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GUIDE TO STREAMING MUSIC SERVICES

A GUIDE TO STREAMING MUSIC SERVICES

musicstreamingservices

For decades we have been collecting recordings. Then Internet came along and more recently, music streaming services. Now we no longer have to purchase physical media and can download, store and stream audio from a hard disk or music streaming service. These music services offer streaming of full-length content via the Internet as a part of their service,without the listener necessarily purchasing a file for download.  These services are comparable to Internet radio, but allow the user more control over the listening content. Ranging in price from free to $19.99 a month, different streaming services offer varying levels of control to the user — from customizable radio stations to on-demand listening, in which users can pick the exact song they want to hear. Some services require listeners to be connected to cellular data or Wi-Fi, while others allow them to save songs to their devices for listening offline in places like airplanes and the subway. Many of these sites have advertising and offer non-free options in the style of an online music store.

With a still-growing array of streaming services, it can be tough to decide which one to pick. Here are the key questions you should ponder before you decide.

  • What's in the music catalog?
  • How can I stream my music?
  • Is there a free trial or a free subscription?
  • Are there family plans or student discounts?
  • Is the service available in your country?
  • Do you want to store and stream your own music too?

Most streaming services use lossy compression. If your priority is music selection, convenience and ease of use consider Apple Music or Spotify. They typically have the widest selection of content and the best user interfaces across devices. The audio quality is compressed MP3 or AAC.

Some service offer lossless streaming, so if your priority is sound quality Tidal or Qobuz are your best options. They cost more but can stream in lossless CD-quality (16-bit/44.1kHz or 1411kbps). Tidal streams FLAC (16 bit / 44 kHz) and ALAC. Qobuz Premium does the same. Expect to pay a higher monthly subscription fee for lossless streaming.

Here’s a comparison of how some of the most popular streaming music services stack up against one another in terms of catalog size, cost, advertising and more.

 

spotify

Spotify

Cost: A free version comes with advertising. An ad-free service, called Spotify Premium, costs $10 a month, with family and student discounts available.

Users: More than 75 million, including 30 million paying subscribers, as of March 2016.

Catalog: More than 30 million songs.

What you get: Subscribers can play songs on demand, while the users of the free version get radio stations and on-demand songs only on the desktop version, along with playlists on the mobile version. For premium subscribers, Spotify Connect is available. Spotify Connect all you to play Spotify through your speakers, laptop, TV or PlayStation®, using the Spotify app as a remote.

Platforms: Apple mobile and desktop computer applications; Windows mobile and desktop applications; Android phones; PlayStation; Roku, a streaming device for televisions; and web browsers.

Account sharing: Music can be played on only one device at a time, with up to three devices signed in to the service at any time.

Offline playback: Only for Premium users.

pandora

Pandora

Cost: The basic service, with ads, is free. An ad-free version, called Pandora One, costs $4.99 a month.

Users: About 80 million.

Catalog: More than a million songs.

What you get: Customizable radio stations, with a limit on the number of times tracks can be skipped in an hour.

Platforms: Apple, Android and Windows mobile applications; Mac and PC applications; Roku; and TiVo. Widely available in other devices, cars and even home appliances.

Account sharing: Pandora One allows streaming on only one device at a time.

Offline playback: Not available.

apple_music

Apple Music

Cost: Subscriptions are $9.99 a month, or $14.99 for a family account.

Users: 11 million subscribers as of February 2016.

Catalog: More than 30 million songs.

What you get: Users with free accounts have access to Beats 1, an Internet radio station. Paying customers can play any song on demand.

Platforms: Apple’s mobile devices and watch, as well as Android devices. Mac and Windows desktop applications are also available.

Account sharing: The service can be used by only one device at a time for both the free and paid versions. Family plans, however, allow for up to six people to stream music.

Offline playback: Paying subscribers can stream music when their devices are not connected to data or Wi-Fi networks.

tidal

Tidal

Cost: $9.99 a month for Tidal Premium or $19.99 for Tidal HiFi, which offers higher-quality sound. Both versions are ad-free.

Users: Three million subscribers, according to a Tidal announcement in March 2016.

Catalog: More than 30 million songs and 75,000 videos.

What you get: All subscribers get music and videos on demand. In addition, they get access to Tidal X, a program that gives artists a platform to connect with their fans through special events, including concerts.

Platforms: Apple and Android apps, a PC app and web browsers.

Account sharing: One device can stream music while connected to cellular data or Wi-Fi, and three devices can play music in offline mode at one time.

Offline playback: Both subscription levels allow users to listen while their device is offline.

rhapsody

Rhapsody

Cost: $4.99 or $9.99 a month, with both versions ad-free.

Users: Nearly 3.5 million subscribers as of December 2015.

Catalog: More than 32 million songs.

What you get: Basic subscribers have access to radio stations, while premium subscribers also get songs on demand.

Platforms: Apple, Android and Windows mobile apps, PC app, Sonos, Xbox 360, web browsers. Widely available in other devices, cars and even home appliances.

Account sharing: Rhapsody can be streamed on only one device, but it allows for an additional device to listen in offline mode.

Offline playback: Users with both subscription levels can listen to songs while their devices are offline.

Amazon_Prime_Music

Amazon Prime Music

Cost: Ad-free music streaming with a $99 annual Amazon Prime subscription.

Users: Not available.

Catalog: More than a million songs.

What you get: Amazon Prime Music users get on-demand music, along with customizable radio stations and playlists.

Platforms: Apple, Android, Windows and BlackBerry apps, plus a Roku app.

Account sharing: One device at a time can actively stream music, while up to four can play previously downloaded music offline. Up to 10 devices can be signed in to the same account.

Offline playback: Mobile users can save songs to their devices for offline listening.

googleplay

Google Play

Cost: Basic service, which lets users upload up to 50,000 songs to personal cloud libraries, is free. A subscription plan, which lets users stream most commercially available songs, is available for $9.99 a month, and also includes access to YouTube’s subscription service, YouTube Red, which eliminates ads on that platform.

Users: Not available.

Catalog: More than 30 million songs.

What you get: Unlimited subscribers have access to on-demand music, while users of the free service are able to customize radio stations.

Platforms: Apple and Android apps, Chromecast, Chrome app and web browsers.

Account sharing: With Unlimited Google Play, users can authorize up to 10 devices, but can stream only on one device at a time.

Offline playback: Available only with an Unlimited subscription.

SoundCloud
SoundCloud

Cost: A free version has limited access to tracks; a $9.99 monthly subscription brings full access.

Users: More than 175 million monthly.

Catalog: More than 125 million tracks, including many remixes and promotional tracks. In March 2016, SoundCloud introduced a subscription platform that added the back catalogs for thousands of artists.

What you get: Listeners can pick the song they want to listen to, as well as upload their own content.

Platforms: Apple and Android apps, plus streaming through its website.

Account sharing: No limit.

Offline playback: Available only for paying subscribers.

qoboz

Qobuz

Qobuz is a French commercial music streaming and downloading service. It was founded in 2007 by Yves Riesel and has expanded to a limited range of overseas markets, including the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Germany. It offers a tiered subscription service, but unlike its competitors does not provide free-of-charge streaming other than for a trial period.

Qobuz currently offers four music streaming services: Qobuz Basic, Qobuz HIFI, Qobuz HIFI Classical (at a reduced rate) and Qobuz HIFI Sublime (an annual subscription that offers 24-bit digital downloads at reduced cost in addition to the streaming service).  Qobuz offers digital music streaming in CD quality (FLAC 16-Bit/44.1kHz). Qobuz and Tidal are the only generally available CD quality streaming services (as Deezer Elite is restricted to Sonos users).

Qobuz also provides a digital music downloading service, offering downloads in "Hi-Res" (High-resolution_audio) quality (24 bits) as well as CD-quality (16 bits).

The company has a partnership with the British classical music magazine Gramophone, under which the magazine uses Qobuz to publish recommended playlists.

Catalog: More than 30 million songs.

Platforms: Apple, Windows, Android, PC app and Sonos

Offline playback: Subscribers can stream music when their devices are not connected to data or Wi-Fi networks.