Apple Music vs. Spotify: Which service is the streaming king?

Spotify is the undisputed king of on-demand streaming music. The Swedish-born service helped pioneer the current market and has tens of millions more paying subscribers than the competition, not to mention countless millions more free users. But Apple Music, known for its high-level exclusive releases and full integration into Apple’s popular iOS ecosystem, is the hottest service on Spotify’s heels.

Apple’s streaming service has had impressive growth in listenership, reaching about 40 million monthly subscribers since it went live in June 2015 — nine years after Spotify. In fact, it is now the most popular paid streaming service in the United States. Apple Music may be king in the USA, but both services are still battling it out for global domination — a competition which has even erupted into a mudslinging social media beef.

Follow us below to see if Apple has what it takes to steal Spotify’s crown.

Music library

Spotify first gained its dominant position on the strength of its impressive 30 million-plus song catalog. Couple this with the fact that it adds more than 20,000 new songs each day and it’s clear that the service offers more music than your ears would even know what to do with. While several holes do exist in its library, Spotify’s catalog is extremely deep, and even one-time holdout Taylor Swift eventually conceded her protest. The Swedish streaming service also brings all the latest record releases, exclusive live sessions, and various new singles right to its New Releases tab each Friday, providing a great way to hear the latest from established artists and rising stars alike. (Just stroll through our favorite Spotify playlists for a sense of the size of the catalog.)

screen-shot-2016-09-29-at-5-29-11-pm

Apple’s service touts around 45 million songs, however, which is superior to Spotify’s current 35 million-plus figure, and also outdoes newer contenders like Amazon’s paid streaming service and Jay-Z’s Tidal. Moreover, Apple has taken steps to secure many more exclusives than the competition, largely because it doesn’t offer a free tier. The Swedish streaming giant isn’t too happy with artists signing exclusivity deals with Apple, either; Spotify reportedly has a history of altering search rankings for artists who release their music through Apple first.

There’s another area where Apple Music has the leg up on its competition: Integration of the iTunes library. Any music you have — whether previously purchased via the iTunes Store, ripped from a physical CD, or uploaded to iTunes Match — will appear in your Apple Music library, giving you the option to freely browse your own music alongside Apple’s standard catalog. Spotify offers a similar function, relegating your local music files to a separate tab, but you can’t access your local music via broad searches as you can with Apple Music.

Winner: Apple Music

Music discovery

With so many songs at the ready, streaming libraries can seem daunting for those who want to find new music, but Spotify provides a lot of useful tools for finding new songs to suit your individual taste. Personalized playlists like Discover Weekly provide fantastic opportunities for subscribers to latch on to new music from artists they never stumbled across on their own. The deep well of dozens of base genres to choose from makes new music ripe for the picking, and other personalized playlists like Daily Mixes are constantly being added to the mix. Spotify even has a featured series called Secret Genius, which allows fans of pop music to listen to the songwriters behind some of their favorite hits.

Free users will be able to take advantage of these playlists, too, with up to 15 on-demand (meaning not shuffled) playlists to choose from daily. That adds up to about 40 hours of new music in total every day. These lists are curated based on a questionnaire you fill out when you sign up for a free account that asks you to choose your favorite artists.

Discover Weekly, in particular, deserves high praise in the streaming world (it’s so smart that Google copied the feature). Added to your feed every Monday morning, the feature delivers a two-hour playlist of personalized music recommendations based on your listening habits, as well as the habits of those who listen to similar artists. Playlists are often chock-full of music you haven’t heard before, as well as deep cuts from some of your favorite artists, thus broadening your listening repertoire with a collection of songs that are right up your alley. Listen to a lot of Black Keys? Your weekly playlist might include The Arcs, a side project of Black Keys guitarist Dan Auerbach. Fan of Dawes or Neil Young? Expect to find the likes of Laurel Canyon prodigy Jonathan Wilson on your playlist. The feature is not always on point, but it’s often impressive.

Discovery Spot

Spotify also gives you the chance to create, share, and follow playlists of any kind — including those shared by friends — with a simple click, along with expertly curated playlists for any mood or genre you’re into to keep things fresh.

As for Apple Music, upon creating an account, users are prompted to select some of their favorite artists so the service can get a sense of their tastes. The interface for this is a digital ball pit, with each ball representing an artist. Users simply tap particular balls to indicate artists they like or love. You can also always head back via the Account tab — accessible by tapping the icon in the top-right corner of “For You” — to reselect your favorite genres and artists. While it is a visually striking way to dictate music preferences (the pink on a white background is pure Apple-chic), the style stomps on the utility a bit. On mobile devices, in particular, the balls quickly clog up the screen, sluggishly bouncing off each other and making it a pain to select more artists.

applemusicchoosefavoritesforyou

Thankfully, once the process is complete, Apple Music does a great job curating playlists to appeal to your preferences. Playlists might be based on style (mellow, jazzy hip-hop), a particular artist, or even a particular activity like driving. Apple claims the playlists are curated by a “team of experts.” This cabal of tastemakers — whoever they are — does a good job creating varied playlists that are at once familiar yet fresh, like a mixtape you might get from a friend.

The level of individual curation is impressive, with one DT staffer quick to highlight a Behind the Boards playlist that encompasses music from audio engineers who have helped create some of the best music of their time from the studio control room. Spotify also offers “expertly curated” playlists, but Apple Music’s playlist selections come from individual DJs on the Apple payroll.

Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio function, which offers live radio 24 hours a day, also plays a major role when it comes to music discovery. It’s refreshing to see Apple move beyond sophisticated algorithms for a human approach to facilitating true music discovery, but Spotify has its own magic at work, and its personalized playlists are only growing.

Spotify’s hands-off playlists, especially its fantastic Discover Weekly, give it the edge here. Until Apple Music can compete with this algorithm-based approach, we will give Spotify the win.

Winner: Spotify

Home Theater

Amazon’s free Spotify competitor is here. Just ask Alexa

Just ask Alexa to play your favorite song. Amazon has launched a free, ad-based music streaming service to compete with Spotify's free tier on its popular Echo devices, aiming to bolster subscriptions to Amazon Music Unlimited.
Music

The best new music this week: Tallest Man On Earth, Cage the Elephant, and more

Looking for the best new music? Each week, we find the most compelling new releases just for you. This week: The Tallest Man On Earth, Cage The Elephant, Lizzo, Pivot Gang, and Sad Planets.
Music

YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. What's changed, and should you subscribe?

Thanks to Google, YouTube Red is now YouTube Premium. We explain what exactly a YouTube Premium subscription gets you, how much it costs, and break down if it's a good choice for you.
Music

Amazon rumored to be launching free music-streaming service

Rumors are swirling that Amazon is planning to take on Spotify by launching its own free, ad-supported music streaming service. This seems to be a move aimed at Echo users in particular.
Home Theater

Keep those albums sounding great by converting your vinyl to a digital format

There are all sorts of reasons for ripping records and storing them digitally, but what's the best way to do it? We cover the different types of equipment and software available for ripping records at any price in this guide.
Emerging Tech

Even a true rock god can’t smash this unbreakable 3D-printed metal guitar

Rock stars love to smash guitars. Geeky engineers love to build things using the latest high-tech tools. What happens when both parties meet? This "unbreakable" 3D-printed metal guitar.
Home Theater

Surface Buds? Microsoft might make AirPods competitors, joining Amazon and others

Microsoft is reportedly hard at work developing its own true wireless headphone model to compete with top offerings from Apple, Samsung, and others. It's aiming to take on the AirPods and Galaxy buds with its own pair of portable in-ears.
Home Theater

Celebrate Record Store Day in style with the best vinyl setups

From simple and affordable to sleek and swanky, these are our recommendations for incredible vinyl setups that will allow you to listen to your favorite records with outstanding fidelity and take your collection to the next level.
Home Theater

Record Store Day is here! Here's how to build a killer vinyl collection

Feeling the vinyl vibe? You're not alone. If you're interested in starting your own record collection and listening to tunes the analog way, we're here to help. This guide will take you through everything you need to know.
Deals

You can get V-Moda’s excellent wireless over-ear headphones for just $100

In the market for a pair of Bluetooth headphones? You can get a pair of V-Moda's first-generation Crossfade Wireless for a third of their original $300 list price, a fantastic deal for a pair of great-sounding headphones.
Home Theater

Sony releases wireless turntable, new soundbar amid slew of 2019 audio devices

Sony has announced pricing and availability for its 2019 home audio lineup, including a brand-new wireless turntable, a new soundbar, and a slew of Bluetooth speakers that range from small and portable to huge and cupholder-laden.
Movies & TV

From comedies to biopics, these are the best movies about music and musicians

The best movies about music range from hilarious comedies to powerful and informative biopics that illuminate the world of sonic expression from all possible angles. Here are our current favorites.
Home Theater

Puro’s kids headphones don’t just sound great, they help prevent hearing damage

Puro Sound Labs' PuroQuiet headphones are a pair of noise-canceling over-ears that are designed for young listeners, allowing them to jam out to their favorite tunes, but limiting volume to avoid long-term hearing damage.
Computing

Here's how you can download the best free music players for your Mac

Tired of your Mac's default music player? Take a look at our picks for the best free music players available for your Apple rig. Whether you're a casual listener or an audiophile, you're sure to find something that fits your needs here.
1 of 4