As a music enthusiast, it’s no easy feat choosing between Spotify and Apple Music. Both music streaming portals are more than worth their monthly subscription costs for several reasons.
For starters, Spotify paved the way for the current music-streaming market, and while there are no signs of a slowdown — the company is up to 345 million subscribers worldwide as of Q4 2020 — Apple Music is no slouch either.
Apple’s Music is known for its high-profile exclusives, robust library, curated radio, and seamless integration with iOS 14 and earlier versions of iOS. This meaty concoction helped Apple reach impressive growth in listeners, with over 72 million premium subscribers, vaulting it atop Spotify at one point in the U.S.
Still, Spotify remains the global champ. The competition between these two has helped the recording industry reach record heights for digital revenue, and the question of which is better has become increasingly tough to answer. We’re here to settle the score. Join us below to see which of these juggernaut music-streaming services is right for you.
Spotify first took its dominant position on the strength of its impressive 70 million-plus song catalog. Couple this with the fact that it adds more than 60,000 new songs each day, and it’s clear that the service offers more music than your ears would even know what to do with. The Swedish streaming service also brings all the latest releases, exclusive live sessions, and various new singles right to its New Releases tab each Friday, as well as the Release Radar playlist.
Apple’s service, on the other hand, touts more than 75 million songs, which is superior to Spotify’s current figures (although Spotify has been steadily catching up) and also outdoes newer contenders like Amazon Prime Music 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. Spotify 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
We also need to discuss the audio quality that comes with streaming songs on both services. For Spotify, the free version of the software streams at AAC 128kbit/s quality via the web player. Download the Spotify app, and it will adjust streaming quality based on your connection, anywhere from 24kbit/s to 160kbit/s. Upgrade to Premium, and that boosts quality up to AAC 256kbit/s.
Apple, on the other hand, is making significant strides in providing free audio quality upgrades for all subscribers. The company recently announced that Dolby Atmos support and Spatial Audio support would be provided for all compatible songs going forward, including playlists for the songs that successfully take advantage of these formats. Apple also announced the beginning of free lossless audio for all Apple Music, to be rolled out starting in June 2021, allowing users to pick their preferred audio quality all the way up to how sounded in the studio. In other words, for audiophiles, Apple has by far the better options.
Winner: Apple Music
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 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 base genres to choose from makes new music ripe for the picking, and listeners can personalize playlists simply by liking specific songs as they listen. While Spotify recommends ongoing playlists and channels to new users, including editor-curated playlists for specific tastes, these features are much more limited for free users.
Discover Weekly, in particular, deserves high praise in the streaming world. 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 tracks you haven’t heard before, as well as deep cuts from some of your favorite artists. Listen to a lot of Billy Eilish? Your weekly playlist might include her brother Finneas. The feature is not always on point, but it’s often impressive.
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. There’s even a Collaborative Playlist feature that lets you create playlists with your friends that you can all add to and edit. There’s also an option called Group Session that that’s two or more Premium users to control the same playback from their individual apps in a sort of party mode.
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 (one tap) or love (two). Recent upgrades in iOS 14 changed the previous For You starting place to a more comprehensive Listen Now section that recommends a variety of music based on your listening history and other activities, making it a great option for getting recommendations.
Thankfully, once the process is complete, Apple Music does a great job curating playlists to appeal to your preferences. Playlists might be based on genre, 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 — do 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 Apple Music 1 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.
Having proven a knack for the human element, Apple seems intent on beefing up its algorithmic recommendations with new features like Replay, which resurfaces your most-played tracks throughout the year to keep you jamming. All the while, the company has remained committed to timely recommendations to match or distract from world events and trends to lift your mood.
Still, Spotify’s hands-off playlists and curated playlists, along with its fantastic Discover Weekly and Release Radar segment, give it the edge. Until Apple Music can compete with this algorithm-based approach, we will give Spotify the win.
In the app, Spotify did away with the Radio tab of the past, but now has an option to create a radio mode for any specific artist, album, playlist, or song. Simply go to the three-dot menu icon, and choose Go to Radio to create one. These radio “stations” can also be saved in Library as playlists.
There’s also assisted playlist creation for a more personalized option than full Radio mode. Say, for example, you wanted to create a playlist to accompany you on your morning workouts. Using assisted playlisting, Spotify will use the title you’ve given the playlist (like “workout”) and pull from suggestions based on your past listening history, as well as recommendations based on songs others have added to their own, similar contextual playlists. You can continue to fill your playlists with tracks, or Spotify can autofill them once you’ve chosen a few to start with. Users are also able to search and preview songs before adding them to a playlist.
This feature complements the previously discussed free tier playlists option, which gives free users over 40 hours of music across 15 playlists generated from their musical tastes that they can listen to for up to 24 hours.
The experience differs from radio-style listening. While it gives you more control over discovery and personalization, it’s no longer the simple channel-based approach.
In an age that prioritizes automation, Apple Music’s preference for the human touch helps with radio-style programming. This philosophy is embodied in Apple Music 1, Apple Music’s premier radio station that runs nonstop music mixed by DJs on live radio shows.
While in-house DJs like Zane Lowe do an admirable job, especially when it comes to premieres, the most intriguing shows on Apple Music 1 are those hosted by notable musicians such as Annie Clark (St. Vincent) and Q-Tip (A Tribe Called Quest). These shows provide listeners with a unique look into the tastes of artists they admire. Some of them also have interesting formats, such as St. Vincent’s Mixtape Delivery Service, in which Clark solicits fans to tell her what is going on in their lives and assembles playlists to suit them.
Beyond Apple Music 1, Apple Music has some more generic radio stations for those who simply want to listen to, say, classic rock, jazz, or Top 40 hits. There are also non-music stations such as BBC News and ESPN, creating a menagerie of options that are hard to beat.
Winner: Apple Music
Although Apple Music and Spotify are primarily music apps, podcasts have a natural home on audio platforms. Spotify has been the fastest-growing podcast destination since launching the feature in 2015. In fact, it recently dethroned previous champion Apple. You’ll find tons of popular programs, and there are enough compelling originals that podcasts alone may entice you to stay. The Spotify app handles the task beautifully, with timers and playback speed controls available to assist your binge-listening sessions.
Apple Music doesn’t have any such functionality built-in. Podcasts were split off into their own app right around the time Apple started breaking iTunes into little bits and pieces, and that’s where they’ll stay for the foreseeable future.
Apple Music costs the industry-standard $10 per month, as does Spotify Premium Individual service, Tidal Premium, Pandora’s on-demand service, and just about every other on-demand subscription service on the block (Amazon Music Unlimited costs $10 per month for existing users or $8 for new users and those with an Amazon Prime subscription). Right now, new subscribers get Apple Music free for three months. Spotify also has a Duo plan for $13 for a couple subscribing together, and a Family plan for $16 that offers up to six accounts along with Spotify Kids and parental controls.
There’s another way to save some cash on both services. New users with an applicable student email can get a discounted monthly subscription of just $5. Both add a bit more for that bargain, with Spotify offering students the ad-supported Hulu access with Showtime into the mix, while Apple will hook the studious up with Apple TV+.
Apple Music subscribers can also get a year’s worth of service for $99 if you know where to look. You’ll first need to be subscribed to Apple Music (it doesn’t matter which subscription you have). Head to your Subscriptions in the App Store app (accessed through your Apple ID at the bottom of the Featured tab), and select Apple Music. You should see an Individual (1 year) option for $99 — select it, and you can save nearly 20% over a year. Or, you know, you can always subscribe to Verizon Unlimited and bag a six-month membership for free. AT&T Unlimited & More customers, on the other hand, have the option to redeem a free Spotify Premium subscription, which will run right through the end of the contract.
Considering Apple grants every prospective subscriber three months of Apple Music for free, the service may be sweeping away more of Spotify’s audience than CEO Daniel Ek would like to acknowledge. However — and this is key — Apple does not have a free, ad-based tier like Spotify. The majority of Spotify’s users listen for free, and they can still play songs on-demand as long as they are willing to put up with ads (unskippable on the app, but can be muted on the web app) – with some extra limitations for mobile devices. That’s better than any three-month trial or discounted yearlong subscription Apple could offer — and the sole reason it takes home the crown for having the most competitive subscription fees. Not to mention, new Spotify users can currently nab one month of Premium for free.
Despite Apple’s penchant for minimalist design, Apple Music’s mobile interface was less than intuitive out of the gate. But with iOS 14, Apple Music is much smoother. The library is now on the homepage of the Music app — all the music you own can be accessed in this tab, and you can easily filter by Playlists, Artists, Albums, Songs, and Downloaded Music, just in case you don’t want to waste your precious mobile data.
Tapping on the Listen Now tab now brings up several different personalized options. The Top Hits Mix and the daily themed playlists provide even more ways to discover new tunes, while the Browse tab gives you an avenue to explore popular music, videos, and Apple exclusives. The Radio tab gives users access to hundreds of Apple-curated music stations, broken up by genre, artist, and host. Those looking for something specific can use the Search tab, which allows you to quickly search through either your personal library or the Apple Music library.
Apple has also integrated Siri with Apple Music, allowing subscribers to issue voice commands through their Apple TV, iPhone, or Mac. If you were to ask Siri to play the No. 1 song from 2001, for instance, Lifehouse‘s Hanging by a Moment would quickly start playing. It’s a cool feature that Android users won’t get, as they don’t have access to Siri.
The Android version of Apple Music is aesthetically different from the iOS version in that it hides its menu to the left side of the screen, as many Android apps do. If users need to navigate, they can pull the menu into view like a drawer. This keeps the layout clean and makes good use of your phone’s limited real estate. Though Apple Music is available for iOS and Android, Apple Music works best on iOS, especially with the added Siri functionality. As of MacOS Catalina, Apple Music is no longer accessed within iTunes. You’ll have a dedicated Apple Music app for that instead, though those on older versions or any version of Windows will still require the antiquated service.
Spotify, on the other hand, is more device-agnostic and has long been the industry leader in terms of sheer usability. The mobile and desktop applications provide users with an easy way to browse music, access playlists, listen to internet radio, and discover new music.
On mobile, all your bidding is done within three tabs — Home, Search, and Your Library. Each section features its own set of straightforward subcategories, which gives users easy access to the service’s many features. The search window actively populates the results field, much like Google’s search engine, often providing exactly what you’re looking for after typing just a few characters, and a filter function makes it easy to drill down even further. Spotify has middling support for voice activation through devices like the Amazon Echo or Google Home, but recent evidence points to the development of its own in-house digital assistant, according to Engadget. You’ll be able to call on it by issuing two magic words — “Hey, Spotify” — but only if the app is already open on your phone.
In February 2020, Spotify introduced key changes to its mobile interface to help streamline your playback efforts. The changes included the addition of a unified button for Play and Shuffle functions, as well as corralling the Like and Download buttons — among other actions — into a navigation bar that you can find near the top of any playlist. In April 2021, the company did another massive overhaul of its mobile apps to expand the Library feature, make searching easier, and allow for dynamic filters.
Spotify also dares to set an example of how a music company can help listeners during a crisis like recent viral breakouts. It recently announced initiatives to match up to $10 million in donations to music organizations that raise money to support struggling artists.
As for outside integration, both Apple Music and Spotify also support Amazon’s Echo ecosystem, allowing subscribers to play songs on the company’s smart home systems with simple Alexa voice commands like, “Play songs by Mumford and Sons.” Spotify even offers Google Cast integration, which is especially handy for those who like Google’s streaming devices like the Chromecast, allowing for a quick and easy way to stream music from your home theater system. Apple Music once had exclusivity on the Apple TV, but recently loosened its grip, allowing Spotify integration to Apple TV 4K and Apple TV HD owners. HomePod, on the other hand, is still limited to streaming to it from other devices through AirPlay, though Apple could soon open up the floodgates to allow other services — such as Spotify — the same integration.
For those allergic to apps, Spotify has long offered a web player that, while not quite as intuitive as the native desktop app, offers quick, lightweight access. Apple has followed suit, with a web player of its own in beta. Both have the option to display the lyrics of the song playing.
Apple Music offers one of the most impressive music services around, but you have to be all-in on Apple’s smartphones, tablets, computers, and streaming boxes to get the most out of it. We’ll have to give Spotify the edge here for its clean and easy user experience, ubiquity, and increased availability of third-party integrations.
Spotify’s social functions allow subscribers to follow friends (if you’re both on Facebook and connect your Spotify accounts) and see what they listen to and who they follow. It also gives users the ability to share or recommend playlists, along with the ability to publish their listening history to Facebook, which then allows their Facebook friends to like or comment on the activity.
Spotify is also offering an Instagram-like feature called Stories, basically quick videos from celebrities talking about their favorite music, but it’s unclear if Stories will be expanded in the future. The company is also working on live audio discussions (sort of like Clubhouse) fueled by its recent acquisition of Locker Room.
While these features do give Spotify some added social clout, we would like to see the service add an easy way to chat with those you follow. It has also now removed the Inbox/Messages feature, which allowed users to privately message each other inside the app — something the company said most users simply weren’t using and therefore was too expensive to maintain.
Apple Music’s main social feature used to be contained within something called Connect, a Twitter-style feed that brought artists and fans closer together and effectively served as an all-access pass to your favorite bands. Artists could post photos, videos, and more. Unfortunately, Apple removed the rarely-used feature in favor of more informational artist pages.
Thankfully, some of Apple Music’s social functionality remains, including the ability to see what your friends are listening to and easy playlist sharing. Still, Apple Music doesn’t offer much in the way of social components. Even without messaging, Spotify’s solid social media integration, as well as the ability to see what friends and followers are listening to, gives the service the upper hand.
Many people listen to music while running, and both Apple Music and Spotify are loaded with workout-themed playlists.
Spotify used to have built-in workout functions but has since offloaded some of those features to other apps. For example, on smartphones with the appropriate sensors, Spotify can be used in conjunction with running apps such as Runkeeper to automatically select a playlist that matches the user’s running tempo. The integration is a welcome one for people who don’t want to plan out their music selection before they hit the track — though it’s a shame the functionality is no longer natively supported in-app.
For Apple Music subscribers, there’s Apple Fitness+. Going for $10/month or $80/year (or free for three months with a new Apple Watch purchase), Apple Fitness+ uses data from a user’s Series 3 Apple Watch to create customized workout routines and workout playlists that can be listened to in Apple Music. Apple Music users can use the Search tab to find some motivational Apple Fitness+ playlists. With Apple Fitness+ Studio Series, users can even search for workout tunes based on the type of exercise they’re launching into. Everything from meditative music for yoga to dance and electronic music for rowing and kickboxing is available.
Winner: Apple Music
Apple Music lets you download music for offline playback across 10 different devices at once, with no real limit on how much you can download. Technically, the upper limit is 100,000 songs, but you would be hard-pressed to reach that number unless you download every album you see. Spotify lags in this area, with their restriction sitting at 10,000 songs on up to five devices.
Winner: Apple Music
Spotify for the win. While Apple Music has made some serious strides, Spotify still reigns supreme. Its user interface is accessible and uncluttered, making playlist management simple. Its music discovery playlists, especially Discover Weekly, keep it brilliantly fresh, and it’s also free for those who can’t yet commit. Apple Music’s larger catalog, exclusive releases, human-curated playlists, and features like Apple Music 1 make it a serious contender. But for now, Spotify still has the edge.
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