Earlier this year, members of the Recording Industry Association of America reported that music streaming services now represent their biggest source of revenue, edging ahead of digital downloads, CDs, and vinyl records in sales. That means more and more of us are searching for that new song on Spotify these days than in the iTunes Store.
If you're thinking about giving music streaming a try—or perhaps just contemplating a shift from one service to another—here's what you need to know about six popular options.
|Service||Cost||Best for||What We Like||What We Don't Like|
Free three-month trial; $10/month.
|Music on the go.||
Apple Music, with 30 million titles, is available on Android and iOS devices and makes for a good choice if you're a frequent traveler. It lets you download songs to fill those seemingly endless hours between Wi-Fi hot spots. It also offers exclusive content from artists like Taylor Swift, Beats 1 radio (curated by real DJs), and Apple radio, as well as Siri's voice commands, and videos and music uploaded from your personal library.
|Oddly enough, the app design and navigation tools are less intuitive than we would expect from Apple.|
|Pandora||Free with ads or $5/month ad-free.||Listening to your favorite artists and discovering new ones.||
It's like having a personal DJ. Tell Pandora the artist you want to hear and it creates a channel with selections from that artist and others with similar styles. It's a terrific way to be introduced to new music from the service's 1.5-million title library.
You can't use Pandora to choose specific songs by an artist, upload your own tunes, create playlists, or listen to music offline.
|Prime Music||Free to Amazon Prime members ($99/year).||Those Amazon Prime members.||
This ad-free, on-demand service lets you listen to audio books purchased from Amazon's Audible service. When paired with Amazon's Echo, you can summon songs with a voice command. ("Alexa, play the Rolling Stones' 'Tumbling Dice.'") Best of all, it's included with a Prime subscription.
|With about 1 million songs in its catalog, it has a thinner selection of music and audiobooks than some competing services.|
|Slacker||Free one-month trial; $4 or $8/month.||Curated and on-demand music.||The extensive library and easy-to-use interface let you create tailor-made stations of your favorite music. There are also more than 300 expert-curated stations devoted to specific musical genres, sports, news, and weather. The pricier plan grants you offline listening and personal playlists as well.||
Slacker's free service gives you less say in the selection of songs, though you can skip past the duds a limited number of times.
|Spotify||Free with ads or $10/month ad-free.||Anyone looking for a versatile service with a large catalog of titles.||
With a library of more than 30 million songs and easy access via most digital platforms, Spotify is popular for good reason. It's a great place to find favorite artists, create and share playlists, and enjoy exclusive live sessions. You also get better sound quality with the paid plan.
You can't listen to the Prince song "Purple Rain." (But hey, it's available only on Tidal.) Spotify doesn't offer music videos, either.
|Tidal||Free one-week trial; $10/month ($20/month for hi-fi).||High-quality audio and offline listening.||It has CD-quality sound, HD music videos, and excellent app compatibility with Denon, Sonos, and other multiroom speaker models.||$20 per month is steep even for most audio snobs, those high-quality audio files can quickly devour small cellular data plans, and though its rap and R&B offerings are comprehensive, the rest of its catalog can be spotty compared with some competitors.|
Editor's Note: This article also appeared in the July 2016 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.
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