There are lots of music streaming services around, and three of the biggest are Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music. Right now, each service competes with the others on pretty equal footing. The problem is, you only need to subscribe to one of them.
So, let’s take a closer look at the price, audio quality, library, and other features of each service to help you choose the best one for you.
All things considered, price is the biggest determining factor for most people’s purchase decisions. However, Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music all cost roughly the same price.
Spotify offers a range of tiers:
- Free, ad-supported
- $9.99/month individual subscription
- $12.99/month duo subscription
- $15.99/month family subscription
- $4.99/month student subscription
The free tier is ad-supported, meaning you need to listen to adverts between every four or five songs. You also get a limited number of skips, can’t download songs for offline listening, and are restricted to shuffle mode when listening to albums on mobile.
Any of the paid premium tiers are what you think of as Spotify proper. You get unlimited access to Spotify’s catalog, ad-free, with the ability to download tracks for offline listening on any device.
You can sign up for a recurring monthly subscription or just get a single month at a time. You can also pay for a full year up front, but won’t save any money doing so.
The $14.99/month family tier unlocks all the premium features for up to six connected accounts, including your own. Each user needs to live at the same place, so make sure the addresses in your Spotify accounts match up. Similarly, the $12.99/month duo tier unlocks all of this for two people.
Finally, higher education students can get up to 50% off their premium subscription along with free access to Hulu and SHOWTIME. Spotify uses SheerID to make sure you’re eligible and limits student subscriptions to a maximum of four years.
Apple Music has four plans available:
- $4.99/month voice subscription
- $10.99/month individual subscription
- $16.99/month family subscription
- $5.99/month student subscription
Instead of offering a free tier, Apple Music has a one-month free trial. After that, you need to start paying, but at least there are never any ads or other limitations.
Apple’s regular tier is just what you’d expect. For $10.99/month, you get access to the full library, on any device, with the ability to download songs for offline listening. In contrast, the $4.99/month voice subscription will only let you use Siri to control Apple Music, meaning it’s only available on Apple devices and has a very limited visual element. It’s best if you only listen to music on smart speakers.
The family plan is the same as Spotify’s, but more expensive. For $16.99/month, six people (including you) get unlimited access to Apple Music. The catch is you all need to link your Apple ID accounts in the same Family Sharing group.
Apple Music offers a $5.99/month plan for students. This is only for college students and Apple uses UNiDAYS to verify your eligibility. Unfortunately, Apple Music limits student discounts to 48 months, which is half of what Spotify gives you.
YouTube Music also has four tiers on offer:
- Free, ad-supported
- $9.99/month individual subscription
- $14.99/month family subscription
- $4.99/month student subscription
It’s clear that YouTube Music has taken the lead from Spotify in this department, with all the same price points and offerings (except YouTube Music doesn’t offer a Duo tier). That means you can try YouTube Music for free if you’re happy to watch or listen to occasional adverts, or you can subscribe to remove them. One major catch to the free version, though, is that the app needs to be open in order to play anything.
As well as eliminating ads, a subscription to YouTube Music also allows you to download music for offline listening and play music in the background or after locking your phone. You can get a free one-month trial to test it out.
Just like Spotify and Apple Music, the family subscription links up to six accounts together. For this to work, you all need to be part of Google Family Group. You can also sign up for a student account by verifying with SheerID.
Apple Music is the most expensive, costing an extra $1 per month for each plan. YouTube Music and Spotify share all the same price points, except with the family plan, which is $1 cheaper with YouTube Music. The win still goes to Spotify though, because its free tier is so much more usable compared to YouTube Music, which will stop playing music the second you switch apps or lock your phone unless you sign up for premium.
Not all music files are created equal. The higher the bitrate of a file, the better it sounds. There are some music subscription services designed for audiophiles, but even without one of those you want to make sure you’re getting high quality audio.
Spotify streams tracks at 96kbps by default, but you can switch to 160kbps in the settings. With a premium subscription you can choose to stream up to 320kbps. This is about the point where, at least on standard audio equipment, it’s nearly impossible to tell the difference between a compressed file and the original.
Apple Music streams songs at 256kbps, switching to a lower bitrate by default when you’re using cellular data. However, Apple Music also offers Lossless and Hi-Res Lossless audio, which allows you to stream or download music at up to 24-bit/192kHz. That’s beyond CD quality and equivalent to over 9,000kbps!
On top of that, Apple Music offers Dolby Atmos and Spatial Audio, which heighten the audio experience even further by simulating a surround sound setup using standard stereo speakers or headphones.
YouTube Music streams at 128kbps for free users, the lowest of all three services. With a YouTube Music premium subscription you can tweak the settings to stream at up to 256kbps, but this is still lower than the highest options from Spotify or Apple Music. Whether you notice the difference, though, will depend on your audio equipment and listening environment.
Winner: Apple Music
If audio quality is a big concern for you, Apple Music’s Lossless options blow the competition out of the water. This will use far more data thanks to the larger file sizes, but offers far superior audio quality at the same time. Pair that with the fact that Dolby Atmos is only available through Apple Music, and starts to become clear why this service is $1 more expensive.
Library and Selection
There’s no use paying for a music service if it doesn’t have the artists you want to listen to. Granted, there’s little chance of that happening these days, with each service offering millions of the world’s most popular songs.
Spotify boasts over 80 million tracks in its library. Assuming each track is three minutes long, that’s over 456 years of non-stop music, with almost everything you’d ever want to listen to.
Alongside its enormous music library, Spotify also hosts podcasts these days, making it the home for all your audio entertainment (except audiobooks). Spotify is even the exclusive home to the enormously popular Joe Rogan Experience, although Joe’s controversial stances have led some major musician’s to remove their content from Spotify, like Neil Young.
Somehow, Apple Music has even more music than Spotify with a library of over 100 million songs. There are no podcasts—Apple has the Podcasts app for that—but you can listen to live radio stations, such as Apple Music 1 with shows hosted by Zane Lowe and other popular presenters.
One major benefit to Apple Music’s library is that it does an excellent job of integrating user-uploaded files with Apple Music files. Both Spotify and YouTube Music keep your own music files in a distinctly separate section of your library, which can be frustrating if you want to keep all your music together.
Matching Spotify once again, YouTube Music offers over 80 million songs for users to listen to, covering practically every major and well-known independent artist.
In addition to professionally released music, you can also listen to countless covers, parodies, original compositions, and other forms of music that have been uploaded to YouTube in video form. YouTube Music categorizes these videos as music and allows them to add them to your library and playlists alongside classic releases.
Depending on your stance, this could be a good or a bad thing. It enormously expands the library available on YouTube Music, but it can also muddy your curated playlists by giving equal weighting to amateur covers and official releases.
While Apple Music has a larger music library than Spotify or YouTube Music, you won’t notice it for the most part because the extra numbers are likely to come from such obscure places. What you will notice, however, is the ability to seamlessly switch from music to podcasts within Spotify, which we think offers far more value than 20 million extra songs you’re not likely to know about.
There’s more to a music streaming service than just getting access to a lot of songs. The best features help you discover new artists, keep up with what your friends are listening to, and hand off music to all your other devices.
So let’s see how the features from Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music stack up.
Spotify has phenomenal tools for discovering new music, and the best social sharing options. Every day, you get a series of new Daily Mixes and Spotify uses its massive amount of listener data to create personalized playlists for you.
Spotify also links with Facebook to show what your friends are listening to right now. You can share tracks on any social media service, send them directly to other Spotify users, and even create collaborative playlists.
Finally, Spotify also has the best handoff capabilities, letting you seamlessly transfer music from one device to another without skipping a beat.
There are plenty of Apple Music features worth using, including Live Lyrics and Apple Music Sing, which you can use together to create your own karaoke.
Although Apple Music doesn’t link directly with other social media platforms, you can follow friends using their Apple ID account. This shows a more general overview of what people are listening to, rather than giving a by-the-minute rundown, like Spotify does.
Surprisingly, Apple Music doesn’t offer much in the way of handoff. You can send music to a HomePod, but it’s not possible to handoff music between other Apple devices.
YouTube Music is generally more limited in features than Spotify or Apple Music. It offers offline curated playlists alongside lots of video content. But outside of that there isn’t much worth mentioning.
It’s also worth pointing out that YouTube Music doesn’t offer desktop apps for Windows or macOS—those users will need to access the web player through a browser, which is quite a big downfall as far as user experience goes.
Spotify’s playlists and social features are commonly regarded as the best available, possibly thanks to the head start it had over Apple Music and YouTube Music. What’s more, it works equally well on all platforms and transfers music between devices wonderfully.
If you like the ease of having a radio station to throw on, Apple Music is a good choice. Whereas if you watch a lot of music videos, YouTube Music is a great option. But if you’re looking for the best social features around the music itself, then Spotify wins.
The Best Music Subscription Service
The truth is that Spotify, Apple Music, and YouTube Music are very similar in their offerings. Any of them will allow you to stream or download as much music as you like, with libraries that include almost every artist you’re likely to want. This main service doesn’t change much between each platform, but all the aspects surrounding it do have minor differences.
For most people, Spotify is probably the best all-round option. It’s cheaper than Apple Music with better cross-platform support and more advanced music recommendations. However, if you’re already tied into the Apple or Google ecosystem, you may have a better experience going with Apple Music or YouTube Music instead.