On the face of it, the allure of music streaming services is obvious. A monthly subscription gets you access to literally tens of millions of songs, music recommendations that should become more targeted the more you use the service, and offline listening too.
But with numerous services competing for your cash, all claiming to offer a unique selling point (be it size of catalogue, quality of audio, or price), it can be tricky to decide which is best for you.
We’ll examine nine of the highest-profile music streaming services around. We’ve considered price, ease of use, sound quality and every other aspect of performance to help you decide which one is most deserving of your monthly direct debit payment. Feel free to upvote your favourite and include any suggestions for services we might have overlooked at the bottom.
Best music streaming services
To a lesser or greater extent, all the other streaming services in this list do pretty badly where classical music is concerned. That's where Primephonic comes in, because it - to paraphrase every DJ ever - is all classical, all the time. There are over a million classical recordings to be explored here and, while the selection is not absolutely exhaustive, it’s massive in comparison to any of these other services. £7.99 per month buys bog-standard 320kbps quality, which - let’s face it - may be good enough to listen to pimply pop music but doesn’t cut it where a full orchestra is concerned. Far better to pay the full £14.99 per month and get all that music in glorious 24bit high resolution. It sounds deeply fulfilling.
If you want the best-sounding music streaming service currently available, you need to shell out £19.99 per month for a Tidal HiFi subscription. This gets you access to the thick end of 30 million CD-quality tracks, plus hundreds of thousands of MQA-powered ‘Tidal Masters’ tunes - great-sounding hi-res audio files compatible with many devices, including mobile.
Otherwise, all that music can be had for £9.99 per month in 320kbps standard - and no matter which subscription you go for, you’ll get class-leading curation, some very knowledgeable writing and an interface that’s not quite as slick as it should be.
Be in no doubt, there’s a Qobuz subscription to suit you - there are options aplenty. At the top end, an annual £350 buys access to 40 million tracks, among which are over 70,000 albums in 24bit hi-res audio quality. This "Sublime+" subscription also gets you significant discounts off the price of downloads, too.
Or pay £250 a year for CD-quality streaming plus downloads. Or £19.99 per month for CD-quality streaming. Or £9.99 for the usual 320kbps stuff. Choices, choices. Qobuz has a nice logical interface for both desktop and mobile - and while its curation may leave something to be desired and its top-tier sound quality can be matched, the eclecticism of its catalogue cannot.
There’s ubiquity, and then there’s Spotify. The most successful and popular streaming service of the lot set an early template. And Spotify has finessed that template ever since. The lack of a higher-quality, higher-cost audio offering doesn’t sit well with audiophiles, but in every other respect Spotify gets it dead right. A very usable interface, thoughtful curation, convincing recommendations and a library of well over 40 million tunes… there’s even a free tier for those who can abide the adverts. Otherwise your £9.99 per month buys the safest of safe bets.
Deezer was fast out of the music-streaming blocks (it has been around for over a dozen years now), and its catalogue of over 53 million songs is testament to its longevity. If you’re not immediately convinced, there’s a (fairly restricted) free tier on which to give it a go, while £9.99 gets you ad-free audio that’s on a par, sound quality-wise, with Spotify. Go the full £19.99 per month and almost 30 million songs in the catalogue are yours in CD quality. There’s quite a lot of non-music content too. Add in a clean app and Deezer stands up really well - it even has a half-decent selection of classical music
6. YouTube Music
"Unique" cuts both ways. On the plus side, YouTube Music (which has a far heavier emphasis on video content that any of the other services here) has access to a lot of music no rival does, thanks to the efforts of YouTubers uploading their favourite obscure music to the site.
There’s an "audio only" control in the interface, too, so you can listen to these hipster gems without having to watch a video of the record spinning at the same time. On the other hand, YouTube Music operates at a measly 256kbps - which makes it sound noticeably rougher than Spotify, Apple et al. YouTube Music does have an unarguable Point of Difference, then - and all at a predictable £9.99 per month.
7. Apple Music
Like most Apple products, Apple Music is aimed squarely at the Apple enthusiast. The app is available on Android too but, in all honesty, only the Apple-centric should consider handing over the £9.99 monthly subscription fee. That buys you access to over 45 million songs (with classical music being the only significant blind spot), the Beats 1 radio station and a very agreeable user interface. Though Apple is coy about the specifics, sound quality is broadly similar to that of Spotify (320kbps or thereabouts, in other words) - and there’s no higher-quality tier to pay extra for, even if you want one.
8. Google Play Music
Despite Google a) chucking tons of cash at its YouTube Music streaming service and b) suggesting quite a while ago Google Play Music was not long for this world, there’s plenty of life left in this particular option yet. Hand over the £9.99 per month and 40 million songs are available, along with the usual selection of radio stations, curated playlists and suggestions for further listening.
The facility to upload music through the app is unusual and welcome, as it allows you to store any music you own that is not on the service right along with the rest of your selections. Sound quality is very similar to the other 320kbps streaming services.
9. Amazon Music Unlimited
Amazon Music Unlimited offers access to 50 million songs, plus radio stations and curated playlists for £9.99 per month. Or £7.99 if you are already an Amazon Prime subscribe . The breadth of music is impressive, unless you’re a classical enthusiast, the mobile app is logical enough (although some controls are too close together for all but the slimmest-fingered), and sound quality is a Spotify-style nothing to write home about. Amazon offers a higher-quality tier, Amazon Music HD, for £12.99 per month - most songs are in CD quality, and there’s some ‘3D’ (Sony Reality Audio and Dolby Atmos Music) audio content available there too.