Music streaming services are nothing new – Pandora launched their free radio service almost twelve years ago. Since then, hundreds of Music streaming services have come and gone. Spotify, however, which launched several years later in 2008, quickly gained the number one spot when it came to music streaming services. Spotify reported a one million-strong subscriber base in 2011, with even more free listeners. That user base grew to 15 million in 2012, 24 million in 2013, and 60 million in 2014. Today, Spotify has serves over 100 million monthly active users, and has a paying subscriber base of over 40 million.
Although Spotify still reigns as the king of streaming music, several contenders have risen in the past couple of years. Tidal, which focuses on audiophile-quality music streams, is owned by artists such as Jay Z, Beyoncé, Rihanna, Kanye West, Daft Punk, Calvin Harris, and a host of others. Tidal has over 4 million subscribers – a fairly strong base for sure, but a drop in the bucket when compared to Spotify. Spotify’s number one contender, however, is without a doubt Apple Music. Launched in June of 2015, Apple Music quickly rose to prominence with several unique features and, of course, easy access to Apple’s massive user base. The service now boasts a base of over 20 million subscribers.
This begs the question, out of the two top dogs in music streaming, which service is better? Let’s take a look at the two and see how they compare.
Both Spotify and Apple Music have incredible music libraries. Spotify claims to have “over 30 million songs” available to its users, with some 20,000 new songs added daily. Apple claims to have “40 million” songs available on their service, although the discrepancy between the two services is unclear, and, frankly, probably won’t matter to over 99% of users. Apple has had some success securing exclusives with albums and artists. For example, Taylor Swift’s catalog is available for streaming on Apple Music and not on Spotify. Also, several popular artists such as Dr. Dre and Frank Ocean debuted their albums exclusively on Apple Music. However, there is a recent trend against exclusive streaming deals. Lady Gaga said, a bit ironically on Apple’s Beats 1 Radio, that “I told my label that if they signed those contracts with Apple Music and Tidal, I’d leak all my own new music.” In August of last year, just after Frank Ocean released Blonde, was released exclusively with Apple, Lucian Grainge, the CEO of Universal Music Group, one of the largest music corporations in the world, announced a permanent ban on exclusive distribution deals on streaming services. Although Universal Music Group is the only label openly banning the practice at the moment, the label was, according to Highsnobiety, “responsible for seven of the year’s 10 best-selling albums.” While Apple may be winning the music library battle at the moment with their exclusives, that gap will likely begin to close in the future as other artists and labels follow Universal Music Group’s suit.
Since a recent update has drastically improved Apple Music’s interface, both Spotify and Apple Music boast clean, easy to navigate interfaces. In fact, for the most part, Spotify and Apple Music will offer users a very similar experience. Both offer huge music libraries, both offer offline listening, and both offer a number of podcasts.
That being said, there are certainly some differences between the two. Spotify, for example, has tons more user-generated content and playlists, more social features, a host of mood-based playlists, randomized radio stations, as well as the popular “Discover Weekly” playlist, which introduces users to new music personalized to their taste every week. Apple Music, on the other hand, features the fantastic Beats 1 radio station, which plays 24 hours per-day. Apple Music also features live sets put together by Apple’s own hosts, along with a number of famous musicians such as Elton John and Pharrell Williams. Apple Music also recently introduced the “For You” playlist tab, their answer to Spotify’s “Discover Weekly” playlists. It should be noted, however, that listening to Beats 1 doesn’t require a subscription, so users who are already using another service such as Spotify can take advantage of Beats 1 Radio without paying any additional cost.
Both Spotify and Apple Music offer streams at different encoding qualities. Apple Music offers two streams – regular, which streams at 128kbps, and high quality, which streams at 256kbps. Spotify, on the other hand, offers three streams – normal at 96kbps, high at 160kbps, and extreme, which streams at 320kbps. While the average user likely won’t notice, or care about the difference between streams, audiophiles and users who listen with high-end headphones or stereo equipment will likely prefer Spotify due to the quality of the “extreme” stream.
Spotify and Apple Music’s premium services offer identical subscription plans. $9.99 per month gets you all the streaming music you can handle, while a $14.99 family plan allows ad-free streaming for up to six people (Apple Music also offers a Student plan for $4.99/month). The big difference here is that Spotify also offers an ad-supported free option. Desktop users of Spotify’s free tier won’t notice any restrictions, aside from the advertisements that pop up every few songs are so. Mobile users, however, are forced to listen to everything on shuffle mode – users are unable to pick a specific song they’d like to listen to, only a playlist, artist, or album. Free users are also unable to listen to music offline – an internet connection is required, so say goodbye to listening on the airplane or in any area with poor connectivity.
Although Apple Music doesn’t offer a free tier, they do offer a free, three-month trial period. Spotify offers a free 30-day trial, and often offers a three-month subscription for $0.99 promotion.
So Which Is Better?
Both services are very similar. Users who prefer more social media options and/or higher-quality music playback may look to Spotify. iOS users, on the other hand, who appreciate how well integrated Apple Music is with the Apple ecosystem – the ability to use Siri for playback options, for example – may go with Apple Music.
For users who are choosing between the two, the best option would likely be to start a free trial on both services and see which one they like better.
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