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While there are lots of music streaming services around, there are three major ones that stand out above the others: Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music. The others, such as TIDAL, Grooveshark, Rdio, and Deezer have either fallen by the wayside or failed to take off.

Obviously these three services are competing with each other, pretty much on an equal footing. The problem is you’ll only want one, unless you’re made of money, so let’s look at which one you should choose. After all, each has its pros and cons.

Price

Spotify

Spotify offers three tiers: a free tier, a $9.99-a-month Premium tier, and a $14.99-a-month Premium for Family tier.

spotifyfamily

The Free tier is ad supported. Features like song selection, skipping tracks, and saving music for offline listening are limited or blocked compared to the other tiers.

The Premium tier is what you think of as Spotify proper. For $10-a-month you get unlimited access to Spotify’s catalog, the ability to save tracks to the mobile apps for offline listening, and the warm fuzzy feeling that you’re supporting your favorite artists.

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The $14.99 Premium for Family tier is the same as the regular Premium plan, except you and up to five family members get accounts for a fraction of the price it would cost if you all signed up individually.

At one point Spotify offered a half-price discount to students, but it appears to have removed that option. The link now just redirects to its homepage.

Apple Music

Apple Music has three plans: a regular $9.99-a-month plan, a $14.99-a-month Family plan and a $4.99-a-month student plan. Instead of offering a free tier, Apple Music offers a three-month free trial. After that you’ll need to start paying.

Apple’s regular tier is just as you’d expect. For $9.99-a-month you get access to its full library, all the apps, and everything else that comes with the service.

applemusicstudent

The Family plan is the same as Spotify’s. For $14.99-a-month, six people (including you) can have unlimited access to Apple music from their own accounts.

Unlike Spotify, Apple Music still offers a $4.99-a-month Student plan. There are a few catches though. First, it’s validated so you can’t just claim to be a student and get the discount. Second, it’s limited to 48 months, after which your account will be automatically changed to a regular one.

Google Play Music

Google Play Music only has two tiers: a free one and a $9.99-a-month plan. Its two tiers are much the same as Spotify’s tiers.

On the Free tier, you’re limited in how you use the service and have to listen to occasional ads. On the Premium tier you get full use of the service.

I could find no student or family offers.

Winner: It’s a Three-Way Tie!

The winner here is hard to call. If you’re just one person signing up, all three services have the same asking price. If you’re a family, then you should go with Spotify or Apple Music. If you’re a student then Apple Music offers the best price. Finally, if you don’t care about the limitations and just want to listen for free, you should go with Spotify or Google Play Music.

Audio

Spotify

Not all music files are equal. The higher the bitrate of a file What Is Bitrate & Why Is It Important? [MakeUseOf Explains] What Is Bitrate & Why Is It Important? [MakeUseOf Explains] With today's technology, we can expect high amounts of speed and quality with everything that we do on our computers, our smartphones, and any other recent gadgets. However, while this increase in speed and quality... Read More , the better it will sound. Once you reach a certain point, however, you’ll need superhero ears to tell the difference between different tracks.

Spotify streams tracks at 160 kb/s by default but you can turn on an option to stream them at 320 kb/s. This is about the point where, at least on standard audio equipment, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between a compressed file and the original.

Apple Music

applemusicselection

Apple Music is rumored to be launching a high quality streaming service but, for the time being, all tracks are streamed at 256 kb/s. For most people listening with computer speakers or Apple’s earbuds, this won’t sound any worse than Spotify’s higher bitrate tracks. If you have good headphones or a proper audio setup, there’s a chance you’ll hear a difference.

Google Play Music

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Google Play Music also streams tracks at a maximum of 320 kb/s. If your internet connection won’t support that speed, they’ll be streamed at a lower bitrate.

Winner: Spotify and Google Play Music

Both Spotify and Google Play Music stream at 320 kb/s. If you really care about audio quality, go with one of them. The only major service offering better bitrate is TIDAL which is, in lots of other ways, terrible Is Jay Z's Tidal Music Worth a Second Listen? Is Jay Z's Tidal Music Worth a Second Listen? We weren't impressed by Jay Z's TIDAL at launch. Now, one year on, we thought we’d check in to see if TIDAL is worth using... Read More . Unfortunately.

Apple Music may soon offer high bitrate streaming, in which case this point is moot. Until then, the tracks are marginally worse but most people won’t be able to tell the difference.

Library

Spotify

Spotify boasts over 30 million tracks in its library. That’s far more music than even I could listen to in 1,000 years 6 Things You Can Learn From Spotify's Year in Music 6 Things You Can Learn From Spotify's Year in Music Spotify has released its Year in Music feature for 2015. It breaks down the music you listened to over the last year, and a lot more besides, as you're about to discover. Read More . Assuming each track is three minutes long, it’s over 170 years of non-stop music.

More importantly, Spotify has the majority of tracks that are popular right now. Things have become a bit messier thanks to some artists launching exclusives on Apple Music or TIDAL, but, for the most part, if you want a popular track it’ll be available on Spotify.

Apple Music

applemusicgeneral

This is where Apple Music shines. A few big artists like Taylor Swift (who Apple has had a love-hate relationship with Why Taylor Swift Is Wrong About Apple Music Why Taylor Swift Is Wrong About Apple Music Taylor Swift recently persuaded Apple to pay artists for songs streamed during free trials of Apple Music. But she's wrong. Again. Read More ) aren’t available on Spotify or Google Play Music. The main reason for this is that they object to the free tiers the other services offer but which Apple has rejected.

Aside from Taylor Swift, Apple’s catalog is as ridiculously large as Spotify’s with massive amounts of overlap.

Google Play Music

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It’s the same deal with Google Play Music. Most acts that offer their music to streaming services put it on all of them. Google Play Music’s catalog is as big as its competitors.

Winner: Apple Music

While all the services have a few exclusive acts, Apple Music has the biggest and best. Taylor Swift is the biggest pop star on the planet at the moment (with the possible exception of Beyonce) and her presence gives Apple Music the edge.

For anyone who doesn’t like Tay Tay (you heathens!) it won’t make much difference which service you use. While there are some small variations between the different libraries, for the most part you won’t even notice. If a particular act you love is missing from one service, have a look at the others and see if they’re there.

Features

Spotify

The extra features is where these three services start to really differentiate themselves.

Spotify has its phenomenal Discover Weekly playlists Discover New Music with Spotify's Automagic Playlists Discover New Music with Spotify's Automagic Playlists Spotify has recently released several new ways of generating unique playlists that will help you discover awesome new music. We're here to guide you through these automagic playlist makers. Read More and the best social sharing. Every week with Discover Weekly, you get 30-or-so new tracks to listen to. Spotify uses its massive amount of listener data to select them for you, and it works really well.

spotifydiscover

Spotify also has great social features. You can share tracks on any social media service, send them directly to other Spotify users, and even create collaborative playlists.

Apple Music

Apple Music’s biggest extra feature is the Beats 1 radio station. Before Apple Music launched, it hired Zane Lowe to curate the station. If you like the nostalgia of listening to a proper radio station, then Beats 1 might be a big feature for you. We previously took an in-depth look at Apple Music Getting Started With Apple Music — What You Need to Know Getting Started With Apple Music — What You Need to Know After the purchase of Beats last year, Apple has finally unleashed its streaming music service upon the world. Read More and we weren’t overly impressed with Beats 1, but I quite liked it when I checked it out. The music definitely trends towards modern pop songs.

Google Play Music

When you sign up for Google Play Music, you also sign up for YouTube Red Is YouTube Red Worth the Money? 7 Things You Need to Consider Is YouTube Red Worth the Money? 7 Things You Need to Consider YouTube Red has made headlines, both good and bad, but is the $10-a-month subscription service actually worth the money? Here, we look at the facts, and draw some conclusions. Read More . You get access to original YouTube content, no ads on regular videos, and a few extra little bits. If you watch a lot of content on YouTube, this could be the deciding factor.

Winner: It’s a Three-Way Tie!

Once again, it kind of depends what you’re looking for. Spotify’s playlists and social features are the best for pure music fans. If you like the ease of having a radio station to throw on and not have to worry about deciding what to listen to, then Apple Music and Beats 1 are a good choice. Finally, if you watch a lot of YouTube videos, Google Play Music might be right for you.

The Final Verdict

When I sat down to write this article I had intended to come to a clear verdict, but the truth is that Spotify, Apple Music, and Google Play Music all offer pretty much the exact same service. There is very little to choose between them all.

For any advantage that one service has, it also has a disadvantage. Spotify is the purest music experience but lacks Apple Music’s popstar credentials. Apple Music might be cheapest for students but it doesn’t have a free tier like Google Play Music for those who are on a budget. And Google Play Music is a great service, but Google has an unfortunate history of killing beloved products RIP Google Reader: Google's RSS Reader Will Shut Down On July 1st [Updates] RIP Google Reader: Google's RSS Reader Will Shut Down On July 1st [Updates] Google Reader, Google's popular RSS application, will be shut down on July 1 of this year. The company has revealed the news in a blog post that spells the end for another batch of Google... Read More , so maybe don’t get too attached to it.

The easy answer to this conundrum is that there is no bad decision. Streaming music is the future The End of Ownership: Netflix, Spotify, and The Streaming Generation The End of Ownership: Netflix, Spotify, and The Streaming Generation Read More and all the major players offer brilliant services. So, you can confidently sign up for whichever one suits your needs the best.

What music streaming service do you currently use? What made you choose that one over the competition? Why do you think it’s the best of the bunch? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

  1. chris
    September 27, 2016 at 4:55 pm

    I have tried every music service from napster, tidal, google play, spotify, apple music and others. Google Play and Apple Music are my top two competitors and I switch back and forth in using both. I am currently using apple music for the exclusives.

    • Harry Guinness
      September 28, 2016 at 7:32 am

      Oh wow, how do you find switching? It'd drive me mad having to rebuild all my playlists!

  2. Francisco
    September 24, 2016 at 3:53 pm

    I want to add that for those who listen to Latin music (from merengue to bossa nova) Google Play Music have a VERY LIMITED library. Before I switch from an iPhone to an Android, iTunes catalogue a VAST Latin music library. Does anyone knows how well stocked is Spotify Latin music library?

    • Harry Guinness
      September 28, 2016 at 7:33 am

      I'm not sure, but maybe one of the other commenters will know.

    • moscalo
      September 29, 2016 at 8:13 am

      For merengue there is some play list. I search bossa nova, and I found one playlist with 49 song. I found a lot of latin music (cumbia, reggaeton, criolla). Last christmas I found a latin christmas playlist, it is very nice:). But you can try it, because it is free, maybe you like some special band, so you can search it.

    • HG
      October 20, 2016 at 10:06 pm

      I am Spotify customer, and I play Flamenco myself. I think because they are European their stock of music from rest of the world is richer than American companies. Having said that, my experience with Apple and Google music is almost non-existent. Basically I can't judge the others, but Spotify is pretty good in that area.

  3. poo
    August 15, 2016 at 12:55 am

    Google Play Music has a Family plan, SMH

  4. Dex
    July 2, 2016 at 3:30 am

    Definitely, Spotify. I am extremely satisfied with the Free service.

    • Harry Guinness
      September 28, 2016 at 7:34 am

      Yeah, Spotify's my choice but I can see why people would go with one of the others.

  5. Alan
    June 30, 2016 at 8:19 pm

    While all 3 may be fairly equal for music on the major charts or from major charts, how are they for finding lesser known artists, foreign artists, or children's music? I have searched all 3 for Israeli artists, and only found Apple Music to have a wide selection. Same for kid's music fro my granddaughter. Can someone shed light on this?

    • chris
      September 27, 2016 at 4:53 pm

      in other genres, like r&B there are albums that only Google play has that I haven't found in the other two, tank and Jay Sean are missing albums as well as hip hop artist B.o.B.

    • Harry Guinness
      September 28, 2016 at 7:34 am

      I'd recommend checking out the free trials and seeing what's there. Different services have better catalogues for different genres.

  6. JasonM
    June 29, 2016 at 5:09 pm

    I use Spotify more than anything, and I love it. One disadvantage it has, though, is not being able to upload your own tracks. Over the years, I amassed a large library of my own music files, both from friend's bands and from from ripping physical music I owned, and I had a massive set of Dead bootleg shows (once a wall of cassettes). With Google, I was able to add those in addition to the streaming service. I assume iTunes users could as well, (I've never used iTunes or Apple Music) but Spotify doesn't have that. So if you have your own library of music files, whatever it may be, that may be a consideration as well.

    • Loucosp
      July 9, 2016 at 12:53 am

      You can add your own music using Spotify, but you need to use your computer and Spotify desktop version to synchronized data with you mobile or tablet.

  7. Volodymyr
    June 28, 2016 at 3:12 pm

    I like Apple Music, BUT you need to install iTunes on Mac or PC (I won't say anything about Linux). And Android app doesn't work on old devices :(

  8. Sergio López
    June 21, 2016 at 2:14 am

    spotify student is actually working at
    https://www.spotify.com/student/

  9. Perry F. Bruns
    June 20, 2016 at 12:54 pm

    Streaming music is not my future. While I do subscribe to Google Play Music, I wouldn't have done so if it hadn't had an option to download to my devices in order to save bandwidth. I currently have unlimited data with my carrier, but only 10GB of high-speed data. After that, the data rate drops to an abysmal 128 kbps. Even with high-speed 4G LTE, there are occasional glitches despite streaming services' caching setups.

    If I didn't have unlimited data, I would never have signed up. Storage is too cheap and bandwidth is too artificially expensive.

    • Otto Vanluchene
      July 12, 2016 at 9:29 am

      All the service have offline play...

  10. John D Whitson
    June 20, 2016 at 4:29 am

    FYI.. Google Play has family plan Up to 6 members @ $14.99mthly charge.

  11. Lisa
    June 20, 2016 at 2:48 am

    I am 100% Google Play Music! My husband and I are android users, and our older son is all about Apple. We have the $14 monthly family plan that we all love (personalized unlimited music and YouTube). Even our younger son is enjoying these features. We love it!

  12. Wayne
    June 20, 2016 at 1:54 am

    I love Google Play music and I also use iBroadcast for my own music. I know I can do that on Google, too, but I liked thje option for a seperate service for my own music.

  13. Adam
    June 20, 2016 at 12:56 am

    I was a Spotify user for several months. I bought a nice big fat Micro SD card so I could download my favorite tracks for offline listening. I was working in a place that had no usable cell service or wifi, so this was the best option. I had over 20,000 songs in my library but Spotify had (maybe still does) a database limit that would only allow about 3600 songs that could be downloaded offline. So, I switched to Google, because they have no limit and they also allow you to upload up to 50,000 of your own tracks. Easy choice for me.

  14. Bimmersport
    June 19, 2016 at 9:04 pm

    Google play music does offer a family package for up to 6 members for 14.99. Please update your article

  15. Itay Grinberg
    June 19, 2016 at 4:52 pm

    I would also add that the google play app works so much better on android than any other music services I've used for years (Spotify and Rdio). The UI is easy to use and the performance is flawless. I'm sticking with Google play music for now. Great service.

  16. Ivan
    June 19, 2016 at 3:31 am

    I use Deezer. Yes, not listed, forgotten Deezer. And I have tried others: Napster, Spotify and Google Music. I haven't tried Apple Music just because I don't have an iPhone, and 256kb/s is not good enough for me.

    Napster was dissapointing for me, but a good start. It's just kind of... "boring" (I know it's not a very technical way of saying it, but I don't really know other way to express it). Spotify is nice, good user interface and all, but, if a song or artist is not there, then forget about it. So, when I discovered that Google Music allows you to upload MP3 files, for the sake of completeness, I switched. But Google Play user interface is just too basic, and it lacks any true "recommendations" or "radio" features. I mean, they exist, but these are only algorithms, a computer deciding which songs you MAY like, and in my case at least, it falied 90% of the time.

    So I began the search for an app that allows me to upload missing tunes, with a nice interface and (please, oh please!) HUMAN-made recommendations, curated playlists and that stuff. And, to me, Deezer was the answer: nice user interface, I can upload missing music, 320 kb/s files (in Premium account), and curated playlists and recommendations. For me, the winner.

    I know Deezer is not known in the USA, a big flaw if you want to become "famous" in app-world, and has less active users than Spotify, but, IMHO it works, and it works fine.

    Cheers =)

  17. GodSponge (EB)
    June 19, 2016 at 2:52 am

    No love for Amazon?

  18. Hendri
    June 18, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    Apple music for subscription, cheaper family plan in my country, more asian music, also more interactive way or interface to search for particular music or artists. Downside is bad playlists, and for this, I turn to spotify for randomly music with free tier. Google music not available for me currently

  19. Amanda
    June 18, 2016 at 1:15 pm

    Thanks for saying " tailor swift is the biggest pop artist in the world With a possible exception of Beyoncé" I was gonna stop reading if you didn't acknowledge the Queen. ?

  20. Michael Mason
    June 17, 2016 at 8:54 pm

    I'm a fan of iTunes Match.

    $25/yr, any song in the iTunes catalog can be matched with your song from ANY source. Then iTunes gives you a high quality AAC file you can either stream off their servers or download to your devices.

  21. Steven McCartney
    June 17, 2016 at 7:36 pm

    Fair play actually responding to everyone pointing out the Google family plan and doing your best not to repeat yourself word for word. Hehe. The downside of delayed comments I guess :)

  22. Anna
    June 17, 2016 at 5:49 pm

    Google Play Music still has a family plan. It's $14.99 a month for up to 6 users

    https://android.googleblog.com/2015/12/google-play-music-now-playing-for-your.html

    and you can send gift subscriptions https://play.google.com/music/gift?u=0

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      Ah cool, good find. I couldn't find the info on the main site.

  23. Andrew
    June 17, 2016 at 5:43 pm

    It's a buyer's market FOR SURE!

    I was with Spotify for a couple years, then added Apple Music, but found it WAY too convoluted. Then when I tried Discover Weekly on Spotify, that was it for Apple Music. It's magical!

    What I do is keep iTunes Match for things that are missing on Spotify, but mainly do Spotify. For instance, when I need a Prince fix, I just go to iTunes, and all my stuff is there, as it has been for years.

    It may have taken close to 20 years, but now music fans are in the driver's seat.

  24. Jeremy
    June 17, 2016 at 4:24 pm

    Spotify also has a 4.99/month student rate.

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:54 pm

      They had in the past, but the signup link was broken when I tried to use it and the page redirected.

      • Jeremy
        June 18, 2016 at 2:56 am

        Lucky me then! Maybe they discontinued the offer.

  25. Dave
    June 17, 2016 at 3:36 pm

    Google Play Family Plan: https://support.google.com/googleplay/answer/6317786?hl=en

    "I could find no student or family offers."

    Umm... http://lmgtfy.com/?q=google+play+family+plan

    haha. Just bustin' your balls...

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:55 pm

      Bust away! I took all the sign up info straight from the main pages of the sites. Apple and Spotify trumpet it, Google didn't mention it.

  26. Xavier Mack
    June 17, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    It may not be a huge feature, but you forgot to mention the fact that Google Play Music's Radio service is far superior to Spotify and even Apple Music.

    Creating a radio station with an album, song, or playlist with Google Music is by far the easiest way to find new music that you'll actually want to listen to, whereas on Spotify or Apple Music, creating a radio station simply makes a playlist of similar artists. Google Music's radio-building are far more nuanced, in that they (as far as I know) analyze the songs themselves to makes sure that the playlist is uniform, instead of just playing a bunch of songs by similar artists.

  27. Rob Mendez
    June 17, 2016 at 2:31 pm

    Like Alex said, Google not only has a family plan out for six months, it also includes YouTube Red. IMO, that makes Google the clear winner. If you really need Taylor Swift, just buy a CD and upload it to Google Music. It's cheaper in the long run than paying Apple every month for the privilege.

    How to set up a Google Play Music family plan http://www.androidcentral.com/how-set-google-play-music-family-plan

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:56 pm

      Good find, I took all the pricing info from the main page of the website. However, I still don't think it pips it. It depends on what service you're looking for.

  28. FandBan
    June 17, 2016 at 2:18 pm

    No mention of the ability to upload up to 50,000 of your own songs to Google Play Music with the premium plan? As someone who collects and listens to a lot of live concert recordings, this feature sets Play Music apart from the other services. If only their UI wasn't so awful, I wouldn't be considering a move to Spotify...

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:57 pm

      I felt Apple Match does much the same, and Spotify lets you play stuff from your device. There was limited space so I ran with the features I felt relevant to the majority of people.

  29. Alex
    June 17, 2016 at 1:03 pm

    Google had family plan for a while. Also 15 per month up to 6 members who will get their own recommendations and playlist individually.

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:58 pm

      I took the info off the website's main page. Apple and Spotify paint it big and large. Google don't. My bad!

  30. norweeg
    June 17, 2016 at 12:40 pm

    Google Play music has a $14.99/month family plan that can be shared among 6 people. You forgot to mention that! Also you forgot to mention that its free-tier service is music stations (like pandora), podcasts, and your own personal library uploaded from your PC. It doesn't let you stream any song in their library, but with ads like spotify does

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      I took the pricing info off the website's front pages. Apple and Spotify make a big deal out of them, Google don't. My bad!

  31. diablo
    June 17, 2016 at 12:27 pm

    What about Pandora? Don't see how you can omit them from the comparison

    • rui silva
      June 17, 2016 at 12:42 pm

      US only. Enough said.

      • diablo
        June 17, 2016 at 12:51 pm

        didnt know that valid point

      • DENNIS R MARTINEZ
        June 20, 2016 at 4:25 am

        Still using it. Haven't found a good enough reason to leave it.

  32. Steven McCartney
    June 17, 2016 at 12:09 pm

    Google Music has a family plan for 6 at $14.99. It's in the settings menu to upgrade but as far as I am aware it's offered at sign up too. Not sure why you couldn't find any information on it. It was reported on extensively when launched.

    • Harry Guinness
      June 17, 2016 at 6:59 pm

      It wasn't on the front page of the website where it was for Apple and Spotify. My bad!

  33. Dbrosius
    June 17, 2016 at 12:08 pm

    Spotify rate are per month, not per year.

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