Check out the pros and cons of the top 3 music streaming platforms—Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music—to find which app is best for you.
There’s no good reason to subscribe to more than one music streaming platform, is there?
It depends, actually.
The truth is, the top streaming platforms have some pretty major differences, and those differences might be reason enough to keep a few different apps on your smartphone.
We’ve pulled together the pros and cons of Spotify, Tidal and Apple Music to help you find something to listen to that meets your monthly music budget and audio quality preferences.
Price: $9.99 USD/mo. for individuals, $15.99 USD/mo. for Family
Spotify is the most ubiquitous streaming platform—but is it the best? After being founded in Sweden in 2006, the service launched in the UK in 2009 before making its way Stateside in July 2011.
Spotify’s music library includes over 70 million songs with a solid mix of artists across genres—underground and mainstream. In May 2015, Spotify added podcasts to the mix, making the streaming app a one-stop shop for all things audio.
For a service centered around music, streaming audio quality is one area where Spotify has some work to do.
Currently, Spotify’s audio quality tops out at a paltry 320kbps—an improvement from the 128kbps standard set during Napster’s file-sharing heyday (which, to be fair, was 1999). That’s still a far cry from the 9216kbps / 24-bit / 192kHz quality available from competing services like Tidal. That might not matter for the average “I’ll listen to whatever” music consumer, but if you’re listening on UE LIVE earphones, Spotify’s streaming quality will probably leave you wanting.
In both the desktop and mobile versions, the Spotify app is easy to navigate, putting an algorithmically generated selection of podcasts, albums and playlists at your fingertips. And with over 365 million monthly active users, you can bet on your friends and family having Spotify accounts, too, making it easy to share your favorite episodes or albums.
Though fans love Spotify for its enormous catalog and slick user interface, many artists— including stars like Taylor Swift and Radiohead’s Thom Yorke— criticize Spotify for what they claim are unfair royalty rates. Spotify pays just $0.00437 per stream compared to the 10–20% royalty rate artists earn from sales of physical media.
For example, if a vinyl record’s wholesale price is $10 with a 15% artist royalty rate, the artist receives $1.50 for each album sold. For an artist to make $1.50 from Spotify, they would need 343 streams—the equivalent of 28.6 album sales (assuming there are twelve songs on an LP).
As a result, some classic acts have been hesitant to upload their music to the platform—as of October 2021, Garth Brooks, De La Soul and Joanna Newsom are M.I.A.
Other Unique Features
In case you’re not at least a little active on social media, you might have missed some of Spotify’s bonus features. Spotify is famous for their end of year round ups, where users and artists alike can show off their listening or play stats with the world.
Spotify also has collaborative playlists, something Tidal and Apple Music famously (and frustratingly) lack. That makes Spotify a pretty clear winner for building office playlists.
Price: $9.99 USD/mo. for Premium, $19.99 USD/mo. for HiFi
Jay Z’s streaming platform Tidal is among the most artist-friendly of the bunch, paying artists $0.01284 per stream—but can it match the depth of Spotify’s library?
Tidal’s library includes over 60 million tracks in addition to podcasts, video and livestreams. While its music library is not quite as extensive as Spotify, Tidal supplements their catalog with exclusive releases from A-list acts like Beyoncé, Rihanna, and Ye, whose 2016 album The Life of Pablo was first released as a Tidal exclusive.
Tidal’s $9.99 USD Premium plan has the same unimpressive 320kbps bitrate as Spotify, making the two services a toss-up at the $10/month level. At that price point, it’s a matter of selecting which platform has the exclusive content you crave.
However, for $19.99/month, Tidal’s HiFi tier includes CD-quality audio (called “HiFi”) and Master Quality Audio (MQA), with bit rates as high as 9216kbps. In addition, Tidal includes a selection of tracks in Dolby Atmos and Sony 360 Reality Audio—for audiophiles seeking spatial audio to-go.
Appearance-wise, Tidal’s interface isn’t much different from Spotify. Your favorite songs, albums and playlists are easy to find and Tidal’s algorithm makes smart recommendations based on your personal listening history.
What sets Tidal apart, though, is the human touch. In addition to algorithmically-generated playlists, Tidal employs real artists—Coldplay, Arcade Fire and Thomas Rhett, to name a few—to curate exclusive playlists for Tidal listeners. Together, artists and fans can discover new genres or explore the influences behind their favorite music.
At $19.99 USD/mo. for the HiFi tier, Tidal is more expensive. Its library, though large, skews heavily towards newer mainstream, radio-friendly acts—making it sometimes difficult for fans of underground or older music to find what they’re looking for. But, with its selection of artist-curated playlists and lossless audio, and the fact that they pay artists more money per stream, Tidal is a heavyweight contender for Spotify’s crown.
Price: $9.99 USD/mo. for individuals, $14.99 USD/mo. for Family
Apple entered the digital music game on January 9, 2001, with iTunes, its revolutionary online store and music library software. Five years before Spotify, Apple gave music fans the ability to download their favorite songs to their iPod and carry an entire music library in their pocket. In 2015, iTunes was rebranded to Apple Music, adding full streaming functionality to user’s pre-existing music libraries.
With over 75 million songs, Apple Music has the largest library of any streaming platform—not surprising given that most artists were already on iTunes at the platform’s launch. But with Apple Music coming in at the same price as Spotify, those 5 million additional songs really add up. Apple Music also offers over 1000 songs in Dolby Atmos and a selection of “Hi-Res Lossless” tracks at 24-bit / 192kHz quality.
Apple Music’s interface doesn’t stray far from the competition and should feel familiar to anyone who’s used iTunes or iOS devices. But one major advantage Apple Music’s interface has over the competition (or drawback, depending on your point of view) is the complete absence of podcasts. Take your conversations elsewhere because this app is strictly for music lovers (though podcasts can be found on a separate podcast app).
Like Tidal, Apple Music features curated exclusive playlists side-by-side with the algorithmically generated variety as well as 24/7 Apple Music Radio. In addition, Apple Music maintains a stunning number of global Top 100 charts from Anguilla to Zimbabwe and all points in-between, making it easy to embark on an international listening adventure from wherever you are.
The Apple ecosystem is arguably its biggest drawback. While Spotify and Tidal perform equally well on both iOS and Android devices, syncing your owned and streaming Apple Music libraries across devices can prove difficult—especially when one is running Windows. It is possible to sync across operating systems, just expect occasional bugs.
But for those already walking the iOS path, the affordable pricing, high-quality exclusive content, Dolby Atmos library and Hi-Res Lossless audio make Apple Music a worthy competitor of Spotify and Tidal.
If you’re a music lover, you can’t go wrong with Tidal, Apple Music or Spotify. But if you’re serious about high-fidelity audio, on a budget or searching for new underground tracks for your DJ set, then your choice of streaming service matters.
Best Budget Streaming Platform: Spotify. With the second-largest music library and an extensive selection of podcast exclusives, Spotify delivers the best value for your streaming dollar. Its collaborative playlists and social media integration makes sharing music with friends easier than ever.
Best Audio Quality: Apple Music. Its “Hi-Res Lossless” 24-bit / 192kHz playback is the ultimate test of your playback system’s digital-to-analog conversion. And while the Dolby Atmos library is still relatively small, re-discovering your favorite classic albums in three-dimensional spatial audio is a thrilling treat for fans.
Best Original Content: Tidal. Jay-Z’s streaming platform offers live concert streams, music videos, artist interviews and exclusive album drops, giving it the edge when it comes to original programming for music lovers.
Now that you know which streaming platform is best for you, take our quiz to discover your new favorite earphones.