The best music streaming services

Spotify is the best streaming service, but its competitors aren’t far behind

As more listeners shy away from physical recordings in favor of online music libraries, different streaming services keep popping up, each offering a varied amount of songs, features, and quirks. But only a choice few have what it takes to join our list of the best.

We’ve spent some time with all the most popular services online, and picked the top five streaming services for all different types of listeners. Whether you’re into music discovery, streaming radio, or the highest audio resolution you can find, these are the best on-demand streaming services available today.

At a glance

Service Category
Spotify Best music streaming service overall
Apple Music  Best music streaming service for Apple users
Pandora Best music streaming service for passive listening
Soundcloud Best music streaming service for indie music discovery
Tidal Best fidelity

Spotify

The best

spotify video rolling out soon app
Denys Prykhodov/Shutterstock

Why you should subscribe: It’s the best music discovery platform you’ll find, it has a huge catalog, and it can be tested for free indefinitely.

The user-friendly, undisputed king of music discovery, Spotify is our favorite on-demand streaming service.

Who it’s for: Streaming newcomers, new-musical explorers, and just about everyone else.

How much it will cost: Free with ads, $10 per month ad-free for single users, $15 ad-free for families (up to six users), and $5 ad-free for students

Why we picked Spotify:

With millions more paying subscribers than the closest competition, Spotify is — by a wide margin — the most popular on-demand streaming service on the market today. That’s true for a number of reasons, including the service’s extremely user-friendly interface on desktop, iOS, and Android, numerous third-party integrations — such as Amazon’s Alexa and Google Cast — and a diverse array of well-curated playlists and music-discovery tools.

One of the earliest pioneers of on-demand streaming, the Swedish streamer has long enticed newcomers with a free, ad-based desktop platform, and as streaming has begun to take hold of the industry, many of those users have eventually become paid subscribers. Apart from kicking the annoying ads, paying up allows you some real advantages, including being able to choose songs on demand via mobile devices — an important feature for most users that the ad-based service doesn’t offer.

In a streaming market that sometimes turns to exclusive releases from big-name artists to capture more users, Spotify employs its status as the industry leader to force the hands of artists and labels alike to release their music on the service. For instance, Drake is a paid ambassador for Apple Music, but his mega-hit album Views didn’t stay an Apple Music exclusive for long — the album landed on Spotify within a few weeks of its debut. Radiohead — a band with no shortage of terse words about Spotify’s royalty payments — also eventually released their entire catalog on the service. Even Taylor Swift eventually gave up her stand against Spotify, after years of Apple Music exclusivity.

While there are a few Spotify holdouts, Spotify’s catalog of well over 30 million songs assures that if you can’t find it on Spotify, it will be tough to find it anywhere else.

Those looking to find their next favorite band will also love Spotify for its updated playlists like Monday’s Discover Weekly and New Music Friday, all of which follow your listening habits to recommend surprisingly fitting new artists to match up with your listening tastes.

Looking to listen to that cool band your friend is into? Spotify’s Facebook integration allows you to follow friends and see what they have been listening to, as well as check out any playlists they’ve decided to make public.

While competitors do offer some exclusive features, Spotify is the most well-rounded, intuitive, and hassle-free option available. Unless you have a very specific sonic need the service can’t satisfy (which we’ll outline below), we suggest streaming newbies get on the Spotify train.

While you’re at it, be sure to check out our massive assortment of Spotify playlists for all occasions.

Apple Music

The best for Apple users

apple music redesign ios 11 1

Why you should subscribe: You’re an Apple user looking for the best service to integrate with all your stuff.

For serious Apple fans who want everything in one place, Apple Music is the answer.

Who it’s for: Lovers of iTunes, hand-curated live radio, and all things Apple.

How much it will cost: $10 per month for a single user, $15 for a family plan (up to six users), $5 per month for students, $99 per year for those who have already subscribed.

Why we picked Apple Music:

While we generally prefer Spotify to Apple Music when it comes to features and usability, there are definitely some compelling reasons to check out the second-most popular on-demand streaming service.

First and foremost is Apple Music’s iOS and MacOS integration. Those with iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks will love the fact that they can ask Siri to search for specific artists, songs, or playlists, and virtually everything music related on an Apple device is tied into the service. In addition, longtime iTunes users will be pleased to find many of their songs are immediately available in their Apple Music streaming library upon signing up, along with the ability to store up to 100,000 songs for later use (Spotify downloads cap at 9,999).

The company also offers multiroom integration via Airplay 2, which came with the release of iOS 11, alongside its brand new HomePod speaker, allowing Apple fans a similar listening experience to that offered by Amazon’s Echo and Google’s Cast products.

Apple Music’s Beats 1 Radio is another huge bonus. The 24-hour live radio service features curation by famed DJs like Zane Lowe and numerous celebrities like Ryan Adams, Pharrell Williams, Mike D, and others. Beats 1 also frequently premieres some of the biggest songs in pop music.

Speaking of premieres, Apple works hard to be the first to showcase songs from some of the world’s biggest pop artists, including Drake, Taylor Swift, and Frank Ocean.

Those looking to save some cash will also be excited to note that the company allows current subscribers to pay $99 for an entire year on the service, allowing you to sign up and then save $20 per year on your favorite tunes.

If you’re a fan of the biggest names in pop, love radio-style listening, and own an iPhone or other Apple device, Apple Music could be your service of choice.

Pandora

The best for passive listening

pandora autoplay premium thumbprint radio

Why you should subscribe: Pandora’s thumbs-up/thumbs-down algorithm still rules internet radio.

If radio-style listening is your favorite way to play, Pandora is the service for you.

Who it’s for: Those who like to press play and walk away.

How much it will cost: Free ad-based radio, $5 per month for ad-free radio, $10 per month for ad-free on-demand music streaming

Why we picked Pandora:

Though Pandora recently unveiled its much-anticipated on-demand streaming tier that features 40 million tracks, the best reason to subscribe to the service is to bask in the glory of its Music Genome Project. Since the early 2000s, the company has been attempting to “capture the essence of music on every level,” categorizing tunes based on hundreds of unique characteristics.

With such an abundance of data about each song, Pandora is able to offer the best curated, radio-style streaming online, all based on simple thumbs up or thumbs down ratings. Users can pick a favorite artist or track and press play, letting the magic algorithms behind the scenes at Pandora go to work. No matter who you’re into, Pandora will create a constant list of complimentary songs to enjoy.

While the on-demand service is a nice addition, Pandora is best for people who like to simply sit back and let the tunes roll on.

SoundCloud

The best for indie music discovery

dennizn/123RF

Why you should subscribe: With more than 100 million user-created tracks, SoundCloud has one of the most diverse indie libraries online.

Those on the hunt for the next big band will love the wide diversity of SoundCloud’s indie catalog.

Who it’s for: Indie music fans who prefer to take a hands-on approach to music discovery.

How much it will cost: Free with ads for access to 120 million user-added tracks, $5 per month for ad-free access to user-added tracks, $10 for user-added tracks plus 30 million major label tracks.

Why we picked SoundCloud:

SoundCloud’s biggest asset is its extremely creative, massive user base. With nearly 200 million active users per month and a huge number of small-name artists constantly uploading their latest and greatest songs to the service, those who have the patience to dig through SoundCloud’s immense tracklist are sure to find an unknown artist they love.

However, because it has so many songs and a layout designed around single tracks rather than playlists, SoundCloud really is for crate-digger types — those who’d prefer to sift through tons of tunes to find their next favorite band, rather than relying on a computer algorithm to predict what they may or may not like.

While this is great for a very specific kind of user, it may not be right for the average listener. In fact, SoundCloud is having a lot of trouble getting people to pay up for its service, routinely needing cash infusions from investors to remain solvent. Still, if you find yourself on SoundCloud searching for new favorites for hours a week (which we do to find the best new music for you), you may want to think about upgrading to an ad-free experience.

Tidal

The best fidelity

tidal spotify apple leaked royalties phone
Bloomua/Flickr

Why you should subscribe: You demand the highest audio resolution, and you’re willing to pay for it.

For listeners who refuse to compromise on audio resolution, Tidal is the way to go.

Who it’s for: Stubborn audiophiles, serious Jay Z fans.

How much it will cost: $10 per month for compressed 320kbps audio, $20 for lossless 24-bit 1411kbps audio.

Why we picked Tidal:

It’s no secret that we aren’t big fans of Tidal, the music service purchased by hip-hop mogul Jay Z in 2015 and recently purchased in part by Sprint. With fewer tracks, poor music discovery features, and a sometimes buggy interface — not to mention a history of botched album releases — there are plenty of reasons to avoid the service entirely in search of calmer streaming waters.

However, for those who absolutely refuse to compromise when it comes to audio quality, Tidal’s $20-per-month Hi-Fi service, which offers 24-bit audio resolution, is the best game in town. This makes the service something of a dichotomy, as Tidal seems to be aimed towards the mass market, but it’s really best for those with high-quality gear who care more about the fidelity of their audio source than interface usability or library size.

This advantage is likely to change in the future, as companies like Spotify are anticipated to launch their own high-fidelity tiers down the road. But for now, those with extremely expensive stereo systems who actually care about rising above the typical 320Kbps resolution quality of Spotify, Apple Music, and virtually every other major streaming service on the market (including Tidal’s own lower tier), Tidal HiFi is the best way to fly.

Features

Netflix’s latest price increase heralds the end of streaming’s golden age

Netflix’s recent price rise is just the latest in a string of signs that streaming’s golden age is nearly over. As more services enter the fray, content will be further partitioned, signaling the end of streaming’s good old days.
Music

Jam out in hi-fi style with the 25 best playlists on Spotify

Music is the world's most potent drug, and the best playlists on Spotify will make you catch feelings. We've scoured the service for its top collections, and brought them together in one place -- for you.
Home Theater

Looking to cut cable? Here’s everything you need to know about Pluto TV

Pluto TV offers plenty of entertainment in a fashion similar to live internet TV services, only at no cost — you don’t even need to register. Too good to be true? Here’s everything you need to know.
Home Theater

Cutting the cord? Let us help you find the best service for live TV streaming

There's a long list of live TV streaming services available to help you cut the cord and replace your traditional TV subscription. Each is different in important ways, and this guide will help you find the best one for you.
Mobile

Music junkie? Here are the 24 best music apps for consuming and creating tunes

We rummaged through the iOS and Android app stores to find the finest mobile music-creation and music-consumption apps in existence. No matter if you're on Android or iOS, here are the best music apps.
Home Theater

Mobile masters: Tidal’s better-than-CD MQA tracks come to Android

Audiophile-grade music tracks and streaming music services don't come together very often, and when they do, it's not always easy to find a device that plays them. That's no longer the case as Tidal's MQA tracks now work on Android.
Home Theater

Mobile audio gets an upgrade thanks to new Sonarworks apps

Sonarworks is used by audio engineers around the world to get more accurate sound from their headphones. Today, the company launched Android and iOS apps for the same ability on mobile devices.
Computing

Don't use streaming apps? Try the best free media players for your local music

Rather than using music-streaming apps, you may want something for playing your local music. Good news! There are some good alternatives. These are the best media players you can download for free on Windows.
Music

Tidal faces legal jeopardy over fake stream numbers accusation

In another challenging chapter for music subscription service Tidal, Norwegian authorities have begun a formal investigation into charges that the company faked millions of streams for artists such as Kanye West and Beyoncé.
Computing

Don't spend hundreds on Pro Tools or Logic. Try one of these free alternatives

Believe it or not, Pro Tools isn't the only digital audio workstation worth your time. Check out our picks for the best free recording software, whether you're looking for a lightweight app or a full-blown audio workstation.
Apple

Apple may be developing a new iPod Touch to woo younger users

Apple may be developing its first new iPod touch model since 2015 as it aims to capture younger users who are not yet ready for their own smartphone, and expand its overall listening base in the future.
Home Theater

Block the outside world, tune into your own with the best in-ear headphones

Over-the-ear headphones offer top-flight sound, but they're not so easy to take along with you. If you're looking to upgrade your portable sound, check out our favorite in-ear headphones -- there's a model for every user and every budget.
Home Theater

Yamaha’s MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable spreads analog joy throughout your home

It can be tough to listen to your favorite analog tunes anywhere besides the room where your turntable is located. With its MusicCast Vinyl 500 turntable, Yamaha allows you to stream your tunes throughout your home.