Which music streaming service is best?

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There’s no doubt that the way we listen to music has changed drastically over the years. With the rise of portable music players such as the Walkman and Discman, listening to music on the go became the norm. Then MP3 players, especially the iPod, came along and changed everything, eliminating the need to carry around bulky devices and CDs. But as smartphones grew more advanced, storage sizes grew and 4G mobile technology changed everything once again. Now we listen to music on our smartphone and most will use a music streaming service to access millions of songs by artists from around the world.

With the growing popularity of music streaming services, there is quite a lot of competition around. So how do you decide which music streaming service is right for you? Even if you already use a music streaming service, now is the perfect time to reassess your options. But what’s the difference between all of these streaming providers who do the same thing – give you access to music? It depends on your specific listening habits and what kind of experience you want. Let’s explore what makes a music streaming service good or bad.

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What is streaming?

‘Streaming’ simply means using an internet connection to listen to your music without having to actually download anything. It’s like the difference between reading a web page or downloading and reading a file, or watching YouTube videos instead of downloading a video.

Streaming vs Downloading

Why might you choose to stream over directly downloading your music to your device? Streaming provides a more cost-efficient way to access and listen to a huge variety of songs without filling up your phone storage.

 

It can be easier to carry music saved directly on your phone, tablet or computer, to an extent, if you’re travelling overseas or don’t have reliable internet access. But storing music files can take up a lot of space, especially if you like to listen to a lot of music. This can be a massive pain if you also need space for photos, apps, to store other files or if your device doesn’t have much storage capacity in the first place.

Streaming over a Wi-Fi or mobile data connection makes it easy to listen to music and even podcasts, regardless of which device you’re using. You can easily switch from playing music from your mobile app during the commute to work, to listening on a web browser from your laptop or your Bluetooth speakers at home.

How much does music streaming cost?

It can be expensive to buy a digital version or CD copy of every single album from every single artist you want to listen to. While CDs are now much cheaper than they once were, building up a large music collection this way can add up to a small fortune. It also goes without saying that illegally downloading music for free isn’t the solution either, after all, artists don’t exist to work for free.

Compare this to streaming services, which cost around $10 per month for a basic subscription and up to $20 per month for a family subscription. If you listen to music for a couple hours each day and especially if you like to listen to a diverse range of music, streaming is really one of the most cost-effective ways of listening to music.

Playlists, discovery and recommendations

Most streaming services have put considerable effort into making the process of listening to music a much more personalised experience. These apps have tools that recognise your listening habits and generate playlists and recommendations of songs and artists that you might enjoy. This also makes it easier to try different music without forking out extra money to access something you might only listen to once.

Music streaming apps on smartphone

At face value, all music streaming providers seem the same – they all offer unlimited online streaming. But each service offers different features across the user interface, platform compatibility, offline access, social media integration and even the range of artists available.

A question that is often overlooked is whether a particular streaming provider has access to the music you want to listen to. The big players have massive libraries with a diverse array of genres, however, a number of major artists license only some (or none) of their music to streaming services, or are exclusive to a particular provider.

It’s a good idea to look into whether a streaming service has access to the particular artists you want to listen to before signing up for a subscription. If you have particular interests, particularly those that fall a little outside the mainstream, check that they have the kind of range you’re interested in. Many of these platforms will also offer free trials so it’s

Apple Music

Apple wants to be the number one destination for all things music, so it acquired and rebuilt Beats Music in 2014 to compete against other streaming services. Apple Music combines on-demand streaming, integration of your existing music library, an all-live worldwide radio station, and an artist-centric social network in one app.

QUALITY:

  • up to 256kbps

PROS:

  • Library of 30 million+ tracks
  • Downloading songs to your library (up to 100,000 songs)
  • Family subscription allows six people to share the one subscription
  • Beats One live radio station includes interviews, live radio hosts, and live music, although this tends to focus on popular music

CONS:

  • No free tier, however the free trial period is three months
  • No web player – limited only to devices you can install the app on

PLATFORMS: All Apple devices (including Apple TV), Windows PC, Android, Sonos

Google Play Music

Google Play Music

Like Apple Music, Google’s music streaming service is compatible with any device – with iOS and Android apps and a web player. Its big drawcard is that it comes bundled with YouTube Music, which allows you to watch videos without ads and access special exclusive content. Unlike Apple Music, you can upload and access your own personal digital music downloads collection to the platform regardless of whether you’re subscribed to the streaming service.

QUALITY:

  • Up to 320kbps
  • Quality adjusts according to quality of internet connection

PROS:

  • Library of 40 million+ tracks
  • Provides recommendations based on your current library, with subcategories for particular moods and activities (e.g. music to listen to before you go to sleep)
  • Personalised radio station can be created
  • Can purchase songs on Google Play
  • Upload up to 50,000 of your own tracks to stream
  • Songs can be downloaded for listening without an active internet connection
  • Premium tier includes YouTube Music

CONS:

  • Free tier is limited – you can only use radio stations with ads, or listen to uploaded music from your own collection
  • Recommended for You section is often not particularly accurate to user interests

PLATFORMS: Web browser, iOS, Android, Sonos

Spotify

Spotify

Perhaps the biggest player in this space (although Apple Music is quickly overtaking the Swedish streaming giant), Spotify have put considerable effort into personalising your music listening experience. There is also social media integration, so you can share what you’re currently listening to across social media, including your Instagram stories. The premium service gives you ad-free music streaming, access to downloading and allows you keep accessing your music outside of your profile country if you travel.

QUALITY:

  • Free tier users can’t access the higher quality settings, with the ‘low’ at 24 kbps
  • Premium users can access range of quality, up to ‘Very High’ at 320kbps

PROS:

  • Library of 30 million+ tracks, plus video and podcast content
  • Create custom editable playlists
  • Search for a specific artist/song or browse featured music and new releases
  • Free access tier (as long as you don’t mind listening to ads)
  • Paid tier includes offline sync with your devices, better audio quality, and no ads
  • Follow artists/individuals to keep up with their new music and recommendations
  • You can follow what your friends listen to
  • Weekly Discovery playlists of songs you’ve never listened to before, compiled based on your music tastes, annual playlists of your most listened to songs

CONS:

  • Free users can only play their playlists on shuffle – no track-by-track selections

PLATFORMS: PC or Mac desktop app, iOS, Android, Windows Phone 8, BlackBerry, Sonos, Squeezebox, PlayStation

Tidal

Tidal

After being purchased from its original Norwegian owners by Jay-Z, Tidal became the first streaming service owned by recording artists. A major perk is its exclusive content from its owner-operators, including Rihanna, Daft Punk, the White Stripes, Madonna, and more. There’s also been a number of major releases that came out on Tidal before any other streaming or download service, such as Beyonce’s recent album ‘Lemonade’ and Kanye West’s ‘The Life of Pablo’. The other key feature is the high-quality audio available to premium subscribers, which far surpasses that of its competitors.

QUALITY:

  • 320kbps for standard service, 1,411kbps on the premium ‘HiFi’ plan

PROS:

  • Streams at high-quality lossless music format (CD quality) for premium users
  • Access to music videos and behind the scenes video content
  • Offline mode, to download content for play when no internet is available

CONS:

  • Expensive
  • More difficult to use

PLATFORMS: Android, iOS, web browser, desktop app, Sonos, Denon, Polk, Pro-Ject (see website for full list)

What happened to Pandora?

Once upon a time, Pandora was one of the world’s major players in music streaming – unfortunately for Australian and New Zealander music fans, the streaming service shut down in both countries as of July 2017. Tough competition with the likes of Spotify and Apple Music ended up making it unviable to keep going in Australia and New Zealand. Former Pandora subscribers now need to weigh up which of the remaining streaming services to switch to.

How much does music streaming cost?

Some music streaming services offer free access with limited features and some advertisements, with a paid subscription taking away ads and providing full access to the service. Most of the major music streaming services available in Australia cost around the same amount. Tidal has a more expensive tier to access superior sound quality. Prices are in Australian dollars.

Streaming Service Free Music Streaming Access? Basic Plan
(per month)
Premium Plan
(per month)
Family Plan?
Apple Music 3 month trial $11.99
or
$5.99 for students
$17.99
(6 people)
Google Play Music Ad-supported with limited features,
30-day trial for premium
$11.99 $17.99
(6 people)
Spotify Ad-supported,
30 day trial for premium
 Free $11.99
or
$5.99 for students
$17.99
(6 people)
Tidal 30 day trial for either plan $11.99 $23.99 $17.99 (basic, 5 people)

$35.99 (premium, 5 people)

How to choose a streaming service?

Music streaming is a rapidly growing and changing technology, so the range and quality of music services can change relatively quickly. The services we compared above certainly aren’t your only options – they’re just the most popular at the moment.

Many of the things that make a music streaming service great are subjective to user interests. As most paid services offer a free trial period, it’s a good idea to take advantage of this and even sample a few services before investing money in something that you’re not sure you want yet. A few questions to consider include:

  • What device/s do I want to listen to music on? (e.g. mobile app, desktop computer, home audio system)
  • Do I want a family plan?
  • Will I want to be able to access my music overseas while travelling?
  • Do I want to upload, store and play my own collection?
  • Is the music I want to listen to available in the streaming library?
  • What features do I want in my music streaming service?
  • Which music app is easiest for me to use?

Which phone plans include music streaming?

A number of phone plans include data-free music streaming, so you can listen to your heart’s content without chewing up the month’s data allowance:

  • Telstra offers data-free streaming of Apple Music
  • Boost Mobile also offers data-free streaming of Apple Music
  • Vodafone allows you to add on data-free music streaming to your phone plan for an additional $10 monthly cost
  • OVO Mobile has data-free streaming of The Hit and Triple M radio networks

These offers can be subject to change, so keep an eye out for any special offers or changes that you could take advantage of. It’s also likely that more providers and plans will jump on board the data-free music streaming bandwagon as data offerings continue to improve.

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