDAL

You may have 99 problems during the workweek, but music quality won’t be one of them if you subscribe to TIDAL. The service is most notorious for two things: Being owned by Jay-Z and delivering lossless streams at 1.4 Mbps.

Jay-Z and his superstar wife, Beyoncé, even revealed their first joint album, “Everything is Love,” exclusively on TIDAL. But it’s certainly not the only original content you’ll find there. TIDAL has an extensive library of more than 60 million songs and 240,00 high-quality videos.

It costs $19.99 a month for lossless, high fidelity sound quality, music videos and curated editorial content. For families, it’s $29.99.

Hits: 
TIDAL is known for its sound quality.

Misses: Reviewers have reported issues with songs auto-skipping and the app freezing or crashing.

Our rating: 4/5

Pandora

Another free option for streaming radio with ads, Pandora is great for laid-back listeners. You can create your own stations based on genre, such as “Instrumental” or by artist, such as “The Vitamin String Quartet.” Click on any given song that’s playing and you’ll find descriptors of the music, such as “East coast rap roots.” It also suggests similar songs you might like.

Don’t want ads interrupting your flow? For just $4.99, you can upgrade to “Pandora Plus,” which offers higher quality audio and unlimited skips. For some, creating your own playlists is half the fun. If that’s a must-have for you, spring for the highest tier, “Pandora Premium” ($9.99).

Hits: The biggest “win” for Pandora is its simplicity. You don’t have to spend a lot of time scrolling through songs. Just tell Pandora what you want to hear and it will find that artist, along with similar ones. It’s also easy to create an account and begin listening from your web browser or the app on your iOS or Android phone.

Misses:The free version limits how many songs you can skip. Choose wisely or else you might end up with your least favorite song stuck in your head all day.

Our rating: 1/5


Learn more: Technology and Impact on Sound

Looking to learn more about how technology has changed the way we listen to  music? Check out this documentary called The Distortion of Sound.