Based on our independent research, we estimate that there are probably between a zillion and a jillion different music apps on Google Play and the iOS App Store. Those aren’t exact figures, but we reckon we’re not far off. With all these choices, you have access to just about any type of music program imaginable, from internet radio and streaming apps, to guitar tuners and portable DJ stations. But even if you wanted to, using them all would take more time than you likely have — and would waste all your phone’s memory too. Since you can’t download all zillion apps available — not yet, anyway — we’ve dug up the best music apps available for Android and iOS.
Most are available free of charge, but many also feature in-app purchases and monthly subscription fees. Nonetheless, below are our picks for the best music apps, whether you’re looking to simply listen to music, learn musical skills, or create your own tunes. And before we start, don’t forget that music is best listened to with a good pair of cans, so check out our picks for the best headphones you can buy and the best noise-canceling headphones.
The best apps for listening to music
Google Play Music (free/subscription)
With the announcement that Google Play Music will slowly transition into the YouTube Music app, you might think that getting into Google Play Music at this late stage is somewhat pointless. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Google has promised a “soft landing” for all Play Music users, and all playlists will be transferred over when the transition is complete in about 2019. Regardless of the change, Play Music still grants you full access to your cloud-based music collection on the go, and from the Play Music website, as well as podcasts. As expected for a Google app, the design is clean, lined with hand-picked playlists and custom radio stations. A subscription costs $10 a month and gives you access to Google’s massive song database, personalized radio stations with unlimited skips, smart recommendations, and YouTube Red. That subscription will eventually transition into a YouTube Music Premium subscription that’s good for background listening, downloads, and ad-free music. The free version of Play Music still allows you can still upload up to 50,000 of your own songs to Google’s cloud, and you won’t get any ads while listening to your collection. While Google’s musical offerings are a little confused right now, Play Music itself is still a great choice.
Apple Music (subscription)
Apple Music is Apple’s first music streaming service, and it offers you complete access to any song in the Apple Music library — no matter where you are. The well-designed app is available for both Android and iOS, and though the service’s catalog of 50 million songs is clearly its biggest draw, it also includes a host of custom playlists, radio shows, and the like. A subscription starts at $10 a month for individuals; it’s $5 for a Student sub and a $15 Family option is also available. You can also upload 100,000 songs to Apple’s servers, but unlike Play Music, there’s no free option.
YouTube Music (free/subscription)
YouTube Music used to be something of a black sheep, but it’s preparing for its time in the sun, in June 2018, Google launched YouTube Music. YouTube Music Premium subscription costs $10, which gives you background listening, downloads, and no ads. Otherwise, the YouTube Premium subscription (that comes with ad-free videos) will also come with YouTube Music Premium for $12. For the moment, YouTube Music just allows you to listen to music from YouTube, but with the screen off. Google is updating the interface to make it more appealing to the eye and easier to navigate.
One of the best-known players in the game, Spotify is a massive force in the streaming industry, boasting more than 80 million subscribers and access to 40 million tracks. The mobile app boasts the same functionality as its desktop counterpart, allowing you to stream single tracks or entire albums with the option to create custom playlists. However, a free account only allows for Shuffle Play, and if you want to be able to play any song, listen offline, and ditch those ads, then you’ll have to cough up $10 a month to do so. There’s also the option for a cut-price Student sub that comes with Hulu, and a Family option too.
Definitely best known for its music-detection skills, Shazam recognizes songs and television shows in a matter of seconds, providing purchasing options and lyrics. It’s also a convenient means of streaming the tracks once they are recognized. Not really a stand-alone music app, Shazam works best alongside another streaming app, and gives you the option to open or purchase the song in Amazon Music, Spotify, Apple Music, and more. The real-time chart is just a plus.
Amazon Music (free/subscription)
Amazon might have been late to the game, but its streaming app is pretty good. It allows access to a bunch of free songs, and your entire Cloud Player library, including uploaded songs and those you purchased on the site. Access to the full 50 million-strong library is only included in Amazon Music Unlimited for $10 a month, or just $4 if you tie your subscription to a single Echo or Fire device alone. If you’re already an Amazon Prime member, then get a pared-down version of full membership with access to 2 million songs for free. Not a bad deal if you’re already an Amazon Prime member, but you may feel slightly left out compared to Apple Music, Google Play Music, or Spotify.
8tracks takes us back to the days when we would craft mix tapes for our friends, and this app is like being given millions of carefully created mix tapes. Access to the playlists is free and all of them are handcrafted by real people, and you’ll soon find there’s a playlist for every occasion — from a study playlist for when you need to hit the books to a workout playlist to help you get pumped. Though the free app does contain ads, you can also subscribe to the 8tracks Plus plan, which features unlimited ad-free listening for $5 a month.
TuneIn Radio (free/subscription)
The days of internet pirate radio has mostly passed, but there’s still some great stuff out there. TuneIn Radio grants you access to more than 120,000 live radio stations from around the globe. The app offers a bevy of local content as well, providing on-demand streams encompassing sports, news, talk shows, music, and current events among other stellar offerings. There’s also good news if you’re a sports fan — TuneIn’s premium service offers radio access to live NFL, MLB, NBA, and NHL games, and ad-free listening for $10 a month or $100 a year. But if you’re not interested in that, you can still access the live radio stations for free.
Soundcloud is a wide-ranging community of musicians, bands, podcasters, and more. The app retains all the hallmarks of the full site, allowing you to search for new artists to follow, listen to songs in your feed, and even record and post your own audio. Listening is completely free, and SoundCloud Pro is only really useful for music creators. However, if you are a creator, you can check out the Pro packages, starting from $6, which offer additional storage space and stats for uploaded tracks.
Despite a dwindling user base, Pandora is a mainstay of the streaming realm. The service curates custom radio stations using advanced algorithms based on a specific track or artist, delivering song suggestions catered for you that get better with feedback. Simply boot up the app and let it go. If you want an ad-free radio experience with unlimited skips and offline radio, then that’s available with a $5 monthly subscription. The Premium experience costs $10 (or $15 for a family plan) and gives you the ability to choose single tracks to listen to. Unfortunately, Pandora is only available in the U.S. at the moment.
Designed for the audio aficionado, Tidal boasts more than 60 million lossless-quality tracks, an offline mode, quick access to music videos, tailor-made suggestions, and in-depth interviews covering everyone from Jack White to Jay-Z. Tidal has a massive amount of subscription options, split into Premium ($10 a month) for the standard service and HiFi ($20 a month) for completely lossless tracks. There are discounts available for Family accounts, students, and members of the U.S. military.
Stingray Qello Concerts (free/subscription)
Sometimes hearing isn’t enough. Qello Concerts lets you see it in action, granting you on-demand access to full-length concerts and riveting documentaries from the likes of Pink Floyd, Nirvana, Lady Gaga, and countless others. It might seem like a limited amount of content, but trust us, 2,000 performances is plenty. Qello is also available on a wide variety of devices, including Apple TV, Roku, and Android TV. For access to the database, you’re looking at $8 a month, or you can save money by paying $96 upfront for the entire year.
Musixmatch Lyrics (free)
Musixmatch boasts the world’s largest catalog of lyrics, and its dedicated app lets you listen to songs in your library with synced lyrics, including English-translated lyrics for songs in a foreign language. It also lets you search for song lyrics, whether by title or lyric, helps you identify music playing around you with a simple tap, and you can add lyrics yourself if they’re missing. There’s a Pro service that gives you offline access to lyrics with no ads, and the app also syncs up with other streaming services to provide lyrics for songs playing on them.
Slacker Radio (free)
Slacker Radio brings you curated music that you can customize to suit your own tastes. You can create and share your music stations, and the app also gives you access to news and sports. Some features are only accessible through a subscription though. A Plus subscription costs $4 per month and includes maximum audio quality at 320kbps, no ads, and custom stations. A Premium subscription at $10 per month gives you the ability to play songs on demand, and listen offline.
Deezer offers a truly massive library of tracks, but its headline feature is the Flow feature. Flow learns about your favorite types of music and creates a mix of music and artists just for you, based on artists it knows you like and some it thinks you will. Deezer Premium gives unlimited access to all songs, offline playback, and no ads, and starts at $10 per month. If you’re wanting the highest quality of music available, then Deezer also offers a $20 HiFi subscription that uses high-definition FLAC codecs for the best possible listening experience. If you’re rocking on with the free version though, then you’re restricted to the Flow feature and mixes on mobile.
Jango Radio (free)
A lot of music streaming apps are free for a while, and then charge a fee, but Jango is completely free with no hidden costs. You can browse music, explore by category, or create your own station by searching for an artist. There are ads, but they are small ads that appear just under the album art and aren’t particularly intrusive. You can also share stations with your friends on Facebook and Twitter.
Napster Music (subscription)
Though battling Metallica and Dr. Dre shouldn’t put you in good stead in the music business, it doesn’t seem to have done Napster much harm. Now very far away from its roots as a P2P file sharing platform, Napster has been reborn as a subscription-based music service with 40 million songs in its database. A basic unRadio subscription is $5 a month, but only allows the use of a personalized radio station — though you do get unlimited skips. The real deal is the $10 monthly subscription, which offers an experience similar to Spotify and other services. Crucially, the Premium $10 subscription also comes with a “Kids” mode, which strips out unsuitable music, which may give Napster’s offering the edge.