Music Streaming Services-Girl Dancing With Headphones

Choosing the best smart speaker or smart display for your connected home is tough enough, but what about choosing between all the different music streaming services?

Today, it seems like there’s an almost infinite choice and, sometimes, that can lead to analysis paralysis.

Also, the vast bulk of streaming services seem broadly similar on the surface, so choosing the right one seems like a Herculean task. After all, 40 million songs might sound great, but really it's just more music you won’t listen to.

As usual we’re here to help out and guide you through your decision making process.

We’ll look today at 9 of the strongest streaming services so you can decide which best meshes with your listening needs.

Rather than implying some kind of best to worst order, we’ll alphabetize them for your convenience. Also, we’re not going to list prices as they are all broadly comparable and also subject to change.

So let’s get this party started with a glimpse of the music streaming giants we’ll be looking at…

  1. Amazon Music Unlimited
  2. Apple Music
  3. iHeart Radio
  4. Pandora
  5. Qoobuz
  6. SoundCloud
  7. Spotify
  8. Tidal
  9. YouTube Premium

1) Amazon Music Unlimited

Amazon Music Unlimited is Amazon’s attempt to rival Apple Music and Spotify. If you’re an Amazon Prime member, you’ll automatically get access to the Prime Music app.

With Amazon Music Unlimited, you’ll get 40 million ad-free songs. You can also download them at will so you can enjoy them offline, too.

Prime Music, by contrast, has just 2 million songs but this is still more than enough for most reasonable purposes. Keep your eyes peeled for special offers from Amazon in tandem with Echo devices.

Amazon also serves up a free, ad-studded service when you’re listening on an Echo smart speaker. You won’t be able to search and you’ll be limited to Amazon playlists and radio, but it’s a nice taster.

As with most Amazon services, you can road test their music streaming with a free 30-day trial and see if it aligns with your expectations.

Key Benefits

  • The best choice for Alexa-heavy households
  • The free trial lets you try before you buy
  • Many deals available including Echo exclusives

2) Apple Music

While Apple Music was struggling to come out the gate, these teething problems have been cured and its reputation has strengthened.

Get started with a free 3-month trial on your iPhone, iPad, Mac or PC. Thanks to this robust freebie, Apple now attracts 50 million subscribers making it the second most popular music streaming service behind Spotify.

There’s no ongoing free option like with Spotify, though. However, you can get a slight discount by paying annually.

You’ll get your iTunes album combined with any music you don’t own. You’ll also be able to download up to 100,000 tracks with the paid plan and access 45 million songs along with live radio.

Linking to HomePod is a breeze as you’d expect and AirPlay 2 integration gives you multi-room audio.

Key Benefits

  • Digital storage allows you to keep up to 100,000 songs
  • Live Beats 1 radio is a valuable extra
  • Get exclusive songs and albums from your favorite artists

3) iHeart Radio

iHeart Radio merges live radio alongside a catalog of music, but does it really work?

Since being founded way back in 2008, services have expanded to include more music recommendations and neatly customizable stations.

In terms of live radio, there are more than 800 iHeart radio stations spread across the US. You’ll also get an excellent selection of genre stations and 1500 other stations, so you really are spoiled with choices.

If you’re looking for a free music streaming service, iHeart Radio delivers. With no hidden fees and no subscription plans at all, you get a comprehensive streaming package completely free of charge.

You won’t be menaced by ads on the custom stations and you’ll get a great deal of valuable artist info along with some highly informative news articles.

Functionality also extends to podcasts and you can download the iHeart Radio app for use on your mobile device.

You can’t download at all so you’ll need to make sure you’ve got a reliable Internet connection to get the best from this streaming service.

Key Benefits

  • Get the advantage of live radio without sacrificing curated music
  • 19 genre stations and 1500 live radio stations
  • Completely free service with no paid packages at all

4) Pandora

Often referred to as the best music streaming service for passive listening, Pandora demands very little by the way of user input.

Powered by the Music Genome Project, the underlying principle of this platform is to capture the very essence of music, but does it succeed?

Absolutely. With live radio, you can sit through the ads without needing to pay anything or invest a nominal monthly sum to eliminate advertising. On top of this, Pandora also introduced paid, on-demand music streaming.

Pandora has slowly but surely built up its catalog, so you should find almost anything you’re looking for unless you veer off into ultra-low key genres.

Social sharing is somewhat lacking but this is more than compensated for by exceptional discovery functionality. Thanks to the Music Genome Project, curating playlists with Pandora Premium is super-simple with music automatically added.

You’ll get a 60-day free trial, so you can see for yourself if Pandora truly does capture the essence of music and whether it works for you. There’s an in-browser player, desktop program and mobile app, so you have all main bases covered.

While no serious rival to Spotify, Pandora finds its own market. All that remains for you to determine is whether you’re part of that market.

Key Benefits

  • Free and paid radio along with on-demand streaming
  • Remarkably user-friendly experience even for beginners
  • Majestic simplicity of algorithm offers intelligent suggestions

5) Qoobuz

While Qoobuz won’t win any prizes for its user base, it’s a class-leader if you prioritize audio quality above all else.

Qoobuz is a French-based company that’s slowly been edging into other territories including the US It is pricey, but is it worth the price tag?

If you are a serious audiophile hankering to stream ultra-high-res FLAC files, Qoobuz is only rivaled by Tidal.

Playlists are curated by humans. If you’re used to the almost endless choice on other platforms, you might find the number slightly disappointing. Building your own playlists, on the other hand, is straightforward. You can also easily import playlists from other platforms so it’s not all doom and gloom.

None of the 4 paid tiers are cheap with the line-topping Sublime+ option which is only available as an annual plan. While Qoobuz is ruthlessly expensive compared to opposing music streaming services, it comes with an inbuilt advantage. If you’re a lover of high-res music, you’ll get a discount of 30 to 60% if you buy from the Qoobuz download store.

For anyone wanting to stream at 320kbps, there are more modest plans that bring Qoobuz within most budgets.

Key Benefits

  • Stream high-resolution FLAC files up to 24 bit
  • Track documentation and metadata
  • Stream in 5 different ways

6) SoundCloud

If you’re involved in the music industry or you just enjoy discovering brand new music by unknowns, SoundCloud needs no introduction.

For a listening experience completely free of commercial interruptions, SoundCloud is also hard to beat.

In a vertical where most platforms have very little to differentiate themselves, SoundCloud stays fresh by allowing anyone to upload content.

Whether you prefer listening from a web browser or mobile app, the stripped-down interface makes everything super-simple. There’s a pop-up media player at the bottom which allows you to remain in control of playback even as you navigate hunting down fresh material.

If you’re looking for a selection of music you simply won’t find on other music streaming services and you’re disinclined to pay for the privilege, SoundCloud is the obvious solution.

Key Benefits

  • The best platform for discovering new music
  • No ads during playback
  • Minimalist and intuitive app
  • Completely free across all platforms

7) Spotify

If you’ve ever tried searching for an obscure track on Spotify, it’s highly likely you’ve never been disappointed. From obscure Japanese hip-hop to experimental jazz, Spotify pretty much always delivers.

Obviously, all music streaming platforms make their money from paid subscriptions and with 96 million subscribers, Spotify has millions more paying customers than their nearest competitors.

What makes it so good and why do many instinctively flock to this platform?

First, it’s free to get started and you can continue without paying for as long as you can tolerate ads. You won’t be able to download unless you pay to play and you’ll have fewer skips at your disposal.

The interface is clean, responsive and beginner-friendly and offers enough scope for more advanced users.

Opt for Spotify Premium and you’ll eliminate the ads while enjoying updated audio quality. At 320kbps, this is better than Apple Music. You’ll also benefit from unlimited skips. The paid service also allows you to choose songs on demand through your mobile devices.

The Family option allows you to link up to 5 accounts while the Student package offers a premium ad-free service at half price.

With a huge library of 35 millions songs, you can build out playlists while also discovering new music through others users. Algorithm-based learning allows Spotify to suggest the Discover Weekly playlist based on your listening habits. New Music Friday also offers you the chance to broaden your listening.

Sharing between friends or on social media is seamless.

As we nudge toward 2020, the Swedish streaming pioneer shows no signs of fading. Spotify is probably our personal favorite in a crowded field.

Key Benefits

  • Complete cross-platform functionality
  • The free version is more than fit for purpose
  • Collaborative playlists

8) Tidal

Differentiating itself as the high fidelity music streaming service, Tidal was purchased by the legendary Jay-Z back in 2015.

While you can get lossless audio at 1411kbps, you’ll pay more than double for the privilege. The regular subscription delivers standard 320kbps compressed audio.

This is where Tidal’s split focus offers something for everyone. Geared to the mass market, the cheaper tier has audio to compete with Apple Music and Spotify. The 24-bit lossless format quite simply gives you the best streaming resolution you can find.

On the downside, the interface is glitchy at times and music discovery is distinctly underwhelming.

If you’ve got a more fluid budget and you’re not prepared to compromise on quality, Tidal is your best bet. Now how long will it be before Spotify, Apple, and Amazon catch up?

Key Benefits

  • Hear lossless audio as the artists intended it
  • 50 million songs including exclusives
  • Perfect if you’re an audiophile with expensive equipment

9) YouTube Premium

Google Play Music has been rebranded repeatedly and it has now evolved into YouTube Premium. Many of the features like playlists you might have loved from GPM are still in place along with the flexibility you’d expect from YouTube.

New music discovery is nimble thanks to Google’s smarts and the YouTube algorithm. Playlists are suggested based on genres and mood. While you might not get the laser targeting of Spotify, it’s nipping close at their heels on this front.

The volume of unofficial music on YouTube is one of the key draws for anyone with more eclectic tastes. From leftfield covers to rare mixtapes, imagination is your only limitation.

The Basic plan is free but forces you to endure a welter of adverts. The Premium version allows you to sidestep this ad circus.

Once Google delivers on its promise to step up the sound quality, the music streaming service leaders might have something serious to worry about.

Key Benefits

  • You can easily upload your own songs
  • Lossless FLAC compatibility when uploading
  • Stream MP3 audio from an enormous library

Final Word

As with every element of building out a connected home, choosing a music streaming service is entirely personal. Think about your listening preferences and overall needs then use the above snapshot summaries to guide you.

Come back throughout the week as we’ve got a busy slate with plenty of the latest smart home news. We also have a giveaway for a $100 Insteon e-giftcard running and you can enter until July 15 at 11:59 PM. You will receive a discount code just for entering!

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