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Spotify vs Amazon Music vs Apple Music vs YouTube Music: Which is the best music-streaming service?

Grace Shallow
3 May 2019
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Which music streaming service should you go for? We compare the best on the market

Early streaming stalwart Spotify still reigns supreme for many, but the online music industry in 2019 is increasingly split between a handful of services. As well as Spotify and Apple Music, there are Amazon Music and YouTube Music; all offering their own exclusives and bonuses.    

READ NEXT: Google Home Mini vs Amazon Echo Dot

Here, we will compare the four friendly foes to see who comes out on top.

Spotify

Since Spotify launched in 2008, it has worked tirelessly to achieve and maintain its position as the number-one music-streaming service.

Number of users/subscribers: There are more than 200 million active users and more than 96 million paying subscribers.

Price: The price for Spotify ranges from free to £14.99. You can try out the premium version with a three-month trial for a total price of 99p or pay the standard price of £9.99/mth. Students enjoy a discount for the subscription at £4.99/mth. The family plan is £14.99/mth for up to six people, making it the cheapest version of Spotify per person at about £2.50/mth.

What you get: Creating a free Spotify account gives you ad-supported shuffle play of the app’s entire catalogue. The premium subscription comes with ad-free services that include shuffle play, unlimited skips, offline listening and the ability to make playlists.

Streaming speed/audio quality: There are two quality ratings for streamings, both in the Ogg Vorbis format. The choices are Normal at 160Kbits/sec and High at 320Kbits/sec. Users with the free version will automatically get the Normal version, and Premium subscribers can choose at what level of streaming quality the music plays, but the Automatic style is recommended – it will change according to your network connection, with a minimum rate of 96Kbits/sec.

Number of songs available: More than 35 million songs are available to users with the free and premium versions.

Downloading ability: The Premium account allows you to download up to 10,000 songs on up to five devices. Downloading the songs lets you play them offline with no internet connection.

Added bonuses:

  • Every Monday, Spotify releases Discover Weekly, a playlist curated from what you listened to that week and what similar users listen to. It’s available to any user after they’ve actively used for two weeks. The only catch is that it will refresh automatically on each Monday, so you’ll have to save it before then because they’re not retrievable.
  • Spotify’s Running feature changes the tempo of the song you’re listening to based on how fast you’re running. Users can also manually change the tempo themselves. The app Runkeeper also works through Spotify, allowing users to track things like their pace and how long they’ve been running.
  • Playlists: Users can use a collaborative playlist feature and share a playlist with friends so they can work together to edit it – think Google Docs, but for a weekend’s soundtrack. All playlists also feature the Playlist Extender feature, which recommends songs based on what’s in your track list and the playlist’s name.

Sign up now for Spotify Premium

Apple Music

Apple's music efforts started in 2001, the year the iPod and iTunes were released. But the company’s debut in music streaming began in 2015, about a year after its £1.79 billion Beats Music acquisition - Apple hasn't wasted any time in this realm since then.

Number of users/subscribers: The service has more than 28 million active users, according to the last time Apple officially confirmed this number. However, Verto Analytics released data comparing 18 music streaming services and recorded Apple Music as having the most unique monthly users, with 41 million people logging in.

Price: If you’re curious but cautious, Apple Music offers a free three-month subscription to test it out. After that, the prices are pretty comparable to Spotify Premium’s rates: £9.99/mth for individuals; £4.99/mth for students; and £14.99/mth for up to six people on the family plan, which is about £2.50 per person.

What you get: All users get ad-free unlimited access to songs already in iTunes and the service’s library. Offline listening and curated radio stations are also options.

Streaming speed/audio quality: Everything is streamed in the 256Kbits/sec in the Advanced Audio Coding format.

Number of songs available: Apple Music has more than 40 million songs available and is known for having music before anyone else when it first premieres – notable triumphs included early access to Frank Ocean’s Blonde album and Drake’s Views. Users can access all of the music that they have in their iTunes account before downloading the service.

Downloading ability: Users can have up to 100,000 songs – which can be downloaded for offline listening – in their iCloud Media Library, according to Apple Music’s page. But Apple’s Service and Conditions states that songs from Apple Music and iTunes don’t contribute to this quota. So... unlimited?

Added bonuses: Twenty-four hours a day and seven days a week, Apple Music streams the radio station Beats 1, which features songs, interviews and co-host sessions with the most popular artists and DJs. However, the reception to this channel has been lukewarm at best.

Sign up now for Apple Music

Amazon Music

Amazon dominates headlines with the successes that have made CEO Jeff Bezos the second-richest person in the world. However, the company made things complicated by offering two streaming services, instead of just one. When looking further into it, though, you’ll realise only one of their options is really competitive.

One key point, though: Prime Music is relatively puny, with just two million songs. That sounds like a lot, but compared to Spotify’s range of more than 35 million, you’ll quickly spot gaps. Amazon Music Unlimited is Spotify’s true rival, but it doesn’t come free with Prime.

Number of users/subscribers: This one is trickier than others. Amazon, true to form, will not release the figure of how many people subscribe to its services, but that doesn’t stop people from guessing. The latest projections for the number of Prime members, released by Consumer Intelligence Research Partner marked it at 80 million. Since every Prime member automatically gets access to Prime Music, this projection marks Amazon’s music service as having significantly more users than any other. But there’s no telling whether every Prime member actively uses the streaming service – it's hard to imagine that they do, though.

Price:

  • Prime Music is included with a Prime membership, which costs £7.99/mth for regular members or £79 annually, equating to £6.58/mth. Students can get a free six-month trial for Amazon Prime and then pay £39 per year, which equates to £3.25 per month. Amazon’s family plan allows two adults and four children to register with one account and access benefits such as one-day delivery and Prime Video. This plan is £79 per year, but also a 30-day free trial. All of these prices include Prime Music as well as all of the membership’s other benefits such as quicker shipping and Prime Video.
  • Amazon Music Unlimited: If Prime members want to upgrade from Prime Music to Amazon Music Unlimited – which is pretty much essential to make the service comparable with Spotify and Apple Music – it is an additional £79 per year. Non-Prime members can also subscribe to this service for £9.99/mth, so Prime members technically get two months for free when you break this down. There’s also a family plan for £14.99/month for non-Prime members and a £149.99/year option for Prime members (so technically £12 per month). People on the more tentative side are in luck because Amazon is currently offering new subscribers 3 months for 99p.

What you get: With Prime Music, users get ad-free listening, unlimited skips and the ability to download songs if you have the app downloaded onto a phone or tablet. Amazon Music Unlimited gives you all the same features as Prime Music, and the main advantage is a far larger selection in overall songs and available playlists (see below).

Streaming speed/audio quality: Amazon has been picky about releasing the specifics of the audio quality, but has said that it supports “multiple bit rates.”

Number of songs available: There is a significant difference between the libraries available on Prime Music, with 2 million songs, and Amazon Music Unlimited, with 40 million songs.

Downloading ability: You can download songs from Amazon’s music services to any device that’s authorised for your account – the maximum is 10.

Added bonuses:

  • If you’re not a subscriber but have an Amazon Echo or Echo Dot, you can get Amazon Music Unlimited on that device for only £3.99/mth.
  • Prime Music and Amazon Music Unlimited both offer Prime Playlists – handcrafted collections of songs from Amazon’s Prime Music catalogue. The type of music you’re listening to can be filtered by searching or picking a mood or genre, and you can save a playlist for later by adding it to a “Followed Playlists” tab within the service.

Sign up now for Amazon Music Unlimited

YouTube Music

YouTube may be the long-standing champ in the world of video-clip streaming but, with its re-imagined music streaming service YouTube Music, it’s starting all the way at the bottom. The service began in 2015, but it wasn’t until May of 2018 that YouTube really began to push the service, with an overhauled app as well as desktop functionality. After lurking in the shadows for three years, it’s now being positioned as a direct competitor to the likes of Spotify and Apple Music.

The thing is, YouTube is owned by Google, which has had its own moderately popular music and podcast-streaming service since 2011. If YouTube Music proves successful – which Google surely hopes it will – then what will become of Google Play Music?

Number of users/subscribers: As of July 2018, there are no reliable figures stating exactly how many people have used the service, either as a free trial or via paid subscription. Back in April 2018, mere weeks before the big relaunch of YouTube Music, Vertigo Analytics reported that YouTube Music had just 2.7 million users compared to Google Play Music's 23.7 million.

Don’t forget that YouTube itself is the largest video-streaming service in the world, with just shy of 200 million unique monthly users. YouTube is the go-to website for watching the latest music videos (and watching them again, and again, and again...) and this is something you can still do on YouTube Music. And YouTube is pushing hard on its revamped music-streaming service, which it is able to advertise to its hundreds of millions of visitors, for free – and to an unlimited degree.

Price: Before you commit to anything, you’re offered a one-month trial of ad-free YouTube Music Premium. It’s a great, user-friendly service, so it may well get you hooked, especially if Spotify doesn’t already own your soul. After that, it’s £10 per month for a single user on mobile and desktop. For £15 per month you can access the Family Membership, which covers up to six family members (aged 13+) in a single household.

What you get: YouTube Music has made major efforts to partner with record distribution companies, ensuring that it won’t be playing second-fiddle to Spotify and co. It’s packed with millions of songs, including official albums, playlists, and the latest chart singles. YouTube Music also plays literally any YouTube video categorised as “Music”, which means all your favourite covers, remixes, and gig recordings are in there too.

Whereas the free version of YouTube Music only plays music while the app is on-screen, Premium users can switch to ‘audio-only’ playback and turn off their phone screen, browse the web, or play games as the music continues to pump. Premium subscribers also get to download any song, playlist, or full album of their choosing so that can they listen when offline.

Streaming speed/audio quality: YouTube Music has a default audio streaming quality of 128Kbits/sec, less than half of Spotify’s ‘High’ 320kbps. In poor network conditions, YouTube Music audio quality drops down to 64Kbits/sec. There is no way to swap between these in the app’s settings. YouTube has stated it is bringing a higher 256kbps streaming option to the app, as well as the ability to switch between quality settings, but it hasn’t said when.

Number of songs available: The exact figure is currently unknown, but assuming that YouTube Music has all songs available on Google Play Music, it’ll be at least 40 million. Add to that figure the staggering amount of music remixes, covers, and live recordings uploaded to YouTube over the years, and it could be well over 100million. But we’re not going to start counting them any time soon.

Downloading ability: The number of downloads is limited only by the storage space on your device. The catch? After 30 days, you have to download it again. This stops people from signing up for the free trial, then hoarding hundreds of GB worth of downloads before it runs out.

YouTube Music also automatically generates ‘offline mixtapes’ based on both your YouTube and YouTube Music account viewing, provided those accounts are under the same email. You’ll also have full access to any music playlists you may have built or saved on standard YouTube.

Added bonuses:

  • Video streaming wherever applicable, up to 1080p
  • In addition to all the official licensed music, users still have access to YouTube’s gigantic library of remixes, covers, and live gig recordings.
  • Recommended playlists for different times of the day, based on your listening habits.
  • Data linked to your regular YouTube account

Sign up now for YouTube Music Premium

The winner:

Call us old-fashioned, but Spotify is the winner. It has a loyal following, lets users choose the streaming speed, a nicely sized library and features – such as Discover Weekly and the Runkeeper partnership – that give users a sense of reliance on the app, making it part of their routines.

Sign up now for Spotify Premium

Other services are turning heads, though. The main competitors are Apple Music and Amazon Music Unlimited, which both offer larger libraries, comparable prices and downloading abilities that could lure in even the most staunch of Spotify advocates.

New kid on the block YouTube Music may catch up faster than you think, though. With video and audio options, it's the only streaming service that lets you watch music videos, and it may well have the biggest music library of all. Stay tuned on this one!