Spotify or Apple Music? They're great streaming services, but there's only room for one subscription service in your life. We've compared the two to help you decide.
Apple Music and Spotify are two of the biggest players in the music streaming service business, both offering 50 million-plus songs at high streaming quality and a low monthly subscription price. They're by no means the only music streaming services out there -- in the US alone there are at least six major platforms to choose from, but chances are good these are the two you'll consider first. And if you're ready to commit to one of them, you'll want to know all the perks each one has to offer before making your final choice. Which is the best for iPhone or Android owners? Which has the most support for all sorts of smart speakers? And which has the biggest song selection?
SPOTIFY VS. APPLE MUSIC
|Price||$9.99 a month ($4.99 for students)||$9.99 a month ($4.99 for students)|
|Family plan||Yes, up to 6 people ($14.99)||Yes, up to 6 people ($14.99)|
|Free tier||Yes, ad-supported||No, only Beats1 radio|
|Free trial||3 months||3 months|
|Stream quality||Up to 320kbps Ogg Vorbis, or AAC (see section below)||256kbps AAC|
|Music library||50 million songs||50 million songs|
Price and subscription options
Both Spotify and Apple Music offer a free* three-month trial period for their premium services, which normally cost $9.99, £9.99 or AU$11.99 a month. It costs $4.99 for students or $14.99 for family plans. With the premium version, you can stream any song from the catalog on demand, plus listen to songs offline.
And if you're a student, you'll get access to Hulu and Showtime (ad-supported) as part of your Premium subscription. Spotify is also the only one of the two music services with a free, ad-supported tier, so even if you don't want to pay for the premium version you can still listen. The caveat (aside from the interruptions) is that many albums and playlists require you to listen in shuffle mode rather than sequential play and there's a limit of six skips per hour.
Apple Music only lets free users stream Beats1 Radio, or you can listen to songs from your iTunes library.
In terms of stream quality, Spotify uses the Ogg Vorbis format. On mobile you can choose what bit rate to stream, in increments up to 320kbps, which is handy especially if you're worried about using up too much mobile data. Desktop playback is at 160kbps or 320kbps for premium users.
If you listen on Spotify's web player or via Chromecast, it streams in AAC at 128kbps for free users or 256kbps for premium.
Apple Music streams 256kbps AAC files.
To find out more about bit rate and audio quality, read this in-depth comparison of sound quality between Apple Music and Spotify.
You can also adjust the equalizer in both to suit your preferences (although you'll find Apple Music's EQ setting outside of the app, within the Settings > Music section on the iPhone).
Unless you're a serious audiophile, you probably won't notice much difference between the highest-quality Spotify and Apple Music streams of the same song. If the highest audio fidelity is really important to you, consider another service that supports lossless streaming like Tidal.
Library and music selection
Both have roughly the same library for tunes, topping 50 million and they also offer early access to certain albums from time to time. Apple Music sometimes offers exclusives for certain music videos.
If you turn on iCloud Music Library within Apple Music, you can access your personal library of tunes across all your devices (from the PC to the phone). This feature "matches" songs in your library with those in the iTunes catalog, or uploads them if the song isn't available, so you can listen to your music wherever you're signed in with your Apple ID. You can store up to 100,000 songs.
Note that iTunes Match is also available even without an Apple Music subscription for $25 a year.
Spotify also lets you play music from your device in the Spotify app, but it only works for local files (so they aren't stored in the cloud).
Winner: Apple Music
Interface and navigation
Apple Music features a clean white look on mobile, while Spotify paints it black across its apps. Both are pretty easy to navigate on mobile, with the main tabs (radio, search, your library and so on) found at the bottom of the interface.
Depending on the song, Spotify has animations and short videos that play full screen while you're listening. Both let you look at lyrics on screen if they're available for particular songs. But only Apple Music lets you search by typing a stream of lyrics to find songs you don't know the name of.
Google Maps lets you listen to and control Spotify or Apple Music playback within the navigation interface in iOS and Android. Waze also offers a similar feature for Spotify users.
On top of CarPlay support, Apple Music for Android now works with Android Auto, so you can control playback through the infotainment system.
Which one is right for you?
If you want a free service, Spotify is the clear winner. But if you are looking to pay for a service, your decision may be a little more complicated.
Apple Music plays well with other Apple devices. If you want voice control on the HomePod, for example, Apple Music is your only option. Spotify, on the other hand, has greater cross-compatibility across lots of different devices, from game consoles to smart speakers.
It takes time to train each of these services to really get to know your taste. For our money, Spotify does a better job in uncovering and tailoring playlists and recommendations to us through its custom playlists and discovery features. But Apple Music gives you the most flexibility in mixing songs from your own library (that might not even be on streaming services) with new tunes you can stream on demand.
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