Spotify, Pandora, Tidal and More: Which Streaming Service Is Right for You?

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Streaming music services
Kelsey Buxton listens to music at her home in St. Petersburg, Fla. Heather Comparetto/The Penny Hoarder
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There are so many streaming music services to choose from it’s got me singing the blues.

Yeah, sorry. I had to get the obvious cliche out of my system. I’m done now.

Anyway.

The dizzying array of feature choices and subscription levels among streaming platforms makes it really difficult to figure out which service to choose.

I can’t make the decision for you, but I can share some insight into what some of the major streaming music services have to offer.

What Do Streaming Music Services Have in Common?

Everything, basically.

The major streaming music services:

  • Have a giant catalog of songs you can listen to on smartphones, tablets, computers, home audio equipment and, in some cases, gaming consoles.
  • Are free or have a free tier with a few features you don’t have to pay for (except Amazon Music Unlimited).
  • Have a playlist feature so users can build lists of songs in whatever order and groups they wish.
  • Offer radio stations or channels users can turn to for genre or artist-specific music.
  • Allow users to download music to listen without an internet connection.

How Do Streaming Music Services Differ?

There aren’t a lot of differences between music services, but they’re nevertheless significant.

  • The main difference between streaming music services are the pricing structures.

Some offer family or student pricing in addition to free and individual plans; others don’t. Prices across the services range from $4.99 per month to $14.99 per month, depending on features and number of users on the plan.

  • Though all the streaming services have some features in common, each one also has its own unique pros and cons. Some might not be important to you but others might be deal breakers.

A Closer Look at the 8 Most Popular Streaming Music Services

Let’s take a look at what some major streaming music services have to offer.

Note: These features and prices may change at any time, so check directly with the services you’re interested in for the final word.  

Amazon Music Unlimited

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What’s cool: It has nice integration with Amazon products.

What’s not: Amazon’s unlimited music plan is easily confused with its Prime Music service, which gives Prime members access to two million songs for free.

How many songs: Tens of millions

Playlists: Yes

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: Smartphones, computers, Alexa devices, Fire tablets, Fire TV

Available Offline: Yes

Cost:

  • Free 30-day trial
  • Prime members: $7.99/month or $79/year for an individual subscription, $149/year for the Family Plan
  • Non-Prime customers: $9.99/month or $14.99/month for the Family Plan
  • Echo Plan: $3.99/month per Alexa device

Here’s more information about Amazon Music Unlimited.


Apple Music

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What’s cool: The service includes original TV show and movie programming at no extra cost, plus subscribers get early access to new music from major artists.

What’s not: The user interface is clunky.

How many songs: Millions

Playlists: Yes

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, Sonos devices, computers and smartphones. Works with CarPlay.

Available offline: Yes

Cost:

  • Three-month free trial
  • Individuals $9.99/month
  • Family: $14.99 for up to six people
  • College students: $4.99/month

Here are more details about Apple Music.


Google Play Music Unlimited

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What’s cool: The service includes a complimentary YouTube Red membership. Radio station content is available without a subscription.

What’s not: It doesn’t include a desktop app.

How many songs: 40 million

Playlists: Yes

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: Android and Apple smartphones, iOS devices, computers

Available offline: Yes

Cost:

  • Two-month free trial
  • Individuals: $9.99 /month
  • Family: $14.99 for up to six people

Learn more about Google Play Music Unlimited.


Pandora

4-PANDORA

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What’s cool: Pandora learns what music you like and dislike the more you use it. It’s great for finding new music and artists.

What’s not: The free plan is basically feature-free.

How many songs: 30 to 40 million

Playlists: Premium members only

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: Smartphones, computers, TVs, Xbox, PlayStation and home devices

Available offline: Pandora Plus and Premium members only

Cost:

  • Free with ads
  • Individual: 30-day free trial, $4.99/month
  • Premium: 60-day free trial $9.99/month

Find out more about Pandora.


Soundcloud

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What’s cool: It’s great for exploring music created by independent artists.

What’s not: Some of the content may have embedded ads.

How many songs: 135+ million

Playlists: Yes

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: Smartphones, computers, Xbox

Available offline: SoundCloud Go and Go+ subscribers only

Cost:

  • Free
  • SoundCloud Go: 7-day free trial, $4.99/month (web/Android)/$5.99 (iOS)
  • SoundCloud Go+: 30-day free trial, $9.99/month (web/Android)/$12.99 (iOS)

Learn more about Soundcloud.


Spotify

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What’s cool: The subscription includes access to podcasts, videos and music videos. Spotify automatically builds you weekly playlists based on what it’s learned you like listening to.

What’s not: The free tier has lots of ads.

How many songs: Over 30 million

Playlists: Yes

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: Smartphones, computers, tablets, cars, home speakers, PlayStation, TVs,

Available offline: Yes

Cost:

  • Free
  • Students: $4.99/month
  • Premium: 99 cents/3 months, then $9.99/month
  • Family: $14.99 for up to six people

Here’s more information about Spotify.


Tidal

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What’s cool: The service is artist-owned so musicians have a lot more say in the content they deliver to fans than with other services. Fans benefit with access to exclusive content concert tickets and more from megastars like Jay-Z and Demi Lovato.

What’s not: Some of the subscription levels are pricy.

How many songs: 48.5 million

Playlists: Yes

Stations: No

Supported devices: Smartphones, tablets, computers and network players

Available offline: Yes

Cost:

  • Free 30-day trial
  • Premium (standard sound quality): $9.99
  • HiFi (High Fidelity sound quality): $19.99
  • Family Premium: $14.99 for up to five people
  • Family HiFi: $29.99 for up to five people
  • Student Premium: $4.99/month
  • Student HiFi: $9.99/month
  • Military Premium: $5.99/month
  • Military HiFi: $11.99/month

Here are more details about Tidal.


YouTube Red

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What’s cool: The subscription also includes ad-free videos, Originals, YouTube Kids and a complimentary Google Play Music subscription.

What’s not: You’ll be automatically billed for the service if you forget to cancel the free trial.

How many songs:Nearly endless

Playlists: Yes

Stations: Yes

Supported devices: Mobile, tablet, computer and TVs (some benefits only work on certain devices)

Available offline: Yes

Note: The benefits aren’t available for YouTube videos you pay to view, like paid channels, movie rentals and pay-per-view purchases.

Cost:

  • Three-month free trial, $9.99/month.

Learn more about YouTube Red.

Which Streaming Music Service is Best for You?

With 50 million paying users, Spotify is the most popular of the bunch for its huge catalog of songs and its user-friendly interface.

But that doesn’t mean it’s a good fit for you.

For instance, music lovers committed to Apple’s ecosystem may prefer Apple Music, while people who enjoy discovering indie artists might prefer SoundCloud or Pandora.

Your best bet is to give each service’s free trial period a whirl to see which one you like best before plunking down your cash.

 

Lisa McGreevy is a staff writer at The Penny Hoarder. This topic is near and dear to her since she streams audio content roughly 14 hours a day, every day.

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Disclosure:

Some of the links in this post are from our sponsors. We’re letting you know because it’s what Honest Abe would do. After all, he is on our favorite coin.